Reggae has had its peaks and valleys. One minute it’s dismissed, the next it’s savored.
Right now, it’s more accessible to mainstream America than ever, thanks to recent hits by UB40, Inner Circle, Big Mountain and Jimmy Cliff. Others, like Patra and Born Jamericans, keep the riddim spirit alive.
To at least one artist, reggae still doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
“Many see us as a flash in the pan,” says Pato Banton, a toast of the town in his own right. “They don’t realize the longevity and continuity of some reggae artists.”
Banton would know. At seven years (and five albums), he’s the veteran member of I.R.S. Records’ current roster. His sixth I.R.S. album, a greatest-hits package called “Collections,” is due Aug. 23. The leadoff single is a new track, a vibrant cover of the Equals’ 1968 hit “Baby, Come Back,” with UB40 backing on vocals.
It’s all part of a grander plan, Banton says.
“Seven years ago, I was becoming aware of something higher than myself and having a higher purpose than just being rich and successful,” he says. “I recognized I was talented by the way people would respond to the things I do … but I didn’t want to use it for selfish reasons.
“I wanted to use it for positive elements into the minds of people who like my stuff, that way I would be doing a service for God. It’s been very fulfilling.”
These days, Banton is one of the hottest artists in South America. He’s had No. 1 albums in Peru, and in Brazil, Chile and Argentina, it’s not unusual for him to attract more than 20,000 fans to a show.
In America, the Birmingham, England, native is largely unknown, despite toasting appearances on English Beat’s “Special Beat Service” and UB40’s “Little Baggariddim” albums.
“Baby, Come Back” has all the earmarks of a hit in waiting, but Banton knows better.
“A hit, nine times out of 10, is not based on the public’s opinion,” he says. “It’s based on how much money a record company is willing to put into an artist to make them available to the public.
“With my record company, I know without a shadow of a doubt, they enjoy my music on a personal level, but I don’t think they’ve ever found the zeal to spend extremely extravagant money to push one of my tracks.
“I think with UB40’s input, it has all the ingredients to becoming extremely successful. I don’t like to predict hits, but I would say the ingredients are there.”
BWF (before we forget): The Pato Banton album discography – “Never Give In” (1987), “Visions of the World” (1988), “Wize Up (No Compromise)” (1990), “Pato Banton and The Reggae Revolution’s Live and Kicking All Over America” (1991), “Universal Love” (1992), “Collections” (1994).