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Reggae Legends

Alpha Blondy

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Alpha Blondy
By Susan Cummings Maroni

Published September 9, 2005

Alpha Blondy knows the meaning of struggle. He has experienced hard times in his personal life and as a citizen of the Ivory Coast. But having been a rebel for most of his life, he’s kept the fire burning that began attracting him an international audience shortly after release of his album Jah Glory in 1985.

Blondy has upheld his belief in reggae music as spiritual celebration and as a tool for human liberation. His impassioned lyrical outcries for justice have been sweetly balanced by gentler homilies and the occasional love song. He cradles his messages in some of the most addictive melody lines in reggae history and underlines them with visceral, rootsy drum and bass.

            In his youth, he was drawn to the beacon of Bob Marley’s righteous music. Blondy arrived in New York City in 1976, where he soon made friends within the Jamaican community. He sang Marley’s songs at every opportunity in small clubs around New York, and soon had a repertoire of self-composed reggae tunes, written in his eccentric French-inflected English. With the encouragement of budding Jamaican producer Clive Hunt, he began writing lyrics in his native tongue, Dioula, and in Ivory Coast Creole. The language, and Alpha’s very distinctive, quavering vocals, gave his songs the unmistakable lilt of West Africa.

After some time, Blondy returned home to Abidjan. After an altercation with a police officer, he spent time in a notorious mental hospital. Eventually he was freed, and won a nationally televised talent show and the opportunity to record. In his homeland, Blondy is today respected as an astute, acerbic political commentator. Never timid about speaking his mind, he’s had a lot to say during the recent political turmoil in the Ivory Coast, and some of his more incendiary songs have been banned from the airwaves.

            Despite the turbulence, Blondy’s creative energy is unflagging. He says, “When you make a sword, you dip it many times in a liquid to make it hard. The Creator is dipping us again and again to make us stronger. Even though I complain, I’m not sad. I say, ‘Why me? Why not me?’ You have to accept he bad things in order to appreciate the good.”



Recommended Recordings

 

Jah Glory (Moya)

Apartheid Is Nazism (Shanachie)

The Best Of Alpha Blondy (Shanachie)

 

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