More than 20 years ago, a group of Jamaican singers - Duckie Simpson, Garth Dennis and Don Carlos - formed a collective called Black Uhuru (“Uhuru” is Swahili for “freedom”) and released some of reggae music’s most definitive albums with “Time Is on Our Side,” “Slow Couch” and “Folk Song.”
Only a couple of years after Black Uhuru’s birth, the band, which seemed primed to conquer reggae music, underwent a big change. Dennis and Carlos had deserted Simpson to pursue outside interests. Dennis joined the Wailing Souls and Carlos embarked on a solo career.
“I don’t know why it happened,” said Carlos, in his Jamaican accent, in a recent phone interview. “It just happened.”
From that point on, Black Uhuru would continue but Simpson would be the band’s only steady member as its lineup endured a string of personnel changes.
Despite this, Black Uhuru became recognized as one of reggae music’s foremost bands. It was ranked up there with Bob Marley and the Wailers, Third World and Steel Pulse.
After Dennis’ and Carlos’ departure, Simpson recruited two more vocalists, Michael Rose and Errol Nelson. Under this lineup, the group recorded “Black Sounds of Freedom” and “Love Crisis.”
But nearly as soon as Nelson’s stint with the group had begun, it ended.
The next person to join Black Uhuru was Puma Jones in 1979. Jones added a high pitch to Black Uhuru’s songs, making otherwise ordinary harmonies riveting. Her vocals were easily recognizable and made Black Uhuru stand out.
For six years, this would be the lineup that reggae music would know the roots reggae band by.
That same year, the Jamaican band signed with Island Records, the label on which Bob Marley’s legacy was built. This version of Black Uhuru spawned numerous cutting-edge albums such as “Sinsimelia,” “Red,” “Chill Out,” “Tear It Up,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Anthem.” “Red” was even picked by Rolling Stone magazine as the 24th-best album of the 1980s. And “Anthem” received a Grammy nomination.
Unfortunately, the Simpson-Rose-Jones combination dissipated in the mid-‘80s for a couple of reasons. Rose and Simpson began to argue over songwriting. And the band ended its relationship with Island as the result of the label not paying the band a cent in royalties.
So Rose left and Jamaican singer Junior Reid, whose vocals echoed similar qualities to Rose’s, joined. In 1986, Black Uhuru released one of its strongest records, “Brutal.”
Then, Jones, plagued by health problems, quit the band. She died later in 1990 of cancer.
Another female singer by the name of Olafunke took Jones’ place. With Black Uhuru as Simpson, Reid and Olafunke, it produced two more albums, “Positive” and “Live in New York.”
In 1987, Black Uhuru played an awards show for “Reggae Beat” magazine. Also on the bill were Dennis and Carlos. An impromptu jam reunited the original members of Black Uhuru.
A couple of years later, Dennis and Carlos rejoined the band fulltime. Thus began the next incarnation of Black Uhuru.
As the original Black Uhuru, the band has recorded excellent albums including “Now,” “Iron Storm” and “Mystical Truth.” Both “Now” and “Mystical Truth” garnered the band Grammy nominations.
Now, the roots reggae band is its seventh incarnation. Simpson has left the group indefinitely. So on Sunday, Black Uhuru will be Dennis and Carlos. xxxx BLACK UHURU Location and time: The Masonic Temple, Sunday, 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $12.50 ($14 at the door)