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Percussion maestro, Herman Davis (Bongo Herman), beats the drum at the Bob Marley Museum, on Hope Road.
Photo: Donald De la Haye

Story Highlights

  • Percussion maestro, Herman Davis, popularly called ‘Bongo Herman’, would have wanted his life no other way, than with Reggae music being at the heart of it.
  • Bongo Herman tells JIS News that Reggae has not only created a livelihood for him, but also allowed him to travel the world.
  • “I have travelled to Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Rome and Italy because of the music,” he informs.

Percussion maestro, Herman Davis, popularly called ‘Bongo Herman’, would have wanted his life no other way, than with Reggae music being at the heart of it.

Bongo Herman tells JIS News that Reggae has not only created a livelihood for him, but also allowed him to travel the world.

“I have travelled to Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Rome and Italy because of the music,” he informs.

He says the music has also enabled him to be involved in two movies, ‘The Harder They Come’, in 1972, and ‘Rockers’, in 1978.

“When the Harder they Come was filming in Trench Town, I was around Jimmy Cliff, and in the Rockers movie, I am the man dancing in the record shop in the full yellow track suit,” Bongo Herman notes.

Additionally, he says Reggae has helped him to build a reputable career as a percussion maestro and a producer.

“I’m from the days of Ska, Rocksteady [and] Reggae. My contribution to Reggae is quite assured. I’ve played my part where music in concerned,” the 76 year-old percussionist tells JIS News.
Mr. Davis now works at the Bob Marley Museum, on Hope Road, and boasts the privilege of being one of the few persons at that treasured tourist attraction who actually grew up in Trench Town with the legendary Reggae singer, Bob Marley, and worked alongside him for years.

“The other persons here, they teach about Bob Marley, but I speak about what I know. I can tell people about his life and how I worked with him and his family right here in this yard and under some of these same trees,” he says.

Mr. Davis also entertains visitors at the museum on a daily basis, and teaches them how to play the percussion instruments.

He believes his love for music has been with him since his childhood in Trench Town, a story similar to that of Bob Marley.

Bongo Herman says Trench Town taught him the foundation of music, as it was the place to learn how to hold a microphone, to learn the distance to keep it away from your mouth, the principles on stage and much more.

In the 1960s, he decided to take his career to another level by pursuing his dream by working with producer, Derrick Harriott.

He worked at Channel One Studio, Federal Recording Studio (now Tuff Gong Recording Studio), Harry J Studio, Anchor Recording Studio, Studio One, Mixing Lab and several other small studios.

Mr. Davis has also worked alongside other popular Jamaican musicians, such as Jimmy Cliff, and was the percussionist for Cliff’s first album, ‘Jimmy Cliff Unlimited’.

In fact, it is the drumming of Bongo Herman that is heard on singles like Jackie Mitto’s ‘Drum Song’, Richie Spice’s ‘Earth a Run Red’, Gyptian’s ‘Serious Times’, and Fantan Mojah’s ‘Hail the King’.

He also played other percussion instruments for some recordings, such as a shaker, heard in Gregory Isaacs’ ‘Night Nurse’; the vibraslap, and a chattering sound instrument that can be heard on Barrington Levy’s ‘Shine Eye Girl’.

Bongo Herman says the best moment which Reggae music offered him, was when His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie, came to Jamaica on April 21, 1966.

“In 1966, when His Imperial Majesty came to Jamaica, I was one of them at the airport who greeted him with my drums. I was the kete drum player at that time, along with other brethren,” he points out.

He also gave Prince Charles a one-on-one Nyabinghi drum tutorial when he was in the island in 2008.

Mr. Davis says he is happy to have contributed to the development of Reggae music, and is still alive to tell his story.

“Sometimes when we played the music, we never got paid. We just did it for the love,” he tells JIS News.

“Reggae is the heartbeat of our people. There are a lot of us still alive who are playing this music,” Bongo Herman added.

He believes Reggae music will live on and continue after his life ends.

Bongo Herman’s advice for upcoming musicians interested in promoting Reggae music is: ‘Music is a mission and not a competition’.

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