Count Ossie And The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari – Vulcan Records – 1974

Bongo Man / Narration

Narration cont / Malorat (Passin Thru) / Poem / Four Hundred Years

Poem / Song / Lumba / Four Hundred Years

Ethiopian Serenade / Oh Carolina / So Long


Grounation cont

Born Oswald Williams circa 1928 in Jamaica, as a boy Count Ossie became involved in the rastafarian community via of the teachings of a rasta elder by the name of  Brother Job. Other than the doctrine side of rastafari Count Ossie also learnt hand drumming and the vocal chanting technique that reverberates back to pre-slavery days in Africa.

By the late 50’s, he had become a master drummer and had formed a group of other percussionists around him. The Count Ossie group were all living together with other rastafarians in makeshift dwellings high up in the Wareika Hills above Rockfort in east Kingston.

This Count Ossie based rastafarian commune had followed in the example and ideals of the Leonard Howell rastafarian commune at Pinnacle St Catharine which was developed in 1940. This earlier rastafarian commune was destroyed and the occupants violently displaced into the slums of western Kingston (mainly at the ‘Back-o-Wall’ ghetto near the Kingston waterfront) by soldiers in the 1954.

In the decades following the destruction of the Pinnacle settlement it was incredibly dangerous to be aligned to the the rastafarian faith and beatings and deaths would occur frequently. This oppression would normally happen at the hands of the police or the army for those Jamaicans who choose to ‘locks up’ and thus Ossie’s followers would begin to wear large wollen hats known as ‘tams’ to cover the dreadlocks from public view to avoid too much grief on the occasions they had to leave the commune for any reason.

By the turn of the 1960s Count Ossie was more of a cultural icon than pop star, and it was only the ingenuity of Prince Buster that made him a part of reggae. Buster, ever eager to get one over on his rivals, was looking for a sound that no one else in Jamaica had managed to put on a ska record. Buster knew about Count Ossie, but everyone told him that Ossie would never agree to work on a commercial record, particularly since Buster was a Muslim and Ossie a Rastafarian. However, Buster went up into Wareika Hills and returned the next day with Ossie and several drummers in tow.

The first and most famous record they made was “Oh Carolina” and “I Met A Man”, featuring Ossie and ensemble thundering away on funde and kette drums and the vocals of the Folkes Brothers out front. The record was a unique combination of ska, R&B and grounation fundamentalist music that scored heavily both in Jamaica and on the London mod scene.

Subsequent sessions for Coxsone Dodd followed accompanying the Mellocats’ “Another Moses”, Bunny and Skitter’s “Lumumbo” and Lascelles Perkins’ “Destiny”.

The Count Ossie drummers were present at the welcome of  H.I.M Haile Selassie’s April 21st 1966 visit to Jamaica and his subsequent meeting with Rastafarian elders including Ossie and Mortimer Planno. Despite his own adherence to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the visit of the Emperor Of Ethiopia gave a marked boost to the rastafarian movement: Haile Selassie’s death in 1975 coincided paradoxically with the beginning of rastafarian’s most spectacular period of growth, sustained in part by the international popularity of reggae music in which rastafarianism found expression. Because of Selassie’s visit, April 21 is still celebrated as Grounation Day. It was during this visit that Selassie famously told the Rastafarian community leaders that they should not immigrate to Ethiopia until they had liberated the people of Jamaica.

The Count Ossie drummers  made some records under their own name including “Cassavabu” for Prince Buster and “Babylon Gone” for Harry Mudie around the mid 1960’s and then the group refrained from recording until 1970, when they issued “Whispering Drums” for Harry Mudie, “Back To Africa Version One” for Lloyd Daley, and “Holy Mount Zion” and “Meditation” for Coxsone Dodd. Around this time, Count Ossie’s drummers were augmented by a horn section led by Cedric I’m Brooks, and the group took the name Mystic Revelation of Rastafari.

In 1974 they recorded a triple album set, “Grounation”, which is a landmark recording in Jamaican music. The set included treatments of Charles Lloyd’s “Passin’ Thru”, the Jazz Crusaders’ “Way Back Home”, Ethiopian melodies, improvisations, hymns and poetry. This album remains one of the most important cultural record releases to come out of Jamaica in the 1970’s.

In 1975 the group recorded a follow up album, the similarly excellent “Tales Of Mozambique”. Shortly after this on 18 October 1976  Ossie died, some say in a car accident, some say after succumbing to injuries that occurred after being crushed at a riotous crowd escaping a cricket match. But although the Count passed away unexpectedly he and the band he formed left behind a unique legacy, to be carried on by Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus, Light Of Saba and several less noteworthy outfits.

Grounation is the title of a new album by the magnificently named Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari.

This set is not just unique for the quantity and quality of the music, or for the fact that the liner notes are thorough in dealing with the music and its culture. It is unique because it makes available for the first time rastafarian music proper, a fact which is important because the music and its culture has for years played an integral part in the development of Jamaican music without being recognised as such. The music here is not typical of the music which Jamaica has produced since the early sixties, yet rastafarian music is as familiar to Jamaicans as reggae.

In the evolution of its music, Jamaica has never produced musicians who have regularly made rastafarian music except perhaps for Count Ossie and his band who backed The Folkes Brothers on “Oh Carolina”  back in 1961, and perhaps a few others have done so when the idea was trendy.

But the existence of the rastafarians in Jamaica has social, economic, and political consequences which focused attention on the sect and enabled their countrymen to become more aware of their historical and cultural roots, and the rastafarian ideals. These have continually provided Jamaican musicians, rastafarians and non rastafarians alike, with sources of influence and inspiration.

Thus, over the years we have had songs such as “Marcus Junior” by Don Drummond, “A Place Called Africa” by Lee Perry & The Upsetters, “My Ancestors” by Jimmy Cliff, “400 years” by The Wailers, and “Rivers Of Babylon” by The Melodians which have reflected the rastafarian influence.

Count Ossie and his band represent a total embodiment of the rastafarian tradition. “Grounation” describes a way of life that identifies in every way possible with Africa, the rightful homeland of Rastafarians, and the music deals with this ideology. Moreover, the set, with its eloquent narrations and poems traces that part in the black man’s history which deals with his enslavement and colonization. And the music’s strong African feel helps in the digestion of the Revelations.

The complete text of “Narration”, a track that lasts over thirteen minutes is included in the liner notes. The method of production here, percussion and narrative, are simple yet stunningly effective. More so than The Last Poets for instance whose use of the same techniques is too crude to be enlightening. “Narration” tells it like it was and like it is, so does “Four Hundred Years” which has a meandering tenor and flute accompaniment and is the most poignant of the four poems.

Percussion is the dominating aspect of all rastafarian music. In both “So Long” which is a chant, and in major parts of “Grounation” which lasts for over half an hour and features a type of communal singing praising the doctrine of rastafarians, the drums, the bongos and the shouts are all tribal. They echo the sounds associated with Africa and they are angrier than the native war drums.

On two of the best numbers “Bongo Man” and “Lumba” brass is prevalent. In the former, the baritone and tenor saxes interwine and the plodding bass and lazy trombone and baritone gives this number a very jazzy feel. In “Lumba” trombone and tenor duet and the baritone riffs effortlessly. A flute solo along with intermittent vocal shrieks and vibrant percussion, combine to make this a tremendously haunting piece which conjures up images of toiling slaves under the painful persuasion of the slave driver’s whip.

It’s no coincidence that “Way Back Home” should follow as the next track. In this context it has much deeper meaning than the original by The Crusaders.

If you’re looking for musicians with ‘feel’ then Count Ossie And The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari are one very hot bunch of brothers.



St George saving the maiden in Beruit. Ethiopian fresco circa 1600 AD.

A different take on St Georges Day this year, Mark Stewart And The Maffia uploaded last April 23rd, The 4 Skins the April 23rd before that.

This take on St Georges Day takes KYPP back to the old English colony of Jamaica to bring for you one of the most respected recordings that was ever undertaken and released in that country. Count Ossie, Cedric I’m Brooks, Brother Samuel Clayton and the rest of the Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari jazzing out all over Afro Jamaican nyahbinghi rhythms to create a piece of work that is more in tune with the late Rex Nettleford than the late Bob Marley. Wonderfully produced and engineered by Arnold Wedderburn (Wedderburn which convienately happens to be my wife’s maiden name).

This triple LP is the most important cultural musical work ever created, recorded and released from this small island of Jamaica.

  1. dan i
    dan i
    April 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Magnificent! Also check anything by Cedric Im Brooks and Light Of Saba, for slightly later more developed works along similar lines.

    I was fortunate enough to play a gig with the surviving drummers of Count Ossie’s camp about 13 years ago at the George Robey (of all places!). They were in London to challenge Shaggy’s use of their single ‘Oh Carolina’ (as recorded by The Folkes Brothers) and were looking to play some gigs to support their stay in England. Rico Rodriguez (who regularly played at our late night Robey dub sessions) acted as coordinator for the group and the show was was just triumphant. In a gently powerful way, these elders of Rasta Far I taught us youngsters what it was really all about. Thanks to Styler from House OF Roots (Aba Shanti I promotions) for making the link for us for that show.

    They still play and record (an album called ‘Inward I’ a couple of years ago through Harmonia Mundi Music), but I haven’t heard of any British dates since ours.

  2. alistairliv
    April 25, 2010 at 10:58 am

    “Count Ossie also learnt hand drumming and the vocal chanting technique that reverberates back to pre-slavery days in Africa.”

    When I was still in Hackney I found in Northwold Road library an lp of the soundtrack to Maya Deren’s film ‘Divine Horsemen’ made in Haiti 1947-51 [brief clip ]

    The track Grounation has a similar sound and feel to the Divine Horsemen soundtrack which also ‘reverberates back to pre-slavery days in Africa.’

    And then there is ‘the first reggae song ever made’ – Oh Carolina…

    And the rastafarians living up in the hills like the Maroons (escaped slaves who fought the Brits in the 18th century –

    This is just amazing – the music, the history. And the St George’s day link… don’t anyone forget how much wealth from slave grown sugar flowed back to the UK. Edward Said/ Culture and Imperialism points out how the plot of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen revolves around a slave plantation in Antigua. The romantic fictions of England’s dreaming, of an idealised past of elegance and civility , the days of Empire – products of wealth created by brutal exploitation.

    I’m listening to Grounation again. Magnificent.

  3. dan i
    dan i
    April 25, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Absolutely Al.
    I have to say I love KYPP St George’s Day posts – fresh perspectives rather than blind drunk blokes waving the cross of St George..

  4. John no last name
    John no last name
    April 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Thanks for posting this, great stuff.

  5. Penguin
    Penguin • Post Author •
    April 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Glad you like the St Georges day posts Dan (and others), I can always stick some flag waving hooli’s on for next year if you wish. Good call on Cedric I’m Brooks. If anyone don’t know then find out. His tenor sax whirling Coltraine like over his first Studio One LP ‘Flash Forward’ from 1976 or 1977 is immense. I have the original of this LP, but alas not the Light Of Saba LP as the Saba LP is so rare you will shit yourself if you can find a copy.
    I have been into Randy’s recording studio in North Parade in Kingston several times. It is generally locked but the record shop owners at the front of the upstairs building let me scounge around amongst old dusty original unsold 7″ records littered all around on the original grand piano, hammond organ and various other studio brik a brak still left in there for all these years. These 7″ records have been thrown in that unused space now since the late 70’s when the studio was no more.
    One day I found a couple of Light Of Saba 7″s on the Impact label. Nearly shit myself there and then (would not have mattered as that studio now stinks of decay and rot after years of not being looked after).

    Here is a photo of Randy’s studio

    and here: Note the white sheet with some glass panes on in this photo. That white sheet is covering the original grand piano which Gladstone Anderson and others would have played on during all those great recording sessions that came out of Randy’s in the 60’s and 70’s!

    Anyway slipped them in with some other original 7″s and took them to the shop up front. Payed $50JA for each mint 7″ (about £1 each) and held onto this batch of 7″s till I got back to England (no one had a record player where we stayed in JA). Put ‘Demauungwani’ by Lights Of Saba on my deck and was horrified to notice it was not Light Of Saba!
    Wrong labels on the disc! Fuckery indeed!
    Not all bad though as the record was still great and was in fact The Maytones ‘Take Your Time’ with Light Of Saba labels on it. I like The Maytones very much (some uploaded on KYPP if you care to search).
    So like I say, not all bad but could have been much much better. The other identical Light Of Saba 7″ record was the same so gave that one away and kept the other!

  6. dan i
    dan i
    April 25, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Randy’s, so sad 🙁

    Fascinating stuff Penguin. Great to have those pieces of history from the studio floor 🙂

  7. Nic
    April 26, 2010 at 11:10 am

    An excellent choice for a post, Penguin (and on such an auspicious occasion hehe)…

    Wonderful spiritual record…I grabbed a copy of ‘Tales of Mozambique’ on vinyl from my local record shop about 2 months ago: another sweet record…

    Nice story too, dan i…I saw Rico Rodriguez play with Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra recently – lot of respect and love going on in that room…

    Al – The ‘Divine Horsemen’ soundtrack is very powerful, isn’t it?
    That Lyrichord edition is quite hard to come by…

  8. styreneboy
    April 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Fantastic stuff Penguin! Just wanted to say thanks for sharing. Now I need to go and lose myself in this for a while. Cheers, mate.

  9. Nic
    April 26, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Definitely Al…

    Deren’s work is a veritable nexus of energy sources and possibilities (more so than Anger’s, I feel)…

  10. AL Puppy
    AL Puppy
    April 26, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Bloody hell Nic, Maya Deren was a fascinating woman. Just read her biog on wiki
    and watched some of her films on youtube. Found one witha soundtrack by This Mortal Coil

    Apart from the soundtrack and her book The Divine Horsemen (found it for £23 -honest- in second hand bookshop) wasn’t aware of her work as a film maker but the few I have now seen are …deeper? subtler?… than Kenneth Anger’s. Although when I first saw Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome it had a sound track by ELO (Eldorado) which was very surreal as in unexpected.

    And, as with Lucifer Rising, the ‘magic’ in the films is a bit literalist.
    And Maya knew Andre Breton…and John Cage and … wow.

  11. Kerr Ray Z. Fokker
    Kerr Ray Z. Fokker
    April 27, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Great work, Mr Penguin!

    Re: Maya Deren

    Love her work, been into her for years. Less contrived than Mr Anger and even Bunuel for that matter. A genuine surrealist in the truest sense. Certainly more evocative and haunting than most. (Although I still think Dreyer is better still).

    Yes, the ELO soundtrack for ‘Pleasure Dome’ at the Scala all-nighters. Every time I listen to ‘Poor Boy of the Greenwood’ I see Anton fucking LaVey! (Oh my Godfathers, I just confessed to listening to ELO. *Dips head in shame*).

  12. Nic
    April 27, 2010 at 9:49 am

    All of Deren’s films are worth watching, Al: great works…’Meshes of the Afternoon’ is the key text, I feel…
    £23 for the book? It is definitely worth reading…

    I’ve been an appreciator of Deren’s work for a long time. I got a book from a charity shop called ‘Visionary Film’ (which I bought for the pictures!) when I was 13 and finally saw ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’ at a film showing when I was 17. That book (‘Visionary Film’) completely opened up the world of American ‘experimental’ film for me – I would recommend it to anyone (although – as with almost everything – there is a certain bias in there which one has to be aware of). It also provided a vital link for me to the tantalising and mysterious images of films by directors like Borowczyk and Tarkovsky which I had pored over in the pictorial books on Horror films by Denis Gifford…
    Just in! I found a link to the 2000 edition of it on Google books for you, Al:

    As much as I appreciate Anger, Brakhage, Broughton, Peterson, Markopoulos et al, Deren still stands that little higher in the light: there’s a depth which gives the films a stronger resonance. If you’re specifically interested in the ‘Trance’ film, Al (as – according to Sitney Adams – initiated by Deren and Anger ‘Fireworks, probably gaining some inspiration from ‘Blood of a Poet’), can I suggest the following:
    Sidney Peterson – ‘The Lead Shoes’ and ‘The Potted Psalm’…
    Stan Brakhage: ‘Flesh of Morning’, ‘The Way to Shadow Garden’, and ‘Reflections on Black’…
    Gregory Markopoulos – ‘Psyche’ and ‘Twice A Man’…
    Willard Maas – ‘Narcissus’ and ‘Image in the Snow’…
    Jerome Hill – ‘La Cartomancienne’…
    James Broughton – ‘Dreamwood’…

    Curtis Harrington (friend of Anger who appeared in ‘Inauguration of the Please Dome’, and made the strangely dream-like ‘Night Tide’ with Dennis Hopper) also made a number of ‘Trance’ films in the 1940’s, but I have only managed to see a couple of them at screenings.

    Ira Cohen’s ‘Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda’ has a visual sense similar to ‘Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome’, but it probably has more of a connection with films like ‘Flaming Creatures’ (Jack Smith) and ‘Chumlum’ (Ron Rice)…

    Some of Jarman’s early Super 8mm work is strongly influenced by it too (particularly ‘In the Shadow of the Sun’ and ‘The Angelic Conversation’)…The work of the English filmmaker Sandra Lahire took inspiration from Deren and Anger but is more rooted in personal/political concerns. Her film ‘Lady Lazarus’ is very inspiring…

    There’s also a dense network of allusions in the collage films by Larry Jordan…

    Dreyer’s work is phenomenal, Kerr, but I’d suggest that his concerns (and cinematic style) are very different to Deren’s (the individual in a relationship with creation and God as opposed to Deren’s exploration of the individual within), so I’m not sure if there’s any need to draw comparisons…

    Sorry for ‘over-nerding’ on this. ‘Experimental film’ is one of my passions: I still make my own films on Super 8mm (just working on a triptych of ‘English Pagan Pastiorals’)…

  13. AL Puppy
    AL Puppy
    April 27, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Not ‘over-nerding’ at all Nic – it is an education. Just like Mr. P.’s original post, I am learning about and discovering artists and their work/ history which I would otherwise be missing out on. Especially for me living here now in rural isolation (no more all nighters at the Scala as Kerr Z. has remembered for me) – it keeps me going when the alternative is listening to my (no disrespect intended) dear brothers and their mates discussing the finer points of night mountain biking on the 7 stanes or skiing adventures in the Alps…

  14. Annette gaynair
    Annette gaynair
    April 22, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Bobby Gaynair was one who played tenor sax in many of the musics that Count Ossie made.

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