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About Earl “Chinna” Smith

If Jimi Hendrix is the face of rock guitar and George Benson his smooth jazz equivalent, Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith is the standard by which exponents of roots-reggae are judged.

For forty years, Smith has played an integral role in reggae music. He was there in its embryonic stages in the early 1970s to international acceptance later that decade.

Significantly, Smith remains in demand even as Jamaican popular music made the digital transition during the 1980s, leaving many of his contemporaries by the wayside. It may be the greatest compliment to the man music insiders and colleagues know as Melchizedek, the ‘High Priest’.

Smith was born and raised in Greenwich Farm, a seaside community in the Jamaica capital where many residents make their living as fishermen. It also has a rich music heritage; Greenwich Farm was also home to producer Bunny Lee, singers Slim Smith and Derrick Morgan and the Soul Syndicate Band.

Smith made his musical debut as a teenager with the Soul Syndicate at the dawn of the 1970s. He went on to work with reggae’s biggest acts including Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Augustus Pablo, Jacob Miller, Jimmy Cliff, The Mighty Diamonds, Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Sly and Robbie and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.

His rhythmic riffs also appear on landmark recordings by hip-hop star Lauryn Hill and the tragic pop stylist Amy Winehouse.

Smith has an unapologetic commitment to music in its purest form which is evident in his well-received acoustic series, Inna De Yard. It hears roots legends like Kiddus-I, The Mighty Diamonds and The Congos recording in intimate surroundings at Smith’s home in Kingston, the Jamaica capital.

The Inna De Yard concept is the latest in a line of groundbreaking projects Smith has been involved. It started with Augustus Pablo’s mystic instrumental, Java, in 1972; that was followed the next year by the Soul Syndicate’s sessions with Dennis Brown on songs like Cassandra and Westbound Train.

Smith’s growing reputation made him a sought-after session musician in the 1970s. He played on numerous hit songs by artistes including Johnny Clarke (Move Outa Babylon, Rock With Me Baby), Horace Andy (Zion Gate) and Rod Taylor (Ethiopian Kings).

That reputation caught the attention of Bob Marley, one of the hottest names in pop music in 1975. Marley enlisted Smith to work on his Rastaman Vibration album which was released by Island Records the following year.

Smith played rhythm guitar on several tracks on Rastaman Vibration, which many critics hail as the album that gave Marley his US breakthrough. By the early 1980s, Smith was a member of Cliff’s Oneness band, recording and touring with the superstar while continuing his prolific session work in Jamaica.

The 1990s saw Smith doing duties as musical director for Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, calling production shots on Grammy-winning albums such as Conscious Party. That decade also heard him working on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a multi-platinum album that won a handful of Grammy Awards in 1999. In 2002, Smith was recruited to play on Frank, the debut set by a highly-thought-of British singer named Amy Winehouse.

Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith’s focus in recent years has been Inna De Yard BINGHISTRA MOVEMENT.

Despite the acclaim he has received, Smith maintains a low profile and humility consistent with his Rastafarian faith. Those traits have helped make him one of reggae’s enduring musicians.

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