Toots and The Maytals: Staying power

Observer senior writer

Monday, July 23, 2018

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This is the eighth in a 10-part series on the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's (JCDC) Jamaica Festival Song Competition which started in 1966.

Fifty-two years ago when the group won the inaugural Festival Song Competition, Toots and The Maytals was one of the most popular bands in Jamaica. Today, the group is arguably, the most successful reggae touring act.

Its revival-inspired Bam Bam won the first 'Festival' in 1966. The Maytals won again in 1969 with Sweet and Dandy, and three years later for Pomps and Pride.

Each song escaped the Festival tag and won lead vocalist Toots Hibbert, and harmony singers Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathais, a following overseas at a time when Jamaican culture was taking off internationally.

Sweet and Dandy is part of the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, a 1972 movie that helped introduce reggae to a global audience. Pomps and Pride is one of the songs on Funky Kingston, Toots and The Maytals' outstanding album that was released the next year.

In the last four years, deejay Sister Nancy's 1984 hit song Bam Bam, a nod to the 1966 classic, has been sampled by hip hop and dancehall acts. It has also been used in commercials by major companies like Reebok.

Toots and The Maytals is the most enduring of the Festival winners. The group established an enduring fan base during the 1970s through tireless touring in Europe and the United States.

The globe-trotting 40 years ago paid off in the long run. By the 1990s Toots Hibbert was a superstar, whose admirers included Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Ben Harper, Linda Ronstadt, and Lisa Marie Presley.

He has toured with Sheryl Crow and James Blunt, and is the only Festival contestant to win a Grammy Award. That came in 2005 for True Love.

Appearing on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 2004, Toots and The Maytals was introduced by Donald Trump, who was the show's guest host.

Now 76 years old, Toots Hibbert is still the relentless road warrior. He and his band are currently touring the United States, playing festivals and solo dates.

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