Sinéad O’Connor, Who Had A Love Affair With Reggae Music, Dead At Age 56

Sinéad O’Connor, the Irish singer and activist who once referred to Jamaican male artists as her “biggest inspiration” and the country’s nationals as “the greatest people on Planet Earth”,  has died at the age of 56.

Her cause of death has yet to be revealed, according to media reports.

A statement issued by her family noted that: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad. Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

Sinead, who is best known for her 1990 hit song Nothing Compares to You, and who was not shy about speaking about her decades-long struggle with mental illness, had noted earlier this month on Facebook that she had moved back to London after 23 years. 

She had also revealed that she was in the process of completing an album set for release in 2024, and was making plans to tour in Australia and New Zealand, sections of Europe, the United States, and other territories in 2025, according to media reports.

The late Irishwoman has had a longstanding love affair with Jamaica and Reggae music.

In 2004, she came to the island where she linked with Jamaica’s riddim twins Sly and Robbie, for the production of Throw Down Your Arms, a 14-track album that featured her interpretations of Reggae classics, among them covers of Buju Banton’s Untold Stories, Peter Tosh’s Downpressor Man and Burning Spear’s Marcus Say Jah No Dead, Marcus Garvey, Door Peep, Throw Down Your Arms and He Prayed.  

She also covered Curly Locks by Junior Byles and War by Bob Marley & The Wailers.

Back then, the pop singer had said she saw strong similarities between her own Irish culture and Jamaica’s including the music, noting that “there are huge ties between Africa and Ireland going way back before Jamaica even existed as it is now” and “we were colonized by the same people and by the same religion in a lot of ways”.

“You know, there’s a huge kind of longing, yearning and calling in the music from Ireland and Jamaica, particularly the singing… They have such faith, these people, that God is around and watching and is a living spirit. When you’re around these people you can taste God, is how I would put it,” she had said of Jamaicans.

In June 2021, Sinead apologized for “accidentally” offending Jamaican men by stereotyping them over their “gyallis” behaviour, when she compared herself to them for deliberately having four children by four different husbands, while promoting her memoir, Rememberings, on the BBC Woman’s Hour show.

Sinead, who was mother to four sons: Jake, with music producer John Reynolds; Roisin, with journalist John Waters; Jake, 18, with musician Donal Lunny and Yeshua, with businessman Frank Bonadio, had said that she was “like a Jamaican father” and that “nobody bats an eyelid when Jamaican fellas have kids… with tons of people”.

When she was presented with the counterargument that “some people might find the comparison offensive”, Sinead had backtracked, saying that she was not speaking of all Jamaican men, but one Jamaican man that she knows.

“I’m not generalising on Jamaican people. They are my favourite people on earth, they’re the greatest people on Planet Earth…  The fact is, lots of them have lots of kids with lots of women and nobody bats a f–king eyelid. I can name you a hundred men,” she had said.

In a follow-up tweet, Sinead had also said she was sorry if her comments had offended Jamaican men, but also contended that she was referring to Jamaican musicians of her era, who are well-known for having multiple children with different mothers.

“Also, apologies if I accidentally offended Jamaican men. I was referring to specific friends of mine in the music business. Jamaican people are my favourite people on this earth, and Jamaican male musicians my biggest inspiration,” she had tweeted.

Sinead signed her first record deal in 1985 at age 19.  Two years later, she emerged with the critically acclaimed album The Lion and the Cobra. 

She followed up with I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, which included Nothing Compares 2 U which was written by Prince, and topped charts globally, including the US and the UK.

Known to be a longstanding courter of controversy, Sinead had created an uproar in 1991, when she withdrew from the Grammy Awards, despite being nominated for four awards.  She had also refused to accept her award for Best Alternative Album, and accused the Academy of having “honoured people who achieved material success rather than those who have told the truth or done anything to ­inspire”.

Also, in the US in 1992, she ripped up a photo of the pope during an appearance on Saturday Night Live, in protest against sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church. 

That night, after performing acappella version of Bob Marley’s War in which she interpolated some of the lyrics to address child abuse, the 1991 Rolling Stone Magazine’s artiste of the year, tore a photograph of Pope John Paul II, and shouted: “Fight the real enemy!” an act that saw her being slapped with a lifetime ban from NBC.

Two years earlier, after releasing her most successful album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, Sinead had refused to perform in New Jersey if the American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner was played before her show. 

According to her, that would be contrary to her policy of not having any national anthems, including the Irish anthem, played before her concerts, as, according to her, they “have nothing to do with music in general.”

Sinead’s last studio album, I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss, was released in 2014.

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