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How do we say goodbye to a local Legend?

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

Australia's first African Reggae Legend Randy Borquaye passed away suddenly from a heart attack whilst at home on the 15th August 2021.

This has come as a shock to so many of his community and no one is feeling quite prepared to let him go. I am heart broken. So is Mpaphi and our two boys. Our deepest condolences go out to his family both in Australia and Ghana.

Randy formed his world class band Randy & Jah Roots in 1979 and has been since recognised as the pioneer of African and Reggae music in Melbourne and possibly Australia wide. His band was famed for their energetic and captivating live performances with High-life Ghanaian genre, roots reggae and Randy’s own signature fusions. “What Randy calls Africool, an amalgam of West African polyrhythms underpinned by a reggae feel that is quite individual.”[1] Randy & Jah Roots opened the stage in Australia for some of the world's greatest musicians such as Peter Tosh, Tina Turner, Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, Taj Mahal and Lucky Dube.

Quote from a music review.. “We are very lucky to have a band like Randy And Jah Roots in this country. Authentic, original and interesting reggae is hard to find. R.A.J.R.’s five track LP has all this, plus a certain sound that says , “suddenly it’s summer!! Beer gardens and soft sun! This is vibrant impassioned music. Big booming drums, rattling percussion, jangly guitars, cool horns, and creamy backing vocals, all floating and dancing in a gentle haze of reverb. Randy Borquaye’s strong, authoritative voice ties all this together. A celebration, despite songs of war and enslavement. The title track and “I don’t’ want to Go” are two highlights of this disc. The arrangements here are complex but loose enough in feeling to sound free. The other three songs, while not as fully realised, swing the same rare vibe. ‘You Don’t Fool I’ is a must for Reggae fans who have heard Randy and Jah Roots live and an inviting record for those new to the Rasta sound.” – Stephen Andrew (late 80’s)[2]

Drawing on all he learnt from the musician soldiers in the army barracks as a child in Accra raised up in Cakuradi in Ghana ‘the army musicians they lived just behind us so at break time I’d go there” as Randy describes ‘The soldiers were mean. They bashed the young kids…so we grew up in the hard times. I can’t forget it. it was the poverty…”[3]

Randy Borquaye contributed his life to music in Melbourne Australia from 1977 until his death on 15 August 2021. He of course had a gig in these coming weeks at The Bar Next Door, with his band Randy and the Jah Roots and was forever playing on stage and forever singing and playing kora in his living room rehearsal studio crammed with instruments with his band members these past 4 decades. Randy dedicated his life to his music and in that was reshaping the cultural identity of Melbourne music and the wider Australian music scene with his African reggae sound which has carved a niche in the identity of music in Australia. Randy has paved the way for other black artists and created a safe and enriching space for people to come together of all background and ethnicities to celebrate oneness, unity and teach us that music has no room for discrimination and that music and culture can break down barriers between people and promote harmony and ‘One Love’.

As a knowledge and culture keeper Randy brought his own authentic sound to his roots and led and mentored the way for young African and black artists (and white artists alike) to understand and be inspired to feel that they too can contribute to the musical identity of Australia and have a place and sense of belonging in a population that was dominated by white culture and ethnic groups that did not identify as black. African and people of colour in Australia have long been marginalised and not had a voice in mainstream society and communities in which we live and Randy Borquaye forged with courage and determination a place for African musicians and artists of colour to have their voice and share their amazing music and culture- forever influencing and redefining the sounds and energy of Melbourne music scene. In all of this he never discriminated against colour and was inclusive of white musicians to play in his band and allowed them a place to share in his musical dreams as well as his musical success, teaching them his sound and sharing his skills and musical knowledge.

His first born daughter says “Not only was he an amazing father and friend to all with his passion for fishing and cooking for all who entered his home, Randy was the ‘larger-than-life iconic Australian pioneer of Afro -Reggae music originating from Ghana’ ”

Randy shone on stage with his beautiful smile, heart on sleeve, big voice, infectious passion for his roots music and his natural charisma connected him to all in his audience. He was a multi-instrumentalist, song writer, band leader, vocalist, storyteller and culture keeper and now a legend.

Randy passed his talent onto his children with both Vida and Candy pursuing their own musical careers because of his inspiring guidance. Randy went on to learn and play the Kora (West African harp) in his own unique way, mentoring artists and performing and sharing his skills and knowledge with children in school programs, which spanned over 3 decades. He mentored and played in Wala, Ghanaian bands and mentored Mzuri Dance Band for 2 decades as a featured artist for the Opening Ceremony for the Commonwealth Games and at the Metro to support Alpha Blondie. He went onto play in Afrovival for almost a decade as a key artist and played at Black Harmony Day supporting Kutcha Edwards, many Festivals and for the High Commission of Botswana in Canberra.

If people asked him to donate his time he would always be there with his voice, his warm and generous spirit, his shaker and drums and of course his kora to share his talents and raise money for the cause even if it was a school fete or to raise money for a local community or musician benefit - he was there.

A quote from Randy from an interview on ‘Randy has travelled widely in Australia, bringing his music and culture from Kalgoorlie to Hobart. “I played for the Aborigine kids in the bush and they ran away and hid in the trees… because I was dressed like a fetish priest and they were scared of me. I asked the teacher, “Why are they hiding there?” He said, “they think you are a fetish priest.” A fetish priest wears a grass skirt and make up.. like the Aborigines do too. I freaked them out.”[4]

When they asked him are you making a living out of music? His answer was “a little bit”. “How can they help me to make a living? I have to help myself...” he also wisely acknowledged “ “ If they give me a job, I go and do it. I don’t know if that’s them helping me or me helping them. The school gigs I do are through an agent.” 26/07/2003

And another question in the interview from the abc interview titled “Notes for the Future of Australian Music” …“what does multiculturalism mean to you? Randys answer was “Oneness. I think I have been contributing to it for many years now. I’ve even got a song about it”…” 3Randy had an incredible ability to draw people of all enthnic backgrounds together and make everyone feel like they belonged. He focused on inclusion and empowered all who stood in front of him and allowed them to just be themselves – his warmth and generosity of spirit shone through to all around him. “ Im not a Hindu man but I love Indian music. I love any music that touches my soul. It’s music, I don’t look at where it’s coming from”3

Randy's vibration and spirit will live on in the hearts of those who knew him. His legacy lives on in his musical recordings, his Jah Roots family, his children and his mentees, and those who continue to listen, sing and dance to his music will never forget him. He IS a true force. RIP Randy. Vale!

Written by suzie mzuri watts on WURRUNDJERI Country

There will be a memorial for Randy when restrictions ease and lockdowns lift.

References – Footnotes

1Journalist music review by Stephen Andrew “Dreadlocks an all!” Review of Randy and Jah Roots ‘You Don’t Fool I’

(Africool) (late 1980’s)

2Press Journalist music review “Africool Meets Reggae – Randy and Jah Roots, By Michael Smith (late 1980’s)

3Quotes taken from The Space Music Feature: Notes for the Future The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Gateway to Arts and Culture “ Notes for the Future of Australian Music 26/07/2003

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