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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Obituary: Desmond Dekker
Portrait of Desmond Dekker
Desmond Dekker, Jamaica's first international star
With the 1969 song Israelites, Desmond Dekker was one of the first Jamaican musician to enjoy a worldwide hit single and the song was the first number one reggae record in the UK.

The mixture of Dekker's falsetto singing with an underlying bass vocal line provided by his backing group, The Aces, proved so popular that it was a hit three times over.

Specifically, Desmond Dekker had introduced ska to the world outside Jamaica, a brand of music that combined the indigenous Jamaican mento folk music with American rhythm and blues.

Its upbeat feel reflected the optimism engendered by the newly-gained independence from Britain in 1962.

Many of Dekker's hits including Rude Boy Train, Rudie Got Soul and 007 (Shanty Town) echoed the violent street culture of Jamaican cities, in particular Kingston, to which there had been a large migration from the countryside.

Native beat

This in turn reflected the disillusionment after the expectations of prosperity that the spirit of independence had ushered in failed to materialise.

In the late '50s some Jamaican sound system operators, notably Duke Reid and Clement Dodd, had started producing their own records, developing a native Jamaican beat called ska.

From those origins came further beats, like rock steady, reggae, raga and dub.

Desmond Dacres, as he was born in 1942, worked as a welder in Kingston.

Dekker on stage
Dekker's hit Israelites introduced him to new generations of fans
He was orphaned as a teenager but made a success for himself after signing with Leslie Kong's Beverley's record label and releasing his first single, Honour Your Father and Mother, in 1963, a paean to homespun wisdom.

By the time of his fourth hit, King of Ska, he had become one of Jamaica's biggest stars. The song is still revered among ska fans.

After 1967, he appeared on producer Derrick Morgan's Tougher than Tough which helped begin a popular trend of glamorising the violent culture of the "rude boys" in a similar vein to which American rap music was to follow decades later.

Club performer

Following his success with Israelites, Desmond Dekker moved to the UK where ska had developed a huge following among the mods. He remained in Britain for the rest of his life.

In the 1970s he recorded the hit You Can Get It If You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff.

But Dekker's success started to wane by the end of the `70s and early `80s as the "two-tone" music's popularity was no longer mainstream, and reggae artists like Bob Marley were in the ascendancy.

Dekker was declared bankrupt in 1984.

But he continued to attract a following and was a regular performer on the club scene in Britain and Europe.

Re-releases of Israelites in 1975 and again in 1990, kept his head above water and ensured his name continued to resonate with the public.




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