U-Roy, Reggae and Dancehall innovator, dies at 78

Jamaican musician U-Roy has died, Jamaican media sources report. His longtime collaborator Neil Fraser, aka Ariwa Sounds studio’s Mad Professor, confirmed the news to Pitchfork. He was 78, according to The Guardian.

U-Roy, or Daddy U-Roy, was known for pioneering the vocal style of “toasting,” performing conversational, rhythmic speech over a reggae or dancehall beat.

Throughout his career, U-Roy released some 20 records and contributed to Toots and Maytals’ Grammy-winning album True Love. He was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his influence on the country’s music scene.

Born Ewart Beckford in Jones Town, Jamaica, in the 1940s, U-Roy was given his nickname by a younger family member who couldn’t pronounce Ewart.

He started his musical career as a deejay—in the Jamaican parlance, a vocalist over reggae and dancehall music—and earned a reputation as the King of Toasters (and later as the Originator). In 1970, John Holt of ska group the Paragons pushed for Beckford to be signed. His subsequent hits “Wake the Town” and “Wear You to the Ball” established him as one of Jamaica’s most popular musical exports.

By the late 1970s, he reached international fame for records like 1976’s Natty Rebel and 1978’s Jah Son of Africa. He created his own sound system—a collective of deejays, engineers, and toasters—called Stur Gav that helped launch the careers of his protegées Charli Chaplin, Josey Wales, and Brigadier Jerry.

He continued releasing music into the late 2010s, culminating with 2019’s Rebel in Styylle.

 

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