With a distinct sense of purpose, Third World, rightfully dubbed The Reggae Ambassadors, will celebrate its 35th anniversary in December, 2008! Another of my very favorite reggae bands who I have enjoyed live on many occasions, Third World is one of the longest-lived reggae bands of all time. Criticized by reggae purists as too commercial, this legendary group of talented musicians manages to remain popular with their international audiences because their inventive music is always fresh and creative. They take risks and experiment, stretching the basic foundation of roots reggae. It is this imagination, and their superior capabilities to make music in its various forms (reggae, R&B, funk, pop, African, Latin, rock, dancehall and even rap) that inspires and endears them to their fans around the world.
Unlike many of the self-taught greats of Jamaica’s reggae scene, some of these guys actually had classical and quite diverse music training. The group was founded in 1973 by Michael “Ibo” Cooper (born January 14, 1955, in Kingston, Jamaica), a policeman’s son who received formal training on a variety of keyboard instruments at Kingston’s Royal School of Music, and Stephen “Cat” Coore (born April 6, 1959, in Kingston), whose father served as deputy prime minister of Jamaica and who first learned to play stringed instruments from his renowned music teacher mother. He was trained at Forster Davis School of Music in Jamaica where Satta matka he gained a reputation as a prodigy for his amazing talent on the cello. Both artists had played individually on the Kingston reggae circuit but first worked together when they joined the successful Kingston group, Inner Circle, in 1968.
Deciding to strike out on their own, Cooper, Coore and Inner Circle’s vocalist Milton “Prilly” Hamilton completed their band with Richie Daley, a self-taught bassist. They recruited drummer Carl Barovier (who was replaced by Cornel Marshal) and percussionist Irwin “Carrot” Jarrett who had extensive professional experience with concerts and TV. Third World made its live debut with a performance at Jamaica’s independence celebration in 1973.
Third World made a name for itself on the Kingston club scene as a fully self-contained band; a rarity because most labels in Jamaica were operated by sound systems while Third World had all its own musicians on hand. They did this so they could perform wherever they wanted rather than constantly scrambling for musicians or a sound system to support their singing. But this made it difficult to land a record deal so they toured England where the reggae sound was becoming popular, and released their debut single Railroad Track in 1974, subsequently signing a deal with Island Records. Island sent them on a European tour as the opening act for Bob Marley & the Wailers.
1976 saw the release of Third World’s self-titled debut album which included a cover of the roots classic Satta Massagana by the Abyssinians. Their follow-up was 1977’s 96° in the Shade, which introduced their new drummer, Willie “Roots” Stewart, and a new lead singer, William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke. That title track is an all-time reggae classic and the album was a huge critical success. But Third World’s breakthrough popular album was 1978’s Journey to Addis, which featured a funkified reggae cover of Now That We Found Love by the O’Jays. The single was a crossover hit that grabbed listeners who didn’t normally buy reggae albums. Along with the follow-up single Cool Meditation, Third World was launched to international stardom when they hit the US R&B charts and the British pop Top 10.