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IRIE Fest Special

From Ska, Soca to Reggae and Beyond

By Kerry Doole

It takes a lot of confidence to name yourself Fab 5, but over the course of a career now closing in on 40 years long, this Jamaican group has indeed justified the "fab (ulous)' tag.

The 5 in the band's name is a little misleading, however, in that they addition of keyboardists and horn players means a membership larger than five. They're recognized as both one of the most popular and hardest-working bands in Jamaica, and their trophy cases must be overflowing with all the industry awards they have accumulated.

Fab 5 formed in 1970, and scored a Jamaican No. 1 hit with their very first recording, "Come Back And Stay." A string of such hits as "Chirpy Cheep," "Oh, Dad," "Love Me For A Reason," and "Shaving Cream" followed, and the Fab 5 reputation for entertaining shows soon made them one of the most in-demand performing groups in Jamaica.

Their credibility grew when they backed Johnny Nash on all the reggae on his breakthrough album, I Can See Clearly Now.

Their 20 plus albums have all been strong sellers, and their Yu Safe soca record was arguably the most popular album recorded in Jamaica in the '80s. Part of the reason for Fab 5's sustained success in their musical variety. They have recorded ska, soca, and reggae albums, and have been convincing in all these genres. In concert, they've been known to throw in jazz, funk, disco, rock, soul, and even classical stylings too.

This versatility was strickingly showcased at the Miami Reggae/Soca Awards. In 1996, they won the Best Album and Besst Single Awards there, both for "Good Buddy," while their 1999 album, Shape, won as Best Soca Album there. They've also won awards in Canada, including the Best International Reggae Album honour at the Canadian Reggae Music Awards show in 1999 (for Fab 5 Live - The Ultimate Vintage Jamaican Party Mix... Part 1).

An impressive feat for such a veteran ensemble is the fact that three of the original members remain in Fab 5; bassist and manager Frankie Campbell, guitarist and saxophonist Harold Bailey, and lead singer, drummer and musical director Grub Cooper. Cooper and Campbell have both been awarded Jamaica's Order of Distinction for their contributions to Caribbean music. In 2003, Fab 5 received the Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in the Performing Arts in Jamaica, while a 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award came their way at Reggae Sunfest.

Large international audiences have also responded enthusiastiacally to their sunny sound. They group has performed at the famed Kool Jazz Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, while a crowd of one million at an anti-nuclear concert in Central Park was another Career highlight.

Now it is time for Toronto fans to partake in the Fab 5 fun experience, with the group set to headline the IRIE Festival on the clising night of Aug 4.

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