KILLAMANJARO, THE NO.1 CHAMPION SOUND
For more than forty years now Noel Harper’s mighty Killamanjaro sound system has been a leading light in the dancehall world. The sound was started by Papa Jaro in 1969 and it’s name is derived from Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, and throughout their history they have constantly scaled great heights both in Jamaica and worldwide.
As Killamanjaro’s set grew in size and popularity they started to recruit deejays with O Lord being their first resident professional mic man. As the seventies made way for the eighties so Killamanjaro marched onwards and upwards. A major plus for the sound occurred when Mr Harper recruited Ainsley Grey as main selector. Sadly we have yet to hear a full Jaro session dated earlier than 1982 but a typical dance around 1982/83 would feature such luminaries as Jim Kelly (b. Sylvester Morgan), the apprentice of O Lord, who by this time had flourished into a great chatter and the sets number one deejay. Other deejays on the scene at this time were veteran Lone Ranger (b. Anthony Waldron), Buro Banton (b. Donovan Spalding), who had two separate stints with the sound, Danny Dread and Dirty Harry. In addition John Wayne (b. Norval Headley) and Papa Tullo aka Tullo T (b. Everald Crawford), who were previously on Studio Mix sound, could often be heard at Jaro dances.
As well as the deejays Killamanjaro also promoted singers around the set. Long time dancehall fixture Puddy Roots (b. Junior Smith), who had started out as a deejay Puddy Lion on the Arrows sound in the mid to late seventies, morphed into a singer who would appear on many of Killamanjaro’s crucial sessions in the early eighties. He would also be joined by U.U. Madoo, a singer with a voice almost indistinguishable to his older brother Madoo. These singers along with others like the sweet voiced Hopeton James and the “original” Thriller were always there to provide an alternative vocal refrain.
Tragedy struck the Killamanjaro camp midway through 1983 when Jim Kelly was killed, yet another victim of the violence that permanently haunts Jamaican society. In time though the void was filled by, not one, but two top notch deejays Super Cat (b. William Marragh) and Early B (b. Earlando Neil). These sparring partners had been plying their trade away from Kingston on St Thomas’ King Majesty sound but they now took up residency on Killamanjaro, now one of the islands top sounds. From 1983 to 1985 Killamanjaro were near untouchable, especially when the “Doctor” and Super Cat were firing on all cylinders. New additions to the Killamanjaro family included Little Twitch, (b. Richard Wright) who’d started out at King Sturgav, and later Super Cat’s younger brother Junior Cat (b. Wayne Marragh).
Midway through 1985 it was all change again for Killamanjaro. Skeng Don was assembling his Sturmars set and he managed to lure Super Cat, Buro Banton and selector Ainsley to his “supersound”. Early B remained in the fold, and so did Junior Cat and Dirty Harry, and over the next few years they continued to remain a “live artist” force. Patcheye took over the role of chief selector. About a year after this Jeremy Lee took over as selector and Killamanjaro were now being spearheaded by the emerging rudebwoy talent of Ninjaman (b. Desmond Ballentine), armed with his unique quick-fire “labbrish” style. In another move, they then added the experienced King Sturgav deejay Charlie Chaplin (b. Patrick Bennett) to their ranks.
Killamanjaro continued to promote “live artists” on their set in the late eighties, even though times were changing in the dancehall. New regulars on the set included deejays German, Ironman, Daddy Shark, Supervisor (b. Augustus Sutherland), Hammermouth (b. Patrick Wedderburn) and musician Bugleboy. Perhaps the most important newcomer in the late 80’s was Ricky Trooper (b. Garfield McKoy) who joined as a deejay. He had been working as a deejay on the Creation sound as Screechy Trooper, but prior to that he’d been a selector from a very young age on sounds like Coptic, Volume One and Ultimate Touch.
Their aggressive soundbwoy attitude won them many soundclashes but gradually the dancehall business changed as the juggling style took over and the dancehall performers became obsolete almost overnight. But Killamanjaro flourished in the sound war era with Ricky Trooper, who’d taken over from Jeremy Lee and by now one of the greatest selectors/MC’s ever, leading them to many victories over the other top rated sounds from all around the world. In 2000 Ricky Trooper branched out on his own, as Sound Trooper, leaving Freddy Kruger (b. Paul Francis) fronting Jaro until he left in 2004. Things continued with Hype, Crazy D, Genius and Danny, who is also an engineer at the Killamanjaro Dub Store studio which cuts dubplates for sound systems. Freddy Kruger is now back on Killamanjaro along with DJ Tarick.
It’s now forty years on since Mr Harper built his sound and they are still a major sound system. For us though, the 1983-85 era is seen as the classic Jaro years, a time when the Killamanjaro sound well and truly ruled the dancehall.