Art “Seen”

Who ‘‘Created’’ Reggae Music? A Conversation with Ras Cardo who Claims Copyright Ownership of the word ‘‘Reggae’

On 20th June 2020, I published an article ‘‘University Professor Who Can’t ‘Stop’ Reggae’’ in which Mike Hajimichael, a university Professor in Cyprus and DJ for over 40 years shared his love for the music.

Following this interview I got some interesting feedback from a reader by the name Ricardo Scott aka Ras Cardo from Jamaica who was impressed by the work done by the Prof. Besides complementing the article, Ras Cardo made quite interesting claims on reggae music, indicating he was a contemporary of Reggae greats like Bob Marley.

He further claims that he was right there in Trench Town at the birth of a new tune. He claims to be the one who baptized that tune and gave it the name ‘’reggae’’ and as such, actually owns the copyright to the word ”Reggae.”

On his various online profiles, Ras Cardo describes himself as a ‘‘Reggae creator from Trench Town, Jamaica. Original Wailer who mentored Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and other known Reggae legends. Radiological Technology Expert.’’

Intrigued, I reached out to him to further understand those claims as well as other reggae experts across the world. I have included responses from other reggae enthusiasts immediately after the interview.

Richard Scott aka Ras Cardo.He claims to have created the word ‘Reggae’ way back in 1962 and has copyrighted the word, a claim that is contested by other reggae authorities.

You are very passionate about reggae music. What does it mean to you?

I, Ras Cardo, from Trench Town Jamaica, created reggae in my backyard while living there in 1962. It was done to send the messages of our struggles and sufferings to the world at large. I did it to let the world know what sort of abject poverty and conditions we were living in.

We were seen as ostracized people in the Jamaican prejudiced society. Those who were the oppressors told the rest of Jamaica and the world that-“nothing good comes out of Trench Town”. So Bob Marley and I put that in a song-Trench Town Rock. I was his mentor, teacher, brethren, and protector then.

Many reggae enthusiasts around the world greatly associate the music genre music to Bob Marley who is arguably its greatest world ambassador. Who was Bob Marley to you?

Trench Town was the -Musical Mecca- of Jamaica then. It was the place where any and everything to be called music in Jamaica came from. I was living there, long before Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer came there to live. It was the holy ground in music where all the legends live. It was the place where-SKA, Rock Steady, and my Reggae came from. This could be called- Ground Zero today.

When Bob Marley came there it was I, Ras Cardo and my brethren-Junior Braithwaite, who welcomed him and protected him. He became a part of our family. At that time Junior B, and I was already singing as the -Original Wailing Wailers. We later gave this name and torch to Bob when he wanted to start his group.

This was a tacit agreement. My family and friends protected Marley and taught him a lot. We did the same for Peter Tosh and others.

Bob Marley (second left, back row) and the Wailers.PHOTO: The Wailers Museum

What does reggae music mean to people of Jamaica?

To the poor people it means-hope for a better day out of the poverty, violence, and deaths we see around us. The economic hardships, prejudice and the ostracism we had to endure were unbearable.

Tell us about your journey in reggae music. When did you get into music?

My journey in the music would take more than this questionnaire to explain to you or to anyone today. I have the most massive archive. Most of what I have published so far does not scratch the surface. However, I will say this: -“The life of the poor man is either miserably long, or tragically short”. Keep that in mind and share this with others.

I was the first Trench Town- original wailer to sing upon a stage. I was only 12 years old then. I formed the first ever youth club in Trench Town also-Prominence Youth Club- to educate the youths. What I learned from High School, I shared with them all. It was Junior Braithwaite and I who gave Bob Marley what he needed to form his own group with Bunny (Wailer) And Peter (Tosh)…We took him to meet-Joe Higgs and Seeco Patterson. I named the group- Wailers– because the mothers of murdered sons used to wail in the streets about it. I took it from the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible-” For a wailing has come out of Zion”.

You have come out strongly publicly to claim that you are the highest authority on reggae and that you actually coined the word ‘‘reggae.’’  How true is this?

I legally and exclusively own the copyrights to reggae and its creation. You can check the Library of Congress copyrights office in Washington DC USA. “Reggae, Origin of The Word and Incorporation Into Music”- Scott’s Official History of Reggae, The Original Wailers, and The Trench Town Experience”. Go and check it out. Jamaica is fully aware of all this, but their music industry folks will lie about it. I have shown them in media there several times

Cover page of Ras Cardo’s 2005 book. With the book he claims to the highest living reggae authority.

In 2005 you wrote a book, Reggae Jamaica – The Wailing of a People: Ras Cardo, The Man, The Legend of Reggae Music: Ras Cardo, The Man, The Legend of Reggae. What motivated you to put your thoughts in such a book?

The book is one of many I have written and published in Reggae and Radiology over the years. I did this because so many people began to tell lies and falsehoods by writing books spreading falsehoods about us, which I had to step in to set the records.

Listen, The murderous music industry in and out of Jamaica, do not want the true story about Trench Town Reggae to come out, because they make money from selling lies, and killing those whom they later will rape in their graves. This is what they are doing to Bob Marley and Peter tosh even as I write this. I see so many from the UK and USA putting my name and quotes in their books without getting my written permission so I called them out globally. They form a conglomerate of robbers and thieves who make a living from stealing my works, and surely, I have all the evidence I need to hold them accountable. They still hide and follow my works online and off.

What are the highlights of this book?

Surely, my books are an authority on Reggae because it is all  true. I have lived the experiences. It was written in the first person. It was not hearsay evidence. It is incontrovertible, indomitable, and indubitable true and authentic. The highlights of the book are many but I will summarize by saying- it is the truth on reggae, which those in Babylon cannot steal nor deny, no matter how hard they may try

In your opinion, how has reggae music evolved over time?

Reggae music has been robbed, raped, pirated for decades now. The music of the Trench Town people shared with Bob Marley was stolen from the Marley family in a court action of his estate. The universal groups of these thieves are all over the place trying to control the music of the world, and some of the Jamaican artists are too blind to see it.  They are now trying to brand the Marley children so that they can control them.

Since Bob Marley’s death in 1981, how has reggae music faired on in Jamaica?

Jamaica is better for only those who control political power and wealth. The poor folks still remain in the abject poverty they know so well. Trench Town today is worse than when we lived there. The money made from tourism using Reggae goes to the benefit of the pirates and echelons of the society.

Music is a powerful tool for emancipating the minds of people from retrogressive ways. How well would you say reggae music has performed this role?

Surely, “my music is for a healing of the nation. It is a reggae education.” It heals the broken hearted, and calms the troubled souls of the poor people.

Young Bob Marley (left), Bunny Wailer (centre) and Peter Tosh. PHOTO: The Wailers Museum

What would you say is the current state of reggae music globally?

I can say a lot on this issue, but for now, I will say this briefly-” I will never be happy until I see the poor people in Jamaica, and in Trench Town getting the help they need from the returns of the Reggae blessings I have left for them.

Tell us a little bit about Rastafarianism and reggae. How are the two intrinsically linked?

Reggae music by any other name is Rasta music. It is spiritual music, never secular, it is non-political, biblical, non-prejudicial, message music of truths and rights, equality and justice, for the redemption of Jah people, peace and love and unity, and it shall free all African peoples. The -“Grammy’s”- will never know what reggae truly is about. I have another book to show how they are intrinsically linked. I will not disclose that at this time. Follow up with me later on all that.

What do you see as the future of reggae music?

“My reggae music is for a healing of the nation.” I am here to make sure that the people of Trench Town and others all over the world including- mother Africa- benefit from the reggae I named and helped to create. I know that Babylon system in the murderous music industry will not stop to kill and steal what it can to reap the rewards of the works of the legends.

I created this to help poor and dispossessed peoples globally, and to empower women to take charge in protecting this legacy for the perpetuity of our peoples. I am Ras Cardo from Trench Town.

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Following this interview, I reached out to a number of other authorities on reggae on their take on Ras Cardo’s claims.

Haji Mike, a university don and DJ in Cyprus. PHOTO: Cyprus Insider

My first port of call was Prof. Mike Hajimichael, who as been a reggae DJ for over 40 years and a university Professor in Cyprus, and the subject of my first article that elicited Ras Cardo’s interest.

He observes that there have been many claimants to the reggae music throne, and not sure who is genuine about it. Additionally, reggae legend Bob Marley’s disciples and acquaintances are many, with each having their fair share of a story to tell.

‘‘There are many people claiming the word Reggae including the late Toots Hibbert who was the first to sing it on record. Drummers have also claimed it. I am not doubting the person’s credibility, but many people knew Bob Marley, and every one of them has a story to tell,’’ says Prof.Hajimichael.

I also engaged Roger Steffens, journalist, musician and producer, reggae historian and collector, a Marley archivist and author of recent book So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley.

Roger Steffens, one of the most respected reggae authorities globally and variously refered to as the ‘reggae encyclopedist.” PHOTO: Cultural Weekly.

While he admits to have encountered Ras Cardo, he discounts the latter’s claims on reggae music.

‘’I have had several encounters with him over the years. His main claim is that he named the music c.1962. I find this hard to believe,’’ he says.

For Steffens, Kingston town is a melting pot of lingual dexterity and no word is constant. Everything is in state of flux. And so is reggae music.

‘‘Slang/patois is in a constant state of change, and words in the Western Kingston area spread like wildfire. In that case, why did it take six (6) years before Toots used the word, albeit misspelled, on ” Do the Reggay?’’ he poses.

He writes off Ras Cardo’s copyright claim to the word ‘‘Reggae.’’

‘‘And as for his copyrighting the term, I’ve never heard of that before. That’s like saying one owns the words “rock and roll” or “blues,” he opines.

Roger Steffen’s massive reggae archive. PHOTO: Roger Steffens.

He backs his assertion with recollections of a few members of Marley’s team with whom he has had a personal interaction with over the years.

‘‘Joe Higgs was a very close friend of mine, and he agreed that in the earliest days of Bunny (Wailer) and Bob (Marley) in Trench Town, Cardo was around and often jammed with them in their yards. But he was never a Wailer. Both Bunny himself and Joe, the Wailers’ early tutor, agree on that point,’’ he adds.

And as for Cardo’s contribution to reggae music:

‘‘I don’t know of anything concrete. Did he ever make a record, or write a song that was recorded?’’ he poses.

The late Joe Higgs, considered the ‘‘father of reggae’’ and an early tutor of The Wailers acknowledged that Cardo was among the many youths who used to do gigs with the group but wasn’t an actual member.

‘‘But to say he was an original member of Wailers, I contest that statement very, very strongly—I don’t know of it. Cardo neither founded the group nor came up with the name,’’ says Higgs, as quoted in Roger Steffens’s book.

As to the origin of the group’s name, The Wailers, there’s an interesting twist to this.

Reggae legend Bunny Wailer.PHOTO: Bunny Wailer Museum

Bunny Wailer, another of the original members, contends that the origin of the group’s name The Wailers is a kind of a mystery. In an interview with Steffens, he contends that the group had initially toyed with names such as the Teenagers or Roosters as their identity.

Then one day as they were rehearsing in a studio, they had the eureka moment, an epiphany of sorts.

‘‘So everybody did call names, you, you, and suggest names, and it’s like a man was there next door or in a bathroom or something, and we just hear a voice that say, “The Wailers.” And every man say: “The Wailers. The Wailers? The Wailers. The Wailers?”

He adds that no one in the group knew or could tell whom strange voice belonged to, as he didn’t show his face.

‘‘Him just say “The Wailers” in a big, strong voice, say “The Wailers.” That sound good, weeping and wailing, ’cause we a weep, ’cause we are in Trench Town there and we a feel the pain. So, “the Wailers” fit,’’ he notes.

A search at the US copyright office for this entry, ‘‘Reggae, origin of the word and incorporation into music’’ to verify Ras Cardo’s claims, yields the following results:

It appears the controversy surrounding the origin of reggae music and the debate around it may not end any time soon and may fester for many years to come.

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