Robbie Shakespeare, best known as the one half of the production duo and reggae rhythm section, Sly and Robbie, with world-famous drummer Sly Dunbar has died today (December 8).
He reportedly passed away in a hospital in Florida following kidney surgery. He was 68 and had been ailing for some time.
Minister of Entertainment Olivia Grange was one of the first to acknowledge the work of a man she called her ‘brother’. “I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare has died,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Robbie and Sly Dunbar, the drummer, as Sly and Robbie, have been among Jamaica’s greatest musicians. The fantastic team took bass playing and drumming to the highest level as they made music as a group and for many artistes locally and internationally,” Minister Grange continued.
Minister Grange said Robbie’s loss will be a crippling blow to the local music fraternity.
“Robbie’s loss will be felt severely home and abroad. My condolences to those he left behind. Love you Robbie,” she concluded.
Known affectionately by some as ‘Basspeare’, he was widely regarded as one of the most influential reggae bassists of all time and was known for his iconoclastic and creative use of electronics and production effects units.
Shakespeare worked with Reggae artists such as Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott, Black Uhuru among others. He also worked with international acts Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Joe Cocker.
Prior to his involvement in Sly and Robbie, he was a member of the session groups The Revolutionaries and the Aggrovators.
Sly & Robbie & The Jam Masters were nominated 11 times for a Grammy Award, winning Best Reggae Album once with their 1998 project, Friends.
In July 2002, Rolling Stone Magazine listed Shakespeare at No. 17 among the 50 Greatest Bassists Of All Time.
Speaking about the first time he heard Shakespeare play in the early 70s, Dunbar told Rolling Stone that “It was the whole body of the bass, the sound and the way it flowed against the drummer. At a certain part of a tune he’d play like three different lines, change the line on the bridge and the verses after that, and get four different lines.
“The two went on to record with every major artist of reggae’s golden era, lending fluidly melodic yet implacably solid underpinning to classics like Culture’s Two Sevens Clash and Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights; they excelled in the rubbery negative space of dub, found a unique way to create an organic feel in a digital context as dancehall emerged in the Eighties, and brightened the grooves on rock and pop albums by Grace Jones, Talking Heads, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and others,” the magazine added.
“No other musical entity in the post-Marley era has been so omnipresent in shaping the sound of Jamaica and bringing it to the world.”