Follow the light: Luciano brings a puritanical approach to Rasta religion

Raised in the Jamaican countryside on a diet of Scripture and regular church visits, Jepther McClymont, better-known as Luciano, evolved into an intensely spiritual reggae singer. His father, a strict Adventist, made his son's first guitar from scratch. "I started singing in the church choir when I was about 6 or 7 years old," Luciano says. "My father played the guitar, which fascinated me, so I wanted to learn to play it too."

He became a Rastafarian midway into his musical career, which began in 1992 after he moved to Kingston, and his conversation with New Times is peppered with references to the Almighty Jah, I and I, and brothers and sisters related not by blood but by music. Brother Bob Marley was one of his biggest inspirations -- "a freedom fighter for the people" is how Luciano describes him -- also Garnett Silk and early Dennis Brown: individuals who also spoke of being revolutionaries.

"I remember when my song 'One Way Ticket' took off, and wherever I performed it, people couldn't believe that I was a baldhead," Luciano laughs, recalling his predreadlocked days and the song that spoke about returning to Africa. "It became obvious to me that in sticking with the musical traditions, that I too needed to go along with the Nazarene beliefs and allow no razor to go near my head."

His God-driven energy is plastered all over his music; however, his style is far from gospel. His trademark is a pious blend of earthy rhythms tinged with heavy reggae bass lines and poetic lyrics that make the listener stop and think. The usual jargon surrounding the need for love, peace, and unity is there too. In fact, this self-made musician has earned the nickname "the Messenger," often spelled Messenjah, and he describes himself as a leader and shepherd to anyone who'll listen.

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"My mission is for humanity to energize the spirituality in them and to look at life more spiritually," he claims. "I think mankind has really lost focus as to what we're supposed to be doing and how we're supposed to be living. The true values have gone, and I realize that as I become more involved in the mission, giving my life unto Jah and my soul to the people and the music -- it has really brought out the best in me."

Whether you conclude that Luciano is a Rasta version of an overzealous Bible-thumping fundamentalist or simply a man who is passionate about his values, it is hard to deny his fervor. He reads his Bible daily and frequently. He also opens his stage show by reciting a psalm or a prayer before transforming the proceedings into a lively, energetic, dance party. Adopting the simultaneous role of entertainer and teacher, he packs his performances with wild shaking of his dreads and high leaps in the air while running from one end of the stage to the other. During quieter moments, he dismisses his band and performs solo acoustic pieces with his guitar.

"Not many people know this, but I started out with one intention: as a philosopher and a scholar," Luciano volunteers. "If you're going to be involved in anything, you have to take the time to study it. I've learned a lot from the elders in the music fraternity, and they have paved the way for me and others to continue the good work that they started."

After seven years of recording and performing professionally, it was rumored that Luciano fired his backup singers, the Daffodils, after one of them came to rehearsals wearing tight hip-hugging jeans. "Actually, it wasn't just about the jeans; it was their whole mannerisms," he says. "I didn't think that they saw what I was trying to achieve. For me, as a Rastaman, they needed to comply with my dress code that didn't include X-rated jeans."

Luciano is now backed by the Jah Messenjah Band and is usually found in khaki green or beige military-type garb. His current backup girls, the Far East Singers, are clad in colorful African-type attire. No sexy pants are found in this conglomerate.

With his Bible tucked firmly under his belt and the wooden rod that he carries wherever he goes (he claims that God told him in a dream that it would increase his mental strength), Luciano is serious enough to topple anyone who gets in his way. However, you would never guess this from his humble tone. He greets everyone he meets, regardless of whether he knows them or not, with a smile, a handshake, and a "blessed love" greeting.

His recordings over the past 11 years have used the production skills of singer-songwriter Freddie McGregor and producers Herman Chin-Loy and Phillip "Fattis" Burrell. This year's Serve Jah doesn't stray far from his beliefs.

Luciano received the Best Cultural Reggae Artist title at South Florida's Reggae/Soca Music Awards in June. And it appears this is an accolade he plans to keep. "My life is a living testament as I've been through the struggles but didn't lose focus," he sums up. "I've held firm with truth and righteousness, and now I see how it's really paying off. It's a great achievement to be recognized by my fans after working so hard over the years, and it moves and encourages me to continue."

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