This originally ran in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1995.
The traveling reggae extravaganza, known simply as "Sunsplash," is now in its
second decade of "uniting the world through music." It rolls into town for a return
engagement this Wednesday night at the Riverport Amphitheater.
This year's performance is scheduled to include the following acts: Christafari,
Junior Tucker, Sister Carol, Buju Banton, Worl-A-Girl, Wailing Souls, Aswad and
Freddie McGregor (who was a late substitute for vocalist Dennis Brown). Skool will once
again provide the musical backing for the majority of artists and the master of ceremonies
for the 11th straight year will be Tommy Cowan.
Cowan, a veteran singer, producer and promoter, is one of Jamaica's great
treasures. He originally starred in the rock steady group, The Jamaicans, in the mid '60s
and has also produced classic recordings from such artists as Ras Michael, Jacob Miller,
Winston McAnuff and Israel Vibration. He currently runs the Jamaican-based Talent, Inc.,
managing such artists as Carlene Davis, Brian and Tony Gold, John Holt, Dobby Dobson,
Pat Kelly and from this year's Sunsplash, Junior Tucker and Freddie McGregor.
On a recent day off from his hectic schedule, this "MC extrodinaire" shared his
thoughts concerning this year's tour.
"Sunsplash is on the road again, bringing great reggae music to all the people. We
started May 3rd in Japan, played for about two weeks, took a few days off, then started
our U.S. tour in Las Vegas on May 26th. We'll be touring non-stop through mid-July."
Cowan is one of the most charismatic MCs one will ever encounter, and when
asked what his job entails, he answered with sincerity.
"The work is spiritual and comes from my heart. Each day I go out there, say a
prayer and hope to do my best.
"My job is to communicate. I like to feel that I have made people feel better, and
maybe made them a better person. Sometimes I'm not exactly sure what I'll do between
acts. It's the Lord who moves me. I always pray, but today I might sing, give a funny joke,
tomorrow I might not. It's how the spirit moves.
"When we went to Japan we went to Hiroshima for the first time and I fully
realized what took place when an atomic bomb is dropped. So this year it's very much on
my heart that I must talk to people about weapons of mass destruction and how we must
"I like to leave a message of hope. A lot of kids across the country, maybe the
music they hear tends to teach violence and disrespect. I just focus on the positive things. I
want the people to know that tomorrow can be a better day. We can look forward to
better days with our brothers and sisters."
One of those "better days" will undoubtedly be when reggae fans in town once
again unite and support this major event. There will be cultural booths, Jamaican food and
drink and, of course, great reggae music.
The evening promises to be a memorable one as there will be roughly 5 1/2 hours
of continuous reggae rhythms, beginning promptly at 6 p.m. Cowan is sure to keep things
lively and flowing and parted with these words:
"Let's hope that everybody comes out because it will be such a special evening for
all the people. There will be such a great vibe. It's very spiritual and positive and can only
be for the betterment of life."
Cowan's thoughts on this year's line-up:
CHRISTAFARI: "For about seven years they'd turn up at the Reggae Sunsplash in
Jamaica, and on each occasion they'd give me a Bible. I never believed that those kids
would one day be entertainers, because I just saw them as spiritual brothers, but they're
SKOOL: "They're the most competent set of musicians out of Jamaica in recent history.
Of course they'll be backing many of the artists and soon will come out with an album
called 'Skool In Session.'"
WORL-A-GIRL: "It's so nice to have a girl vocal group functioning the way they do.
They put on a fantastic choreographed show. It's really nice to see."
JUNIOR TUCKER: "He's a dynamic performer. He was the top male vocalist in '93 and
'94 out of Jamaica, winning numerous awards. Many record companies have expressed
interest in him and I feel he's ready to go to worldwide."
SISTER CAROL: "I love Sister Carol. I call her Mother Culture. She teaches from that
stage with strictly cultural lyrics."
BUJU BANTON: "Buju hasn't joined the tour yet, he'll be with us in June. He's a DJ and
the fact of the matter is that American rap, or DJ, music had its origins in Jamaica many
moons ago. Count Machuki, he was the first one, there was daddy U-Roy, and now there's
Buju - he's the 'Voice Of Jamaica.'"
FREDDIE MCGREGOR: "He's the prince of the world's dancehalls
because he has given so many hit songs to the dancehalls
and to all reggae lovers. I call him the 'Hitmaker From
WAILING SOULS: "These brothers grew up in Trenchtown with
Bob Marley, under the same influence. They're some of the
greatest vocalists ever and they'll play classics like
"Things and Time," "Jah Jah Give Us Life To Live" and
ASWAD: "They'll finish the show. These brothers from England
have been together for two decades and they were recently
nominated for the best reggae album of the year [Rise And
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