He was deserted by his parents, scorned at stage shows, chased away by producers, banned from the airwaves and developed skin cancer. A doctor even told him he would live only three years more…
…That was in 1983.
Not many could overcome all these odds to become one of dancehall’s greatest icons, but King Yellowman did. With an unmistakable deejaying style, he fused his pain and longings with his talent, which seemed a perfect recipe to produce hits.
“I remember they used to discriminate against me in the dancehall, because on a show we used to pass mic to mic and whenever me pass the mic, dem either take it and put dem rag over the mic or them kerchief. I guess you couldah call it scorn,” Yellowman said.
EFFECT ON OTHER ALBINOS
His presence had an effect on other albinos.
“Is only when me come out that people like me started to show up, because them used to hide away from shame. But before the Tastee competition me used to go round to different producers to voice, but them used to run me away because them never believe innah me, or because of my skin colour them feel seh man like me cyaan do nothing,” he said.
King Yellowman gained national recognition after he won the Tastee Talent Competition, then in the early 1980s broke big with the hits I’m Getting Married in the Morning, Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt, Zungu Zungu Zeng and Mad Over Me, revived in part recently by Buju Banton.
However, he seemed to fade from the forefront of the Jamaican dancehall scene until recently, when he re-emerged on Dave Kelly’s Eight Five rhythm with Orphaned. The rhythm also features Baby Cham’s Ghetto Story and Assasin’s Anywhere We Go. King Yellowman, however, says it shouldn’t be called a comeback because he continued to release songs overseas when he seemed to have a diminished local presence.
“I released songs on the international market and when me say international, me nuh mean like America and Europe. Me mean like me target places like Israel, Japan, the Asian market and dem place deh,” Yellowman said. “Plus me tour for about five or so months every year.”
As far as his new release goes, he says, “If you don’t know where you coming from, you don’t know where you going. Dave Kelly and Baby Cham see where the music ah come from. It start with man like me. So they wrote that song for me about my life “I was an orphan/ I had a dream/The government ban me/But me never scream …. ”
King Yellowman was born Winston Foster 47 years ago, the stage name coming from his complexion, as he is an albino. He was deserted by his parents and lived in several orphanages.
“I grew up in Maxfield Park Children’s Home, then I went to the Alpha Boy’s Home and then I was at a home in St. Mary, but nuff people don’t know that,” he said.
To add to a King Yellowman’s troubles, he later developed skin cancer and has had to do six major surgeries to combat the disease. “But me still deh here anyway. One doctor told me that I would only live for three years and that was since 1983,” he said.
He says music wasn’t something he turned to simply ease his pain. He had no choice, because it was something he was born to do. “You know seh an artiste born with the talent when you can listen to every single song the artiste do, whether is a slow song, fast song or somebody else song. Me just born fi do music,” he said.
That love has resulted in an impressive resume, though he insists it is nothing to boast about.
“I am the first dancehall artiste who was nominated for the Grammy’s. I was the first dancehall artiste to collaborate with a rap artiste. I work with people like Run DMC, NWA, Public Enemy and Doug-E-Fresh and nuff other of them artistes dere… Nuff people nuh know seh me innah the Guinness Book of Records too, for the most albums released in a year … Nuff people don’t know that me get the key to Fort Lauderdale City,” King Yellowman said.
“Is just that me nuh really innah the hype thing. People who know themselves don’t really have to go on like artistes who do something, but them don’t do nutting,” he said.
Though King Yellowman has not been squarely in the local spotlight, he has been listening to the hits of the day. “Everybody make them contribution, but some do it in the wrong way. Is how you make the contribution that is important. Dancehall influences crime and violence and yes, some of them help to instigate it. For instance, if you hear an artiste come and say “informer fi dead”, then when you go in a public place and hear a man a say that you ah go ask where him hear that from. Him hear it from the music,” Yellowman said.
“Is just like a long time ago me go watch a karate movie and when me come out, me hear everybody ah ‘hiyaah, hiyaah’, so me know wha me ah seh when me say ah the same thing.”
He says there has been many changes in dancehall since he started. “Them time deh yuh just go to enjoy yourself. It was entertainment them time deh. Some of them ah entertainment, but three-quarters of it is abuse. Now everybody feel seh dem ah gangster,” he said.
King Yellowman says he intends to release more songs in Jamaica in the near future, though not immediately. “Me just ah go make this ride fi a little while before me do nothing else… Plus me always interested in working with the producers, but them have to come to me with a good riddim. Some of them not interested in doing no good riddims, ah peer fast ting dem a deal wid and the same style,” he said.
Video by RasArno