|Judah Eskender Tafari
Small Axe Reggae News
Coxsone Dodd released six classic songs with Judah
Eskender Tafari, 'Jah Light', 'Rastafari Tell You',
'Always Trying', 'Conquer Me', 'Danger In Your Eyes' and
'Just Another Day' a 12", from 1978 till 1980, the
first of which was the magnificent 'Jah Light'. He was
then due to release an album - 'African Blood', it's
In the summer of 1993 - Judah arrived in the UK for a O.A.U.
(Organisation For African Unity) Concert in Manchester.
It was then announced in Station To Station - Penny
Reel's reggae listings section in Echoes that
Judah, was due to sing at a dance in Hastings, with Bobby
Melody. Hastings is a sleepy seaside resort on Britain's
south coast. The last big event in Hastings was the
battle in 1066.
Judah apparently had linked up with a small sound system
based in Brighton, another seaside resort and also a
major town on the south coast. They had taken him to
Hastings, and then to the A-Class studios in London to
cut some specials. When Judah Eskender Tafari walked
through the door no one was more surprised than producer/engineer
Gussie P. Reggae legends just don't do things like that.
It didn't take long for Gussie P, or Sir G as Judah
called him, to strike up a deal, and the result is the
much delayed, but eagerly awaited excellent debut album
'Rastafari Tell You' released on Gussie P's own label.
How do you acquire the name Judah Eskender Tafari?
"The name Judah is the name of the tribe that I'm
from according to the Twelve Tribes Of Israel, according
to the month of the year. I was born in July, which
represents Judah.Eskender now is an Ethiopian name, I
really wanted to have a different name away from Ronald
Merrills, I wanted to have a different name in the music
world. Meet this Ethiopian sister sometime down in the
seventies in Jamaica, so I was asking her for some
Ethiopian names, and she mentioned a few names, and I
like this one Eskender, and it mean a commander, and I'm
doing singing which is commanding the people, so I like
this one, so I kinda hold onto it. Now Tafari now is my
father's name, which I'm called by. So I put it together
- Judah Eskender Tafari."
How did you get into the music business, when did you
start? "I learned to play the guitar, I was
playing the guitar, I wasn't really born to be a singer.
I didn't really have that as my dream to be a singer. I
wanted to play the guitar, and while playing the guitar I
started backing up singers and started to sing harmonies,
and automatically I started doing my own little singing
and start making one or two songs. Being a part of the
Twelve Tribes Of Israel over the years, it inspired me to
write more meaningful songs towards people. By reading my
Bible I get more conscious minded, that's how I ended up
singing the way that I do, yu know."
What year would that have been?
"My first studio work was in 1978, till 1980. I was
with Coxsone for those two years."
Coxsone Dodd: Rich Lowe
How did you come to work with
"Actually meeting with Coxsone, was through one of
my bredrin who is also a member of the Twelve Tribes. He
play with Coxsone, Bagga Walker, he play with Pablove
Black, the bass and the keyboardist at Studio One at the
time, he was the one who introduce me to Coxsone and
Studio One. Coxsone, never had any doubt in me, because
they are very good musicians, so he put me straight into
the studio, and release my singles quick too."
How many songs did you do for Coxsone?
"I did a few covers, I can't count the amount of
originals that I did, but I know I did sixteen to
eighteen songs in those two years. That was a lot of work
Jah Light was the first song that he released?
It got a very good response over here; did you pick
"I get good reactions from Trinidad, Canada and
England, but I really didn't know it had that big an
impact until I fly outside of Jamaica."
It's a wonderful song, what inspired it?
"Jah Light, it written by me and one of brethren in
Jamaica, Ivan Rueben. He came up with the idea of Jah
Light, and I get the guitar, for I always have a guitar.
I do all the arrangements and melodies, and put more
lyrics to it, and that's how it came about."
It was the Studio One Band, who played on that?
"Bagga Walker on bass, he's like a teacher to me."
Who played sax? "That's the mystery, this guy is
unknown he just come up from the country. Coxsone sent
for him to do sessions, he is one of these countrymen
that play in the hotels on the North Coast of Jamaica. I
never get to meet the guy, because Coxsone dubbed the
The drumming was also very good.
"I think that was Freddie
McGregor, it was between Freddie McGregor and Horsemouth.
I think it more Freddie McGregor though. He was the
Most Twelve Tribes members seems
to be multi-talented when it comes to music. Was there
any other songs recorded at the 'Jah Light' session?"Yeah,
I did 'Jah Light' and 'Rastafari Tell You' the same day.
You see all these songs were already arranged, being on
the guitar I arrange all my stuff. So I just go to the
musicians and tell them the chords, and they just create
whatever... Bagga put in the bass line (Judah hums the
memorable opening to 'Jah Light' ).
It seems like your time at
Studio One was very condensed, while a lot of artists
come and go over a period of years. You must have spent a
lot of time in the studio?
"Well I couldn't really tell
you the times and the dates, but I made a note of the
songs that I did and when I did them, I have them in my
own records, I work that way."
Coxsone was going to release
your 'African Blood' album back in 1979. John at Dub
Vendor who was visiting New York at the time, actually
saw the sleeve. Do you know anything about that?
"I know nothing about that, I
know that people have been asking for songs from Judah
Eskender, but he was always promising them...but not
releasing the stuff."
He told Rich Lowe at the Reggae
Directory that they were not finished.
"He's got enough tunes to put
out an album, I know that."
So what happened then, the last
we heard from you was in 1980, and then nothing?
"Being blessed from the
Almighty God, with this gift of playing and singing,
there comes a time when the Studio One thing become like
a pressure, cause you find that you sing out your heart
and don't really see nothing in return. Basically I just
started to play bass in a band."
What band was that?
"The Generation Gap, I started
to play bass with them, for quite a few years, backing up
That was in Jamaica?
"That was in Jamaica, for
quite a few years."
And then you visited Canada?
"No, the trip to Canada was
different. It was just a visit. It wasn't a musical
mission, it was just a trip to see my brethren. Although
I was at a show in Montreal. On my second trip I did some
work with Brigadier, I played bass, me and Malawi, Malawi
he played drums. In a studio in Toronto.
"Have you ever recorded
anything with Twelve Tribes?
"No, but I have an album. All
the ideas, the lyrics, the arrangements."
So you have only music with
Studio One on tape? "Actually, there is a
brethren of mine in America that I did a few songs for"
"No, Jah Mel is a brother I
did some harmony for, this a brother Jeff Sarge he run a
radio station in New Jersey, 91.1 FM. He just' have the
songs I don't think he's trying to release the stuff. He
was saying that we need a good distributor."
How many songs did you do for
"It was an album that I did
with me and a sister. I had about 4 or 5 songs on it. It
seems like he got into the dance hall thing, he was a
cultrual radio personality, and then he got into the
dance hall thing. I did some good songs for him, people
like them. I did over a old, old song for him. Do you
know a song called 'May I' (Judah starts to sing) "May
I, ah ah,ah May I". I just reggaematise it, and a
few more songs that he came up with." "I also
did a version of 'Rastafari Tell You' for him. These were
all done in 1987. We started the album in Jamaica in '87,
and nothing happen. That is the only other recording I've
done outside of Studio One, on tape for anybody."
With Jah Mel, you only did
harmonies on the 'Watchful Eyes' album, which is a very
good album, featuring the Wailers playing on the album.
Jah Mel: Photo Andy's Records
"Jah Mel is like a brother of
mine, we used to live together, eat, drink, smoke,
everything together from way back in Jamaica. He always
loved how I sing, and I sort of inspired him. He wasn't
really recording anything then, and he liked my vibe, and
people say he sound like me, whatever. Somehow we just
get tight together."
I don't think anyone sounds like
you! Laughs. Jah Mel is more of a sort of an
Horace Andy style."Yeah."
What is he doing now? Do you
still keep in contact with him?
"I really don't have any
contact with him since I came to America. He leave me
Jamaica, and came to America, years before I came. He was
living in upstate New York, Rochester. I meet him once
during the years, I meet in New York. I had his number,
but his number get change so much. I lost track, but I'm
confident that we will meet again."
When did you leave Jamaica for
"In December of'86, that was
when I came to America for the first time."
You have been more or less
resident there ever since?
"I've been back and forth to
Jamaica, quite a few times, get a chance to reach Africa
What country in Africa was that?
"I landed in Kenya, and went
to Ethiopia, I went to visit my brethren in Shashamane
Land, I have people living there that I knew from
Jamaica, living in Ethiopia and speaking Amharic."
How were they finding it, was it
hard living in Ethiopia?
"It was never going to be a
bed of roses, so you know. They have really come through
some rough times, but it's getting more easier as the
years go by and things get more develop,"
You don't often hear about
reggae artists visiting Africa.
"Right, give thanks to The
Most High, for really helping me to go and see the land,
because Africa is certainly a mystery in the hands of the
Almighty. Africa represents the future, well
underdeveloped and enough land. Africa will be the fruit
basket of the world."
You have the potential to do
anything in Africa, it's just the people who run it.
"One day Africa will be free."
It will happen, but it will take
a long time.
"Oh man... Africa is for the
Africans, those at home and those abroad, Marcus Garvey
prophsied these things, for many years, and with our
people living on the land it's not a dream no more it's a
reality. I know I can live there too."
It's a very important link
musically as well.
"The funny thing is, when I
went to Ethiopia I just feel the music vibes so strong. I
just wished I had a band and some things organisied so I
could start doing some gigs. That the spirit that I feel,
the people are receptive."
Jah Shaka who operates the sound
system of the same name, often visits the East coast of
Africa, Tanzania etc, working on various projects, and he
says the same thing.
"Actually when I was in Kenya,
I see this album with Brigadier that I play bass on
How did you come to be playing
bass on that album?
"It was Jah Love management -
Mr. Belcher. He wanted to do an album with Brigadier. He
chose the musicians, and he called on me to play the
bass, and I give thanks for the opportunity too. It was
the first album that I ever played bass on, but from over
the years backing up singers, I learned that singing is
my thing, because I never really enjoy backing up
singers, as much I enjoy singing. When I sing, the
feeling that I get, I don't get it from nothing else.
It certainly sounds like you
"Laughs, I really love it."
I wished there was a few more
reggae artists who enjoyed it as much as yourself.
Brigadier Jerry, why doesn't he record that much?
"Well, let me clear one thing
from your mind. It's nothing like the 12 Tribes Of Israel
restricting Briggy from doing any recording. It's more
like Brigadier's choice to just to do the things that he
He's more interested in working
on the Jah Love sound system.
"Really the cassette is the
thing that promote the Brigadier, that make him known
worldwide. It wasn't no recording." Have you ever
sung on Jah Love sound system? "Yeah, maybe once
or twice. People always love it, but I'm not really a
sound system singer. I don't really like it as such, but
I did it one or two times. Brigadier always wanted me to
What is your reason for visiting
the UK now? "England - blessings to The Twelve
Tribes Of Israel - England was a long standing desire,
cause I had three sisters born here. My mother come here
and die here, and I've never been here before. The Twelve
Tribes Of Israel sent for me to come and sing on the 25th
May 1993 - The O.A.U. day celebration. The Organisation
of African Unity. They invited me to come and sing on
That was in Manchester?
"Yes, and I did that and, man,
it was mega. People really accepted me, everyone was
really waiting on me to come on stage. From there I come
to London, and I was doing a special for a sound, and
they took me to Gussie P studio (The A- Class Studio) to
"Everything, is just the works
Myself and Colin Moore was at
the studio the day before you cut the special, and Colin
came back the next day to look for a dat belonging to
"When he meet me, he was
telling me all my history."
He phoned me up at midnight on
that Friday, to tell me that he met you! Prior to that,
just a few weeks before I was talking to John Masouri
from Echoes, and we were talking about his first trip to
Jamaica, and I asked him to look for you while he was
there to interview you. Three weeks later he was
interviewing you in England!
"I always ask God to lead me
into the right way, and I like it over here, the vibe is
much more positive."
Where do you live in America?
"I've been living in New York
for quite a few years, living in Brooklyn, until about
1990 when I went down to Maryland."
Gussie P (right) Photo: Ray
So you've been working on an
album with GussieP, what kind of album is it?
"Yeah, well the album... When
I reason with Gussie P at that special session, he was
really pleased to meet me also. He started to sing the
intro from 'Always Trying'. I thought this guy singing
out this song... So we start reasoning, tell me "Judah,
you have to do an album ". We start drawing up a
concept, and we will call it 'Rastafari Tell You'. His
vibe was... you know... I like his vibes. One day we will
do something you know." "I was due to leave
England the 2nd of June '93,1 wanted to put off the
project till I came back to England. The ticket that I
had couldn't be extended. So I checked out some sister
here, and she said "It can be done, Judah." So
she called up some people that she knew, and she got it
extended for another 28 days. Right away I called Gussie
P." "I really wanted to leave something going
in England, cause I see the people love me so much. So I
called up Gussie P to ask him if he really wanted to do
this album, and right away he was ready. So we started on
it, and I appreciate the way it turn out. I wrote some of
the songs here in England for the album, I finished doing
the lead vocals. I worked all night on it last night, all
it needs is some harmonies and a few overdubs, and Gussie
should be ready to go. I can leave on Wednesday... this
With a peaceful mind,
"Yeah, I really feel lighter
this morning, knowing that. I could have finished it a
while ago, but I got a cold. I couldn't even speak."
By Ray Hurford & Colin Moore
with thanks to Sonia