Homegrown Hero

Prophet, activist, historian, expertly trained musician…discover the titanic history of how one Cuban kid from Miami became one of the world’s greatest reggae stars.
Text by Ryan Jarrell | September 26, 2018 | People

It’s not easy to have a conversation with Johnny Dread. An intelligent, outspoken musician who’s equal parts scholar and spiritual revolutionary, ask Dread any question and one is quickly submerged in a thousand-mile-an-hour soliloquy on his two favorite subjects: the Rastafarian religion he embraced as a young man and the reggae music that so sincerely broadcasts its message. From the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia by Italian fascist Benito Mussolini to his day-to-life during his self-imposed sabbatical in Costa Rica, there’s seemingly no subject Dread can’t wax poetic on, often backed by impressively researched sources and snatches of Roots Reggae lyrics that trip easily off his tongue.

A chart-topping musician who’s shared the stage with such standouts as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley backup band the Wailers, Dread’s rise to reggae stardom was anything but formulaic. A Cuban kid born in Philadelphia who spent most of his life in Miami, the artist’s awakening to what would become the driving force in his life came from the most unlikely of sources: Spec’s Records at Dadeland Mall. Already turned on to rocksteady rhythms by his older brother, it was at Spec’s where Dread first bought his own reggae records, propeling him from average Dade County Cubanito into a force on the international music scene.

Now a standout in the still lively reggae scene who can count many of those genre’s vaulted veterans as friends and associates, Dread sees a natural affinity between reggae music and the city in which he spent so many of his formative years. “Miami is my home,” he says. “Here there are various cultures mixed in one city and I felt that the one thing that was lacking was a music that could bring us all together.”;