Reggae, 1989 and the legend of Ras Kimono

An artist does not know the greatest hits man. It’s the masses that decide and they listen to your lyrics and what you say then decide and make a decision of your greatest, but I don’t know Rasta, you know what I mean? – Ras Kimono

Kimono’s “Rasta get jail “and “Rum-Bar Stylee” were the hits of the year, the year was 1989, the year Michael Jackson became the ‘King of Pop’, the same year Shina Peters released Ace: Afro-Juju Series 1. Ras has been playing with The Jastix before 1989, he had teamed up with Amos McRoy, Black Rice Osagie, Jegg, and Majek Fashek and they were popular for their weekly performances at bars and clubs. Like Kimono, before 1989, Shina Peters had played with Chief Ebenezer Obey and was a star of Prince Adekunle’s band. They were both 31 years old experienced Nigerian singers under the rule of a dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida and 1989 was their year.

Unlike singers before him, Shina Peters stretched the limit of Juju with Ace. His sound was energetic, kinetic bursting and he christened it Afro-juju. In the words of Reuben Abati, Shina’s sound is ‘a medley, a fusion, hitherto unseen, of rhythm, syncopation, polyphony and dance with a touch of meta-spatial incandescence.’ Shina Peters was an entertainer and he was popular for that. Ras Kimono was a preacher, and he was popular for a while.

When Ras Kimono’s Under Pressure album came out under the label, Premier Music, Lucky Dube was preaching Reggae to the world, he had released one of his bestselling albums, Prisoner. Africans and the West were in love with Reggae, it was a household sound. 1989 was a great time to be a Rastafarian and that was when Ras Kimono debuted with Under Pressure shortly after he started grooming his dreadlocks. Rasta get jail and Rum-Bar Stylee were on top of the chart. Like Fela Kuti, Ras had figured out how to saturate his delivery with Jamaican Patois and that gave him an edge.


I knew I was going to be a musician and as I grew up, I picked it up, got no problem with my parents supporting me. Ya man!
– Ras Kimono


From that album, it was evident that Kimono’s music was influenced by his background and his lyrics searched for the masses. Rum-Bar Stylee was adopted for the dance floor and Under Pressure was the people’s anthem as it reflects situations under the military rule of General Ibrahim Babangida. Ras Kimono was a preacher, like Lucky Dube and Bob Marley before him and it was clear from the beginning that he was not going to be a showman no matter the consequences.


It’s difficult to play reggae, they (the young generation) want to make quick money and when you are singing reggae you don’t make much money. Nigeria is a capitalist country like America, and so they sing about sex, guns and your waist; and that’s what a lot of people want to hear. When you talk about the truth and rights of the society nobody wants to hear that. Tell any of the hip-hop artists to play core reggae, they will not because a lot of their friends are in high places. I have friends in high places that don’t patronize me because I sing reggae music and tell them the truth. – Ras Kimono


Ras Kimono’s Under Pressure was successful, he sold over 100,000 copies. That same year, he quickly followed up with another album, We No Wan but what actually crowned his social reputation was his 1990 album, What’s Gwan. Ras was enjoining the reception of Under Pressure, he was regarded as a social advocate and became confident enough to dive into controversial topics in What’s Gwan. For some, What’s Gwan was Ras’s best, for many, it was his most Rastafari influenced album. He confidently talked about the legalization of marijuana, apartheid, colonialism and African intellectual superiority and he followed up with Rub A Dub the same year.


I live where the people live so I can see the tribulation they are going through; suffering and the humiliation, so we can put it into our music and expose it. Like I said, I’m an advocate of the people. If I don’t expose it, who is going to do it for them? I do it for the people, that’s why I live for the people. – Ras Kimono


Ras toured Africa, Europe and the US singing and preaching the ideas of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, he mentioned later in a conversation with Elijah Otumu that ‘as a Rastaman you must see His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie as one thing on earth because His name is Rastafari and you cannot bear someone name without recognizing him.’ However, Kimono’s Rastafari ideas were conflicting, has someone who had pushed for the legalization of marijuana, Ras is a vegetarian and a Rastafarian who never smoke.

‘No! I don’t take drugs or alcohol’ he continued, ‘I am a vegetarian and a Rastaman to the core. You don’t have to smoke or grow dreadlocks to be a Rastaman.’ A friend and former member of The Jastix, Majek Fashek who came to the limelight a year before Kimono objected his views, in a conversation with The Sun, he said  ‘Do you think that I am Ras Kimono who said that he is a vegetarian or Rastafarian whereas he is not? Although, he used to be one but at a stage he failed the law’, he continued, ‘he is suffering for failing the laws of the Rastas.’

Whether Ras Kimono failed the Rastafari laws or not, it was clear that at a point he failed his fans. Kimono left Nigeria to the US in 2004, at a time when his fan base was looking out to more from him. He didn’t only relocate to the US with his wife and two daughters, Ras disappeared from the music scene. For six years, he was silent and that was the greatest mistake of his musical career.

Ras came back in 2010 and released an album titled Matter of Time in 2012. The album was Ras’s attempt to win back his fans, he made a tribute to Lucky Dube and discussed societal issues but it was 2012 and most of us have gotten over Preacher men. Ras Kimono didn’t give up, he kept performing at events to revive his career.


Simplicity and Consistency are my keywords, and I mean consistency with or without money because I should have diverted to something else. Some of my colleagues diverted to something else and they are making money now; but I said no, this is what God called me to do and I give thanks to Him for everything. – Ras Kimono


It’s 2018 and Ras Kimono is gone, a month after he celebrated his 37 years on stage. Ras’s career was passion filled, he was a preacher, a social advocate, and above all, a Rastafarian who died with his 30 years old traditional dreadlocks and left his music, ideas and legend with us.


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