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Jamaica mourns Robbie Shakespeare

The bassist passed away yesterday from kidney disease in Florida at the age of 68, leaving behind a legacy that extends far beyond the island’s borders. 

Today (December 9th) the world lost a reggae legend. Robbie Shakespeare, born in 1953 in Kingston, took up bass after learning acoustic guitar. He was taught the instrument by the master Aston “Family Man” Barrett, a legend from the Upsetters, Lee Scratch Perry’s great ensemble. He met Sly Dunbar in the mid-1970s, a period where Sly was playing the funk-inspired reggae rhythm “rockers” in the band The Revolutionaries. It was love at first sight, and the two, renamed “Sly and Robbie” or ironically “Sly Drumbar and Robbie Basspeare”, had a string of successes on the island, playing with Culture, U Roy, Peter Tosh, the Wailers… They also joined the legendary Black Uhuru band, which enjoyed worldwide success. 

In addition to the rhythmic alchemy they created, the duo also excelled as producers. With their label Taxi Records, they produced an estimated 200,000 songs. In the 90s, as dancehall overtook reggae, Robbie and Sly were able to ride the wave, producing No Doubt’s “Hey Baby”, released in 2001 on the massive Rock Steady album. 

Robbie Shakespeare’s name has been associated with immense artists in reggae and well beyond, including the legendary Bob Marley, Gilberto Gil, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Serge Gainsbourg, Joe Cocker, Tricky and Carlos Santana. May he rest in peace. 

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