When N.L. Dennis was singing in a recording studio with Toots and the Maytals, Bob Marley stopped by to listen. Marley praised Dennis's delivery. Today, Dennis lives in his native Jamaica and joins hundreds of Jamaicans who come to Vermont every summer in search of better paying work. Most of them work on vegetable farms and at apple orchards. Dennis works as a reggae musician. He will perform a public concert with his band in Brattleboro on June 8. The concert will be at the Whetstone Station Restaurant at 8:30 p.m.
The band played last summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in Southampton, New York.
In the U.S., Dennis sings and plays guitar in the Thunderballs. Dennis wrote all the songs on their CD. He met the band's keyboard player, Peter Eisenkramer of Vermont, in Jamaica in the early 1990s, when Eisenkramer was there on vacation and heard Dennis play. Eisenkramer invited Dennis to visit him in Vermont and perform there. Dennis agreed and applied to the U.S. government for a visa that would let him into the country. It took more than 20 years for the U.S. government to give him a visa. In 2015, he finally came to Vermont. The Thunderballs performed several concerts in the Brattleboro area. My wife and I went to one. Everyone in the audience danced and applauded enthusiastically.
You can hear some of the band's music at www.thunderballs.net. One of their best songs is not at that site but you can hear it at:
They have an outstanding album available on CD. Contact the band to find out how to get a copy.
Dennis's parents were farmers in Jamaica. They grew potatoes, pumpkins, cassava, peas, plantains, bananas, and other crops. They sold their crops to a cooperative, which sold them to grocery stores and restaurants. His father sometimes also worked at a sugar factory.
There was no electricity or running water in their home, so when Dennis was a child he would carry the family's water on his head from a stream to their house. They didn't have a car and could not afford a bus ticket, so if they wanted to travel it was on foot or by donkey.
Dennis built a guitar when he was eight years old. He taught himself to play it. In school, a teacher helped him enter a national singing competition. Dennis won. He is 63 years old, “but I play like I'm 19,” he told me recently.
He has been able to support himself almost entirely with his music, though he has occasionally worked other jobs. “I live in a poor community, where people are just barely surviving. I help them when I can, but I am struggling myself,” he said. He lives in a rural part of the Hartford district of Jamaica, near the town of Savanna-la-Mar.
Some of his songs are political and include calls for justice. “I've never been involved in politics directly,” Dennis said. “But sometimes you see the situation and you want to do something. My song 'We Want a Righteous Government' was inspired by that kind of feeling.”
Dennis grew up in the 1960s. At that time in Jamaica, “the white and mixed-race elite were the 'one' who ruled the 'many,'” according to the New York Times. As of 2012, about 7 percent of the population of Jamaica was mixed-race; 3 percent was European, Chinese or East Indian; and 90 percent was of African origin, according to the Times.
Slavery ended in Jamaica because of slaves who fought the system. In 1831, about 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 slaves went on a peaceful strike for freedom. When the British army attacked the striking slaves, the slaves fought back. Hundreds of people were killed. A year later, the British government abolished slavery.