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February is African American Heritage Month and WERS AT NIGHT is honoring one artist or one song every day this month that helped contribute to social consciousness, political responsibility, or civil rights. At WERS, we believe that these songs are always bigger than just entertainment; music can be used to drive a movement or even motivate a nation.
While they may not have had the lasting influence of The Wailers, Frederick “Toots” Hibbert and his band Toots and the Maytals were certainly one of the most influential artists for their time. The band was formed in 1961, along with Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathais, and quickly came onto the scene with hits such as “54-46,” “Monkey Man,” and “Pressure Drop.” Known for his soulful vocals across Jamaica, Hibbert’s reputation quickly grew as he and his band assembled. But Hibbert’s vocals meant much more that that.
Toots and the Maytals were well known throughout Jamaica for not trying to imitate American vocalists, but were instead emanating the sound of the people of Jamaica. This forever changed the way reggae and any music from the island was recorded, and led to a more cultural awareness for the culture of Jamaica.
Because of this, Toots and the Maytals did not just create catchy beats and reggae tunes, but also created a movement that the Jamaican people could relate to in their music. For example, “54-46” as actually about Hibbert’s own time in prison for marijuana possession, which echoed in the Jamaican population due to their own problems of past slavery in their country’s history. Toots and the Maytals were far from preachers, but more of a voice of the regular citizen of Jamaica in the sixties and seventies. Even if Toots and the Maytals wasn’t a household name, it certainly should be.