Jamaica Gleaner / The Tastee Talent Contest judges did not know what was coming their way when 11-year-old Nadine Sutherland performed Peter Tosh’s Buk-in-Hamm Palace .
The single spoke of music and herb as the healing of the nation in which the legend sings, “light your spliff/light your chalice/we a go smoke it inna buk-in-hamm palace; lend me a paper, lend me a fire/mek we chase away all the vampire” .
The lyrics of the song were of little concern to the singer’s adolescent mind. Tosh’s single could easily be acknowledged as Sutherland’s best choice as it led her to defeat dancehall’s Yellowman, thus taking a “regular-degular-shmegular” country girl to national stardom.
“I cannot forget the first time I heard Buk-in-Hamm Palace on the radio. I immediately fell in love with it and asked my father to get the record for me, knowing instinctively that it would be the song for my performance,” Sutherland said.
Soon after, Sutherland secured a recording contract with Tuff Gong Records, which granted her the amazing privilege to work with both Bob Marley and later, Tosh.
“To this day, I always smile when listening to my father recount his personal recollections of the legendary Peter Tosh. He vividly remembers the first time Peter called him to secure my professional services. He notes that Peter was always respectful, warm, and complimentary of my talents.”
FIRST-TIME RECORDING WITH TOSH
In one long account, she tells of the first time cutting a track with the Stepping Razor, whose birthday we celebrate today. It is an almost completely different understanding of a teenage girl entering into the music industry, rather than simply listening to her music recorded in the 1980s.
“I remember the day I was picked up after school and taken down to Dynamic Studio. I was clad in my St Andrew’s High School for Girls uniform, which, at the time, was a white cotton blouse, yellow skirt, with matching tie. I made my way (in the company of my father), and when we arrived at the studio, Peter was sitting behind the recording console. He was obviously very much in charge. My father took the time to discuss some details of the session with Tosh, and then he departed,” Sutherland recalls.
This would be the first time Sutherland would record under the supervision of Tosh. The nostalgia of frankincense and myrrh burning in the studio returns to Sutherland, who further noted that being in the presence of Tosh made her slightly uncomfortable. Nonetheless, Tosh’s jokes about ‘running away duppies’ helped to break the tension.
“I was left in Peter’s care. I suspect that he believed that through this ritual, he was cleansing his space of negative energies. Sensing my anxiety, he smiled at me and asked how I was doing. I was still waiting for the session to begin when Peter’s partner, Marlene Brown, entered the studio. I am reminded of the ease with which Marlene and Peter communicated with each other and thought it seemed special,” Sutherland said.
She continued: “Both Marlene and Peter seemed to hold an African spiritual world view. Peter appropriated aspects of the mysticism associated with such belief systems as Voodoo, Revivalism, and Buddhism and blended them with their Rastafarian faith, thus creating their own special spiritual experience.”
The project was no ordinary venture for Sutherland. This was the recording of No Nuclear War , released in 1987, a project that would earn a Reggae Grammy. The Action singjay accepts that the background of training adds to her sound, which incorporates old and modern musical styles from gospel, dancehall, reggae, as well as the rhythm and blues genres.
“My first recording session with Tosh was special because it was the first time I was asked to sing harmonies on a major recording project. I was somewhat intimidated despite my being a seasoned performer and recording artiste as Peter had recruited some of the most accomplished harmonisers for me to work with during the session. I was surrounded by Pam Hall, Cynthia Schloss, JC Lodge, and Ruddy Thomas,” Sutherland said.
That orientation has had significant influence in Sutherland’s outlook, although most stories about her career credit only Marley for his brief nurturing. This is partly because of the fact that Sutherland’s debut single, Starvation , was the first song she recorded in 1979 on the Tuff Gong label, earning her national recognition adding to performing internationally with the Wailers even after Marley’s death.
Both artistes’ deaths affected Sutherland. However, the news of Tosh’s death was received as she travelled from New York City to make it to rehearsals in Jamaica with him in preparation for a tour, making it all the more difficult to process.
“Last year, as I watched Andrew Tosh singing Buk-in-Hamm Palace , my mind went back to the time I won the inaugural Tastee Talent Contest. The rhythm is groovy and infectious. I could sing it while doing a serious Tina Turner dance imitation. Those were the things that mattered to me then,” she said.
Sutherland is scheduled to perform on Saturday, October 21, for the Peter Tosh Music Festival, where all artistes are expected to do a rendition of a Tosh single, as well as one of their own productions.