It was in my third year of a 5-year secondary school programme in 1986, when I first heard those early tracks, for instance Peace and Love, of the man Joseph Hill who was to be popularized by the name CULTURE. The message was so pure that only the so-called BABYLONIANS could resist it. Listening to his song for the first time, I thought my roommate was disturbing the tranquility of the room with something I clearly did not understand. Little did I know that I would become Joseph Hill’s adherent for the rest of my secondary school days and beyond.
It was so alluring to share stories about his early beginnings and to keep track of his latest releases and most prestigious to lay hands on them and to share them with friends. That voice has/had been one great thing that connected us together as adolescents. The day hardly passes without a song from his early tracks. This really shows how ardent some of us became with regards to his message.
The time finally came in 1994 when I was to catch glimpse of my musical ‘idol’ for the first time when he attended the maiden celebration of the Pan African Festival, dubbed PANAFEST 1994. Though I could not get the chance to get closer to my idol, watching him from a distance was far humbling to me than anything else at the time. The man Joseph Hill was so simple, unassuming but with a smile that was so infectious that nobody could resist smiling back. I followed through to Accra and watched him performed live at the Black Star Square in Accra where he thrilled the crowd to a special rendition of reggae music. Indeed, it was my first time to watch a show of such magnitude. I came to understand that watching a musical idol perform is so electrifying that you feel the connection straightforward. I still have fond memories of that beautiful night packed with all the devotees and his able lieutenant, Albert ‘Gentle’ Walker.
Three years later, in 1997 the man was to stage a comeback due to the great love he received from Ghanaians. I remember I heard the news so late, the afternoon of the night he was scheduled to perform at the National Sports Stadium in Accra. But despite the short notice, as soon as I closed from work, I quickly found my way to the stadium. This time things were to be different. I was backstage when a mini bus zoomed towards the tent specially erected backstage for him and his bandsmen. As soon as the bus halted, a team of policemen cordoned him and his men. But in fact, it was similar to the Biblical story of Zacheus , who climbed a tree to catch glimpse of the man Jesus. Some of us apparently broke through the barricade and entered the circles. When I finally placed my palm in his, I felt so accomplished that night that the memory still blazes like an inferno anytime I remember the man Hills.
Last June when I met Joseph Hill again a few hours before he climbed the stage in London, it was a real moment of truth. We mused with nostalgia his performances in Accra, and I told him how much I respect him for his great works. In his usual unpretentious voice with a broad smile, he said to me: ‘Jah work must be done, and Jah Himself chooses his instrument for his own work, so give thanks and praise to his name’.
I never knew that was seeing him for the last time that night. Man proposes but God disposes. Indeed after this encounter, I tried to arrange for Joseph Hill to perform in Hull as part of activities heralding the Wilberforce celebration in Hull. Unfortunately, this could not happen until the morning of 20th August, 2006 when news of his demise was broken to me. I was preparing to go to work when I had an unusual early morning call from a friend, Audrey Fosu, whose boyfriend was still in Germany sizzling the German reggae festival. In fact, they both went to Germany together but Audrey had to return early to finish some work. Knowing that I am an ardent adherent of Joseph Hill, she decided to inform me about the demise of the legend which occurred the day before.
You can imagine how devastating the news was to me just as to all other devotees. I wailed and played his music the whole day, but just like all mortals, that never brought back the man CULTURE. By midday as I logged on to the internet, snipers of information from renown broadcasting houses however confirmed the tragedy.
It is exactly on year now since that great loss. Many Ghanaians I interviewed recently still hold him in high esteems even posthumously. I therefore will like to seize this opportunity, on behalf of Ghanaian funs, to declare the month of August a month of mourning in memory of the man Joseph Culture Hill. May his soul rest in perfect peace and may his work triumph forever. We understand what he stood/stand for and the message will never be lost on us. To Kenyatta and the wider circle of relatives, be assured that the time for reunion with this great saint is soon to come. ‘one love’.
Respect, Ras Rootsman