Ska a Sultan's family business - Prince Buster's son hopes for genre's Ja resurgence
Sultan Ali traces his life in music back to bottles. Red Stripe bottles, to be precise. And empty ones, too, as the child named Donald Campbell and his brother picked them up off the floor of Forrester's Hall on North Street, Kingston, and put them into crates, contributing towards the liquor for the next dance. Donald was not the typical 'bottle police' (as persons who scout venues for empties are called), though. And neither was he a neglected child, as his mother, Blossom Campbell, was monitoring the gate, his grandmother, 'Mama Sada', was cooking the soup and curried goat and his father had organised the event in the first place.
"We grew up in the business," Sultan said, describing how he would put on records and dance at his father's place at 127 Orange Street, Kingston, not far from Forrester's Hall.
Now that Donald is all grown up, that father's stage is part of his, Prince Ali (son of Prince Buster). Along with saxophonist Lester Sterling and harmonica player Charlie Organaire, it is on the poster for The Real Jamaican Ska Experience, featuring Two Legends and a Son, in Chicago, USA, this Saturday. If Sultan had his way, they would perform in Jamaica, even as he says he is not let down by ska's low-key presence in the land in which it was born and that his father had a prominent role in shaping.
"I am not disappointed. That's my job, to bridge a generation gap. There are about two generations that have no idea of the music. My job is to set the baton and pass it on," Sultan said. His plans to visit Jamaica for Reggae Month 2018 fell through, so Sultan, who lives in the United States, was last on the island for his father's funeral in 2016. However, the Sultan despairs about the Prince's lack of recognition in Jamaica.
"Jamaica don't know how big my father is. Prince Buster changed the face of Jamaican music. He brought the Rastafarians out of the Wareika Hills community and took them to JBC in 1959 and produced Oh Carolina (with vocals by the Folkes Brothers)," Sultan said. "Rastafari went into the recording studio, unprecedented!" He repeatedly states ska's pride of place before the Jamaican popular music forms that came after, including rocksteady and reggae.
Sultan Ali says he predominantly performs his father's material, including Chiney Man and They Got to Come, as well as his own material such as Beautiful Angel, and a cover of Marvin Gaye's Pride and Joy, expecting to increase the proportion of his own material when his album is released. It is heavily ska influenced, but is as eclectic as the music his father exposed him to at 127 Orange Street.
From performing with the Red Stripes band in Hong Kong in 2014 to rave reviews after performing in London, Ali has picked up on the enthusiasm for ska worldwide. And he quotes actor and singer Harry Belafonte, from an encounter at UCLA in the US, in reasserting ska's influence once again. "He told me ska music is the best music that ever came out of Jamaica," Sultan Ali said with pride.