“Prezident Brown was tough!” raved Rory, ace selector for Stone Love, “I hadn’t seen him perform in years,” he told me at this year’s Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. Although Jamaicans may need to re-acclimate themselves to the music of Prezident Brown, California audiences have been following his resurgence as a conscious roots messenger for the past year now. This year, however, he is touring with his own band, the Orchestra of Judah, and reaching an even broader audience.
I had missed his performance at the Sierra Nevada Festival because of my work schedule, so I was determined to make the show in Berkeley three days later. I was unfamiliar with the Orchestra of Judah, but had heard from ireggae.com’s Daniel Frankston that, “Backed by the Orchestra of Judah, the Prezident has a much fuller sound than his tour last year.” I was eager to find out if this was so.
Still recovering from the big Sierra weekend, I pulled myself together and made my way over to Ashkenaz in Berkeley on June 26, 2002, camera in hand. I was introduced to a couple of members of the band-guitarist Ian “Beezy” Coleman, who had been Ziggy Marley’s guitarist for eleven years, and bassey Devon Bradshaw, who has worked with every international reggae artist under the sun, including Garnett Silk, Capleton, and Burning Spear. They both told me it’s the Prezident’s time now, not only because of their friendship, but because of his considerate talent.
The crowd was sparse around 10 pm, and I thought this might be due to the fact that Barrington Levy was performing live across the Bay in San Francisco, but once the music started, people must have been able to hear it from afar. By the time the show was over at 1 am, the room had filled up considerably.
Prezident Brown hails from Clarendon, in Central Jamaica, and was deeply influenced by his idol, U Brown, from a very young age. His major break came when producer Jack Ruby in Ocho Rios took Brown under his wing, and made him resident MC for his Hi-Power Sound System. In 1989, Ruby passed away, and after recording with various studios, Prezident Brown found a home on Barry O’Hare’s X-Rated label, where he launched his European career. By 1995, Prezident Brown was recording on all the major studio labels (Digital B, Black Scorpio, Mango, Star Trail…) and his hits were getting significant airplay.
Brown has released six albums to date: two albums produced by the X-Rated label, one album by Digital B, and his fourth, “To Jah Only,” which was his 2001 release on Kariang. He is currently promoting “Prezident Brown Showcase Volume 1” which contains a remastered version of his album “To Jah Only” plus a dub version of that album, “Dub to Jah Only.” His sixth release, “Prezident Brown Showcase Volume 2,” contains a compilation of his singles and a remastered version of his X-Rated label album, “Prezident Selections.”
Prezident Brown’s strong, confident voice filled the Ashkenaz Community Center, and the patrons in attendance were dancing and moving to his conscious vibes. There is nothing slack about him or his lyrics, and he went through many of his tracks from “To Jah Only, ” including the title track, “Rough Road,” “Encouragement,” and “Faith.” The crowd’s energy really picked up when he came with the lyrics, “Greetings in the name of his Imperial Majesty… ” from his most radio-friendly track, “Micro Chip.” Highlights for me, however, were near the end of the set when he did “Talking Drum,” from the “Prezident Selections” album and he picked up the energy with “Mystery Babylon,” “Herbsman,” and “African Princess.” Prezident Brown, guitarist Coleman, and drummer Andrew Seidel all took turns on the small hand drum that was perched on a stool, and it added a nice nyahbinghi flavor to his sound. The vocal harmonies by keyboardist Steve Hoffman and the rest of the band added depth to Brown’s sound as well.
Off the stage, I found Prezident Brown to be humble and down-to-earth. The only thing that might set him apart from the guy-next-door is his exceptionally tall frame; but unlike other artists, he is shy, and unassuming, easing in and out of situations as they present themselves and always greeting his fans with a genuine smile.
Apart from promoting his two latest albums, the Prezident is working on a new album in Jamaica, produced by Chet Records. In the meantime, you can catch the Prezident on tour with his Orchestra of Judah all across the United States (Visit http://www.jahmanipro.com/tourschedule.htm for tour dates). He is definitely one to watch.
Special thanks to Sean, Kathy Day, Devon, Beezy, and the Prez for their candor, help and hospitality.