Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Ravi Lloyd
“How did I first get into music? Music got into me…”
As a youth in Jamaica, Yami Bolo struck instant gold with his very first release. Recorded for Winston Riley at Techniques Records, 1985’s “When a Man’s In Love” is one of the essential tunes on Riley’s timeless Stalag riddim (or “Stagalag,” as Jamaican artists and selectors tend to call it), right alongside “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy and Tenor Saw’s “Ring the Alarm.” Sounding like a dancehall Michael Jackson by way of Junior Reid, Yami became an overnight sensation in Jamaica, where he joined a veritable Rat Pack of kiddie deejays which at the time included Little Kirk, White Mice and a young Beenie Man.
While Yami’s rise was swift, his career has been long-lasting. From his early days playing on Sugar Minott‘s Youthman Promotion sound system to his time at Augustus Pablo‘s Rockers International and his work alongside Damian Marley on Jr. Gong’s Grammy winning Halfway Tree album, he has had a varied career.
For a brief time in the ’90s, he even joined the roster at Prince’s Paisley Park. He had a gold album in Japan with Japanese pop star Kazufumi Miyazawa. For three decades, he’s maintained a commitment to uplifting, cultural reggae — and slackness-free content. Meanwhile, his signature tune would take on its own life in the rap world. In 1995, “When A Man’s In Love” was sampled by Mad Lion and KRS-One for their ragga hip-hop classic, “Take It Easy.” Now based in New York City, Yami continues to actively perform and record. (Watch his latest video, for “Love Keeping Us Together,” here.)
Yami is also quite a maestro of the melodica. It’s a skill he picked up from the master, Augustus Pablo, during his time working with the dub icon. In this episode of LargeUp TV, Yami demonstrates his melodica technique, as we sit for a backyard reasoning and jam session at Brooklyn’s Ghetto Roots studio. Yami’s infectious personality, warm smile and musical chops shine through as he regales us with stories from his youth in Kingston, playing understudy to some of reggae’s most crucial figures. Some great images of a young Yami from original dancehall documentarian, Beth Lesser, complete the trip back in time. LargeUp yuhself, Yami and Beth, and we haffi big up Ras Tayo (Twin Sound) from Ghetto Roots for the location.
Watch the video below: