The world of music is mourning the death of the internationally-renowned reggae bassist Robbie Shakespeare - who helped move the genre into new before-unheard of territory and whose presence was hugely prominent on classic works by the likes of Black Uhuru and Peter Tosh, to Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. His death was announced on Twitter by Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange.
Of his death, Black Uhuru’s Michael Rose said: “Nobody sounds like Robbie. He had the wickedest bass. You’ll never find nothing like that again.
“This is a big, big loss.”
As half of the prolifically renowned rhythm section Sly and Robbie, with his long-time friend and collaborator Sly Dunbar on drums, he was rooted in the deep, roots-rhythms of his native land.
As a progressive duo, they were never afraid of trying different sounds. He and Sly were forever moving their sound into even more styles. Their syncopated, electronic-driven sounds became evident on classic singles like ‘Pull Up to the Bumper,’ by fellow-Jamaican legend Grace Jones.
Born and raised in East Kingston, Robbie was a protégé of bass legend Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett before, in 1973, he was invited to hear Sly (Dunbar) play at a reggae club.
In an interview, Dunbar said: “The first time we played together it was magic.
“We locked into a ‘groove’ immediately. I listen to him and he listens to me. We kept it simple.”
The pair became members of Channel One studio house band, the Revolutionaries, who pioneered the heavily syncopated reggae offshoot that became known as rockers. They then went on to start their own production company and record label ‘Taxi’. Known as the Riddim Twins, during the mid-Seventies, they appeared on classic albums by Tosh and also recorded with nearly every major reggae act, including Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, and Barrington Levy.
Sly & Robbie reached greater levels of success when they joined one of reggae’s biggest bands, Black Uhuru. They hooked up with Island Records head Chris Blackwell, who soon recruited them for Grace Jones’ genre-smashing Nightclubbing LP in 1981. The duo was incorporating more computer-generated rhythms and sounds into their tracks.
In 1985, the first year the Grammys included a category for Best Reggae Anthem, the award went to Black Uhuru’s Anthem, produced by Sly and Robbie – they were nominated for 13 Grammy Awards. They also produced music for movie soundtracks, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Poetic Justice.
Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness said on Twitter: "When it comes to Reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare." A cause of death was not immediately disclosed, but the musician was said to have recently been hospitalised for kidney damage.
He was 68.