To me, Dennis Wilson was a brother, a mentor and one of those individuals who inspired me to be one of the finest reggae producer/presenters I am today.
He linked me up with a good number of Jamaican stars, the likes of Leroy Sibbles, Young Garvey, Shaggy, Jamaican Reggae DJ Mandingo, Freddy Melody, Big Youth, among others. He also came up with a number of jingles for my reggae programmes on ZBC’s Classic263.
He was the first person to let me know about the death of reggae legendary Bunny “Striker” Lee — a man who produced artists like Delroy Wilson, Cornell Campbell, King Tabby, Tapper Zukie and Johnny Clarke.
I remember him saying to me; “I spoke to him (Lee) in the UK at a function hosted by John, the owner of Dub Vendor record shops. He did not look too healthy at all. He has been a very influential person within the reggae industry.”
The world of reggae music, Zimbabwe included, has lost an iconic figure who inspired a good number of radio reggae producers and presenters.
Wilson was unquestionably one of the most charismatic and inspirational reggae DJs and producers in Jamaica, UK and Zimbabwe. He was diabetic and suffered from hypertension for some years. He collapsed at his house in Harare and passed on. He was 66.
Many, I guess did not know that he could sing and do a number of cover versions, from Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown to Freddie McGregor.
Through his reggae programmes with Kudzie “Mr Cool” Marudza on the then Radio 3 in the 1980s on Thursdays between 8am and 9pm, Wilson drove reggae music forward across decades.
According to Marudza, “some of the reggae songs we popularised include ‘ABC-123’ and ‘Push Comes to Shove’ by Freddie McGregor. ‘Push Comes to Shove’ became his signature tune.”
Wilson worked with various reggae labels and helmeted hits by Freddie McGregor, Cocoa T, Sanchez, Tiger, Aswad and many more from the mid-1970s onwards. Wilson introduced Jamaican dancehall reggae music, from Ska and rocksteady styles and the distinctive tempo and bounce of reggae.
He was the first to interview a number of visiting reggae groups such as Joseph Hill and Culture, Shabba Ranks, Sugar Minnot, among others.
Through his programmes, he also helped to pioneer the echoing, eerie sound of dub with its focus on drums, bass and studio effects. Wilson had that radio voice that reggae fans would become accustomed to and would find some kind of comfort and nostalgia and excitement. This led me to invite him to the then SFM Reggae Rhythms in 2006 to co-host the programme.
He became known as the Godfather of Reggae Radio because many credited him with introducing Jamaican reggae dancehall and reggae from the 1970s in Zimbabwe.
Wilson was born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to London at a tender age. He came to Zimbabwe in 1982 at the invitation of Dr Obadiah Moyo, who at that time was also a big reggae fan having stayed in Jamaica and London as well.
He then joined the then Post and Telecommunications as a telecoms engineer
Although he left radio some years ago, and could come in as per my invitation on the Classic263 Reggae Talk, his die-hard followers stayed with him for decades, and more recently he had become a vocalist and manager for the local reggae outfit Transit Crew.
“Shabba”, as most of us would love calling him, is survived by three sons and a daughter.
Who would forget the song, “I Will Wait For You” by Freddie McGregor as he signed off his programme?
Sleep easy reggae man. RIP Dennis.
Terrence Mapurisana is station manager for Classic263 and reggae producer/presenter for the same station