Sheila Rickards

Jamaican Fruit of African Roots

BY Vincent PollardPublished Mar 25, 2013

Several years back, Australian ex-pat Chris Flanagan (aka DJ and reggae enthusiast Earl Grey) came across a mysterious track by a young Jamaican singer (mis-credited to Shella Record) on a reggae compilation released locally in Toronto in the mid-'70s. The track struck such a chord with Flanagan that he decided to make it his mission to track down the diva behind this virtually unknown song. After several years of digging, Flanagan decided to make a documentary about his search for Sheila Rickards and, after a trip to Kingston, Jamaica to meet the track's producer, Bunny Lee, he was granted the rights to release it, becoming the first offering on Flanagan's Shella Records. Rickards' haunting vocals blend Broadway and jazz influences over a reggae backing track as she sings of her ancestry (the titular "Jamaican Fruit of African Roots") and black pride with an infectious spirit of celebration and resistance. The ten-inch pressing includes an a cappella and two dubs, one from King Tubby and the other credited to regular Bunny Lee collaborators the Aggrovators. Expertly cut at Berlin's famed Dubplates & Mastering, Jamaican Fruit is a unique musical curiosity rescued from the brink of obscurity and a must for reggae collectors. The accompanying documentary, Shella Record — A Reggae Mystery, is currently in production.

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