Eric McDonald aka Bongo Joe, was born on 13 of November 1934, in the beautiful district of Martin Castle, Lucea Hanover, Jamaica, son of Aswal McDonald and Laretta Chambers. On September 5 2021, Bongo Joe passed away and never fulfilled his mission to own a museum of his great work, he had accomplished throughout his lifetime. He started as an entrepreneur making shoes for many years to provide food and shelter for his family. In 1957, he found the Rastafari faith and started playing the Nyabingi drums. In no time he mastered it and the rest was history. He met Ras Michael in the early 1970’s. He was the first to appear on JBC TV to host a television show ‘The Dawn’ featuring Ras Michael shortly after the band was formed , Ras Michael and the Sons Of Negus, playing in the Nyabingi style. He was one of the first drummers to put Kete drum on a reggae recording. Later Bongo Joe departed from the Sons Of Negus to develop his solo career. Thereafter, he formed his own band “Brother Joe and the Rightful Brothers “. This band produced a number of great Artistes such as: Lloyd Brevett from the Skatalites, Junior Byles, Yabby U, some members from the Congos and the Gladiators and many others.The band took a break for many years due to the 1980’s election.The members could not move around freely and this affected the band tremendously. This pause led him back to shoemaking. During that time he also worked at Channel One, Sir Coxson Dodd’s studio1 and many others. Sir Coxson Dodd’s recognized him as one of his best drummers at Studio 1. He worked with the best performing musicians from Jamaica and abroad, including the great Jackie Mitto, Sly and Robbie and Lee Scratch Perry. He performed on many hit records for many top artistes like: Dennis Brown, Marcia Griffiths, Stanley and the Turbines, the Heptones and many others. At Studio1 he also performed on three of Sir Coxson biggest hits :Drum song, Evening Time, Darker Shade. During that time while working at Studio 1, he completed his own recording and produced his first song “Go to Zion” featuring Cedric Myton from the Congos and later he recorded “Freedom of Life” . His last recording was in 2015 a Nyabingi album with Earl China Smith and others.Bongo Joe toured numerous countries such as France, Italy, Panama, Venezuela, Brazil with his last being in Brazil in 2015. Bongo Joe, the multi-talented and creative entrepreneur, carved out and created Congo drums specifically used for the Nyabingi style of playing. He sold his drums locally and internationally as a self taught craftsman, who learnt by observation from older master Congo drummers of Jamaica in the early 1990’s. He said he sat down one day and the idea “popped” up into his head about making a drum. He spotted a mahogany tree, started digging it out, it was hard work but he persisted. He completed his task and had made his first drum.He later built Congo drums for Sizzla,Steven Marley ,Morgan Heritage, Buju Banton, Luciano and many others. Many people bought his drums and carried them around the world, for example, Brazil, Japan, USA, Venezuela, Africa and Italy. He taught many people to play the Congo drums at home and abroad. His unique style of playing was entertaining .As a solo Congo drummer, group player and singer he was often called on to play on many of Jamaica’s top stage shows, for example : Reggae Sumfest, Rebel Salute. Upon the arrival of his Majesty Haile Selassie and the coming of former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, he was asked to perform with his Nyabingi group. He was featured in the 2004 Le Magazine Du Reggae Natty Dread, along with many top reggae Artistes, for example, Bob Marley, Max Romeo, Jimmy Cliff, Lee Scratch Perry, Tony Rebel, Black Uhuru. Bongo Joe went down in history as one of Jamaica’s greatest musicians recording artiste, builder and designer of the Congo drums and developer of the Congo drums of Jamaica. We will continue his great work he had started and haven’t had the chance to complete. His years of being such a hardworking, loving and caring father to us , gave us a decent upbringing which we all pass on to our children. We would like to continue his legacy by building a museum and establishing a school in his honor for teaching youngsters how to play and make the Congo drums, and promoting a healthy eating lifestyle. In addition, on the 12th of November 2022, we want to host an event to commemorate his earth strong as well as continuing a celebration of his legacy in Nyabingi annually. Funds needed are thirty thousand USD (30,000) to assist in getting this project done. Your contribution to this worthy cause will be gladly appreciated. These are humble words of Bongo Joe “ live good, be kind to each and everyone.” Blessed love.
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