By Andrew Gilhooley / 411
Reggae fans just have to love the Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz right now. Hardly a week seems to go by without a concert by one of reggae’s big names. On Saturday, the UK’s Pato Banton takes the stage. A world-renowned reggae star, in his home country Banton is also a tireless worker in his local community, promoting music education and computer technology in schools, and working with young offenders.
Pato Banton (real name Patrick Murray) was born in London but moved to Birmingham in the UK’s Midlands when he was eight years old. The Murray family home was the focal point for local social gatherings, and at the weekends the house would be packed with family and friends. By the time he was a teenager, Murray had become proficient with his grandfather’s sound system, and, because he would stay up all night entertaining the guests, was given the nickname “Patoo” by his stepfather (from an owl in a Caribbean folk tale).
By age 18, Murray was MC in a local reggae band called Crucial Music and toured around the UK and Europe. After a while, he decided to pursue a solo career and entered a talent contest. Two of the judges were Dave Wakeling and Rankin’ Roger of popular 80s band The Beat. The three became firm friends after Murray won the contest, and recorded a track together for the band’s album.
Murray auditioned for Fashion records, where the producers were so impressed by his talents they dubbed him “Banton,” a slang term for a heavyweight lyricist. Murray’s stage name was established Pato Banton. His first single for Fashion was “Hello, Tosh, Got a Toshiba,” which was used by the electronics company in their 1985 advertising campaign. The song went to number 3 in the independent reggae charts and brought Banton to a national audience. Further exposure came when British reggae band UB40 featured Banton on their “Baggariddim” album.
Banton gained international exposure when his first solo album, “Never Give In,” was picked up for US distribution by IRS Records. He also collaborated with fellow British MC Tippa Irie, releasing an EP together and touring extensively in the UK, US and Europe. Throughout the 1990s, Banton released albums and toured relentlessly, and as the new millennium dawned he decided that he needed to slow down. After being asked to participate in Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD tour, Banton found he had the opportunity to work with underprivileged children in a number of cities. This experience inspired him to divide his time between making music and working in his own community.
Banton moved his home recording studio into a local community college, and set about revamping the music department, gathering a team together to offer courses in vocals, dance, instruments and music technology. He created an association called Music Connections that helped to put computers into local youth centers and set up classes in music technology. By the end of 2002, Banton had founded his own School of Musical Arts and Technology.
After several years away from touring and recording, in 2004 Banton formed a new band and is currently touring and working on new material.
First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, April 27, 2006
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