Grammy Award-winning drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare may not be the world’s greatest rhythm section, but they certainly rank near the top.
The Jamaican duo will perform as part of Monday’s 33rd annual Tribute to the Reggae Legends Festival at Valley View Casino Center (formerly the San Diego Sports Arena, where the festival returns after being held for two years at the Broadway Pier Port Pavilion). The 16-act lineup Monday also includes such reggae stalwarts as Don Carlos, Horace Andy and Third World along with Italy’s Alborosie, Argentina’s Alika, England’s Bitty McLean and San Diego’s Tribal Seeds.
But when it comes to stylistic diversity and historical importance, this crack riddim team from Kingston is just about peerless. It’s no surprise reggae is their musical bread and butter — there isn’t a reggae artist of note they haven’t worked with, including fellow Reggae Legends performers Andy and McLean.
But the list of artists from other idioms who have also utilized Sly & Robbie’s propulsive rhythmic skills is dizzying. Ditto those who have employed the two to produce their recordings.
In no particular order, Sly & Robbie’s past collaborators include Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Madonna, Joe Cocker, Paul McCartney, Britney Spears, Mick Jagger, Bootsy Collins and DJ Spooky. That list also includes No Doubt, Grace Jones, Jamaican jazz piano great Monty Alexander, Cyndi Lauper, Jackson Browne, hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, French pop auteur Serge Gainsbourg, The Fugees and more.
The 33rd Annual Tribute to the Reggae Legends Festival
With: Don Carlos, Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare, Horace Andy, Third World, Alborosie, Tribal Seeds and more
When: 3 p.m. Monday
Where: Valley View Casino Center, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., Loma Portal
Phone: (888) 929-7849
The duo’s eclecticism and the sterling quality of their work place them alongside such similarly fabled rhythm sections as Hal Blaine and Carole Kaye (who, as part of the fabled Wrecking Crew studio band in Los Angeles, worked on countless sessions produced by Phil Spector) and James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin (who played on myriad classics as part of the house band for Motown Records).
But Dunbar and Shakespeare — sometimes fondly referred to as Drumbar and Bassspeare — can take some additional bows. They helped to create the dance hall reggae movement of the 1990s and have made dozens of albums as band leaders in their own right. No one else has combined reggae, rock, dance-pop and funk rhythms with such unique verve and finesse.
A personal favorite of mine is Black Uhuru’s genre-leaping 1984 gem “Anthem,” with Dunbar and Shakespeare serving as both the producers and the rhythm section. It became the first album to win the then-brand new Best Reggae Album Grammy. Not surprisingly, Sly and Robbie had previously recorded with three of that year’s four other nominees — Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and Yellowman. The duo’s 1998 album, “Friends,” also earned a Grammy.
Dunbar, 61, and Shakespeare, 60, continue to work regularly. For these two, the title of their 2000 compilation album, “Make ’Em Move,” is both a way of life and an artistic imperative.
Reggae, at its roots, is message music. And the Inner Visions reggae band plans to bring that meaningful concept to the forefront at the 24th Lafayette Reggae and Cultural Festival Saturday and Sunday at Pelican Park after a year’s absence.
Inner Visions is known for melodic songwriting, impassioned lead vocals and three-part harmonies that recall the roots reggae bands of the 1970s, a time when calling out inequality and calling for justice was a common theme with many reggae bands.
Phillip “Grasshopper” Pickering, lead vocalist/guitarist with Inner Visions, said the band continues the tradition.
“I think the messages which it brings forward, the messages of love and consciousness, is a message that’s needed, especially in the world today,” said Pickering, who goes by Grasshopper. “And so this is very important to me and very important to Inner Visions to help spread that word.”
Over the years, reggae, like a lot of traditional music no matter the genre, has gotten away from its roots and incorporated contemporary styles for commercial appeal.
In the case of the Jamaican-born music, said Grasshopper, it’s the times in which we live that call the music home.
“It’s going to come back,” he said. “Life is getting harder; it’s not getting easier. It’s going to get worse,” he said. “And the way people suffer, they’re looking for something that’s going to comfort them and give them some kind of feeling of reconciliation.”
Inner Visions is a family band with Grasshopper’s brother Alvin “Jupiter” Pickering on backing vocals and bass, and Grasshopper’s sons Akiba “Mr. Snooze” Pickering on vocals and keyboards, and Aswad “Hollywood” Pickering on drums.
“Our message of love is one that we make sure we share with the people,” said Grasshopper. “The people, when they leave our show, they say they feel like they’ve been to church.”
Call the music inspirational or social commentary, reggae lyrics include lighter subjects, such as dancing and love. It all can be heard when strains of the island music permeate the air with a Reggae Fest lineup that also includes The Meditations, The Itals, Reggae Infinity, Likkle Shanx, Irie Channel, D.R.U.M. and Russel Cormier.
Last year, though, Pelican Park went without the festival. Chris Omigie, festival director, said he was in his home country of Nigeria last year.
“I could not come back in time to organize the festival,” Omigie said. “So I was able to take time off and introduce myself to the country and tell them the direction where I’m going.”
And part of that direction includes a reggae festival in Nigeria’s capital city.
“I’m planning a reggae festival in Eagle Square in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria,” said Omigie.
At this year’s festival, coupled with arts and crafts, a fun zone for the kids and food booths, there will be authentic Nigerian fare, Omigie said, adding that Nigerian community organizations in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Houston have endorsed the event and will be cooking food.
“This is the first time and they want to cook Nigerian cuisine,” he said.
The Reggae Festival has featured major acts like Lucky Dube, The Itals, Third World and Freddie McGregor over the years. Still, Omigie admitted reggae music is a hard sell where zydeco and Cajun music have deep roots.
“Don’t do a festival because you want to get rich. You have to do a festival knowing that you are reaching somebody, touching lives,” Omigie said. “I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m holding a social gathering where people can have a good time.”
It’s an attitude that is also Omigie’s personal philosophy.
“First of all, you have to be happy,” said Omigie. “Everything you have in this life is vanity. When you die, you’re not taking it with you.
“I’ve come too far,” he added. “And where I’m going is nearer than where I came from.”
Summerfest Productions, promoters of Reggae Sumfest, has confirmed Siccature Alcock - popularly known as Jah Cure, as the grand finale act on International Night 1, Friday, July 26.
Executive producer of Reggae Sumfest, Johnny Gourzong, said choosing Jah Cure as a closing act was a no-brainer. "Jah Cure has the right flavour, expertise, stage performance and a crowd-stopping voice to grace the stage as the final act," he said.
Not at all daunted by the task of being the closing act, Jah Cure is preparing for what might turn out be his best performance yet. He will be following acts such as American hip-hop star Flo Rida, veterans Beres Hammond and Barrington Levy, reggae superstar Tarrus Riley, and relative newcomers Iba Mahr, Droop Lion, urban jazz singer Kiara Dubwah, and Nature.
The soulful Jah Cure, who is widely recognised for hit songs such as Call On Me, Unconditional Love, That Girl and Longing For, last performed on the Sumfest main stage in 2011. Hailing from western Jamaica, he has a large following of fans eagerly awaiting his performance next Friday at Catherine Hall in the Second City.
Unconditional Love, featuring Phyllisia, recently passed the impressive threshold of over five million hits on YouTube.
According to the singer, he is honoured to wind up International Night 1 for such an acclaimed reggae festival and has big plans in store for his fans. "I am closing the Friday night and that is a chance for me to cement my status as one of the leaders of reggae in the 21st century. I am coming to work for the patrons at Sumfest and I have a wonderful set lined up," he said.
Another show-stopper added to the festival on Dancehall Night is I-Wayne, a consummate performer who is a rare treat who will add a touch of fire to the explosive performances on Thursday, July 25. Being very familiar with the Reggae Sumfest platform, the singer is eagerly anticipating he will add a touch of culture to Dancehall Night, with his hits such as Living in Love and Can't Satisfy Her.
Reggae Sumfest toasts to a successful 21 years from July 21-27, 2013. A few of the heavyweights performing on the festival this year are Grammy Award-winning R&B singer Miguel, reggae artistes Damian 'Junior Gong' Marley, Beres Hammond, Barrington Levy, Romain Virgo, Chronixx and Life Seeds singer I-Wayne, who has been added to the Dancehall Night line-up.
The 2013 staging of Reggae Sumfest is sponsored by Digicel, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, Jamaica Tourist Board, The Gleaner Company Ltd, Secrets Resorts, Red Stripe, Pepsi, Ting, Grand Palladium, Half Moon, Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort, Sunset Beach Resort, RIU, and Sandals Resorts International.
For more information on the festival and ticket details, visit www.reggaesumfest.com.
The idea for Reggae Fest started 22 years ago, while Jim Jenkins and Bill King were on a bicycle tour of Jamaica. The business partners, who five years earlier acquired The Historic Trempealeau Hotel, wanted to bring that music and cool vibe to Trempealeau.
Since 1991, Reggae Fest has established itself as an early gem on the Coulee Region’s summer festival calendar.
“It holds certain risks to have an outdoor event in May, but we wanted to jump-start the summer,” said Jenkins, who sold the hotel to Amy Werner last year. “We’ve had Reggae Fest on days with 90 degree weather but also when it was only 50 degrees and raining. The fans, at least, never seemed to mind.”
Reggae Fest is always set for the Saturday before Memorial Day. This year, the long-range weather forecast is for temperatures in the low 70s and mostly sunny skies, ideal conditions for an outdoor festival.
Events such as Reggae Fest have a positive impact in a small village such as Trempealeau — fans regularly outnumber Trempealeau’s population of 1,500 — and boost business at local hotels, restaurants, bars and gas stations.
“The hotel has a long history of having great music and attracting visitors from metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities, and these visitors sharing their Trempealeau experience with friends, families and coworker, is the best marketing we as a community could ask for,” said Village Administrator Travis Cooke.
To warm things up on Friday night, Madison’s DJ Hardworking Lover pulls out his favorite records and spins music from old school to dance hall.
The first act on Saturday is Dred I Dread. With members from Jamaica, Mexico, Turkey and the United States, the band combines myriad styles around a solid core of Jamaican reggae.
The second slot is filled by reggae powerhouse Gizzae. These Caribbean, African and American musicians — Rocket, Ruphael, Clem, Evans and Ralph — have been performing for more than 30 years.
“When you play reggae in different parts of the world, you notice more similarities than differences between the fans,” said Brian “Rocket” Rock.
“Our musical influences are quite diverse,” said Sedar G., Gizzae’s lead guitarist. “They range from Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan to The Clash and Mutabaraku.”
Headliner T.U.G.G. plays at 8 p.m. Reggae Fest also is the official release party for the La Crosse-based band’s fourth full-length EP “Maze.”
“We’ve grown into our song writing as a group,” said lead singer Andy Hughes. “We tried to make the album have a flow. It turned out to really weave in and out of reggae-rock and rock-ska. The hotel has one of the most beautiful backdrops I’ve seen for live music. You have the gorgeous Mississippi River behind the wooden open-air stage — it’s just so serene.”
Werner said she and her staff look forward to Reggae Fest each year.
“Folks are done with winter and want to listen to warm tunes and celebrate outside amongst nice people,” she said.
The Buckroe Beach Reggae Fest brings together fans of Jamaican-flavored music and culture for a day of fresh air, good grooves and laid-back fellowship.
It might not be obvious at first glance, but the event is also meant to appeal to children. In addition to live music, the festival offers activities for youngsters including sand soccer and face painting. The atmosphere is intended to be family-friendly.
"To be honest, that's the reason I wanted to start the festival," said Kevin Purnell, one of the event's founders. "I wanted to make something for the kids to look forward to, something positive … That's No. 1 on the list, the kids."
Purnell, the father of a 12-year-old son, takes pride in the growth of the Buckroe Beach Reggae Fest, which returns Saturday for a third run.
As many as 8,000 music lovers crowded Buckroe Beach Park last spring for the event and organizers are hoping for an even bigger turnout this time around.
"The energy is different," Purnell said. "We've worked so hard to promote it, it's almost like the first one again."
Local reggae enthusiasts including Purnell, Seko "Blackstarliner" Francis and Cindi Lewis-Brown launched the event in 2011 with a mostly local set of performers including Tuff Lion, United Souls and Stable Roots. A crowd of about 5,000 turned out for that first edition.
While last year's festival, which featured Nature's Child, Bimini Rd and Bambu Station, drew a bigger crowd, some of the fun was tainted by wet weather.
This year, the Buckroe bash offers music from local favorites United Souls and Session Rockers along a set from a full-fledged headliner, Culture featuring Kenyatta Hill.
The band is credited with helping to define the roots reggae style. Kenyatta Hill took over leadership of Culture after his father, Joseph Hill, died in 2006.
"Joseph Hill's devotion to the traditional Rastafarian values of purity, simplicity and justice is exemplified by Culture's lyrical themes," a bio for the band explains.
Milo Miles, writing for The New York Times, once named Culture "the leading exponent of 'conscious reggae,'" meaning that the band's messages are often uplifting and socially relevant.
That's part of what makes the music appeal to Purnell.
"I've been seeing them since the late 1980s or '90s, in Washington, D.C, California, Europe," Purnell said. "Having them down at Buckroe, right in my neighborhood, is going to be amazing."
Want to go?
What: Buckroe Beach Reggae Fest
When: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, May 11
Where: Buckroe Beach Park, 100 S. First Street, Hampton
11-11:45 a.m. Machet Reggae Band
Noon-12:45 p.m. Destined Nation
1:05-1:50 p.m. Tonahope
2:10 -3:00 p.m. United Souls
3:20-4:05 p.m. Session Rockers
4:30-5:15 p.m. Antero
5:45-6:45 p.m. Jahworks
7:15-8:45 p.m. Culture
Forty-nine years. Nearly five decades. Almost half a century. That's how much time has passed since The Skatalites first assembled boogie-woogie blues, jazz, Calypso, mento and African rhythms into one of Jamaica's signature musical styles. Nine of the original 10 Skatalites have passed on, but founding member Lester “Ska” Sterling continues to hold forth on alto sax as the newer version of the band tours in support of their latest album, “Walk With Me.” From the 1964 debut album, “Ska Authentic,” to the new one, the times and musicians may have changed, but the music -- and the love of it -- has remained the same.
Things started way back at what was considered a place to send “wayward boys,” Alpha Boys School. The school, run by the Sisters of Mercy, maintained not only high expectations of behavior, but of musicianship as well. Original Skatalite Tommy McCook was enrolled in Alpha Boys School in 1938. Other Skatalites, including Sterling, trombonist Don Drummond, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Cedric Brooks, Vin Gordon, Rico Rodriquez, Ernest Ranglin, Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton, Bobby Ellis, “Horsemouth” Wallace and JoJo Bennett, all of whom have played with or were members of The Skatalites, were also students at Alpha Boys School.
Sterling remembers the school as a place you could learn a trade and an instrument. Legend has it that Moore got himself in trouble just to be sent to Alpha so he could play music with the best. Music theory was an integral part of learning to play, and the rigorous training at Alpha Boys School resulted in a brilliant generation of Jamaican musicians. These musicians would influence the changing sounds of the 1960s.
As Jamaica gained its independence, the island's music took on a new life, mixing dancehall with jazz and incorporating social consciousness into the greater themes of the songs. The brain trust of this new world was Studio One, where The Skatalites began recording. One of their songs, “Simmer Down,” became Bob Marley's first No. 1 Jamaican hit. In addition to backing Marley and The Wailers, The Skatalites played behind other top singers of the day -- Stranger Cole, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Toots and The Maytals, Delroy Wilson, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, all of whom benefited from the incredible musicianship of the band.
How good were they? So good that after officially forming as The Skatalites in 1964, their first rehearsal -- at the Hi-Hat club, a legendary New Orleans burlesque club -- turned into their first gig when so many people crammed inside to listen that the owner started charging admission. The salad days were short-lived however, as The Skatalites' story took a dark turn.
Trombonist Don Drummond was often described as a “mad genius.” Widely acknowledged as both a brilliant songwriter and erratic performer, Drummond often admitted himself to the sanatorium. Ultimately, his instability led to the stabbing and killing of his common-law wife Marguerita Mahfood in an apparent fit of jealousy on New Year's Eve of 1965. By August, The Skatalites had split into two supergroups, Rolando Alphonso and the Soul Vendors, and Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. In early 1967, Drummond's ska adaptation of the theme to the film “The Guns of Navarone” entered the U.K.'s Top Forty chart. He died in the Bellevue Asylum in 1969.
But this was not to be the end of the story. In 1974, bass player Lloyd Brevett was recording a solo album that, bit by bit, turned into a Skatalites reunion. In 1979, the band recorded an album that remains unreleased due to contractual disputes. That setback didn't keep them from moving forward -- they reunited and played Montego Bay's Reggae Sunsplash festival in 1983. The success of that show propelled them forth yet again. Simultaneously through the late 1970s and early 1980s, English two-tone revival groups The Specials, Madness, The English Beat and Selector incorporated The Skatalites influence into their own highly popular music. American bands followed along including The Slackers, HepCat, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7, The Toasters and King Django. The success of bands influenced by The Skatalites has helped keep the originals -- and the new version of the originals -- in demand.
Through the late 1980s and into the 2000s, the band continued to tour and record. Notably, after first serving as Bunny Wailer's backup band in 1989, they followed up in 1990 performing behind Prince Buster. The momentum continued, leading to 1993's highly acclaimed “Skavoovee.” U.S. audiences were embracing ska with fervor at the time and the constant touring of The Skatalites kept their old fans engaged while gaining new ones exponentially. Even as the band returned to their jazz roots, their following remained extremely loyal.
The Skatalites' current members are Lester Sterling (alto saxophone); Doreen Shaffer (vocals); Azemobo “Zem” Audu (tenor saxophone); Andrae Murchison (trombone); Kevin Batchelor (trumpet); Val Douglas (bass guitar); Natty Frenchy (guitar); Cameron Greenlee (keyboards) and Trevor “Sparrow” Thompson (drums). When it comes to adding new members, the guiding philosophy is that the music is its own entity and each musician brought on board respects that and helps to continue carrying it through to audiences new and old.
Reviews of “Walk With Me,” The Skatalites' 15th studio album released in May 2012, praise the expert arrangement and impeccable performances. Dana Smart writes in the Examiner that “their inimitable chug and hot syncopation confirming the band's status as the originators with such zeal that one would swear Duke Reid or Coxson Dodd himself was behind the boards, coaxing these fiery performances from the band.” In the Austin Chronicle, Dan Oko raves “... dancehall done right. Pass it along!” An Afropop Worldwide review gushes “'Walk With Me' is, front to back, an unqualified pleasure of a listen.”
Samples from “Walk With Me” can be found in the audio section of skatalites.com.
With the word “legendary” firmly attached to their reputation, the fact that The Skatalites are coming to Humboldt is spectacular. The fact that they're playing in the intimate venue of Arcata's Jambalaya is even more amazing. Catch them Saturday at 10 p.m. and be sure to get tickets ($20) in advance through jambalayaarcata.com. The show is 21 and over. Elephant Dub Squad opens.
What: The Skatalites
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jambalaya, 915 H St., Arcata
Admission: $20 in advance, 21+
During its short but eventful five year history Dan Wiltshire's One Love Festival has survived repeated venue changes, unsympathetic authorities and rival promoters. This year the event faced battles with their site's owners, stringent noise regulations and a couple of artist no-shows, yet maintained its mix of good music and low key relaxed vibes - blessed by one of the most gorgeously sunny weekends of the year. After two years based in Hainault, Essex, Wiltshire decided to return his event to Kent – to the site of Vince Power's Hop Farm Festival in Paddock Wood. The traditional growery of hops, a crucial ingredient in beer and a member of the cannabis family, seemed the perfect place to continue the uniquely chilled out reggae and dub vibe of the gathering in bucolic seclusion.
What: Boss Sounds Festival 2012
When: October 12 and 13, 2012, 11pm-3am
Where: World Headquarters Newcastle .
Anthony B, Brother Culture, Pangea Sound System
Direct from Jamaica Anthony B is one of the world's biggest reggae stars, regularly headlining major European Festivals. Draped in the rich colours of African cloth, his trademark staff in hand, and his dreadlocks wrapped regally on his head, Anthony B embodies all that it is spiritual and proactive about Reggae music.
The Vilar Performing Arts Center's fall Underground Sound series is underway, but the venue is not ready to pack it in for winter just yet. The Vilar Center will extend its lineup with a bonus eighth performance on Nov. 11 when Toots and the Maytals Unplugged Acoustic Tour comes to the venue, along with Anders Osborne. Toots and the Maytals, once known simply as the Maytals, are considered legends of ska and reggae music. Lead singer and native Jamaican Toots Hibbert and his band helped chart the course of Jamaican music through its various evolutions of ska, reggae and rock.
Reggae legends The Wailers will make their Northwest Arkansas debut in Fayetteville in November, it was announced last week. The band, known best for its work with Bunny Wailer and late Reggae-music icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Walton Arts Center.Original member Aston Barrett remains an anchor in the band on bass guitar, and is joined by Elan Atias and Koolant Brown on lead vocals; Keith Sterling on keys; Anthony Watson on drums; Audley Chisholm on rhythm guitar; Chico Chin on trumpet; Everald Gayle on trombone; and Brady Walters and Cegee Victory on background vocals.Tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, and range from $16-$28. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Walton Arts Center box office at 479-443-5600 or by visiting waltonartscenter.org.