Ras Michael

Ras Michael was born George Michael Henry in Kingston, Jamaica. He grew up in the Rastafarian communities of Salt Lane, Dungle, Oxford Street, Pink Lane, Matthew’s Lane, Trenchtown, Rosetown, Clock Circle, Water House, Back a Wall, Cockburn Pen, in the ghettos of Kingston.

His mother Mercideth (known as Mercy) was a devoted Christian, she was born in the parish of St. Mary, she left there and moved to Kingston where Ras Michael was born and raised, where he learned hand drumming and eventually became an internationally acclaimed master-drummer.

The legendary musician is known throughout the world as a reggae vocalist and Nyabinghi “burra” drum specialist whose style is roots, rock reggae. “Nyabinghi” means righteous vibrations stretching all the way back to the Motherland.

Within the world of reggae, at whose core is the celebration of African roots and culture, the name Ras Michael has long been synonymous with the traditional drumming, dancing and chanting of the Nyabinghi Rastaman, the man who answers to no man but that of Jah who lives within his heart. “Wadada” – Amharic for love – is Ras Michael’s favorite word, and Wadada is what the music of Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus is all about.

Ras Michael is a true patriarch of reggae, among the purest of its sources, a constant conscience and keeper of the culture. In the early 60’s, Ras Michael formed the Sons of Negus, a rastafarian group of drummers and singers and founded his Zion Disc label, which continues to release most of his inventive and subtle albums to this day.

Ras Michael was also the first rastafarian to have a reggae radio program in Jamaica (“The Lion of Judah Radio” program first aired in 1967). In those times Ras Michael along with Count Ossie were the main nyabinghi drummers to bring the sound of Africa and the nyabinghi drum to the recording studio and blend it with reggae and jazz. There is no artist alive today who has more continuously been the foremost exponent of Rasta tradition worldwide.

Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus grew up in the tradition burra drumming, one of the few surviving remnants of their African heritage. In Jamaica, the burra and kumina drums first sounded to celebrate the religious and social gatherings of the African people in Jamaica. Gradually, the Rastaman took over, beating the drums at their prayer meetings, or groundation calls, the churchical celebrations and thanks giving of song and dance that are the heart and inspiration of the Nyabinghi. This churchical order dates back to the times of the priests & elders in Lalibela Ethiopia, who played their drums chanting and praising Jah, and scolding the wicked, in ancient churches hewn out of rock.

While Ras Michael’s music is drawn from an amalgam of biblical and African chants, he distinguished himself from the other drummers in the early Rastafarian movements by forging the connection between the traditional hand drums and the modern electric instruments used in commercial music, thereby taking his message of equal rights and unity from a few scattered communities in Jamaica’s parishes out to the entire world.

Ras Michael has worked, recorded and performed with some of the most legendary musicians in the world, including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Lee Perry, Burning Spear, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar, Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack. He performed with Bob Marley at the One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica in 1978, one of the most memorable music events of all time. Later that year, while in Paris, Marley was asked what he thought of Ras Michael. “Ras Michael is a roots master and a Nyabinghi specialist” he said. He tells it like it is.”

Ras Michael has recorded more than 24 albums over the years, including the memorable crossroads Kibir Am Lak (1977) (Glory to God) , the memorable Rastafari Dub featuring Peter Tosh, Robbie Shakespeare, and Earl “Chinna” Smith , Promise Land Sounds Live (1980), and Love Thy Neighbor (1981), Zion Train (1988), and Know Now (1990). His latest album, A Weh Dem A Go Do Wit It is on the Lion Disc label distributed by ROIR-USA. In 1980, Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus received the Martin International Award for Most Cultural Roots Band.

Ras Michael is in the British Guinness Book of World Records. In 1995, he was nominated to the Jamaica Reggae Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was honored with the Ragga Muffin/Bob Marley Day Festival Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a lifetime member of the Reggae Ambassadors Worldwide (www.reggaeambassadors.org). In addition to acting as an evangelist, ambassador and diplomat for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahido Church internationally, Ras Michael is one of the founders and president of the Rastafarian International/Marcus Garvey Culture Center in Los Angeles, and the Fly Away Culture Center in Kingston, Jamaica. He is a speaker, lecturer and presenter. Recently, Ras Michael spoke at the California Institute of the Arts on the subject “Jamaican Music with an African Identity”. His music is the heart of the African Rasta roots music.

Ras Michael continues to tour internationally and spread his light on hundreds of thousands of people around the world. “The music is spreading” Ras Michael says, “and the people are getting more of an understanding. Remember, nothing can leave how long you can hide from the truth and the rights- it swims like oil, it stays on top. Without the one drop hard-core reggae music, without the Nyabinghi drop, reggae would not be reggae and have no true identity. It brings the elders, it brings the old man, it brings the young guys, it brings the ghetto people, the uptown people, downtown and suburbs…everyone, with true expressions of themselves, so it is reality.”

Negus is a title of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, the Almighty God of the Rastafarian movement, and none pays him more eloquent homage than Ras Michael and his group, the Sons of Negus. This is the beat of the heart, based on the original “instrument of ten strings,” the hand-beaten drum. On Dadawah in 1975, Michael took a religious ceremonial gathering as the basis for an album of elegant poetry and raw, visceral power. Later, eschewing minimalism, such works as Promised Land Sounds added electronics and produced a primeval psychedelia without compare in Jamaican history. This is the sound of the Roots Church in the 21st century, highly charged hymns for humanity’s future survival.


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