Ras Mandito was born Bertram Matture Johnson in November 1954, the seventh of eleven children for his parents, and grew up in a depressed area of Maxfield Park, St. Andrew, Jamaica called “frog city”, where only the strong survived. And survived he did, being one of only two of these children to pass the dreaded “Common Entrance” Examination, which, in those days pretty much determined whether or not a student would get the opportunity to be considered for a place in the society of a newly independent Jamaica.
The young Bertram graduated from the famed Kingston College in 1974, went to Sixth Form, and, after completing two years of National Youth Service working as a coach of cricket, football and athletics in the primary and all-age schools of West Portland, he came back to Kingston and landed a job with the Victoria Mutual Building Society as well as the title role of “Johnny Reggae” (1977-78), deemed to be the most popular of LTM Pantomimes. As Bert Johnson, he was to feature thereafter in a succession of theatrical productions, including “Mansong”, “The Dread Mikado”, “Ship to Zion” and “Front Room”; as well as on film in “Salome” and “Country of the One-Eyed God”.
But singing was always Bert’s first love, and, that love was to take him to spend lunchtimes at Earl “Chinna” Smith’s High Times Records in Kingston Mall throughout the eighties, while working through the posts of Loans Officer, Loans Supervisor and Senior Loan Supervisor at VMBS’ Duke Street office.
It was from the many lunchtime “reasonings” down at High Times, where countless, conscious roots artistes and musicians used to pass through incessantly, and many trips around the corner to Ras Miguel Lorne’s Headstart Bookshop on Church Street, that re-sharpened Bert’s interest in African studies, and set him on his journey to synchronize the strong Rastafari inspirations he was receiving, with the strong Christian teaching and influence that his mother Agatha had ingrained in him from birth.
Mutabaruka, the famed Rastafari Dub-Poet, was one of the regulars at High Times during this period, and, as a singer who had taken on the moniker of “Bandito”, Bert would actively participate in many reasonings involving Muta, who was always divulging a wealth of information that was crucial to the truth-seeking processes taking place in Bert’s mind.
Bertram Johnson lost his job as Senior Mortgage Loan Supervisor of VMBS in 1995, after eighteen years of five-star service to that organization, but three months upon indication of his conviction to Rastafari. His struggle to find employment thereafter, despite his qualifications and experience, took him through the occupations of fishing entrepreneur, awning salesman, advertising salesman and taxi operator. During this time also, he suffered separation from his wife and children, and many of his former friends, while seriously searching out the answers and explanations for all that had been revealed to him, through his experiences and spiritual insights, through the reactions of others, and through reading the scriptures.
Not knowing exactly why, Bert had been scribbling inspirational tit-bits on pieces of paper and throwing them into a large carton box that he kept under his bed. This went on for about seven years, before, one day when he had just come back tired and thirsty from the latest, unsuccessful job interview for a job that he was by far and away the best candidate for, Bert sat on the floor, pulled out his box, and only stopped reading that night after mid-night. A few days thereafter, he started to write “The Testament of Rastafari”.
Today, Bertram Matture Johnson is General Secretary of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes & Affiliates (JAVAA) a non-profit NGO with a mandate “to preserve Jamaica’s rich musical legacy”. He has also been its Office Manager for the past six years. As a singer, he performs as Ras Mandito, has released an album called “History of the World”, and, along with Bagga Case (formerly of Home T), performs as the duo Baggadito, currently being hailed as “Jamaica’s new Blues Busters”.
Advisedly, he anticipates a whole waft of new experiences, subsequent to the publishing of this book. The "Testament of Rastafari" by Ras Mandito is the veritable "unlocking" of the King James' Version……available at www.lulu.com…. (Contributed)