Reggae icon, Culture, was a global superstar but had his personal demons

October 18, 2019 at 03:30 pm | Entertainment

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

October 18, 2019 at 03:30 pm | Entertainment

Joseph Hill via Brian Jahn

If there ever was a man who sought to know Jah and serve Him better, that man was Joseph Hill also known as Culture of the Culture Music Band.

Hill’s life and times make for interesting observation. Here was someone who was conscious and kept reminding consumers of his work to be mindful of their actions and prepare themselves to render account to Jah after death, yet had a weakness for alcohol and smoking.

That weakness as confirmed by widow, Mama Pauline led to liver cirrhosis as the cause of Culture’s death on August 19, 2006 aged 57.  This follows years of heavy drinking and smoking.

However, Hill’s devotion to the traditional Rastafarian values of purity, simplicity and justice were clearly evident in his works and albums such as Two Sevens Clash (1977), Harder Than the Rest (1978), Cumbolo (1979), International Herb (1979), Lion Rock (1982), Culture at Work (1986), Nuff Crisis (1988), Wings of a Dove (1992), One Stone (1996), Cultural Livity (1998), Humble African (2000), Payday (2000) and Live in Africa (2002) setting the standard for the ‘roots’ genre.

He was born on January 22, 1949 in the Jamaican parish of St. Catherine. Hill was the lead singer and songwriter for Culture – the roots reggae group he formed with Albert “Ralph” Walker and Roy “Kenneth” Dayes. Known for their famous 1977 hit album Two Sevens Clash, Hill would go on to record 30 albums underlying his prolific nature.

Hill began his career in the late 1960s as a percussionist then a deejay and started performing as a backing vocalist, leading to his singles ‘Behold the Land’ and ‘Take me Girl’ in the early 1970s.

After a performance at the ‘One Love Peace Concert’ in 1978, the Culture band toured the United States, Europe and Africa. Till his death, the band perfumed at least 100 concerts each year underlying their quality.

In ‘Adis Ababa’, Culture indicates that Africa remains the spiritual home of the Rasta faithful with King Selassie as King. Even though an attempt was made by Benito Mussolini to take the Ark of the Covenant from Ethiopia and colonize its people, Jah people prevailed.

On ‘Behold’, the ‘Keeper of Zion Gate’ sounds the warning that having heard the voice from the Most High above that he will hold each one accountable for his/her deeds, the hour had come to do just, respect and serve Jah as no tongue and faith shall be spared on the day of reckoning.

‘No Night’ remains one of Hill’s best tunes and on the track, the conscience of the nation informs: “No night in Zion…King Rastafari is our light and we no need no other light… oppressor full of foulness, only knows how to make guns and ammunition… never know how to make good decision.” He added that the people continue to suffer because of the oppressor’s wrong decisions.

In ‘Jah Rastafari’, Culture makes the case that wrong has held sway for too long and it was time to smash down Babylon gate and prepare the way for Jah people while urging the youth to put crime away and rather hold up righteousness.

‘Slice of Mount Zion’ sums up the Jamaican Reggae Walk of Fame inductee’s hope. “… I pray to Jah earnestly to please let me live honestly, love my brother is all I need, need no riches just harmony.”

Culture makes it clear on ‘Satan Company’ that those who rob and cheat the poor and Black people are snipers and he certainly wants no part of them.

‘Why worry about them’ perhaps explains the prayerfulness of Mr. Hill. Culture wonders why Jah people worry about the evil ones when they can pray them off, adding that even when forsaken by one’s dada and mama for no justifiable reason and persecuted for having dreadlocks, the fellow should hold on to Jah as he is the sovereign lord.

On ‘Tribal War,’ Culture, the Shock Bronze Medal recipient for music, intimates that we don’t need tribal war, all that is needed is education, love and togetherness as tribal war can’t solve the problem. Loved globally, Culture’s influence in Africa, especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia was phenomenal as people afflicted by war found comfort in his music.

Hill’s death in Berlin while in the middle of a European tour stunned the music world who grieved over his loss. His son, Kenyatta who was in charge of the audio for the band took on the lead vocal’s role enabling the band to continue with their tour having been booked already.

One of reggae’s most enduring bands, Culture was led by Hill for nearly 30 years. The irony is that while his music offerings were stellar, he battled his demons in his personal life showing even the best of us do not get it any easier living this life. For a man who yearned to be closer to Jah and attain paradise, one of his weaknesses was the love of alcohol which reports say sometimes left him in a stupor unaware of his surroundings. Then there was his short fuse which made him prone to anger easily. While the Rastafarian faith allows for the use of marijuana in religious and personal instances, Hill’s intense smoking put pressure on his lungs.

Nonetheless, Hill had done enough in the music space. In 2005, the singer and devout Rastafarian, was honored by the Jamaican government with its Independence Award presented by the Prime Minister of Jamaica for his contribution to the Island nation’s culture.

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