Doctor Alimantado: Born for a Purpose

Doctor Alimantado
Born for a Purpose
Greensleeves

One of the greatest reggae songs ever recorded, "Born for a Purpose," could have been written for a mugger or a boss. "If you feel like you have no reason for living," it began, "don't determine my life." In fact, Doctor Alimantado was singing to the driver whose bus hit him on Kingston's Orange Street in 1976--back when wearing dreadlocks in public could get you run over. But the simple power of the chorus, with its slow "House of the Rising Sun" progression, was so universal that Johnny Rotten later claimed it saved his life, and the Clash name-dropped "the Doctor who's born for a purpose" on London Calling. The 1977 singles anthology named for Alimantado's song, and bookended by versions of it, became my New Orleans soundtrack in 1995, the year I confronted both a mugger and a boss. "I am here for a purpose," sang the recuperating Rasta. And so, I decided, was I.

Long out of print and now reissued on Greensleeves, this is the reggae album to confound your expectations of a "reggae album." Unlike Alimantado's other classic '70s compilation, Best Dressed Chicken in Town (which showed him cheerfully shirtless on the sleeve, in shorts with a broken zipper), it wildly leapfrogs studios (pristine Channel One, insular King Tubby's, shacklike Black Ark) and styles (lovers' rock, talk-over, dub). Its uniqueness comes not so much from Alimantado's equal skills as crooner and deejay (what Jamaicans call a rapper) but his habit of being both at once, and blurring the mixture in dub. He disappeared into obscurity in the '80s after Born. Maybe his purpose all along was to leave us with this album.

 
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