Reggae artist Vivian 'Yabby You' Jackson died in Jamaica 2 days ago, aged 63.
Below, UPM author Randall Grass (Great Spirits: Portraits of Life-Changing World Music Artists) offers his thoughts on the life and career of Yabby You. Grass' book offers a more detailed presentation of You in a chapter titled "Yabby You: The Jesus Dread."
Yabby You was one of the most spiritual people I've ever met.
What do I mean by that? It was not simply that he focused on matters spiritual, talked about them and made music that was intended to be a conduit for spiritual expression. His very presence was a strong, benign, calm, beneficent, ego-free kind of being. He radiated serene knowledge, which he would pass on to you but not in any proselytizing way.
It his spiritual strength that motivated him and enabled to create some of the most profound reggae music ever made--even though he was not a musician and had never intended to be a singer. He was known as "The Jesus Dread" because although he was a dreadlocks man he was a Christian.
Yabby You's music was distinguished by deep, powerful rhythms, rhythms which sent vibrations deep in to the earth as well as the belly and breast of any listener.
Then there were his melodies,tuneful, often sprightly, but sometimes minor-key chants. Many of his songs were hymns, based either on old church hymns or his own conception of hymns. His first recording, "Conquering Lion", recorded in 1972, was utterly hypnotic and one of the most unique pieces of music ever recorded. It was replicated in many different versions by Yabby and other--including the legendary Big Youth--and is a classic of Jamaican music. Then there were his almost journalistic accounts of decadance and oppressive living circumstances, songs such as "Fire Fire", "Fleeing From The City", and "Judgement On The Land."
And there were love songs, often wistful. Much of his best work was done in association with the legendary King Tubby, with whom he created some powerful dubs. For me, the song "Deliver Me From My Enemies" was his most monumental hymn.
Yabby You's music has usually been hard to find. The UK label Blood And Fire did a great job of re-issuing his music on CD but the company has now gone out of business so you should snap up available copies on the internet while you can. Shanachie Entertainment, the company I work for, released two collections of his music, both now out of print. Maybe we'll have to do something about that.
When I think of great roots reggae masters I think especially of Burning Spear, Culture, Augustus Pablo and Yabby You. Spear is the only one left. The others, died too young ( I consider Joseph Hill, the leader of Culture who passed recently, to be the essence of Culture). Music such as these men made will never come again. Yabby You was the least know of them but every bit their equal. Long live Yabby You!