Junior Delgado's booming, raspy voice brings power to his songs. He first came to prominence in the crowded field of Jamaican roots reggae during the mid-1970s. In a world where the producer makes or breaks the artist, Delgado teamed with the legendary Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, famous for his groundbreaking work with reggae icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Their song "Sons of Slaves" introduced the power, strength, and impact of Delgado's voice to the world. As Phil Johnson of the Independent wrote of Delgado, "He is one of the great survivors of that heroic period of Jamaican music in the Seventies which is as important to the history of popular music as that of New Orleans or Memphis in the Fifties."
Born Oscar Delgado Hibbert on August 25, 1958 (some sources say 1954), in Kingston, Jamaica, Delgado was raised by his mother and then later by his grandmother. He attended a Catholic church while growing up, serving as an altar boy and singing in the choir. His singing talent was apparent early on, and he competed for prizes in school concerts and local contests. When he was a teenager he began performing seriously.
As the lead singer for a group named Time Unlimited, Delgado recorded with Perry as well as with other prominent Jamaican producers including Joe Gibbs. Although they recorded an album's worth of songs for Perry, only a few of Time Unlimited's recordings were released as singles. These included "African Sound," "Reaction," and "23rd Psalm." Delgado recorded two solo singles, "Rasta Dreadlocks" and "Run Baldhead," with Rupie Edwards under the name of the Heaven Singers. Eventually Time Unlimited disbanded, and its members went on to pursue solo careers. Perry sought out Delgado to record at his Black Ark studio, and together they recorded one of reggae's most powerful songs, "Sons of Slaves."
"Sons of Slaves" was a true collaboration between singer and producer. Delgado, who was still a teenager, wrote most of the lyrics, which were inspired by Jamaica's historical involvement in the slave trade. Delgado credits Perry with making the song as powerful as it is. He revealed to Johnson that he was "frightened" when he first heard the song. "It make me feel well naive…. And coming through speakers it sounds monstrous!" Despite his youth, Delgado's deep, emotive voice brought an intense and frightening element to the song. Delgado went on to record many more politically oriented songs.
By the late 1970s, Delgado's solo career was firmly established. He was recording with some of reggae's most successful producers. For Gibbs, he recorded "Armed Robbery" and "United Dreadlocks." For Augustus Pablo he recorded "Away with Your Fussing and Fighting" and "Blackman's Heart Cries Out." During that time he also started his own record label, called Incredible Jux/Incredible Music, on which he released "Fisherman Row" and "Jah Stay."
One of Delgado's most enduring relationships was with reggae artist and producer Dennis Brown. They collaborated for over a decade on releases that appeared on Brown's DEB label, with Delgado acting as both a producer and a performer. Their first release was a seven-inch single called "Party Time," of which they sold thousands of copies from the trunk of a car in Kingston. In 1978, he recorded another single for DEB, "Taste of the Young Heart." The record was exported to England, where it was eventually made into a 12-inch disco record. Brown and Delgado decided to release an album of the same name containing some of Delgado's greatest hits from the middle-to-late 1970s. Taste of the Young Heart was a huge hit, and sales of the album remained consistent for more than 20 years. Speaking of the album, Delgado told Johnson, "It's like gold dust … It's my pension, believe me!"
Delgado weathered some rough times in the first half of the 1980s. He had a hit record early on with the popular dub performers Sly and Robbie, called "Fort Augustus." But his career was put on hold when he was jailed for 18 months in 1983 on drug charges, charges he claims should not have been applied to him. After his release, Delgado went back to the recording studio and issued a 12-inch single called "Broadwater Farm." The song was about an area in north London that was filled with racial strife at the time. The same year the record was released, a riot broke out in the area and resulted in the murder of a policeman. Because of the riot, Delgado's song was banned.
In 1986, Delgado returned to the studio to record with Pablo. Pablo's digital remixes of Delgado's classic hits are well regarded. They co-produced the album Raggamuffin Year, which went on to become a big hit and was nominated for a Grammy award in 1987. The duo went on to tour Europe, performing to enthusiastic crowds everywhere and giving a well-reviewed performance at the Astoria Theater in London.
At the beginning of the 1990s, Delgado continued his successful collaboration with Pablo. He recorded singles for Pablo on the Message label as well as on his own Incredible Music label. In the late 1990s, many of Delgado's releases were remixes of his classic recordings. In 1998, he teamed up with Jerry Dammers, a former member of the legendary ska band the Specials, to remake Dammers' "Ghost Town."
In 1999, Delgado worked on the album Fearless with producers Adrian Sherwood and Skip McDonald. The album consisted of his old hits, remixed to jungle beats. "I think it stretches the boundary of the music," Delgado told Space Age Bachelor. It's like American, it's Indian, and European, and African, with a Caribbean flavor." In 2000, McDonald and Sherwood produced another group of remixes of his old hits, this time with a jazz and blues touch. To support the release of Reasons, Delgado went on a successful tour. In 2003, Original Guerilla Music was released. The highly successful album was a reissue of Delgado's greatest hits from the 1970s and 1980s.
For the Record . . .
Born Oscar Delgado Hibbert on August 25, 1958 (some sources say 1954), in Kingston, Jamaica.
Performed with Time Unlimited and the Heaven Singers, early 1970s; went solo, mid-1970s; recorded "Sons of Slaves" with famed reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, 1976; collaborated with Dennis Brown on Taste of the Young Heart, toured England and moved there, 1978; performed in New York for the first time, 1979; formed his own record company, Incredible Jux/Incredible Music, 1980s; recorded controversial song "Broadwater Farm," 1985; recorded Raggamuffin Year with producer Augustus Pablo, Pablo and Delgado toured Europe, 1987; recorded the Specials' song "Ghost Town" with Jerry Dammers, 1998; released remix album Fearless, 1999; released another remix album, Reasons, and toured, 2000; reissue of classic 1970s and 1980s hits released, Original Guerilla Music, 2003; performed at Frome Festival, England, 2003.
Addresses: Record company— Incredible Music Studios, Unit C/026, Trident Business Centre, Bickerseth Rd., London SW17 9SH, England. Agent— Profile Artists Agency, LTD., Unit 101 J, Tower Bridge Business Complex, 100 Clements Rd., London SE16 4DG, England, phone: +44 (0)20 7394 0012, fax: +44 (0)20 7394 0094, e-mail: [email protected] Website— Junior Delgado Official Website: http://www.junior delgado.co.uk.
Delgado continued to write, record, and produce reggae music. His work has also involved a great deal of collaboration, which is evident from his appearances on such disparate albums as Irish pop star Sinead O'Connor's 2000 release Faith and Courage and the 2002 album Encounters by the Austrian rap/electronica group the Sofa Surfers. Delgado, who was once frightened by the power of his voice, now seemed to understand how to use that intensity. As he explained to Space Age Bachelor, "I don't sing like when I was a kid anymore. Now my voice get more deeper and stronger. And I could use it more like dangerous, you know." Delgado's roots stretch deep into the recent history of reggae, and with time he may attain the level of recognition achieved by reggae legends Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
Taste of the Young Heart, DEB, 1978.
Effort, DEB, 1979.
Dance a Dub, Big Cat, 1978.
Bushmaster Revolution, Incredible, 1985.
Sisters and Brothers, Blue Moon, 1985.
In Griechenland, Arcade, 1986.
Movin' Down the Road, Live & Love, 1987.
Raggamuffin Year, Mango, 1987.
One Step More, Mango, 1988.
It Takes Two to Tango, Fashion, 1988.
Showcase, Sonic Sounds, 1991.
Dub School, Buffalo Music, 1992.
Another Place in Time, Vision, 1994.
Fearless, Big Cat, 1998.
Reasons, Big Cat, 1999.
Turn Him Over (7" single), Big Cat/Sonic Sounds, 1999.
Prophecy (7" single), Big Cat/Sonic Sounds, 1999.
Sings Dennis Brown, Incredible, 2000.
Original Guerilla Music, U Sounds, 2003.
Independent (London, England), October 9, 1998, p. 13; May 24, 1999, p. 20; May 25, 2003, p. 15.
"Junior Delgado," Cool Runnings, http://www.casaindigo.com/coolrunnings/jrdel86.html (November 3, 2003).
"Junior Delgado," The Iceberg, http://www.theiceberg.com/artist/24328/junior_delgado.html (November 11, 2003).
"Junior Delgado, Reggae, Live set," Bass Culture, http://www.bassculture.it/_englishfiles/booking/juniordelgado.html (November 3, 2003).
"Junior Delgado: Sister, Sister, Brother, Brother," Space Age Bachelor, http://www.space-age-bachelor.com/features/00/delgado.htm (November 3, 2003).
—Eve M. B. Hermann