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‘Legendary’ voice silenced as lead singer of Jamaican reggae group Mighty Diamonds is murdered

Screenshot of the late Donald “Tabby Diamond” Shaw taken from the YouTube video of his 2020 song, “This World (Is Going Up In Flames).”

On March 29, at about 9:45 p.m. local time on a humid night in Kingston, Jamaica, the lead singer of the reggae music trio Mighty Diamonds, Donald “Tabby Diamond” Shaw, 67, was shot dead near his home on McKinsey Crescent, Olympic Gardens. Also shot dead was another man, Owen Beckford, and three others were shot and injured in the attack, which took place at a popular community social spot.

From the crime scene, The Jamaica Gleaner tweeted:

A video showing Shaw singing and dancing with friends on the street outside his house, allegedly just before he was killed, was widely circulated on social media:

While police are still investigating the murders, there is speculation that they may be linked to a long-running gang dispute. Shaw's son is currently in custody on a murder charge, and Shaw may have been deliberately targeted, the police surmise.

Culture and Entertainment Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange shared her condolences, observing:

Tabby’s killing is as senseless as it is tragic and leaves an awful void in the Jamaican music landscape.

Shaw's soulful tenor voice was instantly recognisable, backed up by smooth harmonies from his former school friends Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson and Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson. Formed in Trench Town in 1969 (and initially called Limelight), Mighty Diamonds became famous for their “conscious” music infused with Rastafari beliefs, which often focused on social issues of the time.

The trio reportedly held the record for the longest surviving reggae group, still touring both overseas and at home up until last year. They recorded over 40 albums together. Although Tabby Diamond rarely made music without his other two band members, in 2020 he released a single entitled “This World (Is Going Up in Flames).” The video, recorded in his neighbourhood, featured young children playing and was reflective of Tabby's gentle and loving nature.

Mighty Diamonds got their major break in 1975, when they began to record with Joseph “Jo Jo” Hoo Kim‘s Channel One Studio. Their debut album “Right Time,” released by Virgin Records in 1976, became a reggae classic, filled with melodies and thoughtful lyrics. They reaped — and maintained — considerable international success, producing an album called “Deeper Roots” in 1979 and the Gussie Clarke-produced “Changes,” which included the extremely popular song “Pass the Kutchie”. There were many subsequent versions of this song, including British-Jamaican reggae band Musical Youth's “Pass the Dutchie”, which altered the original lyrics to remove mention of the ganja pipe, and became a huge hit in the United Kingdom.

In a newspaper interview, Shaw's former producer reflected:

Tabby's sound and persona and his voice were all basically compatible. He was smooth, cool, not a problematic person, pleasing, touching to the soul. He took everything in stride, he was one of the humblest persons I knew, nothing was a problem to him, he didn't talk much. He would smoke weed and when it was time for him to sing, he was like a bird from heaven.

Members of the local music fraternity expressed shock at his death, with popular dancehall deejay Beenie Man tweeting:

Reggae singer Nadine Sutherland paid tribute:

She followed up with a lyric which seemed to prophesy difficult times:

Commentator Wayne Chen quoted another Mighty Diamonds lyric:

As Jamaican social media users lamented over the tragic incident, there was a general concern about violent crime in the country:

A passionate U.S.-based fan of vintage reggae, Stephen Cooper, tweeted his shock and sadness:

In a radio interview, a police officer discussing the crime said that murders had declined by 40 percent and shootings by 41 percent in the troubled area. Despite this, the general perception of rising crime persists in light of Tabby's murder. One Jamaican music executive shared on Twitter:

Dub poet and radio commentator Mutabaruka tweeted a question many Jamaicans are asking, summed up in the Mighty Diamonds’ song from back in the 1970s:

As Jamaicans try to find answers to that question, they mourn a much-loved musician whose songs resonated out of his troubled community to the wider world, and an elder who was called “Grandfather” by the children in his neighbourhood.

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