King empire

Bongo beats for the king – Jamaica Observer

Emperor Haile Selassie I

The Jamaica Observer Entertainment Bureau continues with the 11 of its bi-weekly

report on the defining moments that helped shape Jamaica in the past

60 years.

Percussionist Bongo Herman is a strong believer in the deity of Emperor Haile Selassie I and his lineage with King Solomon. He was among thousands of people who witnessed the arrival of the Ethiopian monarch at Kingston’s Palisadoes International Airport on April 21, 1966.

The little royal came on a three-day state visit.

“I was a member of the di Rastafari Reparation Association and one of the men the government at the time appointed wid [Rastafari elders] Filmore Alvaranga, Douglas Mack, Samuel Clayton [of the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari], and Mortimer Planno. We have the privilege to get out of the airport and keep order because the police couldn’t control the crowd. So dem haffi use Rasta fi control Rasta; so traffic can pass freely,” said Herman, who turns 79 on September 16.

“Di a whole Jamaica lockdown. A man is running from St Mary fi come ah airport,” he continued.

Alvaranga, Clayton and Planno died in 2014, 2018 and 2006 respectively. The Rastafari Reparation Association, based east of Kingston, has since been disbanded with the deaths of its elders.

According to reports, 100,000 Rastafarians from all over Jamaica descended on the airport to see the man they believed to be God. They played drums and smoked copious amounts of ganja. April 21 is special for Rastafarians and called Grounation Day.

As well as being Rastafari’s spiritual leader, Selassie was a hero throughout Africa for defeating the forces of Italian fascist Benito Mussolini in the 1930s.

His historic visit to Jamaica followed a similar trip to Trinidad and Tobago. While in the Caribbean, he also visited Haiti and Barbados.

Bongo Herman said that while waiting for His Imperial Majesty’s visit, he witnessed several miracles.

“So Count Ossie and I, without singing Nyahbinghi and witnessing the rain falling and the bird coming before the plane arrived. And as His Majesty comes out of the plane, the sun comes back and dries everyone out of the airport,” he says.

“And I left and went to Montego Bay with them. They gathered in Sam Sharpe square and cordoned off the whole square and we sang the Nyahbinghi drum and Her Majesty was on stage and no breeze was blowing. And I see him take a deep breath and the whole tarp almost collapses out of place. I witness these things because I did it right in front of him,” the veteran musician continued.

Bongo Hermann

Hailing from the talent-rich Trench Town, Bongo Herman began his recording career in the early 1970s for producer Derrick Harriott on know for me with Eric “Bingy Bunny” Lamont, an ode to Selassie’s visit.

He also provided percussion on Marcus Garvey and No one remembers old Marcus Garvey (Spear of Fire); rule book (The Heptones); Cop in helicopter and Strange things (John Holt); Breakfast in bed (Lorna Bennett); and serious time (Gyptian).

He has a cameo appearance in the 1978 film Toggles.

Although he has never traveled to Ethiopia, Bongo Herman (first name: Herman Davis) said Selassie’s visit was important for Jamaica and Rastafari.

“It is the fulfillment of a prophecy. Before His Imperial Majesty’s visit, Rasta used to get beaten up by the police, like the incident at Coral Gardens. When HIM comes, dem [Rasta] become more accepted and the police calm down putting pressure on Rasta,” he said.