With the release of his landmark CD “Where There Is Life” in 1995, Luciano emerged as one of the most important reggae singers in decades and the greatest hope for roots reggae’s survival in the digital dancehall era. Since that much acclaimed release, Luciano’s music has been consistently praised for imparting sentiments of spiritual salvation, Rastafarian edification and African repatriation.
In these troubled times, Luciano’s engaging baritone resonates like a divinely ordained instrument possessing the power to comfort and, seemingly, the informed biblical authority to warn of impending destruction. While many of his so called “conscious” contemporaries have faltered by recording songs that glorify wanton sex and random violence as a means of topping the charts, Luciano has held steadfast to enriching Rasta principles; these positive lyrical themes have justifiably earned him the title of The Messenger. However, the humble singer also refers to himself as the child of a king which is the title of his latest CD on VP Records.
“We are all children of the Most High God and as a Rastaman, I acknowledge that I am a child of Emperor Hailie Selassie I because all of his teachings are in my songs,” he explains. “I am a child of king and I just want my family and my fans to receive the blessings that God has given through me as a messenger and an instrument of peace.”
Produced by Byron Murray of Kingston’s In the Streetz Productions, “Child of a King” is one of The Messenger’s most esteemed works, mixing classic cover versions and original tunes, recent hits and brand new boom shots. Luciano estimates this to be his 40th album; the prolific artist releases three (full length) CDs per year. “I have so much music and messages, that I cannot be holding it inside of me,” he declares. “From a management point of view, they would like to see me cooling it out for a while but if a bird doesn’t sing, tell me if that bird is happy? Right now we are at a point of rivalry and all matter of evil in the world and my duty as a messenger is to run the music out there like the River Jordan.”
Music has run deeply throughout Luciano’s life. Born Jepther Washington McClymont on October 20, 1964 in Davey Town, a small community located atop a hilly region on the road to Mandeville in the central Jamaican parish of Manchester. Luciano was raised in the Adventist church and sang in the church choir. His father Arthur passed away when Luciano was just 11 years old. He left behind a guitar he had built and as Luciano recalls, “through those early years, I fell in love with the guitar and started to learn to play, which I realized was showing love and respect to my father.” His beloved mother Sophie, who struggled to raise Luciano and his eight siblings, is also a gifted singer.
As he grew older, Luciano sang in local youth clubs and took the mic at local sound system dances. In the late 80s, he arrived in Jamaica’s bustling capital Kingston hoping to transform his musical talent into a flourishing career. He sold oranges in the marketplace as means of initially supporting himself but when a drought restricted that year’s orange crop, he returned to Mandeville. However, the music beckoned so it wasn’t long before Luciano went back to Kingston, this time with even greater determination to succeed. He worked as an upholsterer by day and at night he sought recording opportunities in various studios.
It was suggested by one of his mentors, Homer Harris, that the name Jepther McClymont did not have the requisite charisma to propel the career of an aspiring entertainer; Jepther was (professionally) re-christened as Luciano, a name that parallels his extraordinary vocal skills alongside those of the world-renowned operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The name was also somewhat prophetic: “Luci” means bearer of light and within a few years Luciano would shine as one of the brightest lights in the Jamaican music constellation.
As the 1990s progressed, Luciano recorded for a few producers but failed to make any significant headway until he met Freddie McGregor. “Shake It Up” (a cover version of Cheryl Lyn’s RnB hit) recorded for Freddie’s Big Ship label became a number one hit in the UK in 1993 and was featured on Luciano’s first release for VP Records “After All”.
But due to Freddie’s hectic touring commitments, he was unable to devote sufficient time to developing Luciano’s singer/songwriting skills. However the singer soon found an ideal collaborator in producer Phillip “Fatis” Burell of Xterminator Records whose releases were characterized by Rastafari imbued themes and intricately crafted roots rock riddims played by some of Jamaica’s finest musicians.
Fatis, who also took on the managerial role in Luciano’s career, brought the gifted singer’s talents to the musical forefront on cuts like “Poor and Simple”, “Chant Out” and “One Way Ticket”, the latter regarded as one of the finest repatriation anthems ever written and a song that continually summons enthusiastic responses in Luciano’s breathtaking live performances. With the release of “Where There Is Life” for Island Jamaica/Xterminator, Luciano’s deeply devotional yet accessible lyrics and the beautiful melodies of “Its Me Again Jah”, “Your World and Mine” and “Lord Give Me Strength” coupled with Fatis’ contemporary one drop riddims catapulted the singer to the top of the reggae charts, toppling (at least temporarily) the decade long reign of deejays rapping x-rated lyrics over digitized dancehall beats.
Luciano and Fatis (alongside preeminent musicians such as saxophonist Dean Frasier and drummer Sly Dunbar) created several exceptional releases including 1997′s “The Messenger” and 1999′s “Sweep Over My Soul”. Although they parted ways in 1999 due to artistic differences within the Xterminator camp, Luciano consistently acknowledges Fatis’ essential role in establishing the foundation for his far-reaching success.
The Messenger has since ascended to even greater musical heights with “A New Day” (2001) “Serve Jah” (2003), “Serious Times” (2004), all for VP Records, and his latest effort, Child of A King”, the crowning glory of his exalted career thus far.
The set opens with the acoustic “Remember When” as Luciano reflects on ancient kingdoms of Africa and the inherited regal identity that is present in all of us. Heads of government are chided for their war mongering on “Watch What You’re Doing” and “This One’s For The Leaders” recorded on Don Corleone’s massive Drop Leaf riddim. He confronts a deceiving lover on “Can’t Take No More”, cautions against the fleeting gratification of materialism on “Silver and Gold” (voiced on Steven “Gibbo” Gibbs’ Hard Times riddim) and sternly warns gun men to turn their lives around on “Brother Man”:”Mr. man rinsing your steel, taking another life how do you feel?/One day I know your time will come, better take this word of advice and put down your gun.”
“Child of a King” also offers an eclectic range of cover versions from Nina Simone’s empowering anthem of African identity “Young Gifted and Black” to Cat Stevens’ mid 1970s unity plea “Peace Train” and UK easy-listening superstar Roger Whitaker’s desire for a better planet on “New World in the Morning”. Luciano’s stunning, heartfelt interpretation of these disparate tunes offers an incomparable presentation of the roots rock icon’s diversified skills. “I came out of roots and culture as a reggae singer and have proven to people that I can fit into any genre of music,” he proclaims. “I sing reggae, gospel, roots, I will sing rock too but always keeping my message clean, spiritual and cultural. Over the years I have listened to international artists like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, (CandW legend) Jim Reeves, all these great brothers so I have learned to appreci-love other works. There are no barriers in music, although I am well known as a reggae culture singer, I have an international message so I cannot leave it just to reggae people. I have to extend it to people of all walks of life.” Spoken like a truly benevolent messenger and the globally minded child of a king.