Prophecy: Jamaica’s Man Of Vision

It takes a man of vision and character to bear the name of “Prophecy.” Jamaica especially is renowned for its musical prophets, except we’re now witnessing the emergence of a singer who feels it’s not enough to rely upon well-worn clichés in bringing about lasting change. By declaring his willingness to get involved and participate in just causes, Prophecy has set himself apart from most other reggae acts, who rely on music alone to spread a positive message.

Initially, he began donating books to schoolchildren in his native parish. It was the beginning of a journey that forms a parallel with acclaimed, international artists such as Jack Johnson, who’ve based their appeal not only on songs, but an allegiance with worthwhile causes. In Prophecy’s case, this has led to the establishment of the Prophecy Foundation; a non-profit, charitable institution aimed at increasing awareness of various educational and environmental issues, and helping to alleviate poverty and world hunger – enormous tasks he shares in co-operation with the World Food Program, either via local initiatives, or the support of international ventures like Earth Water or freerice.com, which nourishes minds, as well as bodies. An articulate spokesperson on such matters, he believes education is the key to ending the cycle of poverty and inequality that afflicts so much of the world’s population, and endangers natural resources. To date, there are no other artists from Jamaica who’ve made green issues a focal point of what they do, in addition to helping people in need.

Prophecy stands alone, and his concern for the environment is hardly surprising. As a Rastaman, he’s long cherished Mother Nature. Also, he was born and raised in rural St. Thomas – an area renowned for its natural beauty, as well as its links with Jamaican freedom fighters Paul Bogle and George William Gordon. Real name Rohan Brown, he grew up in a family of Seventh Day Adventists. Prophecy’s early life was therefore defined by simplicity and a deep-seated sense of righteousness – qualities that have remained with him ever since, and drew him to the conscious reggae sounds of early musical influences such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Jacob Miller and Burning Spear. Despite studying electrical engineering, he always wanted to sing and play music, and especially songs with a cultural message.

“I want to make music that can elevate the mind of the common man and make things a little better through greater understanding of each other and our roles in this life,” he said right at the start of his career, and little has changed in the meantime.

In 1998 he entered the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s annual song contest with an original composition called Higher Ground, reaching the final. He then made his first recordings with help from a friend named Sonny Murphy, who also introduced him to Coxsone Dodd, owner of the famous Studio One label, where artists like Marley, Spear, Toots & The Maytals and Marcia Griffiths began their careers. Alas, Prophecy would be the last of Coxsone’s protégés – the legendary producer having passed away in 2004.

Two years beforehand, Prophecy had travelled to South Africa with Rita Marley and Chakademus & Pliers to perform at three AIDS awareness concerts. The tour group stayed in five-star hotels, but Prophecy asked to be taken to Soweto – a profoundly moving experience that inspired the song Chance, which the South African Broadcasting Corporation chose as a tribute to Lucky Dube. Prophecy describes the fallen reggae star as “a great warrior,” but says, “primarily though, Chance was done for all of the people suffering in Africa.”

The following year, he will emerge victorious in another contest that led to a remarkable debut at Reggae Sumfest – an occasion that inspired the Jamaica Observer to report how, “Prophecy wowed the unsuspecting crowd.” The Big Break Competition – sponsored by Red Stripe – had attracted over 800 entrants, and was created and managed by Jamaican radio station Irie FM on behalf of artists “who live the music and who know what it takes to be competitive in an international market.” Prophecy clearly fitted the bill, with Splash Magazine describing him as “one of the most dynamic new entertainers to grace Jamaican stages in recent times”. His winning entry, Don’t Come Tell Me, received widespread exposure in Jamaica, as did the accompanying video. The song itself, co-written with Marlon “Sojourner” De Cordova, had been inspired by events in places like Iraq. This led Prophecy to comment how although he hadn’t been there in person, “I was there in spirit, feeling what was happening and putting the cries of those who were there into my music.

“I always wanted to write from what I was saw happening around me,” he explains. “Friends and I, we would reason about life whilst always looking towards the conscious side, and seeing what is affecting the people. We sing about the plight of the people through music, and that was me from the beginning. I said to myself that I am the son of slaves and I have to find a way out, and the best way of doing that was not with a gun, but conscious meditation.”

In the aftermath of Don’t Come Tell Me, he enhanced his popularity in Jamaica with performances at Rebel Salute, East Fest, St. Mary Me Come From, Western Consciousness, Black My Story, St. Thomas Fiesta and Irie FM’s Marcus Garvey celebrations, as well as school tours throughout the various parishes. Whilst refusing overtures from producers looking to exploit him, he also continued to write songs of real depth and meaning – most notably on titles like Chance, Dem Wrong, Don’t Come Tell Me, Clearly, and Sacrifice, which allay persuasive vocals to powerful, original arrangements and rhythms. These are now hallmarks of the Prophecy sound. In his own words, he writes songs designed to reach out and appeal to people “from anywhere, and at anytime.” We can hear the proof of this in other, remarkable anthems such as Body Bag, Puff And Pass, Fight The Fight and Can’t Take It Anymore – also a brilliant reworking of Party In Session, shared with Michael Rose and a former No. 1 reggae hit in Italy. Tracks such as these are expected to feature on his eagerly awaited debut album Break Loose. Its release is sure to herald the arrival of a major new star from Jamaica – one who not only blazes a unique trail with his music, but also seeks to bring about important changes in the world we live in.

“We have to build a better future for the next generation and it has to start from somewhere, so why not right here and now?” he asks determinedly. “One small step can change someone’s life journey, and I feel certain we can make tremendous strides forward if we try. We may not start off with a lot but from we care enough and have vision, then we can always find ways and means in making a difference.”

John Masouri

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About johnmasouri
John Masouri is a long-time author and music journalist specialising in reggae and its many off-shoots including dub, ska, roots and dancehall. The author of Wailing Blues: The Story of Bob Marley's Wailers, published by Omnibus Press in 2008, he is currently working on a biography of reggae singer Peter Tosh, due to appear next year. In addition to book projects, he continues to write articles and reviews for Reggae Vibes (France), Riddim (Germany) and Echoes - formerly Black Echoes - which is renowned as Britain's No. 1 black music monthly. His work has also appeared in Mojo, Music Week, the Guardian, the Observer and the NME, as well as magazines in the US, Caribbean and Japan.

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