MIDNITE REGGAE BAND CO-FOUNDER VAUGHN “AKAE BEKA” BENJAMIN HAS PASSED AWAY AT 50

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[Entertainment News\Reggae]
Vaughn Benjamin has made over 55 albums—likely much more if all of his collaborative efforts are counted. A look at his discography online will attest to this. It is worthy of noting that the Midnight Raver music website lists the 2000 “Jubilees of Zion” as the best album of the new millennium and the 2014 “Beauty for Ashes” as the third best album of the new millennium. Since the reformation of the group as Akae Beka, the Midnight Raver website referred to the group as "the most revered, influential and prolific reggae act in two decades."
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The one and only Vaughn "Akae Beka" Benjamin performing in the Netherlands on May 11, 2017.

One of the foremost voices in Roots Reggae music, Vaughn “Akae Beka” Benjamin, of the Midnite Reggae band has passed away. He was 50.

On Tuesday morning, news of Benjamin’s death spread within the Reggae world. Benjamin was one of the most prolific writers ever seen in music--not just Reggae. He was a lyrical genius known for the skillfully crafty and precise manner in which he layered his messages in music.

His untimely death is now sending shock waves through the Reggae community. No reason for his death has been given.

In 2015, Vaughn and his older brother Ron Benjamin Jr. parted ways, musically, from the Midnite band, they both made famous since starting it together in 1989. Vaughn Benjamin took over the band and a new entity, “Akae Beka,” was created. Since leaving Midnite, Ron has been a fixture playing bass and producing music for female Reggae artist Dezarie.

Akae Beka's first performance took place in Denver, Colorado on July 17, 2015, in honor of Nelson Mandela Day. Benjamin said the name Akae Beka came from the Book of Enoch chapter 68, verse 20-24.

No reason for Ron’s sudden departure from the band was ever given beside a cryptic comment—which Vaughn was known for—that the change was made due to "Life changes, convictions and revelations.” In February of 2015, just before the Akae Beka incarnation, Midnite’s 2015 tour was canceled. The stated reason given was "due to a life changing medical emergency, convictions, and revelations"

It now seems probable the “life changing emergency” may well have had to do with Vaughn who was a driven workaholic artist. A voracious reader, who could expound on nearly any subject, Benjamin was a prolific lyricist from the very beginning. Midnite has produced well over 55 albums. Still, it’s worth noting that Vaughn produced 11 albums since the Akae Beka reincarnation, in 2015.

Ever a visionary, did Benjamin feel the need to pump out more music because he knew he was about to leave us in this backward Babylon world that we live in? Was he making sure he produced the output he needed too before his departure?

Vaughn Benjamin is the son of Ronnie Benjamin Sr., a musician who was born on the island of Antigua. Benjamin moved to St. Croix, U.S.V.I. where he raised up his two sons Ron Jr.—and Vaughn while pursuing his music. The elder Benjamin made a name for himself becoming a local legend in Antigua, the U.S.V.I, and other areas in the Eastern Caribbean. He would also eventually tour the United States and Canada.

In 1989, Benjamin’s two sons started the band Midnite, featuring Vaughn as the band’s lyrical frontman with Ron on keyboards (later on bass) and as the band’s musical director. Around 1994, the band moved first to the New Jersey area, then to Washington D.C. to pursue their musical dreams. Here they quickly became underground marvels for doing three to five-hour sets of scintillating sounds.

Midnite has had several members in the group over the years including: Joe Straws, bass; Ras Abijah Hicks, guitarist; Philip Merchant, on bass; Ambrose Connor; drums; and Dion Hopkins, drums; Edmund Fieulleteau, guitar; Legrand Lee, Guitar; Peter Willock, Drums & Percussion; Ras L, Bass; Suren Fenton, Keyboards; Christian Molina, drums; Edwin Byron, guitar and Tuff Lion, guitar. The group has shared the stage with many artists including Third World, Steel Pulse, Hugh Masekela, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Barrington Levy, and many more.

Vaughn Benjamin cited Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, The Abyssinians, and Reggae bassist Flabba Holt as major influences. Benjamin once said "Bob Marley has had a big impact. And the drum and the bass from like Flabba Holt. Sometimes I listen to the bass man alone or the drummer alone."

Vaughn Benjamin has made over 55 albums—likely much more if all of his collaborative efforts are counted. A look at his discography online will attest to this.

It is worthy of noting that the Midnight Raver music website lists the 2000 “Jubilees of Zion” as the best album of the new millennium and the 2014 “Beauty for Ashes” as the third best album of the new millennium. Since the reformation of the group as Akae Beka, the Midnight Raver website referred to the group as "the most revered, influential and prolific reggae act in two decades."

Author's note: I have known about the greatness of the Midnite band since first seeing them play in the U.S. Virgin Islands where I was born. From the beginning, the brilliance of Vaughn and Ron Benjamin Jr. was clear. Around 2000, I spoke to Ron after an SOB's concert, here in New York City, about their music and our shared connection to the Virgin Islands. As circumstances would have it, a couple of weeks later, I would find myself working with the Midnight Ravers music program (not to be confused with the Midnight Raver music website) on WBAI 99.5 to bring this important band to the New York airwaves--which we did.

In the years after, Terry Wilson (the founder of the Midnight Ravers music program) and I have collaborated on other shows with this group. In several conversations (or, reasonings as Rastafarians say) with Vaughn Benjamin, his excellence as an artist was obvious. The man was extremely well-read and was as intellectually profound as anyone I have ever met. He was truly in a class by himself.

I am saddened by his loss and writing this was very hard. I send my condolences to all of his family. At some point later, after more contemplation, I will speak more about the greatness of Vaughn "Akae Beka" Benjamin.

May he rest in power and peace.

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