It Began In Afrikaa

Lester Sterling – Afrikaan Beat [Coxsone/Studio One]

The only remaining founding member of the Skatalites in its current touring line-up, alto saxophonist Lester “Ska” Sterling is one of the less celebrated of his Alpha Boys School alumni. Jackie Mittoo and Tommy McCook arguably forged more illustrious careers after trombonist Don Drummond hit the skids and the short-lived but prolific and immeasurably influential collective dispanded. Sterling meanwhile became a jobbing hornsmith, in time finding a home amongst Byron Lee’s Dragonaires and releasing a smattering of 45s in his own right.

Apparently first recorded pre-Skatalites for Clement Dodd’s Coxsone Records and perhaps recut in ’69 for Studio One, Lester Sterling’s ‘Afrikaan Beat’ is an intoxicatingly horizontal version of the chirpy Bert Kaempfert original. Kaempfert’s was, in turn, a European gentrification of an already established African swing number from the fifties and under the bleary eye of Sterling the refined strumming guitar, shuffling brushwork and high-end strings are replaced with an altogether more heavy, rough and skanking sound that reclaims the blackness of its Zimbabwean roots.

Inevitably, in the fulness of time and the spirit of Jamaican recycling, Sterling’s cover would form the backbone of Barrington Levy’s ‘Under Mi Sensi’, itself another track that launched a thousand reinterpretations.

‘Afrikaan Beat’ by Lester Sterling appears on the Various Artist compilation Studio One Scorchers [Soul Jazz Records].

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