In 1964, when the Jamaica Tourist Board and record label owner and producer Edward Seaga arranged for band-leader, Byron Lee, to take a ska group to the New York World’s Fair to showcase Jamaica and its music, band manager Ronnie Nasralla was very much a part of this historic delegation. A fantastic dancer, Nasralla is even credited with helping to teach the world how to ska. At the fair, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires worked their own set and was also backing Prince Buster, Eric Morris, and Peter Tosh. Reports from that era say they were all a sensation at the fair.
Nasralla, the supreme showman, an accomplished athlete, and advertiser, passed away peacefully on Wednesday at his home in Atlanta, Georgia. He is remembered as the “paint on the wall”.
“Ronnie gives the wall its colour,” keyboardist and music director for Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Neville Hinds, told The Gleaner. “He was with the band from the early days and he and Byron were a force. Ronnie was managing Toots and the Maytals, the Blues Buster, as well as Byron Lee and the Dragoniares. He had a record label in the 60s, BMN, which did a lot of early work with Toots and the Maytals. Never You Change, the big festival song Bam Bam and Daddy were all released on Ronnie’s label,” Hinds recalled.
The musician said there were “so many stories” about Nasralla, the Jamaican of Lebanese descent (his father was Lebanese and his mother Jamaican) who managed and promoted Byron Lee and the Dragonaires for 35 years. Nasralla was responsible for helping to take the band’s name across the globe and even managed to get them a spot in the first-ever James Bond flick, Dr. No (1962) which was filmed in Jamaica. Byron Lee and the Dragonaires appeared in the film and performed most of the music on the later soundtrack album. Nasralla himself is also in the movie and is seen dancing in the Port Royal bar scene. Hinds also mentioned Nasralla’s role in the annual charity event, Nuggets for the Needy. “Byron Lee and the Dragonaires was an integral part of that for years,” he said.
Singer, Tony Gregory, paid tribute to Nasralla who he called a gentle giant. “Ronnie was instrumental in me joining Byron Lee and the Dragonaires in 1960. He was the band manager and Byron’s associate in many areas. They were a part of that St George’s College alumni. And, one thing about Ronnie, he was an incredible dancer,” Gregory, who said he last saw him in 2010, told The Gleaner.
Writer and music industry guru, Dave Rodney, knew Nasralla quite well. “I actually heard about Ronnie before I met him, from his packaging of ‘Bubbling Brown Sugar’ shows at Half-Way Tree’s famous Glass Bucket Club with Kingston’s beautiful jet-set with Evelyn Andrade and Judy Willoughby. We crossed paths many years later while he was an advertising executive and his passion for everything he touched was unrelenting. His kindness too was legendary. He was a multi-talented actor in LTM pantomimes, a dancer, a founding member of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and pioneer of the first fashion model contest. Jamaica, and especially entertainment, owes him a debt of gratitude,” Rodney told The Gleaner.