Donavan I-taweh Cunningham was born in the hills of St. Ann, the same parish in Jamaica where the great Marcus Garvey, Burning Spear and Bob Marley all rise from.Like most successful artists, he comes from humble beginnings. Raised in the farming community of Prickly Pole, just a few miles from the home where Bob Marley grew in Nine Mile, he spent most of his childhood farming alongside his father and four siblings. As a young child he and his siblings played music on handmade instruments crafted together from bamboo and sardine tins. The guitar was his first love, which he learned to play by ear, with the combined efforts of his mother and sister to buy him one. In 1992 a move from St. Ann to Kingston, jump-started his musical career where he began playing guitar with the legendary backing band High Symbol. Struggling to survive, and living between the communities of Mall Road, Grants Pen, Portmore, Rockfort, and Duhaney Park, I-taweh found comfort in the ghetto at the Community Center of the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. He quickly became the youngest member and bassist of the group, which was extremely influential for his music and his mission, where he was amongst some of the greatest musicians in the industry including, Dizzy Johnny Moore, Earl Chinna Smith, Nambo Robinson, and Bongo Herman. During these formative years, rarely seen without his bass or guitar, he was given the nickname Danny Gitz. Along with the name, his skill and reputation as a musician began to grow, and the legendary Sugar Minott took him under his wing as his guitarist and harmony singer. I-taweh toured with Sugar until he passed in 2010. Learning from the best, his precise musicianship and versatility on guitar, vocals, and bass kept him in high demand for live performances and in the recording studio where he recorded with Grammy Award winning artists such as Morgan Heritage, and Sade.
After seventeen years of touring, I-taweh independently composed, produced and launched his debut album Overload, and released it under his own label Tap Nat Muzik. The album and the Overload single received significant airplay on stations in Jamaica and became a 2011-2012 hits, reaching #1 on Richie B’s Reggae Chart. In the U.S. the Overload album was very well received at traditional reggae radio, college and syndicated programs, and was selected as part of the Direct TV cable network’s menu of reggae material for regular rotation. Overload has become popular with people of all ages, and continues to be a cultural anthem for the struggle for liberation. Roger Steffens stated, “I-taweh has produced a roots album for the 21st century, combining a modern interpretation of all that is good and instructive and honest about the music of the Golden Age of Reggae”.
Judgement, his sophomore album released in 2017. The single Never Fade Away, and the album charted on Jamaica’s Top 10 reggae album charts for many weeks. Following the album release, he performed on Europe’s Arverne Reggae Festival and Nomade Reggae Festival, played California’s Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Austin Reggae Festival, and was one of seven international reggae acts chosen to showcase their talent at one of the largest music industry conventions in the world, the South By Southwest (SXSW) music conference. At SXSW he performed three shows including Tribute to the Legends, at the historical Nelson Family’s Arlyn Studio, where he shared the stage with the legendary Billie Joe Shaver, and Marcia Ball, and Playing For Change.
Reload, his third album and most significant body of work to date, was released on January 3rd 2020 through Zojak Worldwide. The extremely talented, multi-instrumentalist, plays five instruments on the album which also features Jamaica’s top session musicians “…Even so, the consequence is a record that feels deeply connected to its creator, yet never indulgent or without the nuance and influence of his band” -Reggaeville Magazine. Several singles on the album received significant recognition prior to the album release. No Mediocre Vibe, took #1 on Jamaica’s Top Reggae Singles and remained on the charts for several months. John Masouri reviewed the album for UK’s Echoes Magazine, and gave the Reload album a five star review and featured it as “Reggae Album of the Month”. Island Stage Magazine stated “I-taweh has given us a reggae album that will become a staple in any reggae connoisseur’s collection and is a definite contender for next year’s Grammy Nominations”.
I-taweh’s latest collaborations have been with Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, and Playing For Change, (a multimedia music project, co-founded in 2002 by American music engineer/producer Mark Johnson and film producer/philanthropist Whitney Kroenke.) PFC recently produced a version of his original song Rolling Stone, titled Rolling Stone/Prisoner, and featured I-taweh in one of their Around the World versions of Peter Tosh’s Mama Africa. Since the onset of the pandemic and the cancellation of his Reload tour, he has been working on his fourth album which is preparing for the release this summer, Musically Speaking, and has plans to tour the album in the U.S., Jamaica, and Europe in 2023. I-taweh’s unique and original sound comes from his deep Jamaican roots, combined with inspirations from his travels abroad. His music is rich with diversity and reflects his passion for human rights and social justice. Whether this singing bassist performs with his full band, or acoustic with his guitar, he wins the hearts of his listeners everywhere and continuously leaves his audience wanting more. Don’t miss a chance to see and listen to I-taweh live, look out for a show near you!