"From Then 'Til Now" by Roots Architects

Monday, May 1, 2023


Eric “Bongo Joe” McDonald  (1934 – 2021)

Bongo Joe - Le Forum, Vauréal, France 13.05.2012 
© Henri Seguin

(by JYM ‘Livingdrum’)

Another very talented musician who participated in the band Inna de Yard left us on September 5, 2021. He was 86 years old. 

Press article Sept. 11, 2021 © Jamaica Observer 

 TRIBUTE to the late Master Drummer BONGO JOE

Eric “Bongo Joe” McDonald was born on 13 of November 1934, in the district  of Martin  Castle,Lucea Hanover, Jamaica, but he spent most of his life in the Maxfield Avenue area of Kingston.

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 Nyabinghi drums. In no time he mastered it and the rest was history.

His career began in the 1960s at Studio One, where he played on songs by keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, that studio's musical director. Among them were ‘Evening Time’, ‘Darker Shade of Black’, and ‘Drum Song’. 

He met Ras Michael in the early 1970’s. He was a stalwart percussionist and founding member of Ras Michael And The Sons of Negus. He was one of the first drummers to put Kete drum on a reggae recording. 

Ras Michael & the Sons Of Negus: front picture of the album 
‘Promised Land Sounds Rockin' Live Ruff N Tuff’

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, the Congos, the Gladiators, Marcia Griffiths, the Heptones and many others.

In a 2014 interview, Cedric Myton recalls the memories of his meeting with Bongo Joe which was decisive for the birth of the Congos : « Well I knew Ashanti Roy from when we used to go to a brethren called Bongo Joe who was called the Righteous Brother. He was one of the leaders in Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus. He was the main drummer there. 

I don’t know if you ever heard of Bongo Joe but he was the one that played Darker Shade of Black and some more songs for Studio 1. Ashanti Roy used to come round Bongo Joe’s so that was how we got involved by knowing Bongo Joe and we used to sing with Bongo Joe. So eventually he asked Bongo Joe if he could do some work with me and that’s how we got to link up »

Here are 2 legendary albums (among others) on which Bongo Joe is credited: 

- the Congos ‘Image Of Africa’  (1977) on 3 songs: ‘Only Jah Knows’, ‘Music Maker’ and ‘Stay Alive’ credited under the name ‘Br. Joe’. 

The Congos ‘Image of Africa’ album - back sleeve 

- the Gladiators’ album ‘Presenting the Gladiators’ (Studio One 2Lps deluxe edition 2018 release) Eric ‘Bongo Joe’ MacDonald is credited (for percussion)

 The Gladiators ‘Presenting the Gladiators’ album - back sleeve
2Lps deluxe edition 2018

During that time while working at Studio 1, he completed his own recording and produced his first songs : ‘Go to Zion’ and ‘Hail the Children’ (1972).

One year  later he recorded “Freedom of Life” (1973) :

Here are the members of the backing band of Brother Joe : WOW ! Reggae legends ! 

Albert Griffiths (Gladiators) Cedric Myton (the Congos) Clinton Fearon (Gladiators), Michael George Henry (Ras Michael), Vivian Jackson (Yabby You).

Go To Zion / Hail the Children - Freedom of Life / Version
Label : African Music 7’’ record 1972  

            Freedom of Life / Version            
Label : African Music 7’’ record 1973


Bro Joe & The Rightful Bros - Going To Zion 


Brother Joe And The Rightful Brothers - Freedom of Life + Version: 

Hail the Children’ / ‘Go to Zion’ - 2020 reissue :                                       

Tracklist :  A/ Hail The Children B/ Go To ZION 

7’’ record reissue 2020 on released on Blue Vinyl, red vinyl & marble vinyl  

Label : African Music - AR7028 - UK 2020 

Produced by E. Morgan. Distributed by Archive Recordings Under License.

Notes : Two Nyabinghi tunes from Brother Joe and the Righteous Brothers, ' Hail The Children ' being the first recorded appearance of the legendary Vivian Jackson, aka Yabby You, from circa 1972.

7'' record reissue 2020 blue


In more recent years, Bongo Joe was associated with guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith's Inna de Yard. He played on several acoustic albums by artistes from that group, including The Congos. 

His unique style of playing was entertaining. As a drummer, group player and singer, he toured France with Inna de Yard in May/June 2012.

Bongo Joe toured numerous countries such as France, Italy, Panama, Venezuela, with his last being in Brazil in 2015. 

Bongo Joe - Inna de Yard soundcheck, Massy, France 12.05.2012  
© JYM ‘Livingdrum’

Earl Chinna Smith & Bongo Joe - Vauréal, France 13.05.2012 
  © JYM ‘Livingdrum’

 Bongo Joe & Alphonso ‘Fonso’ Craig  on stage in Vauréal, France 13.05.2012
 © Henri Séguin


Bongo Joe took part in Inna de Yard ‘Chapter Two’ experience ; he played on some recordings (album ‘the Soul of Jamaica’) and performed with the band. 

He was also a regular member of Inna de Yard Binghistra Movement (I.B.M.), leaded by Earl Chinna Smith. Aged 85, he played his drum and recorded some tracks as well! 


Release date: 08/28/2020

Tracklist :

01. Sense Of Direction feat. Earl Chinna Smith

02. Africa Must Be Free feat. Addis Pablo

03. Any Way Perfect One feat. Brian Anu Gold Thompson

04. Tribute To Leonard P. Howell feat. Kai Wakeling & Bongo Joe

05. Sticky feat. Uzziah Sticky Thompson

06. Wash Wash feat. Brian Anu Gold Thompson & Natty Pablo

07. Cool River Water feat. Hugh Ilabash Bromfield & Orville Itralites Edghill

08. Judgement feat. Addie Culture Foster


Bongo Joe, the multi-talented and creative entrepreneur, carved out and created ‘Congo drums’ specifically used for the Nyabinghi 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. 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. 

 Bongo Joe, JYM ‘Livingdrum’, ‘Fonso’ & Derajah - Vitry, France 27.05.2012 
© JYM ‘Livingdrum’

Here is a video link in which we can see Bongo Joe playing his kete drum:                              
Reggae Legend Matthew McAnuff Rehearsal "Book of Life" (Inna de Yard Allstars) - Matthew McAnuff singing 'Be Careful' & 'Book of Life' by Hugh Mundell Inna De Yard at Rehearsals featuring; the Congo, Chinna, Kiddus I, Bongo Joe, Uprising Roots Band & More) 

Video Link:

These are humble words of Bongo Joe :
“live good, be kind to each and everyone” 

♥  Rest In Peace, Brother Joe 

© Ruth McDonald-Perkins (Son of Bongo Joe)

Video link : 

Cedric "Congo" Myton - HANDS OFF (2019) 

Feat. Kiddus I, Winston McAnuff, Sista Carol, Anthony B on vocals +  musicians :                                


This page is written by......

Page and discography written by JYM Livingdrum & Marco Weststar

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