John “Rafael” Allen comes with an ambitious project

by Mar 27, 2023News

John "Raphael" Allen comes with an ambitious project

One of the New York reggae scene’s unheralded titans, John “Rafael” Allen played on some of the biggest hit songs out of the Big Apple in the last 30 years.

The multi-instrumentalist helped fashion a dancehall movement from Long Island that produced hit songs by Shaggy, Super Cat, Heavy D, and Sluggy Ranks. He is looking for similar success with an ambitious project featuring some of Jamaica’s biggest acts.

On April 28, Legends of Jamaica: A Tribute to Ska, will be released by Skaville Music, a company operated by Allen and Watty Burnett of The Congos. It has 34 songs by the creme of ska, dancehall and reggae.

The project, which has songs by Eric “Monty” Morris, Lee “Scratch” Perry, U Roy, Bunny Wailer, Ken Boothe, Mykal Rose, Max Romeo, Marcia Griffiths and The Melodians, among others, hears them putting a fresh spin on one of their classic songs.

The four-vinyl will also be available digitally. Allen explained the decision to go the route of the music industry’s most resurgent platform.

“‘Cause it’s most cost-effective we went with vinyl and it’s more in-demand than CD. We plan to target events like Rototom (Sunsplash) and other European festivals where vinyl is popular,” he said.

‘Legends of Jamaica’ was five years in the making. Allen and Burnett agreed on the project after working on songs with veterans like Ernie Ranglin. The initial idea was to record new songs, but changed course after the artises preferred to ‘cover’ their own songs.

The songs include “Home Home Home” by Boothe, “This Train” by Bunny Wailer, “Heart Don’t Leap” by Dennis Walks, “Forward On To Zion” (The Abyssinians), and “By The Rivers of Babylon” by The Melodians.

U Roy, who died in 2021, recorded the lone new song – the jazzy “Something.”

Allen played keyboards and bass on some of the songs which also features Sly and Robbie, bassist Val Douglas, guitarists Stephen “Cat” Coore and Dwight Pinkney, saxophonists Dean Fraser and Glen DaCosta.

“It was a lotta work but we feel satisfied that we have a good product that will satisfy a diverse market,” said Allen.

A stalwart of the New York reggae scene, Kingston-born Allen has lived there since the early 1970s. He grew up in East Kingston where he remembers listening to The Skatalites rehearse, sessions that piqued his interest in music.

Allen was a member of the funk-reggae band Monyaka which recorded an album for A&M Records during the 1980s, but made his name as a session musician out of Long Island a decade later.

He played on countless hits such as “Don Dada” and “Dolly my Baby” (Super Cat), Sluggy Ranks (“95 % Black 5 % White”), “Kuff” (Shelly Thunder), “Hot This Year” (Dirtsman), and “Oh Carolina” and “Boombastic” by Shaggy.

(Photo courtesy of Skaville Music)