Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, January 25, 2002

Reggae star sings the
free-trade blues

Marley sidekick Yami Bolo promotes
a film about the downside
of the global economy

By Gary C. W. Chun

It's very beautiful here. We're both having a regal adventure!" Reggae artist Yami Bolo was speaking by phone from Kauai earlier this week, as he and a friend, documentary filmmaker Stephanie Black, were enjoying the island while showcasing their respective work.

Black is a first-time visitor here with her hard-hitting documentary "Life & Debt," a work about how an underdeveloped country such as Yami's home of Jamaica is exploited by American "free trade" interests. This marks a return trip for the rootsy singer who was part of the Marley brethren show here several months ago.

While not as well-known as Damian and Stephen Marley, Yami Bolo (born Rolando Ephraim McLean in Kingston in 1970) is considered one of reggae's stronger lights.

"He has a phenomenal voice," said Black. "It speaks directly to the heart from God. He represents a very strong force in reggae. Yami's been singing since he was a kid and has had hits since he was 14."

Yami's early vocal influences included such music's greats as Junior Reid, Michael Rose, Sugar Minott and Junior Delgado. His 1985 album, "Jah Made Them All," became the turning point in life as he began to fully embrace the island's Rastafarian faith. By age 17, he was touring with the late, great producer Augustus Pablo and his Rockers crew.

Yami Bolo

With THC (The Heartical Crew) and Ooklah the Moc
Where: Hawaiian Hut, Ala Moana Hotel, 410 Atkinson Drive
When: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. tomorrow, doors open at 9
Admission: $12 at the door; must be 18
Call: 941-5205

His international appeal to reggae fans would later include a 1994 collaboration with Japanese superstar Kazafumi Miyazawa. Their album "Love is Dangerous" and a top-selling single "Brothers Unite" were two of the hits that year from the "Miya-Yami Project."

Yami also contributed vocals to "Still Searchin' " from Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley's recent "Halfway Tree" album, a collaboration that included Stephen Marley and the Ghetto Youths crew. Yami's contribution to Black's "Life & Debt" film soundtrack will be released on Feb. 5 on the Marleys' Tuff Gong label.

"The musicians that contributed to the soundtrack offer up a militant voice against the poverty and social injustices brought on by World Trade Organization trade policies," said Black.

The film and its accompanying music are "all part of the big picture and the same mission," she said.

And Yami's mission is to spread his love for the Most Highest. "I'm singing not to be popular, but to be faithful to the cause and culture of reggae music and Jah Rastafari. I focus on humility and speak to the conscious of humanity. Love is the only solution, and we must work ceaselessly so everyone can feel this aloha vibration that Hawaii gives off.

"In Jamaica, even though we have such economical problems, my home and Hawaii share the warmth of the sun and the people, the lush forests -- it's all Mama Earth! We have to bond together, since both native peoples' human rights have been hijacked, and go in the direction to Jah Rastafari love. From birth, Haile Selassie, the Prince of Peace, the Conquering Lion of Judah, is, and always will be, our Father."

Bolo's latest album, "Healing of All Nations," is very much cut from a vintage, roots reggae sound and steeped in Rastafarianism.

"Everyday that we go to the studio, we use different riddim and inspiration from the pure majesty, the powerhouse and incubator of knowledge. With vibrations from most high, we cut through the confusion. Our duty is to bring a message of love where everyone -- baby, mother, father -- can all understand.

"And reggae is the ultimate vehicle, taking it to the tribes of the four corners of the world. It's a global message that Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer sent forth, a message of love and world, to humanity."

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