For many persons, age is just a concept. Nowhere is that proven more than the local music industry, where countless entertainers are on a musical mission that spans their entire lives.
Retirement age is 60 and 65 for women and men, respectively, with early retirement starting at 55. Music, however, disregards the norm, making it one of the few professions with a long life span.
In reggae music, there is a long history of artistes who have dedicated decades to the music business, a number of whom started out as children.
Pioneer Alton Ellis, who defined the lover's rock genre, died last October at 70, after succumbing to a 10-month battle with lymphatic cancer. The singer, who was known for songs such as Dancecrasherand I'm Still In Love, was performing in Jamaica four months prior to his death. Many other reggae singers are performing and producing new music in their golden years. Burning Spear at 61 is still going strong, touring the world, as well as releasing two recent albums: 2008's The Burning Spear Experience and this year's Jah Is Real, which won a Grammy.
Lee 'Scratch' Perry, 73, co-produced his 2008 album, Repentance, and also last year reunited with producer Adrian Sherwood on an album called The Mighty Upsetter. He is also still releasing singles. Ken Boothe, Ernie Smith, John Holt, Freddie McGregor, Bunny Wailer, Marcia Griffiths, among many others, can add their names to the list of artistes with long prosperous careers.
For most, passion and dedication to music are key to their longevity. Singer and musician Lloyd Parks is a Jamaican entertainer who has made music his life. Founder of Lloyd Parks and We The People Band, the 61-year-old told The Sunday Gleaner music has always been his dream and one he feels he could never retire from.
"No, I can't retire. 'Til the breath leave my body, music is a part of me. It's like walking, talking, eating; you can't do without it and that's a fact, believe me," he said.
Parks pointed out that his dedication to musical perfection has been a mainstay throughout his career. Currently, he is working on his next solo CD, soon be completed, as well as a gospel album. When the day comes that Parks find his fingers too tired to play his favoured bass guitar, he still intends to do music in some form by either producing or teaching his craft to others.
Reggae singer and songwriter Bob Andy is of a similar sentiment that life is music. Having been in the business for 40 years and having penned and sung hits such as I've Got To Go Back Home and Too Experienced, Andy is still busy in the studio working on a yet-to-be-titled album for release this year. This album will be his first since 1997's Hanging Tough. Andy also does a number of shows locally and internationally.
According to Andy, who is 65, music has been a part of his life since he was a child, having started learning to play the piano at 13 and penned his first song by 15. He said he was grateful music was an occupation that had allowed him to pursue his dreams to no end.
"Music is one of those occupations that as long as you can turn a note and as long as you have the strength to travel, you can do it. It's a blessing that you're never too old to turn a tune," said Andy.
What has also helped him, he said, to keep breathing life into his career is the work he put in from an early age, putting out songs that are still relevant and popular today.
While reggae has a history of being kind to its veterans, it is not quite the same in dancehall. Whereas deejays such as Shabba Ranks, Super Cat and Yellow Man made their mark in the '80s and '90s, aside from a few sporadic releases from Shabba Ranks, the three haven't maintained their prominence. One of the few dancehall artistes to ever voice the option of retirement was singjay Mr Vegas, who last year claimed to be retiring to spend time with God and his children. Months later, however, Mr Vegas returned with a more positive outlook and new songs, such as I Am Blessed.
Two of the most enduring dancehall acts have been rivals Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, the former celebrating a 30-year career this year. In a recent interview with THE WEEKEND STAR, the 36-year-old Beenie Man claimed to have dedicated his whole life to music and said he had no intention of retiring - opting to only get better with his craft.
"I am suppose to do what I'm doing, I'm di king of dis," he said. "I did pop, I did soca, I did R&B, I did everything and I still come back to dancehall. Without dancehall, I wouldn't be an international artiste. Without me being a dancehall artiste, I don't think you'd have an Elephant Man or a Sean Paul or any of dem artiste deh."
While the 37-year-old Bounty Killer doesn't necessarily see himself performing the rest of his life, music will always be in his future. He noted that he had had a good 17-year career and there are few in dancehall who can boast of that accomplishment.
He does acknowledge though that that day will come.
"After a while, you'll get bored of certain tings yuh doing over a period of time," he said. "I'm still having a vibe and still excited about making music, so I don't think about retirement. It's still fun to jump onstage and see the crowd get wild; it's still fun to go in the studio and record a song and see it mash up di dancehall. I don't see myself retiring before di next 10 years. I think I have 10 years worth of gasolene left to give dem, if not more."
An option the 'Warlord' has considered after the days of performing and recording is to possibly start his own label to sign, train and expose new talents.
Source: The Jamaica Gleaner