Studio One Legend Bongo Herman Talks Dancehall, Reggae and Rockers

Studio One percussionist Bongo HermanLegendary drummer, percussionist and singer Bongo Herman is one of reggae’s few remaining living legends having featured on Rasta anthems such as Satta Massagana and Know Fari since the late 1960s.

In the interview below, Herman talks about the problem with modern dancehall producers, his legacy and starring role in the cult classic movie Rockers.

Is it true you made a cameo appearance in Rockers (above)?

Yes, if you remember the film, I am the one dressed in the yellow tracksuit doing the breakdancing in Randy’s record shop.

What are your other career highlights?

Back in the day, I hung around with Bob Marley in Trench Town and used to record at Studio One and Randy’s.

I also performed with the Jackson 5 when they came to Jamaica in 1975; I’m the only person Michael Jackson hung out with outside of his hotel.

How do your describe vocation?

I’m versatile. I’m a percussionist, singer, MC, dancer, everything. I just work the circuit and give thanks, still.

Why is percussion so important in music production?

Drums connect to people’s spirit. Most of these youths who claim to be producing songs leave out the percussion, but the percussion is a very important element, it come in like seasoning; you can’t cook good food without seasoning.

You’ve seen many trends, artists, musicians and producers come and go, but yet you are still here. What’s the secret to your success?

You have some artists who come and you have others who were sent. I see myself as one of those who were sent; and that’s why I’m still here.

I’m 70 not out and still singing good. I’ve played on a lot of big songs artists with artists such as Gyptian, Fanton Mojah, and Capleton; the drums and percussion you hear on many of their songs are mine. There is no speech nor language where my percussion is not heard.

What would you most like to change about the reggae and dancehall industry?

I would love the musicians to go back to the foundation of the music when the bassist, drummer and keyboardist were all in the studio. Nowadays everybody has a studio, so they just lick a ting and call it a riddim.

Back in the day, we never even got paid, but we loved the music so we’d sit in the studio and record. And we never build a riddim without the artist being there so he could get the proper key; that’s why those songs stand the test of time.

Now they have a thing called dancehall, but they named it wrong because the dancehall is place where you go to dance. I don’t call this music dancehall, I call it standoff.

Rae Town dancersWhy have you renamed dancehall music ‘standoff’?

Because when you go to a dance, you see a set of man over one side and a set of girls on the other side, like a cowboy film.

But real reggae dancehall is like when you’re going to Rae Town (above) and you see people hugging up, dancing and rubbing up and dem type of ting deh. Reggae is the heartbeat of our people.

Tell us about your future projects…

I have a couple of shows lined up, so I’ll be going to Europe soon and I’ll be travelling to England later this year because where I’m opening up for at the premier of a film about Jamaica’s General Penitentiary prison called Songs of Redemption.

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