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Weekly Alibi African Teacher

By Michael Henningsen

AUGUST 25, 1997:  For nearly three decades, the name Burning Spear has been increasingly synonymous with reggae. His profound religious and cultural focus has long given his music an exceptional spirituality. As reggae's elder statesman, Burning Spear has achieved legendary status with a dozen-odd Grammy nominations (including six for "Album of the Year") for his impressive catalog of 16 studio albums, four dub albums and three live records, including the timeless Live in Paris released in 1988. Throughout his illustrious career, Spear has spread love and peace through his music and has endeavored to educate and provoke free thought. His music is infused with a philosophy that combines roots, the idea that we are all one with each other and with nature; culture, the tie that binds us to the past, and history, the spiritual record of our quest for divine consciousness. Religion is the thematic centerpiece of Spear's work, but the music he surrounds it with is a source of inspiration to millions of fans throughout the world. Burning Spear is universal, a true legend in his own time.

Burning Spear first came to the forefront of the reggae world in 1975 with the release of Marcus Garvey. It was with this record that a young Winston Rodney firmly established himself as the African Teacher, an apt title that has since been used to open his live shows all over the world. Spear takes his name from African freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first head of state, who was also referred to as the Burning Spear. His lyrics carry the torch lighted by Kenyatta and are especially dedicated to spreading the teachings of Rastafarian leader Marcus Garvey, who preached self-determination and self-reliance for all African descendants. And in all of reggae's relatively brief history, never have the words and thoughts of Garvey been so eloquently spoken, sung and brought to life.

And while Spear's early records on the legendary Studio One label became the foundation for his stellar career, it was a trio of releases on Island Records in the '70s--Marcus Garvey, Man in the Hills and Garvey's Ghost--that reshaped the face of reggae music and propelled Burning Spear to the pinnacle of international artistry. Following several similarly acclaimed records on Island, Spear began recording for the Heartbeat label, his home for the past 11 records.

On his most recent recording, Appointment with His Majesty, Spear follows the Grammy-nominated Rasta Business with more of the wisdom and insight that has become his own unique signature. One of Burning Spear's many accomplishments has been making reggae accessible to a wide range of music fans. People from all walks of life have been drawn to his music and, hence, introduced to new musical doors. And nowhere is his music more universal in scope than on his latest record. Appointment with His Majesty touches on all of Spear's long-standing themes--the many manifestations of god, condemnation of political warfare and violence and the importance of positive influence and inspiration through music, thought and, most importantly, action.

To say that a live performance by Burning Spear is an experience of religious proportions would be an understatement. The sheer drama of his performances rivals that of any theater troupe or musical act in the world. And the message his lyrics and music convey is one that speaks to us all. His outward respect for tradition in the face of trend and his singular, determined vision make Burning Spear a musical prophet. This is reggae music as strong and pure as it comes.

--Michael Henningsen

Burning Spear with special guests Ras Michael & Negus, Mystic Vision and Creation will perform Thursday, Aug. 28, in Santa Fe at the Sweeny Center. Doors open at 8 p.m. General admission tickets are $20, available in advance at all TicketMaster outlets and at the Santa Fe Music Ticket Office. Children under 12 admitted free.

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