Reggae music, reggae sound, the number one sound/Play the guitar, come in with the bassman, I can’t do without the drummer…
“Reggae Sound” -Earl 16
With his distinctive, nasal delivery and steadfast conscious messages, singer Earl Daley (née Earl 16) has been a part of the international reggae landscape for three decades. Both in Jamaica and his current London home, Daley always finds just the right producer or team to elicit the rootsy music framework his voice deserves. This has lead to landmark collaborations with the likes of producer and singer Mikey Dread, British electronic-dub/dance producers Dreadzone, and the dubmaster Mad Professor. It’s easy to see why Daley has become such a revered performer and sought-after recording artist.
Daley also runs Merge Productions, a label that has reissued his classic tracks “Natural Roots,” “Peaceful Rastaman,” and “Changing World.” The “Natural Roots” 10” single features remixes by legendary UK reggae producer Gussie P (Fashion), while b-side track, “Going to Africa,” (originally produced by Mikey Dread) is remixed by dub soundsystem DJ Manasseh.
Daley’s career started in the mid-‘70s, when he was still in high school. He tried out at talent shows, and formed a group with classmates called The Flaming Phonics. Soon after, he was recruited for vocal duties with the Boris Gardner Happening after Tinga Stewart embarked on a solo career. Daley left school so he could tour Canada with the band, and thus began his music career in earnest. He recorded “Freedom” for Lee “Scratch” Perry, did sides for Derrick Harriot, and eventually linked with the most popular producer of the time, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, to release Earl 16 Showcase for Studio One in 1978. The album cemented his career and lead to a fertile recording period in the 1980s.
During the Regan/Thatcher era, Daley cut two of his most characteristic albums for producer Roy Cousins’ Tamoki Wambezi label. 1982’s Julia and ‘83’s Songs For A Reason (both still in print) highlight Daley’s soft, emotive timbre. Similarly, the song titles say a lot about Daley’s once and future lyrical concerns: “Going To Africa,” “Mount Zion,” “Israel Vibes,” “This Tribulation,” and “Jah Is The Master” are all imbued with the singer’s heartfelt conscious vibes. Daley has the voice of a humble prophet, a poet speaking plainly about the plight of the poor.
More recently, Daley has recorded albums for Gussie P’s Sip A Cup imprint, the French Patates Records, Mad Professor’s Ariwa Music, and with the electronic dance group Dreadzone (pictured above). It’s important to note that Daley’s collaborations with the latter group occurred around the same time Horace Andy linked with Massive Attack in the ‘90s, and the Dreadzone/Earl 16 tracks were nearly as popular in England and elsewhere. In Europe, Daley tours with the No More Babylon band and records exclusive dubplates for soundsystems like Holland’s King Shiloh.
With his journeyman career music marked by myriad studio and production collaborations that reflect artistic consistency and a unified sentiment, Earl “16” Daley has made a lasting impact in the international music scene. But then again, Earl Daley has always had a sound–a reggae sound.