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Rb Hip Hop

Obituaries: Canadian Hip-Hop DJ/Promoter Sean Lalla & Reggae Star Peetah Morgan

This week we also acknowledge the passing of Cuban diva Juana Bacallao and English rock guitarist/vocalist Bobby Tench.

Sean Lalla

Sean Lalla

Instagram

Sean Lalla, a Canadian hip-hop DJ and promoter, has died, at age 49. His body was found at an Airbnb in Trinidad and Tobago on Feb. 20. Loop News in Trinidad reported that "Officials said an autopsy was ordered to confirm the cause of death."

Of Trinidadian origin, Lalla was raised in Toronto, then moved to Vancouver in 1996 to study at Cap College. He later told Vancouver alt-weekly Georgia Straight, "I hated the slow pace of Vancouver and the lack of things to do and places to go if you were a hip-hop head. Rather than complaining about it, I tried to do something about it."


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Lalla founded Spectrum Entertainment and began booking shows. In 2005, Georgia Straightwrote thathe was "one of the city's top concert promoters, and his annual showcase, 604 Hip-Hop Expo, is one of Canada's most dynamic festivals.

"From giving exposure to local acts to introducing heads to off-the-radar groups from around the world, organizing boycotts when the mainstream music industry has excluded rap, and hosting Western Canada's only annual urban-music festival, Lalla has hustled tirelessly to nurture Van City hip-hop.

"He's channelled his energy into every facet of the industry: concert promotion, major labels, radio, journalism, magazine publishing, music retail, and artist management [English artist Killa Kela]. His efforts have remained one of the few constants in what has been a flagging scene of late."

Lalla told the publication, "I've kind of taken the good from each working situation — retail, media, labels, concerts — and developed what I think is a science of success. By being around the good and the bad in the music biz, I know what to do and what not to do, and I can apply all this to my artists. It's fulfilling."

For his 2005 festival, Lalla booked American star Questlove, of The Roots fame. Upon learning of Lalla's death, Questlove paid tribute on Instagram: "So devastated to hear the news of Sean Lalla’s passing. Throwing the dopest parties. Back when touring was my DNA you always knew you’d do his parties like 4-6 times a year."

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Hip-hop DJ and turntablist Rob Swift wrote on X that “Before Twitter, Sean Lalla served as a gateway between Canadian hip-hop and the world. He may be gone from this Earth, but his impact in it is without end.”

Under his DJ moniker, Elsewhere Sonido, Lalla travelled to Mexico City, Brazil and Japan to DJ large and sometimes intimate parties. On his Instagram page, Lalla described himself as "a sample searching siempre, a rare groove rescuer, and occasional DJ cosplayer."

On Instagram, renowned BBC radio DJ Gilles Peterson, who hosted Lalla earlier this month, called him a “total legend” and a “humble music fan. We were last together just the other week … digging (for records) early in the morning on a Saturday before my radio show.”

Canadian music industry veteran David 'Click' Cox (CLK Creative Works) offered this tribute to Billboard Canada: "Sean was a gateway into the Vancouver scene with hip-hop and R&B. I knew him from working with BMG and Universal and being a producer. Always liked his calm-natured personality with me and he came off very confident. Anytime I came to Vancouver I would tap in with him to see what is happening in the scene. A real lover of music, he will be missed and highly remembered and honoured."

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Renowned Montreal turntablist/producer A-Trak reached out to Billboard Canada to offer this tribute: “Sean Lalla was one of the first people to book me for a show outside of Quebec, back in early 1998. I had recently been crowned DMC World Champion DJ, and was still only 15 years old. I traveled with my older brother Dave (now known as 1/2 of Chromeo).

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"Sean was passionate about music, and about the people he brought out for shows. While soft-spoken, you could tell how much the underground hip hop scene meant to him. And from that point on, Sean brought me out to Vancouver at least once or twice a year for many years. There are friendships I forged in those trips that still last to this day, 25 years later.

“Sean paid attention to the small things, the local talents, and he elevated them. We reconnected many times over the last 5-10 years. I was happy that he was working with Maseo from De La Soul, they were a great pair. And I loved hearing about Sean’s passion for record collecting which took him all around South America, Latin America and the Caribbean. I was proud when I saw the respect he was getting from world-renowned crate diggers. His love for music ran as deep as his friendships.”

Check out one of Lalla's DJ sets here.

International

Juana Bacallao (born Neri Amelia Martínez Salaza,), a Cuban cabaret diva who performed at the famed Tropicana club in the 1940s and '50s, died in Havana on Feb. 24, at age 98.

American Pressreported that Bacallao "ruled Cuba's cabaret scene and sang alongside artists like Nat King Cole. She was known for her husky voice, risque personality and being unpredictable, clad in wigs and extravagant costumes. She performed at the famed Tropicana club in the 1940s and ’50s and sang alongside artists like Nat King Cole, then continued to perform for many decades. 'I will never retire. I will only stop once death has come for me,” she said in a 2010 interview."

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Other stars she performed with included singer and pianist Bola de Nieve, percussionist Chano Pozo and singer Benny Moré.

Peetah (Peter Anthony) Morgan, the lead singer for Grammy Award-winning reggae group Morgan Heritage, died on Feb. 25, at age 46. No cause of death has been reported.

The group, which comprises the children of late elder statesman of reggae music, Denroy Morgan, posted the announcement to social media.

"It is out of sincere love that we share that our beloved husband, father, son and brother and lead singer of Morgan Heritage, Peter Anthony Morgan, has ascended today, February 25. Jah come and save us from ourselves because love is the only way," the statement said in part.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness wrote on X that his “heart is heavy” over the news. He called Morgan’s death a “colossal loss” for Jamaica and reggae music.

Peetah Morgan and his siblings (Una Morgan, Nakhamyah “Lukes” Morgan and Memmalatel “Mr. Mojo” Morgan) formed Morgan Heritage in 1994, and the band won a Grammy for best reggae album in 2016 for Strictly Roots.

Earlier chart-topping albums Three In One (2003), Full Circle (2006), and More Teachings (2007) came out on VP Records. In a statement, that label's President, Randy Chin, noted that “Peetah has left us much too soon. We send heartfelt condolences to his family and fans.”

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Phil Vassell, Executive Director, Canada Black Music Archives, told Billboard Canada that "Morgan Heritage was one of the favourite bands we booked at the TD IRIE Music Fest over the years due to their popularity and the fact they represented the future of reggae music internationally.

"A favourite memory is MH playing IRIE Fest at Nathan Phillips Square during Caribana Weekend in front of a huge crowd and just when it couldn’t get better, they brought Wyclef Jean, who was in the audience, on stage. It was unforgettable! I think reggae music has lost one of the best voices in reggae with Peetah Morgan."

Bobby Tench, a veteran English vocalist and guitarist who worked with the likes of Jeff Beck, Peter Green, Humble Pie, Ginger Baker, Van Morrison and many more, died on Feb. 19, aged 79.

Tench was born in 1944 in London and established himself as a regular on the city’s ’60s club circuit. He first made a mark in The Gass, whose 1970 album Juju featured an appearance from Peter Green.

Jeff Beck then hired Tench as a new singer for the Jeff Beck Group. He contributed vocals to the albums Rough and Ready and its follow-up, 1972’s The Jeff Beck Group.

He then recorded with Ginger Baker, Freddie King and Junior Marvin, and helped found Hummingbird, as well as playing alongside Roger Chapman in The Streetwalkers.

In the late '70s, he appeared on Van Morrison's Wavelength album, played in a post-Lynott version of Thin Lizzy, and recorded with Eric Burdon and Humble Pie.

In the '80s and '90s and beyond, Tench worked with Topper Headon, Roger Chapman, Thin Lizzy, and on various studio projects. In 2009, he was a featured artist in the Maximum Rhythm and Blues Tour of 32 UK theatres.

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The Tranzac Club Main Hall
Claire Harvey

The Tranzac Club Main Hall

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