Bitty McLean is my artist. Bitty McLean has the one voice that can always put my mind at ease. Every time.
He personifies everything that is great about reggae music, and music in general, and has proven to consistently produce and perform a style of reggae music that can speak to the deepest reggae lovers both in Jamaica or abroad. Through various eras of changes and trends, industry hype and confusion, the music of Bitty McLean has remained wholeheartedly great, technically sound, vocally strong, reggae music.
Videos of his sessions solidified my obsession with this artist, as he rehearsed for performances with the legendary Riddim Twins, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and an array of instrumentalists. I have yet to see Bitty perform live; while he tours Europe and has appearances in the U.S. (he in now embarking on U.S. tour), his visits to Canada have been rare. Even without the pleasure of being able to hear his voice live, I still drown myself in his recordings and still get excited to hear him sing. A reggae lover from birth, it is Bitty who has resonated most with me because of the genuine soul that is put into his music.
His covers of "Dedicated to the One I Love" or "It Keeps Raining" were familiar to me, but I was also a teenager caught up in the dancehall stylings of my other favourite artist Buju Banton, or his counterparts like Spragga Benz or Bounty Killer. While dancehall was trending with unique bright fashions, music videos of dancers in Jamaica, and the appeal of sound system culture...over in the UK, Bitty was still bubbling the ska and rocksteady songs that continue to drive the rhythms of his productions.
Bitty's father was a soundman, and heavily influenced by the music of his day before moving to England in the late 1960s. With him, he brought a collection of music that ranged from John Holt to Nat King Cole, and he also brought the passion that permeated the spirit of his son Delroy (nicknamed "Bitty" by his grandmother, having been born prematurely and small), the youngest of six children. Under the guidance of his parents Eaton and Leonie, Bitty took this inherited dedication to reggae music and sound system culture, and naturally entered a career in this direction.
In an interview with Band on the Wall in 2016, Bitty confirmed that doo-wop and rocksteady music were his first loves, and he recommended that all contemporary artists invest in the work of the veteran artists like Freddie McGregor, Dennis Brown, Marcia Griffiths, and Beres Hammond to name a few, to invoke the true spirit of the genre. In his household, Bitty came of age listening to Johnny Clarke and U-Roy, Burning Spear, and other easy-listening vibes. It was this rhythm and blues, jazz, and ska influence that would go on to shape the style of his recordings going forward.
To date, he has released 8 studio albums beginning with 1994's "Just to Let You Know," up to his most recent release "Love Restart" that was just introduced in August of 2018. Consistent throughout his albums over the decades: a purity and musicality that is rare, in an age of digitally influenced crossover hits and blurred genre lines with composition.
I listen to Bitty's music on flights and at times of relaxation in particular, because of the way it grounds me. It reminds me of my Jamaican heritage, and the spirit of my ancestors who conceptualized such beautiful sounds. Despite being Canadian born, just as Bitty was also born outside of the island, his music is so deeply rooted in the origins of the genre that the tribute of his work deserves commendation. I admire his ongoing commitment to keeping the music strictly reggae, with no attempts to gain hype of crossover impact, but rather rejoices in his dedication to the music itself.
Some artists purposefully make you want to dance, and others encourage you to rebel. There are artists committed to clever lyrics or aggressive recommendations, and there are those who are conveyors of history. I view Bitty's role as a reminder of the essence of reggae, the vibe of Jamaica, and the creator of a music that has the ability to physically make you feel at peace. Lyrically, there is a focus on love, and also a reminder of one's spirituality.
As a writer, I tend to gravitate towards music that puts me in a creative frame of mind without disrupting my flow or my thought processes. Whether I'm travelling to warmer climates, or sitting at my desk trying to finish a novel or edit a piece of writing, this is the music that has the ability to instantly transport me into a positive frame of mind. One that inspires me to also communicate my vision efficiently, and with a positive energy that always reminds me of the grace of our Jamaican people. It reinforces my commitment to supporting the culture and those who ensure that the original beauty and vibes of our beloved island are transferred between generations.
Bitty McLean has conveyed the best elements of Jamaican music and culture with utmost integrity and talent over the years, and I am thankful for the ways in which his music has transcended time and allowed me to live in an age where he is still creating, still recording, and still contributing to this powerful tradition.
Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.