The New York Times describes his most recent release, Freedom Blues (VP Records), as “one of the season’s most eagerly anticipated reggae albums,” while the venerable BBC curiously hails him as “the hottest artist anywhere right now.” Accolades of this caliber don't come easily and roots singer Jah Cure is paying a substantial price for such lofty commendations: he’s serving a 15-year jail sentence.
A distinctive vocalist possessing a plaintive, nasal quality, Jah Cure was on the threshold of a promising career when he was identified as one of two attackers who had forced two women into a car at gun-point, drove them to the Spring Farm area of Rose Hall, Montego Bay and raped them.
Whether the singer actually committed this succession of heinous crimes or is just guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, only Jah Cure and his accuser know for sure. But there is a prevalent belief in his innocence throughout Jamaica and among the international reggae community, and Jah Cure’s account of the events leading to his arrest and subsequent detainment certainly place the conduct of the island’s police into serious question. What is irrefutable is that despite Jah Cure being unable to perform at stage shows or tour internationally, his career has risen to dizzying heights since April 26, 1999 when he was convicted on rape, robbery and gun-related charges at the St. James Circuit Court in Montego Bay.
On the evening of November 16, 1998 Jah Cure and a few friends were leaving the popular Margaritaville bar/restaurant located on Montego Bay’s Hip Strip when a policeman pulled them over asking to see Jah Cure’s driver’s license and registration. The policeman then searched the singer’s car for guns and drugs and when he didn’t find any, Jah Cure asked if he could go. The policeman told him he had to wait and speak to another officer because he was a suspect in a rape that had recently taken place.
“Dem police say rape gwaan down here last week and asked if I was down here and I told them no,” Jah Cure explained to journalist Julian Smith in a November 2004 interview. “Then the police say me can’t leave and they called some people and ask them to look at me. Then me hear the police ask, ‘A him this?’ Is that time I-man see this girl [the alleged rape victim] for the first time. When she come she ask them [the police], ‘A him this?’
“So hear the girl now, she say, ‘It sound like him.’ Me say to her, ‘Sound like wha’? Look at me good, a me name Jah Cure,’ and me take off me tam and say, ‘Look at me good.’ Then them say them a carry I-man go a [police] station.”
Based on this makeshift street ID parade, Jah Cure was taken to the Coral Gardens police station, where he was detained for a week. After paying his JA$20,000 bail (approximately US $330.00), Jah Cure was set free. When he returned for his scheduled court date, improper legal representation (his lawyer overslept and arrived late for the hearing) and over-zealousness on the part of the police and the alleged rape victim’s mother to see him behind bars resulted in a 15-year jail sentence.
Despite his incarceration Jah Cure has continued to record. Several of his singles, including “Songs Of Freedom,” “Good Morning Jah Jah” and “Jah Bless Me,” previously released on 2000’s Free Jah Cure (J&D Records) and now included on VP’s Freedom Blues, take on greater significance (and have generated stronger interest among reggae fans) due to his imprisonment. Cure’s biggest hit to date, “Longing For,” highlighted by the singer’s melancholy delivery of his personal plight (“what am I longing for? My baby to love me more/What am I longing for? Babylon release the cure”), is the most popular song recorded on one of the major reggae riddims of 2004/2005, “The Drop Leaf” (Don Corleon Records), a sinewy one-drop beat accented by gentle strands of Spanish guitars.<