Winston Riley Died
Without me knowing it at the time, Winston Riley was responsible for the deep falling in love moment I had with Dancehall. It was a summer vacation and I was in New York…and not New York City but upstate New York. Faaaar! My cousin had a walkman and a cassette with Dancehall on it and there were no books around (*twitch*). I’d heard Dancehall and Reggae in my household before (“Pass the dutchie stands out“) but when I first heard Stamina Daddy by Buju Banton something sparked inside me.
I probably shouldn’t have been listening to that song at that age (maybe 10 or 11?) but I finished my cousin’s batteries and almost wore out that tape rewinding and listening, rewinding and listening, rewinding and listening…until I fell asleep at night. Everything about that song gripped me and since then, I’ve never let go of Dancehall (even when I lament and am pissed off). Mr. Riley is also responsible for the classic riddims that demonstrate how I think Dancehall should be done: so that you feel the bass in your belly bottom! The kind of bassline that makes me delight in standing before a speaker drink in hand. Bliss.
To say that this man, Winston Riley, is a legendary Dancehall and Reggae producer is an understatement. For now, I’ll leave the eulogizing, remembrance, and sharing of his vast discography to other more qualified folks…but I can’t help but be sad several times over because of his passing. He was a young man, only about 65 years old. He was shot last November and succumbed to those injuries last night. I wonder if the shooter or shooters understand what they have done? Likely not, and it’s even more likely that they simply don’t care.
We (music lovers, Jamaican music lovers, Jamaicans…so many groups this “we” could apply to) never really feted him while he was alive, never really celebrated the vast musical legacy that he created or the influence that he had on the industry that’s brought us such attention and love. Instead, as is painfully usual, his accomplishments are recognized in farrin and we don’t catch up until he’s dead. His son is one of Jamaica’s best known and best DJs, Kurt Riley. Even a small sampling of the tunes that Winston Riley produced or the artists that he discovered and guided is too small to truly pay tribute. Now that Mr. Riley’s gone lots of nice things are being said about his work and influence, and I hope that young Jamaicans and especially young Jamaicans interested in producing and music soak up this musical education. He should be able to bask in this tribute now being made to his legacy, to enjoy it. As I write this even I don’t think I’ve fully grasped the magnitude of the man’s work + I realize that I too took him granted…it’s so easy to just consume and not really understand the roots. Dangerous too. I know it’s become cliche but we really shouldn’t keep making this mistake of not learning about, understanding, grasping, and recognizing those among us who build the culture so many of us hold dear.
But, even as I’m selfishly mourning this loss and what I or we did not do, I am even sadder and sorry that my friend lost such a close family member who had such an impact on his life.
Walk good, Mr. Riley.