Remembering Garnet Silk - 24 years on
The month of December is quite celebratory with all the excitement and joyous atmosphere that abounds as Christmas is upon us. But for Novlyn 'Lovey' Banton, December carries an air of melancholy as it signifies the tragic death of her fiance, reggae crooner Garnet Silk, who died in a fire 24 years ago.
"It was horrible. I was six months' pregnant with Garnet Silk Jnr when it happened, and it was the worst thing that could ever happen to any human being," she told The Sunday Gleaner. "One minute you're there and your life is great, and then you wake up and everything just changes - drastically. I didn't celebrate Christmas before, so that remains the same. But December is a hard time for me because that's when he died."
Silk had left Banton and their three children in Kingston to visit his mother, Etiga Gray, in his Hatfield Ward Park hometown in Mandeville, where he was building her a house. A week later, the 28-year-old, along with his mother, perished in a fire on December 9. The singer's thanksgiving service was held on December 25.
Banton recalled her last exchange with him. "We spoke that Friday evening. He had asked me to call Luciano and Dr Carl Fraser for him, but I couldn't get any of them," she said. "He didn't say what he wanted to speak to Dr Fraser about, but he wasn't available at the moment. For Luciano, he just said he had something he wanted to tell him ... he didn't get to tell him. I think Luciano even had a concert in Mandeville that same Friday night at a place called Midway Mall, and he went there to try and get a hold of him. But I'm assuming he didn't get to see him that night because I've had several conversations with Luciano since and he hasn't said anything."
Born Garnet Smith, Silk was among a body of roots-revival, conscious artistes who rose to the fore despite the glorified gun culture and gritty lyrics that pervaded the dancehall space in the early 1990s. Among his contemporaries were Tony Rebel, Luciano, Yasus Afari, Everton Blender, and Uton Green. His unique sound and messages of 'Jah's love' became a signature, which propelled the young artiste to mainstream markets in his two-year career.
Even though his musical journey and life were cut short, Silk's contribution to the industry helped to shape the sound of the genre into the new millennium and secured his immortality. His repertoire includes Kingly Character, Nothing Can Divide Us, Zion In a Vision, Mama Africa, and It's Growing.
HONOURING HIS MEMORY
"Every time December comes around, his fans are going to remember him. You going to walk around and hear a lot of Garnet Silk playing, if not on the radio, then in the streets," Banton said. "If you drive through communities, you'll hear people playing his songs daily because people still remember him and love him. He was one of those entertainers who you don't hear nothing bad about. That's how he lived his life. A lot of people described him as an angel because he lived a true life - he was true to his calling - and that is something to be celebrated."
Speaking of celebrations, Banton has her hands full with plans to commemorate the singer next year, which will mark 25 years since his death. While she is not ready to disclose details, she did share that plans were being made to better honour his legacy.
"I don't want to divulge anything yet, but there are some things in the making that's going to help to strengthen his legacy," she said. "His son, Garnet Silk Jnr, is now doing music. He's a reggae singer who is holding his own as a very conscious artiste. He doesn't sound like his dad, but he is making it his mission to keep his father's legacy alive.
"There are other things to come on stream, but everything takes time. Garnet was a man who everybody looked up to, so whatever you are doing for him needs to be done in the right manner. Just be patient and look out for all that is going to be happening."