Reggae Icon Hill Celebrated

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(Hill was in touch with all humanity).

On Nov. 4 Roots Reggae artists will celebrate the life and legacy of Roots Reggae icon Joseph Hill, former front-man of the group Culture, at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.     

Hill passed away from a sudden illness on August 19 in Germany, while Culture was in the middle of a European tour. He was 57. This historic concert, courtesy of Brooklyn’s TSO Productions, will pay homage to Hill’s achievements and life works and will feature some of the finest Reggae artists including: Steel Pulse, Luciano, Dean Frasier, Jah Messenger Band along with many others.    

Joseph Hill was born in the Jamaican parish of St. Catherine, but raised in the parish of St. Andrew. From an early age he was involved in the music scene and in 1969 played on drums with the Soul Defenders band. It was with the Soul Defenders that he would record his first vocal tune “Take Me Girl� under the name The Neptunes.

During this period Hill would work with the likes of Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, Freddy McKay and The Abyssinians. In 1972, he recorded his first professional song under his name entitled “Behold the Land� at Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One. In the early seventies, Hill performed with the groups Stepping Stone and C35 Incorporated. But in 1976, he decided to form a harmony trio with Kenneth Dayes and his cousin Albert Walker. The group would become know as Culture. The Culture blueprint would be a blend of biting social commentary with memorable melodies and catchy grooves. It would prove to be the group’s formula for success.   

In 1977, the group would score one of their most famous hits with the release of “Two Sevens Clash,� a song inspired by a numerological prophesy linked to the teachings of Marcus Garvey which was articulated to portend mystical occurrences for the date of July 7, 1977. In 1978, the group’s performance at the historic “One Love Peace Concert� in Jamaica drew such rave reviews that the group was soon touring the United States, Europe and Africa on a regular basis.     

Although, Culture never received the widespread respect and recognition that they truly deserved in their native Jamaica, ironically, that was far from the case in Africa, where over the years they have nurtured a massive fan base. In Africa, the group was much beloved in places like Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana.

In fact, the Ghanaian government requested that Hill’s remains be buried there and at the exact time of his funeral there was a celebration of his life underway in Ghana. Ghanaian Minister of Tourism Jake Obetsedi Lampkey sent his condolences via DVD to Jamaica, as did many other officials in the government of Ghana. In Nigeria, the passing of Hill was also greatly lamented. Nigerian broadcaster Okezie Ekugo said “the death of Joe Hill has been devastating to the people here, we here in Nigeria are so fond of him. In fact, since the news of his death broke, radios are blasting Culture’s One Stone album. The people are lamenting much because of his militant songs,� Ekugo stated.

“There is a particular song being played here for those rebel guys in our Niger Delta who go kidnapping expatriates for ransom. The song “Tribal War� has been a hit and is played almost every day on our local stations. Then “Mr. Sluggard� is being played to educate people against the use of the Internet to do scam jobs. In fact, Culture is a name to be reckoned with here,� the radio broadcaster observed.    

Hill’s influence in Sierra Leone was equally profound. Once, Hill was asked by local rebels to play a concert there. But Hill told them that “I will only go if you put the gun down while I am here.� They did. And Hill performed for them. He once declared that “we brought that country on two special occasions to peace. They have also given my group 46 acres of land� In Sierra Leone, Hill also took it upon himself to feed some of the soldiers. “The thing that pains my heart, apart from the fighting, is that they do not treat their soldiers like men,� he lamented on one occasion. Hill was acutely aware of the oppressive global politics that impoverishes the world’s wealthiest continent. Once speaking on the desperate poverty of a depressed area in Kenya he said “I just had to buy food and return to distribute� it.    

Hill was a man deeply devoted to preaching the message of peace not only in Africa but in other parts of the world as well. For example, in 1987, Hill and Culture played at the Neve Shalom Peace Concert in Israel, a concert meant to promote harmony between the Israelis and Palestinians. Neve Shalom is a rare Middle East community where Palestinians and Israelis live together. Culture was the first foreign guest to play at this unique event.

Hill’s love for humanity moved and inspired many. “I saw the compassion in him and empathy that few people have,� said George Michailow, Culture’s agent. “He walked the talk like no other Reggae artist I have met. His understanding of the human condition was keen and his righteous indignation with the follies of the government and politicians would make his musical message all the more poignant.� Michailow added “I marveled at his ability to connect with everyone and his kind words to all he met.� 

Reggae superstar Luciano who is slated to perform, at the Hammerstein, had this to say about Hill “we must carry him in our hearts like the other great reggae icons who have moved on, Brother Culture always remained true to the roots and culture, he will live on through the love in our hearts.� Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller proclaimed Hill a “towering representative of out homegrown idiom, Reggae.� And in a eulogizing quote she said “Joseph Hill, your train is bound for glory, rest well my inspiration.� In 2005, Hill was presented with an Independence Award by Jamaica’s then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. He was also inducted into the Jamaican Reggae Walk of Fame.

In an illustrious career spanning thirty years, Joseph Hill and his band Culture produced 22 albums with numerous hits. Some of which include: Down in Jamaica, Peace and Love, Fussing and Fighting, They Never Love in This Time, Black Rose, International Herb, Two Sevens Clash, Natty Never Get Weary, I Tried and many more.

But Joseph Hill did more than try. His life represents artistic excellence rooted in the service of mankind. In that regard, he possessed the greatest love of all. From humble beginnings, he rose to prominence shining his light in a world often drowning in a moral cesspool of darkness, never forgetting his roots in the process. No doubt he is singing his songs on an ascendant plane. Joseph Hill we salute you.

However, the Joseph HillCulture story is far from over, as his son Kenyatta Hill---who has been performing engineering duties for some time—will now step forward to continue the works of his great father. Kenyatta Hill will be on hand, on Nov 4, at the Hammerstein.
Ticket prices start at $45. For more information on the Nov 4 concert log on to Or call TSO Productions at 718-421-6927. Ask for Sharon Gordon or Carlyle McKetty.

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