Re-issue of reggae great Dennis Brown’s work features his take on “Black Magic Woman”

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The sad end to Dennis Brown’s life does not overshadow his legacy. Almost 20 years after his death, Brown has a new album that includes a haunting cover of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.”

The early days of Dennis Brown

Kingston, Jamaica native Dennis Brown attracted the attention of area music producers while he was a teenager. In 1970, his first album, “No Man is an Island” was released to popular acclaim. Brown had just entered his teens. He recorded a plethora of songs and albums, including successful collaborations with several Jamaican performers.

A glance through Brown’s discography reveals a staggering number of releases. There are nearly 1,000 releases—albums, singles and compilations, credited to Brown. The number does not include special appearances or musician work. Using the word “prolific” to describe Brown’s output seems insufficient.

Dennis Brown and the history of “Black Magic Woman”

Brown’s version of “Black Magic Woman” was originally released in 1972. American audiences are probably more familiar with Santana’s version, which came out in 1970. But Santana is not the original artist, either. Fleetwood Mac, apparently, recorded the song in 1968.

But Brown’s version is reggae, not rock. His delivery style brings a vulnerability to the song that doesn’t exist in other versions.  Latin-influenced drums and Carlos Santana’s searing guitar come to mind when most Americans think of “Black Magic Woman.”

 

Dennis Brown: “Black Magic Woman”

Listeners can hear lovers’ rock qualities in Brown’s treatment of “Black Magic Woman.” The song is infused heavily with organ and bass. Brown’s vocals are laid back until the song’s second half. The organ swells with Brown’s drawn out and increasingly loud vocals. The instrumentation and the vocals depict emotional agony.

Brown portrays the narrator’s desperation through ribald intensity. With this approach, Brown lends the song’s narrator a kind of vulnerability that lets audiences know exactly how helpless he is against the powers of the “Black Magic Woman.”

Brown’s take on “Black Magic Woman” is classic reggae. His soulful vocals imbue the work with a deep sense of humanity. The slower pace of the song forces listeners to grasp the qualities that Brown brings to a late 20th century classic.

Dennis Brown: Demise and legacy

Brown’s death in July 1999 has not stopped his work from resonating with audiences. Almost 20 years later, and despite Brown’s already bulging catalog, his album, “Dennis,” has been re-released. Several of Brown’s other albums have been re-released as well. Hopefully, the re-issues will allow a new generation of fans to appreciate the qualities that made Brown into a legend.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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