Coming across an unremarkable Yami Bolo record is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Only in his late 20s and already a veteran, Bolo has remained a fresh, relevant voice singing out for the oppressed with a constant flow of crisp ideas and concepts that have yet to fall out of favor with reggae fans around the world. The debt off his output is staggering. His colossal energy and passion have helped secure his name as a permanent fixture at the top of playlists and critics choice list. The first significant cultural artist to emerge during reggae's digital era, Bolo has amassed one of the richest musical catalogs in dancehall music. Since his recording debut in 1985 at the age of 15, the prolific singer and songwriter has consistently released imaginatively conscious Dancehall oriented reggae steeped in the Rasta based roots tradition. During his formative years, Bolo linked up with some of Reggae's most influential artist/produces such as Sugar Minott, Augustus Pablo, Tappa Zukie and Winston "Niney" Holness. He proved to be a perceptive apprentice – Bolo now has his own production company, Yam Euphony. Even more meaningful for music addicts Bolo infallibly upholds the heritage of his mentors with a seemingly nonstop flow of equality singles and albums. Originally nicknamed for his hearty appetite, Bolo is now nouishing Reggae lovers with his enriching musical food for thought.
Born Rolando Ephraim McLean on October 1, 1970, Bolo grew up in Kingston 13 with his two brothers and two sisters. Raised by his grandmother, the McLean children were surrounded by music. Young Rolando in particular expressed an early interest in singing and playing.
"I was born in Kingston 13 along Spanish town Road area where my grandmother used to send us to worship at de Philadelphia Church in Greenwhich Farm Town. So, really de whole of my family 'ave music in dem, but I'm the only one who really pursue it as a professional career so far. From a early age, like from 9, 10, me and my sisters and my brother we used to like listen to foreign songs and write out de songs. I used to love write songs so de whole family loved doing dat. But den I started writing some original lyrics. So it's really a musical family still. My great grandma, who I used to stay wit', she used to play the piano for City Mission Church. When she died she left like a trumpet, a trombone and an accordion. So I think that is a next step that inspire me along de way to keep moving to higher goal y' know ."
Adopting the nom de plume Yami Bolo, a nick name that his classmatesbestowed upon him because of his penchant for eating buns and fish tail. Bolo began to sing in front of audiences at church and school. His first major show took place at St. Andrews Technical High School when he was 13. His initial step into the professional arena occurred in the mid-80s when the teenage singer hooked up with Sugar Minott's Youth Promotion sound system. Much of Bolo's time with Minott was spent perfecting his showmanship as a stage performer, but he did garner valuable studio experience with recording specials for Youth Promotion. Also during this period Bolo developed a friendship with Minott's crony Junior "Jux" Delgado who generously shared the wisdom of his experiences with the burgeoning star. In addition to Youth Promotion, Bolo worked with Stur-Mas and Third World sounds along men like Super Cat and Nicodemus. Bolo looks back on the early days inna dance with fondness.
"We start out in de church den into de schools and den into de dance halls where we used de sound system 'cause at dat time de sound system was our only transport. Den de stage shows. So de dancehall was really de instrument or de vehicle that JAH used to channel Yami to the four corners of Jamaica and den to channel us to Europe in England where we did a few gigs. So I give thanks to de sound system 'ca it's a vehicle for taking the music all out in de world."
Bolo's first single, "When A Man's In Love" was released in 1985 on the Techniques label when he was just 15. Produced by Winston Riley, the song Rode the Stalag rhythm which he had just made a big comeback thanks to Tenor Saw's "Ring The Alarm." More impressive was the next single released the following year. "JAH Made Them All," another Riley production. With a powerful, yet not fully developed, teenage voice, Bolo sings,"Who Made The Mountains, Who Made The Seas......Only JAH JAH." Later in the pieces he does a bit of boasting with "who made lickle Yami, the champion MC....." and flexes his toasting skills with some "ska-da-ding-ding-dong."
Bolo's earlier acquaintances with Delgado resumed in 1989 when the veteran vocalist produced Bolo's debut album, "Ransom" (Greensleeves/Shanachie) a fine effort featuring Bolo's expressive singing over heavy rhythms played on a mix of both digital and live instruments. The album contains the classic "Ransom Of A Man's Live" and the infectious disco reggae debut between Bolo and Delgado called "Star Time-Fun Time." The project was very much under the auspices of Delgado longtime collaborator Augustus Pablo. Bolo became part of Pablo's Rocker's crew, and in the process of working with the influential melodically player/keyboardist/producer, learned much about the technical aspects off music making, principally the art of arranging. He also recorded important Pablo produced songs such as "Poor Man Cry" and a dramatic rendition of Burning Spear's "Door Peep"with Ruffy & Tuffy. The early '90s saw Bolo recording now classic material for Winston "Niney The Observer" Holness and Tappa Zukie. Bolo says he has learned invaluable lessons from his musical mentors.
"We are blessed and we have to truly give thanks because we always have under de tutelage of de greats. 'Cause all of de man dem who we work wit, is great: Augustus Pablo, Jr. Delgado, Sugar Minott, Niney,Tappa Zukie and de list goes on. From learning from all these great soldiers I give thanks to dem 'ca dey also inspire us to make an' bring forth new horizons."
Most observers agree, Bolo's first magnum opus was in 1992 Album "Up Life Street" (Heartbeat) produced by Trevor "Leggo Beast" Douglas. "Mama Cries," groove concentrated "Let Your Love Light Shine" and the forceful anti-Gulf War piece "Blood A Run." Up Live Street sealed Bolo's reputation as a thoughtful and proficient singer/songwriter. The previous year, Bolo teamed with legendary producer/artist Winston "Niney the Observer" Holness for the lightweight "He Who Knows It Feels It (Heartbeat)," a baker's dozen of mostly romantic songs ("Let Me Be Your Man," "Lady In Love," etc.,) and some great dance cuts ( Dancehall Music" and the excellent "Turbo Charge" ). More recently, Bolo put out the more solid "Fighting For Peace" (RAS) CD, a set of tracks produce buy Leggo and Bolo himself such as the heavy black Uhuru-ish "Glock War, Gun War" and the catchy "I Don't Know Why." The great Tappa Zukie helmed Bolos '96 album "Born Again" (RAS) which had "Dominion," The singer's version of the "Putting Up Resistance" rhythm, and the spiritual Abyssinians song "Love JAH Today." His latest, "Wonders And Sign (Super Power), has another satisfying anti-gun anthem, "Youth Man" alternately known as "Hot Steppin," The Bobby Digital produced "Youth Man" retell the classic story of a country boy gone bad bwoy over a wicked drum and bass line. Bolo also add to the countless number of songs built on the "Real Rock" rhythm with his enjoyable take on Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely." Bolo's music has always been about righteousness. He says no matter which way certain trends may take the music, he'll always be a roots man.
"In the early essence of de music what really stands out is the roots of de music because it's like a tree, you have de leaf, you 'ave de branch, de stem. But without de roots that tree cannot be sustained or even 'ave anymore life. So, we already know dese many changes would come into de business, dis business of music. Once dere is the business of music den de music will become exploited and sometimes you lose de direction of it's true course. But with de roots off de music, and de roots people keeping dat fire burnin' den it will never lose dat a true cost of direction. So I stick wit' de roots.
Some of Bolos most purely emotional records have been unadorned Nyabinghi shots like "Rough In The Ghetto" (Roof International 7-inches), and uplifting hymn featuring some African influenced guitar work and the lines "Poor people living in pollution, righteousness is a lasting foundation." Another grounation type song is "No Justice" (Buffalo 7-inch), A soulful ballad lamenting the injustices and corruption plaguing some African nations. Bolo also participated in the monumental Sky High and Mau Mau album Marcus Garvey chant (RAS) which intersperses heavy Nyabinghi-tinged percussion in the mix and fascinating excerpts from speeches by Marcus Garvey himself. Bolo's heartical, wailing voice is heard on the title track and on "Marcus Link With Selassie," both on the "Drum Song" rhythm. Nyabinghi is the root of all of my music is based on de Nyabinghi feel. Sometimes you might not hear it but it's the same Nyabinghi. De same one two feelin' which really affects de heart. And it's really de heart we want to affect. Ultimately we reach de mind of de people and free dem.
Although he's no stranger to cover tunes (Bolo has reggae-ized a number of pop tunes as diverse as "Nature Boy," Memories," "So Softly Love- The Godfather Theme" and "Happy Sings The Blues" ), as a songwriter Bolo ranks with some of reggae's best. Tunes like "Be Still Babylon," "Officials Are Like Locust," and" Traitors & Vampires" exhibit a fertile wit' and sincere conviction. Bolo approaches composing as a mystical process and co-operative effort.
"De things dat 'appens around us is an inspiration. Likewise the natural Mystic that flows from the MostHigh will write about other things to which will 'append. It works many different ways. First and foremost I write my lyrics most of the times, put them on a cassette and sometimes I would carry themto the studio and say play dis. Sometimes we would just jam and feel free, every man create him on ting an' next time de promoter or de producer 'ave his own riddim and I write the lyrics for that riddim. So it works vice a versa. It's all about collaboration working an' accepting other people's ability to create. 'Ca it's all about giving an' sharing an' loving.
One of the biggest hits of Bolo's career was 1997's "put Down The Weapon" (Fat Eyes 7-inch), a combination record with Capleton on the "Afrikaan Beat" rhythm. The songs conscious message reverberated in Dancehall around the world, enjoyed long chart success and earned a spot on VPs Celebrated annual various artists collection Reggae Gold 1997. Now a father with three young sons Bolo's songs of peace amongst the youth, such as "Put Down The Weapon," take on a particular significance. As he looks to the future, Bolo intends to stay on the part of righteousness. One of his most recent songs, "Clean Up Your Front Yard" from the Born Again album, succinctly expresses his outlook on life.
"What de song is really saying, it's a mental song. A moral revolution telling de world to clean up dere front yard. Everyone. We are not pointing fingers at one set of people but we are speaking to de wholehumanity. Clean up their front yards 'cause King Selassi I is comin'. Dat's not no joke. De world know- 'ave history an de time, de accuracy go his judgment which will fulfill Dat is not a fantasy. Good over evil and righteousness will live forever 'cause corruption can never rule earth.