Without a doubt, Utan Green should be a household name.
Utan is driven to do what needs to be done without making waves over his personal accomplishments. It seems his quiet and humble personality play a significant role in his lack of fame.
Utan’s thoughtful, unassuming demeanor was the first thing I noticed when visiting at Devon House in Kingston. I had attended the Buju concert at the National Stadium the night before. The contrast was striking from a massive screaming crowd on Saturday night, to a peaceful Sunday afternoon, with Utan, slowly eating ice cream while relaying crucial reggae history. His story mesmerized and held me in awe.
Hailing from Waterhouse, an area of Kingston known for producing some of the finest exponents of Jamaican music,- including King Tubby, Jammys, Junior Reid, Half Pint, Black Uhuru and Wailing Souls,- Utan was fortunate to be surrounded with significant musical talent that became a key cultural asset.
He began his reggae career in the 1970’s when Utan, his sister and brother formed a group called “The Invaders.” The trio caught the attention of Junior Reid who linked them with Don Carlos resulting in the release of “Cry of a Poor Man” and “Down in the Ghetto.” When Utan’s sister left the country, he decided to pursue a solo career.
In the late seventies and early eighties, Utan moved to be a part of an established, well known sound system in Manchester Parish called Destiny Outernational. This decision led to what was not only a cathartic change for Utan but ultimately a major turning point for the future of reggae music. Manchester is where many of today’s conscious roots and dancehall artists learned and practiced their craft. A tight brotherhood formed resulting in a unified philosophical and spiritual movement that included Garnet Silk, Tony Rebel, Yasus Afari, Everton Blender, Luciano and Kulcha Knox. These artists were defiantly against the slack lyrics of the early nineties dancehall music that had invaded the airwaves. They were young enough to understand the power of the dancehall sound but rejected the message that came with it.
Reggae music was troubled, fragmented and losing international steam. Roots Rastafari messages had been replaced in popularity with dancehall slackness, gangsta mentality and chauvinist attitudes devaluing women. Timing was crucial, so the Manchester roots artists began infusing the popular beat of dancehall music with a uniquely conscious message. Their entry into the dancehall market blossomed into new vibrant sounds embraced by both reggae and dancehall fans. This movement has carried into today’s dancehall music with key artists such as Agent Sasco, Capelton, Damian Marley, Queen Ifrika to name a few who move from a serious roots song to a high quality dancehall track infused with class, educational messaging and positivity.
The Manchester movement took root. The artists were tightly bonded, and adopted the name Christian Soldiers. They were steadfastly committed to influence the music of the day with positivity. Some artists moved to Kingston to further expand the influence. It is important to understand, the Christian Soldiers were the genesis of a movement that resulted in an early wave of reggae revival. Their work had tremendous impact on the future of roots reggae and modern dancehall music. One major outcome of this movement was the creation of Rebel Salute, a Rastafarian reggae festival designed to preserve the authenticity of positive messages in reggae music. From Nyahbinghi to modern Dancehall, the lyrical content at Rebel Salute remains positive. Uton describes the experience in the following quote:
“In our time, culture was on the down low. They were embracing all the slack and negative music. We knew we could make it better, so we sat down and planned to revive the music- not just for us but for our children’s children. Hence, Rebel Salute came about. It was part of the movement to move back to the cultural side of the music. That is how the movement came about, through the Christian Soldiers. Which was our thinking of positivity and upliftment of reggae music.” Utan Green https://soundcloud.com/majestymedia/utan-speaks-to-sista-irie
After making significant contributions to the positive shift in reggae and dancehall music, Utan returned to Kingston in the 90’s and joined the Red-Hot Flames crew where he began releasing hits such as “Cyaan Tek” on the Shocking Vibes Label and “No Looking Back” on the Flames Lalabella Riddim.
Utan then made an important personal decision to take a break from performing music to focus on raising his family. Utan shows great pride when talking about the family he created and nurtured. As he says, they grew to perfection and although Utan turned attention to his family, he kept a close ear on the reggae music industry and followed the evolution of musical trends.
In 2018, Utan returned to singing and released a serious roots single entitled “Purpose of Life” and a dancehall track “That’s How We Flow.” The unique diversity of the singles caught the ear of Wayne Gordon’s New York Entertainment Movement record label, and a five year management and production contract was signed. A new album “House of Love” will be released this summer on the New York Entertainment Movement label. “House of Love” is a clear demonstration of Utan’s unique and beautiful ability to move back and forth from roots to dancehall making him an exciting artist for reggae festivals and venues.
He has an amazing story to tell and a unique mix of singing and performing talent that will please crowds in Jamaica and abroad. A video is in the works for “Purpose of Life” and will be released soon. “Purpose of Life” is an excellent mix showcasing old style reggae values with modern visuals.
As our visit ended, I asked Utan why many reggae fans are unaware of his lifelong works, especially those from the nineties with the Christian Soldiers. His ‘behind the scenes’ work is critical to be captured and acknowledged by scholars of reggae. In true Utan form, he quietly replied:
“As I say in life, many times, many people work but don’t really get recognition, you understand? So, I am like one of those ‘behind the scene’ persons who do a great work, alot of hard work but I never really get credit. But I give thanks, I know the Father will credit me one day.”
He laughs quietly and says “yeh mon, that’s a part of it.”