Stand Up! - Duane Finlayson on The Wailers and saving SA's rhinos  

by Evan Milton

'Stand Up!' is the brainchild of founder Damien Vergnaud - a concert to save Africa's threatened rhinos, and featuring reggae legends The Wailers and rising Jamaican star Duane Stephenson.

Duane Stephenson has achieved much in his time as a recording and performing artist. His debut release, "From August Town", was hailed by the hyper-critical as a highlight "of not just 2008, but perhaps the past few years" and by Billboard as one of six albums "collectively galvanising a roots reggae revival". In his role as an ambassador for the UN World Food Programme, he recorded "A Step For Mankind" with The Wailers, and saw it performed at last year's Pan American Games in Mexico, with proceeds going to hunger relief efforts in the Horn of Africa.
"People are not aware of the disease called hunger," says Stephenson from his home in Kingston, Jamaica. "Especially in their homes in the United States and the Caribbean and most of Europe, they don't understand how many people - especially in this hemisphere - go to bed hungry or die of starvation. We are entertainers, but we have to educate, that is my stance. May I say that we put a little thing in the ears of the audience and, hopefully, they go back and find out more. Maybe they can't make much of a difference hands on, but they do some research on the internet because of what they heard, and they contribute in other ways."
Above is written "may I say", which correctly transcribes what Stephenson said, but his utterance is richly tumbled together and accented into a single word, "mayIsay". It slips in often to his answers, probably unnoticed, and is a phrase that captures something of the essence of the man. He is comfortably conscious of his dual role as a reggae singer. On the one hand, the consummate entertainer who first toured North America, Europe and the Caribbean with Dean Fraser, leader of reggae's seminal Blak Soil Band; has just returned from an Asian tour of his own material; and is touring frequently with The Wailers, with whom he is also co-writing on a new album. On the other hand, he is painfully cognisant of his role as a socio-cultural observer, and the carrier of important observations and messages.
"Reggae music has always been the conscious music of the world, pointing out the oppression of the poor and the underprivileged and people who are treated unjustly," he says. "That will never change. It is the cornerstone of what reggae music is all about, and it is needed more today than ever. Other music is changing: R'nB and hip hop used to drive by words to change; by powerful words. Now that music is not starting with the soul, as Bob Marley would say, and may I say. Now the music has to be steadfast."
For his part, the dynamic Vergnaud, co-owner of the Inverdoorn Game Reserve and founder of is a long-standing fan of music - he used to compose film-scores and enjoyed welcoming Coldplay to Inverdoorn.  "Everyone who is sensitive to Africa is sensitive to reggae as well," he says. "I remember growing up in the Ivory Coast with the music of The Wailers; kids of all races just hanging out on the beach in the evenings - it was the beginning of understanding multi-culturalism for me and, I think, for many people."
Vergnaud is no stranger to media, both in terms of the documentaries about his revolutionary rehabilitation work with the Inverdoorn cheetahs and since he took the controversial step of treating the horns of the three rhinos on his reserve to discourage poachers. It was not an easy decision. After ten literally sleepless nights where he and his rangers had to fend off constant probing incursions by armed poachers, Vergnaud gave the go ahead to his vet to initiate the procedure. "After the rhinos at the neighbouring game reserve were poached, the police got a tip off that the poachers were coming for us. For ten nights I was racing around the whole night with my guys, chasing lights, and the fake lights the poachers put in the bush."
Since the horn treatment, which impregnates the horn with a substance to render it visible on X-ray machines, a dye used to foil cash-in-transit heists and a foul-tasting poison, the attacks from the poachers have ceased. "It was insulting to us to think that the best we could do for our rhinos was to cut off their horns before the poachers do," explains Vergnaud about a procedure which is both risky and traumatising to the animal. "Instead, I wanted to come up with something that made the horn worthless to the people who want to get it and sell it illegally." Following widespread public support for the procedure, he formed to raise funds to similarly treat other game owners' animals.
Speaking of his work for charitable causes when many younger artists are interested rather in fame and money, Stephenson says, "If you do work of a good calibre, that will come. That is not what you should worry about. Like anything else in life, you must love what you are doing, and do it well. Entertainment is the engine that can get a message into people's faces and their ears. People who won't take time to listen to a politician, will listen to a song. It is nice that someone of the small stature of myself can do something like work with The Wailers, and make a difference in the Horn of Africa and now to horns in South Africa. I am thoroughly looking forward to being there, and seeing the culture, and meeting the people."
"Stand Up!", in conjunction with Clyde Finlayson and Concerts for a Cause, features The Wailers and Duane Stephenson, with local support from Afro-ska pioneers The Rudimentals, double SAMA nominees Mix 'n Blend, urban funkers Fox Comet and, also, Ibiza electro heavyweight Dino Psaras. One night only on Freedom Day, Friday 27 April at Trinity (15 Bennett Street, Cape Town, 0214180624; tickets R235 (standard) and R420 (VIP) from, doors 8pm). All proceeds to RhinoProtect, transparently administered by The Caleo Foundation, a Swiss-based registered NPO. More on and

First appeared in the Cape Argus "Good Weekend" of 2012/ 04/22

Music journalist, Digital marketing strategist, SA Music Awards judge and radio DJ for Fine Music Radio.

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