“Before being human, I was a fish” : mystical and eccentric, Lee “Scratch” Perry, who died in Jamaica on Sunday, is the producer who took reggae to conquer the world by guiding Bob Marley.
“Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry died this morning while in Noel Holmes Hospital. He was 85 years old.”, announced on Prime Minister from Jamaica Andrew Holness on his twitter account. Born in 1936 in Kendal, Jamaica, Rainford Hugh “Lee” Perry had left school at age 15 before moving to Kingston in the 1960s.
“My father worked in the streets, my mother in the fields. We were very poor”, he told British rock magazine in 1984 New Musicalm Express (NME). “I didn’t learn anything at school. I learned everything in the street”. Sorcerer of reggae, “Salvador Dali du dub” (extension of reggae based on echoes), “The Upsetter” (“The pain in the ass”): nicknames abound for this elusive figure and significant in the history of music.
So he is the one who pushed Bob Marley in the studio to come out of its gangue to climb to the top. “Without him, Bob Marley might have remained an orphan arrow in his bow”, wrote Francis Dordor, snowman specialist, in the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles. Perry “reintroduced Africa” in Jamaican music. “Not only the rhythmic plurality, but also the cultural and philosophical resonance”.
But we should not reduce the Jamaican shaman to this fact of glory. This frail figure blowing from the ganja on his microphone to chase away evil spirits before his performances-experiences on stage, instilled a number of musical motifs. “It is the sound of Perry and that of Jamaican toasters (DJ who takes the microphone, note) that inspired us at the beginning of hip-hop” a admis Afrika Bambaataa, pioneer of US rap, in Rolling Stone.
Some of the hypnotic loops from the mixing consoles – elevated to the rank of full-fledged instruments – of Lee Scratch Perry get along in techno. The man will not harbor any resentment at hearing his signatures here and there. “If I strike my enemies, they live on. Because I strike them with love”, he had said in a cryptic formula of which he had the secret, launched at Time, Swiss newspaper, country where he ended up settling at the end of the 1990s.
Other artists have collaborated in broad daylight with the legend, from The Clash of Beastie Boys Passing by Moby, electro-brain providing backing vocals – alongside ex-pornstar, Sasha Gray – for one of his works. You should have seen the phenomenon talking to a cow in the vicinity ofEinsiedeln – its Swiss drop-off point, a major pilgrimage site for its Black Madonna – in the documentary “Lee Scratch Perry’s vision of paradise” signed Volker Schaner.
Why the Swiss Alps? To follow his last wife, a Swiss, former dominatrix and ex-“patroness of a brothel”, “whip expert called Madame Devil” (“Madam Demonic”) as stated The weather.
Volker Schaner’s film is rich in amazing scenes. We hear the sound sculptor say that he was a fish before being human, or repeat that he “defeat the vampires”. We admire his various headdresses, Indian feathers in the Far-West style, seaweed fresh out of the waves or caps overloaded with charms or mirrors.
Sparks and flames
His shoes feature a portrait of the Ethiopian Emperor on one side Haile Selassie – considered by the Rastafari as a messiah – and conceal in a sole a sketch, carefully protected, of the Queen of England. A whole universe born of his labyrinthine spirit, often compared to that of the Postman Cheval. a decorum-jumble who ended up in his legendary studio in Kingston, the “Black Ark”.
What led him behind desks to shape sounds? The legend lends itself to him a thousand lives – bulldozer driver, professional dancer, domino player … – before he became a little hand in recording studios in the Jamaican capital then founded his label “Upsetter”. A studio which will end up in flames at the beginning of the 1980s without the origin of the fire being ever established. And in the 2010s, it was his new den-workshop, in Switzerland, which suffered the same fate. Lee Scratch Perry will then say on his social networks that he forgot to put out a candle. He who created so many sparks in the music.