It’s a brilliant July afternoon in Kingston, summer of 1995; Prince Buster and his old friend Carl are walking along Charles Street in downtown Kingston, a place they both know very well. Buster is pointing out landmarks in his career and the history of Jamaican music as he goes along; he indicates a bare dirt plot in the street, which looks like part of a war zone: Y’see the Hopeland Cross deh so – that’s where the first shop was, but there’s no shop dere now, ca’ it bruk down…
As we get to an intersection, Buster says: “This is Luke Lane and Charles Street – this a MY corner, a weh we grew up on – right deh so we use to sit down, use to play dice deh so. This corner deh so (indicating the opposite corner), Tom the Great Sebastian buildin’ dis – all the music you hear come from dis corner. That’s why I mek the tune “Luke Lane Shuffle” – this is Soulsville Center. All these buildin’ go up an’ down through the war an’ ting like that, but this is where everything was. This (pointing to the third corner) was my first record shop right here. It was me an’ Carl run this lickle shop – it’s now a cabinet shop (Carl says; yeah, yeah, yeah). We mek up in business an’ move over deh so, that’s where the nex’ shop was. Lee Perry tek that shop, further on after me tek it. I leave that shop an’ build this buildin’ there (pointing further back down Charles Street towards Orange Street), the three-storey buildin’ there, that tall one – the shop was on the bottom. Then we move around to Orange Street, mek sure it’s on the main. ‘Cause I was born on Orange Street, so it had to be (on) Orange Street. Orange Street is the street that’s gonna bring a lot a money back in the country through tourism, if they would fix it up in the proper way, so that people from Australia, Japan, Europe an’ otherwise could a come here, and ‘ave somewhere to accommodate them with the history of the music. People want to know the history of Orange Street, and we should tell them – because what we tell them is not a story but HISTORY” That history, in which Prince Buster played a crucial role, is also the history of modern Jamaican popular music, from mento, Jamaican boogie and ska to rock steady and early reggae. The Jamaican dancehalls have given to the world the twin-deck sound system, the sound clash, the dub remix, the foregrounding of drum and bass in that mix, sampling, the rapping deejay and the personality selector – the entire transmission system of modern dance music. All were pioneered in Jamaica, years, even decades, before they were taken up in the metropolitan world. And in the hothouse atmsophere of the dancehall, Prince Buster was a crucial innovator – if anyone can claim to have invented ska, he can. In his time he has been dancehall gateman, owner and operator of the “Voice Of The People” sound system, producer and label owner, singer and percussionist – the self-styled but undeniable King of Ska. He was born Cecil Campbell on the 28th May 1938, his nickname or ‘pet’ name of ‘Buster’ coming from Alexander Bustamente. Along with Norman Manley, Bustamente was the dominant figure of Jamaican politics from the 1930s through to the postwar period, and one of the co-founders of the PNP [Peoples National Party]. The year that Buster was born saw a wave of strikes and social unrest sweeping through the Caribbean. In Jamaica, Bustamente was at its head, a brilliant orator and the first ‘voice of the people’.