A General born in England

Observer writer

Sunday, October 14, 2018

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This is the 70th year since the Empire Windrush docked in the United Kingdom, carrying hundreds of West Indians seeking work to bolster that country's war-torn economy. Most of them were Jamaicans who settled in communities in London, the Midlands, Nottingham and Bristol. The Jamaica Observer presents this 10-part series featuring Jamaican entertainment personalities who were either born in the UK or grew up there, and how living in that country impacted their lives.

Black immigrants to the United Kingdom (UK) were subjected to racism in the 1960s. Singer Mikey General, who was born there, was just two-years-old when his Jamaican parents decided they had had enough. The family relocated to Kingston, where Mikey General (real name Michael Taylor) developed his love for music.

“I knew I loved music even as a child at St Richards Primary School,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “I was actively involved in the school choir and church choir, and it continued when I went to St George's College,” he continued.

Mikey General recalled visiting nearby communities Ackee Walk and Valentine Gardens after school, where he would voice for sound systems like Kilamanjaro and Virgo Sounds. This is not the vision his parents had in mind when they left the UK.

“They weren't very supportive of it; they were a bit disheartened,” he said. “Those days, when yuh tell your parents yuh want to go into music dem sey yuh wukless. They wanted me to become a professional person like my brother and sister. The funny thing is my parents could sing too.”

Things took an interesting turn in 1982 when 19-year-old Michael Taylor was jetted off to the UK by his parents.

“Because I was doing music and would be in some rough communities, they feared for my life,” he recalled.

He got a job in a wine factory in South Wimbledon, but was still pursuing music under the moniker General.

“I had a bredrin who had a sound system, and I would go there and sing. One day another bredrin called (Lloyd) Coxsone came by and heard me singing and said he wanted me to come and sing for his sound.”

That was the birth of Mikey General, who went on to work with Saxon Sound International, and his career blossomed in the UK.

“That was the first time people started paying me to sing. I stopped my nine-to-five and started singing professionally,” he said. “Saxon was a big sound with artistes like Maxi Priest and Papa Levi, so wherever they would play I'd be there.”

Mikey General never lost touch with his Jamaican roots and travelled back and forth, working with sound systems like Youthman Promotions, operated by Sugar Minott, and the Xterminator label led by Philip “Fatis” Burrell.

He permanently relocated to Jamaica in 1992.

“I didn't like the weather in the UK, and my mom wasn't well at the time so I decided to come back,” he said.

Taylor's change to conscious music was a direct effect of his interest in Rastafari, which started before he left the UK. The 1990s bred tracks like Sinners, Deh Pon Dem and Babylon Cake.

Under Burrell's label, he formed a friendship with Luciano and the two established Jah Messenjah Productions and Qabalah First Music in 1998.

“It was a good period,” he recalled. “We were touring about four to seven years with Fatis, and there were some disagreements so we decided to branch out. We didn't stray far from the work we started with Fatis; we just were able to be in charge of our destiny and record our own stuff.”

More than a decade later, Mikey General is still active. He released the album Tewahedo in March. He recently concluded a tour in the UK and looks forward to dropping another album next year.

“I've been to the four corners of the Earth, but my career highlight is me being able to communicate music to people and have them embrace it. It's the greatest joy,” he said.

Does he miss living in the UK?

“My daughter lives there, but I really don't see England as my home. Mi glad fi the British passport, though; it's like the Almighty knew I'd be doing music and it allows me to tour. I've travelled the world and there is no other place to live and settle than Jamaica.”

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