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Walking Down Reggae Lane

Toronto, the provincial capital of Ontario, Canada now has a street called Reggae Lane. Located in the Eglington and Oakwood areas of the city, it was renamed late last year under an initiative — The Laneway Project — by councillor for the area Josh Colle.

A major part of the facelift was a mural depicting international and Canadian reggae stars. Visual artist Adrian Hayles, who was commissioned to paint the mural, told Splash that the power of reggae and its impact on Canada is underestimated. The popularity of Reggae Lane has shown the music’s reach.

“The area has now received a new identity with the renaming of this laneway in Eglington and Oakwood. Now you have music videos being shot with the mural as the backdrop and a number of people coming to view and take pictures... it’s a real tourist attraction in the area. Reggae has a rich history in Canada and this needs to be acknowledged and hailed,” Hayles added.

Hayles, who is of Guyanese heritage, revealed that the mural is his fourth major work. Based on his love for reggae he could not pass up the opportunity when asked to do it.

“I grew up in this community and reggae was a major part of my early years. My father was a DJ on a sound system, and so a lot of times I would accompany him along these streets to buy records. As I grew up I also began playing music and so reggae is really part of my being... it’s in my DNA,” he said.

The Eglington and Oakwood area is commonly known as Little Jamaica due to its heavy concentration of residents from the Caribbean country.

Hayles and a band of volunteers took three weeks to complete the mural, which was officially launched with a street party. Canadian reggae act Jay Douglas, who recorded a song titled Reggae Lane, performed.

Hayles said there are plans to expand Reggae Lane with the painting of garage doors which face the mural.


Bunny Wailer Still Going Strong

More than 50 years after he formed the most influential reggae band in history, Bunny Wailer is still going strong.

Bunny Wailer has been the gold standard in reggae music for 50 years and he still has it. I got a chance to catch up with the Jamaican artist on a recent tour stop in New York City to talk about the music, the original Wailers and the people.

Bunny, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh met as youngsters in Jamaica and formed the Wailers -- the music, the message, from a small island to an international stage. Bob eventually became the face of the group and Bunny went his own direction but the love is still strong.

See Interview below.


Reggae Dying In Nigeria

The seed of Reggae music was planted in Jamaica and made popular by the Legendary Bob Marley. 

Since then, Reggae music has left the shores of Jamaica and practically has a life of its own without diluting its core message.

In the words of Wyclef Jean: “A lot of my music is very Reggae-driven. Half of my life, Bob Marley was all I listened to”. 

Reggae music captures the pressures of everyday life fusing it into irresistible melodies. In Nigeria, the genre used to be on the front row but now has taken a backseat, even when giving birth to an offshoot known as dancehall. However, there are some Nigerian artistes who would not allow the genre to go into extinction and are thus fanning the ember in their own music, which has pretty much deviated from the hard core Reggae. 

2face Idibia Though 2face Idibia is known more as an Afropop and RnB artiste, his love for Reggae music is palpable. Songs like Rain drops, One love reminds you of Bob Marley’s brand of Reggae. The award-winning music icon croons like a bird let off its nest whenever he sings songs with Reggae influences. Reggae lovers are always captivated when the likes of 2face sing songs that capture the emotion of Reggae Timaya Enetimi Alfred Odon a.k.a Timaya is one of the few Nigerian musicians who are still fanning the embers of Reggae music and keeping it alive. Though the message of his songs may not resonate with the message of Reggae, but he makes up for it with his Reggae driven melodies.

When you listen to songs like Bow Down, Bum Bum, and Plantain Boy, you may think you are listening to Peter Tosh. He has been able to create his own style without losing the Reggae flavour. Patoranking Patoranking broke into the Nigerian music industry with his hit song Alubarika in 2013.The song speedily spread like wildfire and gained massive airplays. At a time when Reggae music is losing relevance and Afropop taking center stage, Alubarika became a song that reveals the everyday struggle of the man on the street. The song starts off with a bouncy Reggae beat and hints at the importance of God’s blessings. 

“I want to touch lives and give hope to the hopeless with my music” Patoranking once said. Cynthia Morgan Have you listened to Cynthia Morgan’s German Juice, Baby mama and Popori? You will definitely feel the vibes of Reggae in the songs. Though she has been criticized for the usage of Jamaican patois in her music, the voluptuous singer continues to infuse it in her song fervently. 

The red hair-wearing artiste has said that her patois comes natural to her, even before her manager got her a patois dictionary. Burna Boy Burna Boy is the poster child for Nigerian dancehall music. The Rivers State-born singer has a baritone voice that appeals to his fans who are enamoured by his brand of dancehall. From Yawa Dey,Soke, and Dor Gongon the talented performer said his early reggae influence came from his dad. 

“My dad used to play Reggae and Afrobeats. The first Reggae song I heard was in his car. The first CD we had was a mix of all different types of dancehall. I am pretty much a product of my environment” General Pype General Pype is one of the most underrated, yet talented Nigerian artistes. 

These days it’s difficult to detect the influences of Reggae in contemporary Nigerian music, but the likes of General Pype have constantly showed off this genre in their music. From Victorious man, Champion and Lovers Rock, the seven-star General shows off his pleasant-sounding dancehall vocals in the songs. General Pype is known for the depth of his lyrics and unique delivery. 16 0 0 


Jamaica Reggae SumFest Only Local Acts

Organizers of the annual Reggae Sumfest have announced that there will be no overseas acts on this year’s lineup.

But the big question among regular patrons is can local acts alone do it. Reggae Sumfest usually bills one or two international big name artist for the event. In the past stars such as Rihanna, Beyonce, Ashanti, Usher, Chris Brown, and more have graced the stage at Sumfest.

Joe Bogdanovich Bought Reggae Sumfest Now The New Chairman

This year will be a lot different with Downsound head Joe Bogdanovich taking over the helm of the event through his acquisition.

“The kind of cost and money that is spent on international acts has become prohibitive,” Bogdanovich said. “We’d rather not spend money on the outside, but to support our own.”

Summerfest Productions outgoing executive Director, Johnny Gourzong, added that it usually cost organizers as much as US$2 million (J$248 million) to secure international acts for the show and that is driving ticket costs up.

“The time had come where we wanted to rebrand, and with Mr Bogdanovich’s transition into the company, it was just the right timing to rebrand Reggae Sumfest as a Reggae festival,” Gourzong said. “Dancehall has always been strong and we have always been very strong with the dancehall, and it will remain so, but there has been a whole renaissance of the reggae music. There has been a big revival in reggae music and the patrons, especially the tourists, will be coming out to see our top reggae acts in performance.”

Reggae Sumfest will also be scaled down from three nights to two nights. The 2016 staging will be held from July 17-23 at the Catherine Hall entertainment complex in Montego Bay.

The event will also be live stream for the first time.

Do you think local acts alone can bring a large crowd to Reggae Sumfest? Sound off in comments below.


Reggae Classics You Did Not Know Were Covers

Reggae is synonymous with the beautiful island of Jamaica, potent marijuana, and Rastafari.

Reggae derived from the offspring of African slaves who were suffering from residue of a vicious plantocracy society. Reggae began in the Kingston slums of  Trench Town, Rema, Back-O-Wall and Jungle .

Ironically, unknown to most fans of reggae, the industrial capitalist country of America played just as much a role in the creation of reggae as the culture of Jamaica and the Rastafarian Nyahbingi chants Jamaicans once despised.

Ska, rocksteady, and reggae were influenced directly by American musical genres prevalent during their inceptions. This influence was and is evident in the number of classic reggae songs that are actually cover versions of American songs.

Prior to Independence, Jamaicans mostly listened to Southern American radio stations they picked up on their transistor radios. The sounds coming from Louisiana and other Southern states were soul, blues, jazz, and country.

Bob Marley did not grow up listening to reggae because reggae did not exist; he grew up listening to Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, The Impressions, Louie Jordan, and Fats Domino. This MusicOfJamaica-2016influence has resulted in numerous covers of American and British songs by Jamaican artists. Very few listeners and even lovers of reggae are aware that their favorite reggae song may be a cover.

I am constantly surprised at the number of songs I believed were originals that are actually covers. The shock rests in Jamaicans’ ability to trump the original with their rendition.

We compiled a list of what we at LIVITY.INFO and I NEVER KNEW TV believe are Top 10 Reggae Classics that are actually covers of American or British songs. Please click on the video below the page  for visuals of the artist. Enjoy!!!

10. John Holt – Love I Can Feel/ Temptations- I Want A Love  I Can See

This song written and produced by Smokey Robinson, performed by the Temptations in 1964 was never a fan favorite. However ,John Holt found amazing success when he did this song for Studio One in 1970, making it a rocksteady anthem. The ‘ I Love I Can Feel’ instrumental known in the reggae industry as a ‘riddim’ has also produced hits for Tony Rebel, ‘Fresh Vegetable’; Tony Tuff, ‘First Time I Met You’; and Beres Hammond, ‘Tempted to Touch.’

9. Busy Signal- One More Night/ Phil Collins – One More Night 

Phil Collins, a recipient of mostly every musical award one could receive, penned this song in 1984. Busy Signal known for his hardcore dancehall lyrics, shocked everyone with his rendition which became a smash hit for him in 2010.

8. Sugar Minott- Good Thing Going / Michael Jackson- Good Thing Going

‘The Producers,’ a group of writers and producers for Motown who were responsible for the majority of the hits for the Jackson 5,  wrote this song that was released on Michael Jackson’s second solo album ‘Ben’ in 1972. This song features the beautiful voice of a young Jackson without his brothers. Reggae legend Sugar Minot recorded his version in 1981. This song was Minott’s biggest commercial hit assisted by distribution by RCA, reaching number 4 on the UK Singles Chart in March 1981.

7.  Ken Boothe – Everything I Own / David Gates and Bread- Everything I Own

The world was re-introduced to this classic when Boy George performed it, giving him his first hit of his solo career after leaving Culture Club. Ken Boothe received the acknowledgment as the creator due to Boy George’s reggae style in the song. However, the original was written by David Gates of Bread in 1972. Ken Boothe’s version reached number 1 in UK singles chart in 1974.

6.  Bunny Wailer – Dream Land / El Tempo- My Dream Island (1963)

Of all the songs on the list, this was the most shocking to me ~ Bunny Wailer’s recorded ‘Dreamland’ with the Wailers. The 1976 version for his classic ‘Black Heart Man’ album is what  people are familiar with. This mystical song speaks of a utopian paradise were the inhabitants live forever. Marcia Griffiths, ‘The Queen of Reggae,’ also has a moving rendition of this song. The original is from a do-wop group named the El Tempos originally recorded in 1963.

5.  The Techniques – Queen Majesty / Impression- Queen of the Minstrel

Curtis Mayfield and Impressions have influenced many reggae groups from the Heptones to the Wailers. This cover has produced an array of hit songs using the ‘Queen Majesty Riddim’. The most notable versions being Tenor Saw ‘Roll Call,’ U-Roy ‘Chalice in the Palace,’ and Sizzla‘ Just One of Those Days.’ This cover version captures the genius of Jamaican musicians to restructure a song while keeping its essence.

4.  Maxi Priest- Wild World / Cat Stevens- Wild World

Wild World was a smash hit for both Cat Stevens and Maxi Priest. Stevens wrote and released this song about departing lovers  in 1970 to critical acclaim. Maxi Priest released his version in 1988. His version propelled his to career being viewed as one of Britain’s top reggae singers.

3.  UB40- Red Red Wine / Neil Diamond- Red Red Wine

UB40’s career was built on doing covers of reggae songs, though their biggest hit was actually a cover from Neil Diamond’s classic ‘ Red Red Wine.’ UB40’s version has transcended time and is still in heavy rotation on American and English pop stations.

2. Third World- Now That We Found Love/ O’Jays- Now that We Found Love

Gamble and Huff wrote this international hit for the O’Jays in 1973. The Third World band took this song to new heights in 1978. Their version peaked at #10 on the UK charts and # 47 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1. Bob Marley – One Love / Impressions- People Get Ready

“One Love” was named ‘Song of the Century’ by TIME magazine.  Most people are unaware that this song is a cover from the Impressions. Curtis Mayfield, who was aware of reggae artists who covered many of his songs, always marveled at their ability to totally recreate the song. He believed Jamaica had some of the world’s greatest musicians. Bob Marley originally recorded a ska version of this song in 1965. The world fell in love with the reggae version recorded in 1977 that appears on the ‘EXODUS’ album.

Honorable Mentions:

Bob Marley – Selassie Chapel / The Orioles- Crying in the Chapel

Norma Frazer, Kasheif Lindo -First Cut is the Deepest – Cat Stevens- First Cut is the Deepest

Tarrus Riley – Stay With You / John Legend – Stay With You


See Below For I Never Knew TV’s compilation of these reggae classics and artsts:


New Tune: Raging Fyah - Ready For Love

Maybe I’m out of touch with the reggae scene these days, but if there is one thing I can note it’s the lack of acts embracing the legacy of the godfathers of the genre. While it seems like every other genre of music – soul, disco, rock and roll – has its retro purists, reggae is a little tougher. Yet, there is one group that stands out both for embracing the sound and activist spirit of groups like Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse and The Wailers, and for bringing a freshness and youthful spirit to that sound.

Raging Fyah was founded in 2006 by a group of musicians who mostly met at the Edna Manley College of Visual & Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica. The group’s chemistry, as well as a shared love of the reggae heritage of their country, brought them together. Consisting of Kumar Bent (lead singer), Courtland White (guitarist) Anthony Watson (drummer), Demar Gayle (keyboardist) and Delroy “Pele” Hamilton (bassist), the members of Raging Fyah crafted a sound that felt classic in the best kind of way, yet was also airy and pop-driven. This dynamic brought them to the attention of Jamaica and shortly after the rest of the world caught on to Raging Fyah.

On May 27th the five-piece Kingston collective will release their new album  Everlasting  worldwide  on VP Records’ Dub Rockers. The album was recorded live at Kingston’s legendary Tuff Gong Studios, and today we are excited to present the opening track “Ready For Love” right here on Glide Magazine. “Ready For Love” brings together a sensual R&B melody with a catchy chorus that makes you want to embrace your lover and dance the night away. It is a song that also captures this band’s ability to right songs that are both true to the roots rock reggae spirit as well as universally appealing beyond the reggae community. 

Speaking on the song, the band says simply “‘Ready for Love’ is that song when you look at the one you love and ask are ready to take this journey with me and love each other with the love that many search for.”

Listen to Raging Fyah’s “Ready For Love”:


The Harder They Come

When I was in the third grade, my eldest brother studied abroad in Paris for his third year of university. That year represented for him not only an exposure to French culture, but also an introduction to Jamaican culture, as he discovered reggae music in Paris.
When he returned from Paris with the soundtrack album of The Harder They Come, I was not only entranced by the music on the album but also had absolutely no idea how many years in the future the album would give me the ability to connect with almost any Jamaicans, as well as establish friendships and business relationships with Jamaican.
As the famous 1973 movie by Perry Henzell and its highly successful soundtrack album are largely credited for exposing the world to reggae music, both the movie and album are certainly engrained staples of Jamaican culture. However, many Jamaican are likely unaware of how the album has been responsible for opening the door to non-Jamaican about the island's culture.
As someone who has otherwise limited knowledge about Jamaica and who has never visited the island, I can attest to the power of the album. Some years ago, I vividly recall riding the subway home from work one night and seeing another passenger reading a book titled something like 'Japanese Customs and Culture for Business'. In my opinion, if a non-Jamaican wants to get in good with Jamaican people, he should listen to the soundtrack of The Harder They Come instead of reading a book tailored to give a foreigner insight into the culture as a way of advancing business prospects.
At one of my past jobs before I started in the public-relations field, my workstation was near a supervisor who was from Jamaica, and this supervisor's secretary was also from Jamaica. One day, the conversation turned to Jamaican Patois, and both of these co-workers were stunned when I asked them what "Forward and Fiaca, menacle and den gosaca" meant. They were then shocked when I started singing the lyrics to some songs on the album like Sweet and Dandy, You Can Get It If You Really Want, Draw Your Brakes, By the Rivers of Babylon, and others. From then on, we regularly quoted lyrics from the album when others were not around.
From that experience with my Jamaican colleagues, I realised not only how much the movie and the soundtrack album were part of Jamaican culture, but also how much Jamaican people still love the music from the 43-year-old album.
Since then, in all of my interactions with Jamaican people in the business world or in general, I find that The Harder They Come soundtrack is an express route to "getting in good" with them. After hearing me sing some of the album's songs, several Jamaican have been convinced that I must have lived in the country, because no one would know these things otherwise.
I have seen Jamaican people get all happy and excited when I sing lyrics from the songs because it must make them feel good that an American knows such an important aspect of their culture. For instance, many are amused that a foreigner knows the screeching utterances of Scotty grieving about his lost love in Draw Your Brakes, or the classic line from the title track song The Harder They Come: "I'd rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave."
I first saw the movie many years after listening to the soundtrack album, and I learned many things about Jamaican culture. For instance, when Jimmy Cliff's character makes the delivery to the recording studio, there is a Chinese-Jamaican working the soundboards. I asked someone about this person of Chinese descent, and was informed about Jamaica's large Chinese population.
It is obvious to me that the soundtrack of The Harder They Come has permeated every level of Jamaican society, as the Jamaican who react so favourably to my invocation of the songs can be deliverymen, janitors, secretaries, lawyers, diplomats, university professors and doctors.
Of course, there are many books for businessman about various countries and cultures which are tailored for helping people do business in these countries. This album will not give a foreigner insight into Jamaican culture and society with specific knowledge to facilitate business.
However, what those books for businessman about Jamaican culture cannot do is give a person a sure way to start off any conversation or relationship with such positive vibe.


Lee Scratch Perry Coming To San Antonio

Lee "Scratch" Perry is eccentric. Not like your rich uncle who exclusively wears periwinkle blue track suits to brunch every Sunday. No, Perry's eccentricities are more organic than that, rooted in decades of building the foundation of what we now know as reggae and dub music.
Born Rainford Hugh Perry, the 80-year-old Kendal, Jamaica native has managed to do something few musicians get to do during their careers: Pioneer a new sound, produce monumental tracks that propel it to soaring heights and then burn said sound to the ground.
Back in the early '70s, after over 15 years of working in the newly christened reggae industry, Perry built a recording studio in the backyard of his Kingston, Jamaica home that would ultimately change the future of the movement. The infamous Black Ark Studios was, for all intents and purposes, a Rasta shack that slowly seeped smoke from under its feeble walls whilst the thumping of deep dub beats permeated throughout its surroundings. The four-walled palace of pot helped shape the careers of legendary reggae sound-masters like The Heptones, Junior Byles, Max Romeo, Augustus Pablo and most notably, Bob Marley and the Wailers. Perry was behind the board for all of these sessions, using his inherent skills to overdub various layers of music while creating a unique sound which would eventually evolve into dub.
Perry's style was so influential and one-of-a-kind that musicians like Paul McCartney and The Clash traveled to Jamaica to seek his musical wisdom. Some of his more notable production techniques included burying a drum at the bottom of a palm tree to get a more bass-ed sound, employing the vocal stylings of crying babies on his tracks and surrounding his boards with things like chicken wire, broken bottles and cutlery. All of these effects contributed to the success and legacy of the Black Ark studio and Perry.
But by the end of the decade, Perry was disenchanted with the once profound empire he had built. Citing stress from the constant rigmarole of having to turn his creativity on and off, Perry felt that the vibe and spirit of the studio had changed. Rumors were afoot at the time that prominent Jamaican gangsters and politicos were trying to cheat him of every last dime. Others say that Perry's sometimes flamboyant and outlandish behavior contributed to his downfall. Whatever the case may be, Perry eventually burned the studio down less than a decade after he had built it. And he burned down another one in late 2015, except this time it was an accidental fire started by a candle left unnoticed.
While the Grammy-winning sound-smith may have had worse luck with fires than most of us will have with sunburns in our lives, you can't feel bad for the man. His legacy is one that will carry on long after his last dub performance leaves you feeling oh-so irie and high-re.
Known as the "godfather of dub" by many, a documentary called The Upsetter (his infamous nickname), detailing the life of Perry, was theatrically released after a successful showcase at SXSW in 2008. In it, you see a man who had a desire to leave a cannabis-shaped footprint on the music industry from an early age, a man who many might say is crazy, but is never lazy and, most importantly, a man who has learned to embrace and accept change while still keeping his peripheral eye on his past life.
The most impressive thing about Perry, however, is that he's still writing, recording and performing. Most musicians who were active at a time when Led Zeppelin and The Who were still putting out their bests are either resolutely docile or are enjoying the fruits of their past labors. These days, you can find Perry performing with the Subatomic Sound System and using his chops to influence a myriad of newer electronic musicians. The candle that lit his musical career, purpose and dub roots has never burnt out, and it's inarguably Lee "Scratch" Perry's creative fire that has been the most important one to spark in his lifetime.

Lee “Scratch” Perry & Subatomic Sound System 40th Anniversary Super Ape Tour
6pm Fri, April 29
Paper Tiger
2410 N. St. Mary’s St.


Reggae & Critical Amnesia 1976

In a blistering new piece Neil Kulkarni argues that we should put aside our copies of Super Ape and Rockers Up Town and make room for some other, less canonical albums.

Be wary of the curators, including me, and the path they choose for you in ‘building a collection’. Always revealing, those artifacts a dominant culture deems representative of marginal cultures. Reggae music, as an expression of black Jamaican consciousness, as the music that most uniquely summates the imaginative and spiritual desires, and brute reality of Jamaican life, is now usually critically reduced to a half-handful of album-length transmissions.

Noticeable also, among even the ‘collector’ mindset and in the tiny worlds of avant-garde rock-crit and even dance-crit, that increasingly the emphasis on dub’s studio-sorcery or dancehall’s digi-manipulation is paramount. The righteous, the political, the reggae that comes from JA’s vocal and rocksteady traditions is ignored, no-one wanting to sound like they ‘identify’, no-one wanting to be the worse kind of white dread. Understandable as writers increasingly come from a class & time at some far remove from this music’s creation - dub has a universality, a lack of specificity by dint of its instrumental basis and it’s lyric-less suggestiveness, that makes it, in its novelty, curiosity and indeterminacy of focus, way more digestible to ex-colonial nations than albums where the ex-slaves actually stop smoking and speak.

The longer time goes on the more history gets forgotten, and the more things get reduced to a couple of names, interest waning the further we get away from those names’ most emblematic moments. 1976 was undoubtedly an incredible year for dub, the year of Super Ape, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Keith Hudson’s Pick A Dub, Joe Gibbs & The Professionals' State Of Emergency , Burning Spear’s Garvey’s Ghost, Tappa Zukie’s In Dub, Yabby U’s Prophesy Of Dub. But to pluck one album, Super Ape, as most hip curators and critics do, out of that list and make out it’s all you need... it’s criminal oversight for 76 in dub, let alone the rest of Jamaican music. (An awful lot of folk write as if Super Ape & Rockers Uptown are the ONLY dub albums you need full stop).

Perry, as genius, shaman, lunatic, was always going to be as much a star for the music press as Bob Marley, albeit Robert Nesta loomed large as a spirit of organisation and crossover where Perry was the reverse. In 76, one Perry-produced masterpiece made it into the music-press end-of-year-lists, Max Romeo’s fantastic War Inna Babylon (of which more anon): by 1993, NME’s writers could only find space for Augustus Pablo & Burning Spear in their list of the greatest 70s albums.

By 2013, when NME published their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, two of them were reggae albums and they were both by Bob Marley. This is the way forgetting, driven by class and race, becomes cumulative, drives out the detail, the shades and shadow. Pitchfork’s 70s list has only the Congos’ Heart Of The Congos as the sole representative of Jamaican music. Again and again, what you find is that because white critique is wary, timid and uncomfortable with attempting to understand or interrogate Jamaican music what is clung to as a value is a kind of otherness and oddity, a vanishing into the pure pleasure of sonics to avert any apprehension of the politics or meaning of what black Jamaican people were making. It’s akin to the avoidance of complexity and the reduction to western precepts and expectations (esp. that which is amenable to Western ‘experiment’), in most appraisal of Bollywood music, as I talked about in Eastern Spring.

When I read about 70s Jamaican music, between the lines you sense the further implication is that dub is where heads should be at because the rest of 70s reggae is rather predictable, just as ‘trip hop’ gave the supposed ‘predictability’ of hip hop a ‘spin’ that white-crit could love, without any of that dangerous illiberality of content that made so much 90s hip hop so discomforting. And so, just as if you were listening to trip hop in the 90s and not listening to Wu, Mobb Deep, Black Moon, Show & AG etc you were actually missing out on the trippiest music, so the critical consensus’ desire to reduce reggae to a few figureheads leaves so much out, leaves so much wonder and joy in danger of being forgotten. Whereas hip hop (now it can properly wear the accoutrements of economic power as well as being blessed by dint of coming from the cultural-imperialist stronghold of the US) can reasonably expect to be ‘reflected’ (albeit in a massively withered, reductively mainstream way) in western cultural curatorship, reggae, as the music of poor black people from a tiny island, is mainly ignored completely, its variety distilled into just a handful of ‘things you need’ if you want to render your collection ‘correct’, ticking all equality and diversity boxes. Drives me spare.

Don’t get me wrong, I fucking love dub, just wish that beyond the Tubby/Perry/Pablo/Scientist lineage usually mentioned, records by Blackbeard, Prince Far I, Mikey Dread, Prince Jammy, Ossie Hibbert, Glen Brown, The Aggrovators would get as much attention as the usual suspects that tick-off dub in the idea of building a canonical collection. Such oversight I can partly put down to constraints of space but I also detect a desire, whenever confronted with a foreign music culture, for western critique to seek that which can be understood in a purely musical, aural context. On one level, dub is stoner music, music made by people experimenting with sound while high as fuck on drugs. Spiritual if you want it to be, and people like Kevin Martin I think truly apprehend dub as a different way of seeing the world. But to sum up Jamaican music, particularly from the year 1976, into Super Ape criminally overlooks the truly important artefacts of that year, three albums with no dubs, deeply lyrical, sweetly recorded, absolutely drenched in harmony and melody and pop, that together form a triumvirate of roots reggae classics and a snapshot of the Island’s turmoil in 76 better than most studio-spun dub confections could manage. The Mighty Diamonds’ Right Time, Max Romeo’s War Inna Babylon and perhaps the greatest masterpiece of all three, The Gladiators' Trenchtown Mix Up. All three are timeless masterpieces, and like most timeless masterpieces, deeply deeply touched by the times they emerged from.

1976 was a year of blood and fire for Jamaica, a year of civil war, tension, violence, fear and division. The two party system, split between the Jamaican Labour Party and the People’s National Party, had done nothing for Jamaica’s majority black population in the post-independence 60s and was still perceived as tied heavily to old British elites. Both parties operated as multiclass alliances, whose adherents cut across class and racial lines. In their attempt to appeal to all sectors of the population for votes and funds, both parties adopted similar domestic policies (although differences in foreign policy started emerging as soon as the British pulled out). Jamaica's elites, from which the island's leaders emerged, were closely knit groups; four of the nation's first five prime ministers were related. Crucially, party identification, not race or class, was the primary political frame of reference. Each party had a fiercely loyal, almost tribal, inner core defined by family ties and neighbourhood. Antagonism to the other party was passionate and frequently violent.

Between 1972 and 1980 Jamaica’s history of political stability was threatened by a massive increase in political violence. After Norman Manley's death in 1969, the JLP and PNP evolved along increasingly divergent lines. The JLP started batting for domestic and foreign business interests. Manley’s son Michael, an LSE-educated Third World-oriented social democrat, succeeded him as PNP leader and began to revive the party's socialist heritage. In 1972 the PNP won 56 percent of the popular vote, thanks in large part to support from the lower classes, including the Rastafarians. Manley had tried to change his party's image by evoking the memory of Marcus Garvey, using symbols appealing to the Rastafarians, and associating with their leader, Claudius Henry. Manley also had appeared in public with an ornamental "rod of correction" reputedly given him by Haile Selassie I.

Manley's informal dress and the PNP's imaginative use of two features of Rastafarian culture - creole dialect and reggae music - in the 1972 campaign were crucial in securing victory. During Manley’s two terms as prime minister up until the bloody mess of the 1980 election, the PNP aligned itself with socialist and "anti-imperialist" forces throughout the world. Manley’s intent was to build a mass party, with the emphasis on political mobilization. He was a populist, keen to engage with the street. Prior to independence, most top leaders had Anglo-European lifestyles and loftily disdained many aspects of Jamaican and West Indian culture. By the 1970s, most Jamaican leaders preferred life-styles that identified them more closely with local culture.

In 1974 Edward Seaga (Boston-born in 1930 to Jamaican parents of Syrian and Scottish origin) had succeeded Hugh Shearer as JLP leader and began a bitter and intense rivalry with Manley. Contrasting sharply with Manley’s oratorical gifts, Seaga was often described as remote and technocratic, though it’s proof of how tribal and party-loyal Jamaican politics is that despite being white and wealthy, he represented Denham Town, one of the poorest and blackest constituencies of West Kingston, which regularly gave 95 percent of its vote to the JLP. The December 1976 elections saw big realignments in class voting for the two parties. Manual labourers, the unemployed, and the Rastas supported the PNP as did the newly-enfranchised 18-21 year olds. White collar voters fled to the JLP, who fought their campaign on building fear about the PNP leading Jamaica into communism (slogans like ‘Turn Them Back’ and ‘The Socialists Have Failed’) while also stoking security fears about the rising number of Cuban immigrants in Jamaica. The middle and upper classes that in 72 had seen Manley as a possible Jamaican JFK now worried he was more like a Jamaican Fidel. Manley’s anti-imperialism and close ties with revolutionary Cuba were exploited by the JLP in the campaign. Seaga played on this particularly, casting himself as ‘freedom leader’ and emphasising the massive economic problems Jamaica had continued to face since 72.

Throughout the 76 campaign you sense divisions were getting harsher, more hysterical - while the JLP tried to play down the class and racial conflicts in Jamaica the PNP emphasised and accentuated them (Manley was a brown man married to a black woman; Seaga was a white man) and you can see the desire to appeal to young reggae culture and reggae listeners throughout both parties’ campaigns.

The increased use of Rastafarian symbols & language by both political parties in the 76 election was a symptom of Rastafarianism’s increasing acceptability and fashionability in Jamaican culture and life. The JLP used Rasta language to promote their political position (modifying the rasta-greeting ‘I-up’ to their own ‘High-Up’ slogan, implying their readiness to govern), the PNP played on ‘Blind-Aga’ to refer to Seaga’s blindness - both parties throughout the 76 election use motifs of slavery to condemn their combatants, and both leaders aimed to reappropriate the legacy of Jamaican rasta-heroes like Marcus Garvey for their cause. (Manley cited Garvey in lots of 76 election-campaign speeches, the JLP reiterating Seaga’s accomplishment in bringing Garvey’s bones back to Jamaica.) The PNP also restated its commitments to supporting contemporary Pan-African liberation struggles such as those then going on in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and South Africa, asserting that the JLP, a ‘white-man’s party’ had expressed no solidarity with African resistance groups. The JLP de-emphasised race, strategically projecting Seaga as ‘colourless’ although at the Tivoli Sports Field rally that kicked off the JLP 76 campaign he littered his speech with rasta-language. A newspaper report picked up on it:

“Seaga announced the date of the elections and said 'Them going get a beating' which was greeted with loud cheers of ‘high-up’... Seaga reportedly said the Prime Minister 'looks down on the land as his kingdom but I want him to know that Eddie is trodding creation, and the kingdom over which he rules no longer exists because Jah Kingdom Gone To Waste… Youthman and daughter should know which is their party'.”
(The Jamaican Gleaner, 30th November, 1976)

"Them going get a beating" referred to a Peter Tosh, Joe Gibbs-produced smash that the PNP had used in their 72 electioneering; while ‘Jah Kingdom Gone To Waste’ referred to middle-class balladeer Ernie Smith’s 76 hit ‘And As We Fight One Another Fe De Power And De Glory Jah Kingdom Goes To Waste’ - a track used by the JLP throughout their 76 campaign. Rastafarianism was well aware of how its motifs, language, customs, costume and music could be used for political ends - in 76 Bob Marley’s ‘Rat Race’ ("Political violence fill ya city/ Don't involve Rasta in your say-say"). Also Jacob Miller’s ‘Roman Soldiers Of Babylon’ ("Coming from the North/ with their pockets full of ammunition/ try to turn dreadlocks into politician" - referring to the JLP’s alleged importing of weaponry from the US) warned of politrickal reappropriation. But then one of the biggest rasta-hits of 76, Neville Martin’s ‘The Message’ came out firmly (with ‘heavy manners’) in favour of the PNP.

As the election campaign ensued and grew more and more suffused in gang-related gun-violence and chaos, reggae music and the island’s biggest star couldn’t avoid getting embroiled. The ghettos of Kingston, their shops empty, their infrastructure crumbling and poverty rife, had more guns, more gangs, more shootings than ever - deadly centuries-old enmities between families and tribes playing out under the PNP/JLP conflict in a barrage of block-to-block bloodshed and warfare.

Political arrests and imprisonments, and allegations of foreign arms funnelling from the CIA to the JLP, stoked the fires and resentment. Manley, ostensibly in an attempt to placate warring PNP/JLP factions co-opted Bob Marley’s idea of a free apolitical event, the ‘Smile Jamaica’ concert, and together with Marley set it to take place on December 5 at the National Heroes Park in Kingston. Marley was to headline but on December 3, two days before the event, his wife and his manager Don Taylor were wounded in an assault by three unknown gunmen at their home - an assassination attempt many suspected had political motivations (the Smile Concert was widely suspected as a purely pro-Manley support-rally).

After the PNP won the election the violence subsided briefly, only to return in the ensuing years with a frightening new level of fatality and force. Because Bob Marley is such a massive figure in reggae music and Jamaica’s history, the part he played in the 76 election (undoubtedly the Smile concert helped Manley’s cause, despite Marley’s discomfort with politicians) and the moment he bought Seaga and Manley together to shake hands during the One Love Peace Concert in 78 (his first Jamaican performance since the Smile concert) have become epochal moments in reggae history, proof of the man’s bravery and spirit. Marley is amenable to a version of reggae history that likes the big dramatic moments of sanctimony, the kind of direct messianic reaction and response that Bono and Geldof and others would try and make their own in the subsequent decade.

However, as listeners, if we want to point ourselves towards records that explored precisely the conditions in Jamaica in 1976, we’d do well to avoid such figureheads, frontmen, demagogues. I’d focus more on three albums, two by vocal groups, one by a total eccentric, that for me perfectly encapsulate the myriad tensions, traumas and hopes of that generation of young Jamaicans. The Mighty Diamonds' Right Time is perhaps 76’s sweetest yet sharpest transmission from the island, thanks in no small part to Donald ‘Tabby’ Shaw’s gorgeous vocals. The aching lilt was forged through the group's utter adoration of US soul and old doo-wop, and makes Right Time a poignant, deeply moving document of a nation under siege from within, falling apart at the seams.

Formed in the late 60s, the Diamonds as they were originally known, were welders, policemen, soldiers, united by a love of the Manhattans, Stylistics and O’Jays, playing talent shows and gigs, recording first for ska-veterans Rupie Edwards and Stranger Cole on their nascent reggae imprints in the early 70s, hooking up with Bunny Lee and Jah Lloyd (who gets a credit , and finally finding a real home at Channel One and releasing their first hit ‘Shame & Pride’ in 73. Backing vocal work for Lee Scratch Perry also pushed the Diamonds onwards (it’s them providing the b-vox on Susan Cadogan’s ‘Hurt So Good’) - by 74 they’d already started dropping the covers and writing their own material and it’s these self-penned songs that form the bulk of Right Time.

Also crucial to the record’s writing process was the instrumental innovations of session men Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Joseph ‘JoJo’ Hoo Kim, who had set up Channel One Records, gave Sly & Robbie the creative freedom to come up with a totally new sound for reggae, Dunbar in particular adding clipped snare sounds, skittering cymbals and double rim-shots to traditional one-drop beats to create the definitive, almost proto-disco roots reggae rockers-rhythm pulse. The run of hits the rechristened Mighty Diamonds scored in 75 and 76 are what makes up most of Right Time and it has that all-killer no-filler tight singles-compilation vibe to it. These are pop songs, exquisitely detailed, beautifully performed, but with a hell of a lot to say - the mellifluity of the vocals only accentuating the depth of the messages. Many people will first hear Right Time as simply a gorgeous suite of pop - when you dig into the words behind those sublime hooks you apprehend this music’s political bite and weary, wary range.

The title track kicks things off in no doubt that these are tough times, men finding themselves with their "back against the wall", the right time the moment when things "go bitter... some a go charge fe treason... fe arson... fe murder", the chorus grimly predicting that "when the law man come, some a go run till dem tumble down/ When the Parson come, him a go quote de scripture/ Swallow Field a go be in a the battlefield". ‘Why Me Black Brother Why’ laments the lawlessness that by 76 was tearing Jamaica apart, the violence towards women, the voice that calls you to "pick up your guns and go to town/ See your black brother and shoot him down". All of this is delivered by Shaw with hugely plaintive effect, a lyrical eye well aware of horror but a singing voice that almost brings hope and defiance to life with every syllable.

Right Time throughout is an irrefutably moral document - it calls sides, it declares truth, it insists on peace, and it wraps up its conscious message within some of the most hypnotically hookiest Jamaican pop music ever. ‘Them Never Love Poor Marcus’ nails those who’d betray and then exploit Garvey’s legacy for their own ends, ‘Gnashing Of Teeth’ rains fire and brimstone down on those unprepared for Armageddon. ‘Go Seek Your Rights’ insists on unity and compassion ("there comes a time in the life of every man/ When you’ve got to face reality" sings Shaw with a falsetto worthy of Smokey) and the utterly stunning ‘I Need A Roof’ laments the housing & poverty crisis faced by Jamaica’s forgotten underclass in a direct way none of the political parties could get close to. When the MDs stop proselytising and simply sing about love the songs (‘Shame And Pride’, ‘Have Mercy’) are no less wonderful - and you can really hear how Shaw’s vocals would influence so many singers, not just in reggae, but in UK pop for the next decade. Throughout, Joe Joe’s Channel One arrangements, Tommy McCook’s tenor-sax and of course, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace’s diamond-tight drums seal a masterpiece

Virgin by now had signed the Mighty Diamonds, initially purely to distribute Right Time abroad. A tour of the UK in 76 allowed the MDs to be seen by fledgling UK groups like Aswad, Steel Pulse and Black Uhuru, proving massively inspirational to the growing UK homegrown reggae scene. Alongside fellow traveller U-Roy they dodged thrown tomatoes and eggs at the 76 Reading Festival - soon however, Virgin attempted to take Mighty Diamonds away from their Channel One base, forcing them to record in New Orleans, and then at Compass Point in the Bahamas in order to eliminate Channel One from the picture altogether, and keep that money flowing into Virgin’s coffers alone. The music that resulted suffered from this typically British attempt to realign original black music closer to more dependable and traditional modes of production but 40 years on Right Time should recover its place as a roots-reggae classic, absolutely essential to any understanding of the political, lyrical and musical complexities of mid-70s Jamaican culture. If you don’t know, get to know.

The PNP had used Max Romeo’s music in the 1972 election, namely his ‘Let The Power Fall’ track from his PNP-boosting 71 album of the same name. Romeo, like many reggae artists had moved from rural poverty to urban struggle in his youth and after 10 years of post-independence rule by the conservative JLP was firmly in support of Manley and the PNP in 72. He’d certainly not started as a firebrand - his early notoriety, especially in the UK, rested on his breakthrough hit, 1968’s ‘Wet Dream’. Despite Romeo’s rather lame claims that it was about a leaky roof, lines like ‘Give the crumpet to Big Foot Joe/ give the fanny to me’ left most broadcasters in no doubt as to its lyrical intent, the BBC playing it twice by accident before instructing Radio 1 DJs to only refer to the song when doing chart rundowns as ‘a record by Max Romeo’ (interviewed in 2007 Romeo admitted that the ‘devil made me write it’ before insisting that he ‘single-handedly started the sexual revolution’).

After the PNP’s victory in 72 he released ‘No Joshua No’, an open musical letter to Manley (usually referred to by his nickname Joshua by supporters) and a plea to not forget the poor, that depending on who you believe, actually influenced Manley’s programmes of social reform. The political disappointments of that first Manley administration drove Romeo back to his gospel and devotional roots - by 75, still firmly ensconced with long-time associate and former employer Lee Perry, albums like Revelation Time collated Romeo’s dread-gospel singles he’d recorded with a variety of producers. It was only a matter of time though before Romeo’s agit-prop sense would be reanimated.

The 76 election was conducted under an air of economic bedlam for Jamaica - IMF interference, oil embargoes and worldwide recession only fanning the flames of anger and riotous despair. As JLP agitators attempted to make the island ungovernable (check out Marlon James’ utterly compelling A Brief History Of Seven Killings for a scintillating Ellroy-esque narrative about Jamaica’s 1976 intrigues and incursions), Romeo, like the Diamonds, released a stunning set of singles that returned him to political commentary with acute and timely effect.

‘Sipple Out Deh’ (originally called ‘Dread Out There’ but changed under Scratch’s suggestion that ‘Sipple’ - i.e. slippery - would be a better word) in its original 7” Jamaican incarnation is a FEVERISH record, simmering with heat, flickering with tension. It impressed Island Records’ boss Chris Blackwell so much that he commissioned Scratch to record an entire album’s worth of material from Romeo, including his other 1975 singles like the mournfully bleak ‘One Step Forward’ and stepper classic ‘Chase The Devil’ (as sampled by the Prodigy on ‘Out Of Space’ and by Kanye for Jay-Z’s ‘Lucifer’). Often, re-recordings for Western labels deodorize the unmannered into the palatable (and I still prefer the original version of ‘Sipple Out Deh’) but Scratch’s production work on War Inna Babylon, the album that emerged, is I think perhaps the highpoint of his career, the perfect mix between Black Ark’s unshakeable swampiness, ravishing state-of-the-art production and world-dominating hooks. ‘One Step Forward’ sees the Upsetters announce themselves, one of the tightest, sharpest, loosest, most sublimely hypnotic bands in history - Romeo’s lyrics ratcheting up the sense of 76’s suspicion and impending doom -

”One day, you are dreadlocks
Well dread, next day you are ballin' cliche
Are you a commercialized, grabbing at the cash-backs?
This is a time of decision - tell me, what is your plan?
Straight is the road that leads to destruction
The road to righteousness is narrow
Vindictive feelings enter feeling, the truth is a fact
tell me are you a con man or are you a dreadlocks?”

No accident that Romeo’s words would find such echo in the UK in 76, a country also going through its own political turmoil, although the reviews at the time tread an uneasy line between praise and wariness of full solidarity with such a foreign culture. Mick Farren in the NME mixed acclaim with a queasy sense of his own cultural baggage:

“ of the hardest records in that particular combination of spiritual/social that makes up West Indian new politics, to come out of JA in a while. And that's precisely why I find it impossible to write about it. You think that's a copout? Okay, but I don't see how any white boy can really write about this kind of overt militant reggae. It doesn't matter how good a crusading radical you are, how many dubs you got in your collection, how much herb you get through or how many of your best friends are n*ggers. Your background is Babylon, your upbringing is Babylon, and you yourself are a tiny piece of Babylon. We don't see the thing through the same eyes. That doesn't mean you can't get off, though. The learning process is, after all, designed simply to get you further.”
(NME review, June 1976)

The gorgeous ‘Uptown Babies’ takes snapshots of kids in the street, selling papers and ice-creams before skewering the reasons for such industriousness - hunger, poverty, the fear that happens when a walk down the street means strolling through a war-zone.

“Uptown babies don’t cry they don’t know what hungry is like
they don’t know what suffering is like
they have mummy and daddy, lots of toys to play with
nanny and granny, lots of friends to stay with”

Despite Farren’s doubts, I doubt anyone human couldn’t have their hearts broken by this song, and underneath the hooks and heartache there’s Marcia Griffith’s beautiful b-vox and the Upsetters always on point, rotating like Can, staying put on the groove like no-one else. Despite familiarity, ‘Chase The Devil’ is still just mighty, and the title track takes ‘Sipple Out Deh’ and focuses it, lets the song grow from its island-origin until it takes on a global weight and focus.

First time I owned the album on vinyl I simply couldn’t get past this first side, so perfect is it, so brilliantly controlled are Scratch’s production touches, the phased hi-hats and kick-drum drop-outs, his genius marshalling of all this wonder. Once I had got over that addiction and flipped it the 2nd side revealed even more glories - ‘Norman’ and its glittering neon depiction of aspiration, greed and high-rolling criminality (with some of Scratch’s most brilliant musical ideas, the flute and piano in particular); the meta-gospel of ‘Stealin’ and its incisive spearing of religious hypocrisy; the stealth and suggestiveness of ‘Tan And See’; the weed-infused dance-anthem ‘Smokey Room’ (that psych-flute back and banging) and the closer ‘Smile Out Of Style’ seeing things out in a mood that tightropes both anger and resignation. ("Smile out of style/ laugh on the wars you face back in town/ don’t blame the children/ blame the teachers.")

War Inna Babylon is often seen, before the Heptone’s superb Party Time and Junior Murvin’s Police And Thieves (both from the following year, 1977) as the first part of Scratch’s ‘Black Ark Holy Trinity’. I see it, and still hear it, as superior to both and, like Right Time an album absolutely essential to understand where Jamaican music was at in 76 and where it had been until 76. Crucially you can’t just hear Jamaica’s problems in the album’s grooves and words - you can hear a whole world of havoc being reflected, resisted, raged against. It still sounds accurate to anywhere that people are getting destroyed by their rulers, hence its feel of sharp timeliness right now in the UK. If it’s not in your racks, you’re simply bereft. Own it as soon as you can.

Where War Inna Babylon, because of Scratch’s presence, still registers peripherally in some curators overviews of the era The Gladiators’ Trenchtown Mix Up, like Right Time seems to have entirely slipped off the radar. Like the Diamonds, the Gladiators had been going for a decade before their greatest album was created. Like the Diamonds, the Gladiators were a pop group who were entirely fearless of addressing the political realities of 1976, shifting their lyrical content to address the contemporary chaos. The vocal trio had met on a building site in 1967 where they were all working as masons, a building site in Washington Gardens right next to Lee Perry’s house (another mason onsite, incidentally, was Nicky ‘Love Of The Common People’ Thomas, another two were Stephen Taylor and Leonard Dillon who’d go on to score hits as The Ethiopians starting with ‘Train To Skaville’ in 67).

The fledgling Gladiators, led by singer and guitarist Albert Griffiths, moved from singing while they worked to getting studio time together at Coxson’s hitmaking factory at Studio One, scoring a hit with ‘Hello Carol’ in 68, staying at number one in the JA charts for 7 weeks. The Gladiators went on to have a steady run of hits from 68-75 with Studio One, their singles so damn hot record shops wouldn’t allow punters to buy a copy unless they bought another less-desirable single alongside it (a common money-hungry tactic). It was the Gladiators’ hooking up with the shadowy, part-legendary figure of ‘Prince’ Tony Robinson that led to the creation of Trenchtown Mix Up, essentially a collection of re-rubbed old hits and new songs for 76, picked up and released by Virgin. Robinson wasn’t just a producer, he managed the Gladiators with a hustler’s energy, encouraging the band to cut covers of old Wailers tunes much to Griffith’s anger (“He wanted us to be imitators not originators” said Griffiths in a 78 NME interview with Penny Reel - their corking and caustic 77 hit ‘Pocket Money’ is directly about Robinson).

Trenchtown Mix Up works precisely because it is a mix up of the band’s history and their response to the febrile 76 present, but a mix-up in which you can’t see the joins, in which everything flows together as if written in the same moment. The old songs sound mighty thanks to Robinson’s smart incorporation of additional bassist Lloyd Parks and drummer Sly Dunbar into the set-up during recording at Joe Gibbs’ studio. The new clarity of recording brought to those old numbers brings out the unique call and response nature of the Gladiators vocals, what guitarist Clinton Fearon called a ‘question-and-answer’ harmony, very reminiscent of gospel, making each song a process of steady revelation, an almost Baptist-like back'n forth of exquisite falsetto, faintly dubbed by Robinson in all the right places.

The Marley-covers Robinson insisted upon are superb and to this listener entirely eclipse the originals - ‘Soul Rebel’ exploding with a murderous thump and ‘Rude Boy Ska’ seeing the album out on a singalong riot of dancefloor-directed celebration. So far, so great but it’s the new songs written by Griffiths specifically for the album that elevate Trenchtown Mix Up to something beyond, that for me make it the most solid stone-cold masterpiece JA gave us in 76. Griffiths was always a unique songwriter, mystic, metaphorical, stringing parables together with proverbs and folkloric phrases. In his original songs for Mix Up he doesn’t target specifics, name names, or didactically push a political agenda, rather he paints a picture of a society riven with suspicion, rumour, gossip, backchat - a society quick to judge, a society of lawlessness where order has been derelicted by the state and only unity can bring salvation, a unity that takes on the utopian aura of heaven, a utopia you know Griffiths can’t entirely believe in. It’s the documentarian eye and the poetic pen of Griffiths that drives the best songs.

Already, on the album’s opener, ‘Mix Up’, a searingly hot recut of their ‘Bongo Red’ single from 74, Griffiths kicks the whole album off with the beautifully balanced and hesitant line: ”I-man don't like to get mix up/ By pushing me mouth in something I can't prove." The track really a journey with Griffiths as he walks out of his house and down the street as we see what he sees: “So I take a walk from 6th street... trying to prove something, going to the bottom of 8th street and from corner to corner you can hear the youth dem a shout." And all the while Dunbar and Parks turning up the heat, letting that hair-trigger-tension build. On ‘Bellyful’ Griffiths sees the rice that won’t fill him up, the fires that can’t be put out, the prey-birds battling in the forest, all as indicative of irresolvable conflict, all as portents of an impending ‘bangarang’, chaos, disorder, bedlam: “Then everyone will see, who a de Gorgon/ An' everyone will see, who a de hero/ For when the rice won't swell man belly nah go full."

There’s no sunshine in the Gladiators’ darkest songs, they’re nighttime entities, weakly lit, minor-keys throughout - Griffiths, Fearon and bassist Dallimore Sutherland making the rumbling undertow remorseless, ominous, thick with fear, side-eyes scanning the edges. ‘Looks Is Deceiving’ sees Griffiths’ announcing his method before the song starts (“It gwine red down here in Babylon/ so let me give it to ya in a parable”) - the track unfolding as a series of proverbs (“Goat never know the use of him tail till the butcher cut it off”) that coalesce into an ‘ornery message warning against judgement. Throughout the album the songs are allowed to breath, the moments where the three voices step off and the band are just allowed to swim in the smoking grooves they’re cooking up providing perfect counterpoint to the lyrical density and heaviness.

The retro-rocksteady of ‘Chatty Chatty Mouth’ appears to nail political blowhards from both sides of the spectrum (“Your boss is a warrior/ Chatty mouth you are a traitor/ You both belittle the humble/ also fight against the meek”) while promising holy vengeance, always delivered in sweet hooks and cadences. It’s that balance, the metaphorical harshness of the words coupled with the sheer melodic bliss of the harmonies, that makes Trenchtown Mix Up such an instant joy and so slow-burning in its revelatory impact. ‘Eli Eli’ (a hook based on Christ’s lamentations from the cross "Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani") is perhaps the most melodic song here, a song in which you’ll bust a gut trying to match Griffiths’ vocals, a song whose plea for unity takes on extra weight and poignancy when you realise it’s a plea issued in the midst of the cataclysms of 76:

“We all are one brothers, we all are one sisters
we all are one blood so let’s talk about love and forget envity
if Jah can forgive us then why can’t we forgive one another?”

The centrepiece of the whole album and the track that for this listener is perhaps the greatest of all reggae music in 1976 is ‘Hearsay’. Listen to the first 12 seconds of it. Pure doomsday. A drum fill that sounds like a drawing of shattered breath before this juggernaut of a groove trundles out over your skull and then here’s Griffiths, sidling up, right in your ear, delivering a menacing take-down of shit-stirrers and liars as Sly chops and punches the anger out of his system and out onto his kit.

“Remember this little saying that ‘bush have ears’
pick sense out of nonsense you’ll get the answer
Bush don’t have ears my friend but someone may be in it”

And here the band really clamp down, grab your lapels, push you against the wall, Griffiths almost snarling in your face:

“hearing what you have said about your brothers
hearing what you have said about your sisters
hearing how you have made your own confession
hearing what you have done in the past/ for every secret sin must reveal”

The repeated ‘hearing’ lines make you feel like you’ve been watched, like you’ve been found out, nowhere to run to nowhere to hide - before Griffiths deals the killer blow: “so if you don’t know what a gwan/ keep your mouth shut and don’t say a word y’all’. Between the word ‘gwan’ and the word ‘keep’ he slips in a little falsetto ‘oooh yeah’ that makes that last line drop with planet-sized heaviness. There’s nothing quite as dread, as scalpel-sharp, as heavy and hard-hitting as ‘Hearsay’ in ANY music from 76. It’s a track that grabbed me the moment I heard it, that still charges the synapses with vigilance, sounds the crack of doom every time I’ve heard it since. After ‘Hearsay’ the album issues two last pleas amidst the old songs and covers, ‘Know Yourself Mankind’ takes a look around and breaks it down simply over more mournful minor-keys:

“Our beautiful country have turned into battlefield
Ev'ry day, yeah, is rumours of war
Remember what Marcus have said
Man a go know themselves, when dem back is against the wall
This is 1976
we don't want no more war”

‘Thief In The Night’ sounds almost-vintage, a rocksteady ballad-cum-lullaby that tucks you in and hopes you can forget the nightmares of wakefulness, Griffiths again walking a lyrical line somewhere between mystic visionary and apocalyptic prophet: “the time is near... can't you see that his hand is writing upon the wall... you shall see signs and wonders... two shall be let sleeping and one, one shall be taken away... but small as a flea is in a oppressor colla... watch and pray for I shall come like a thief in the night." And even before the album has faded out you’re flipping it over and putting it on again. And again. And again. Trenchtown Mix Up is one of the most unjustly forgotten, totally addictive albums JA ever gave us. Remedy its absence from your life, if it is absent from your life, immediately.

There was a brief respite in the violence after Manley and the PNP won the 76 election. Soon after though economic and social conditions, and the ongoing vicious enmity between PNP and JLP combatants saw Jamaica once again returned to a cycle of violence and hatred that reached its apotheosis in the even-more bloodstained 1980 election campaign. For those that rose and survived through 76 the harvest was a bitter one. Throughout reggae history you are confronted repeatedly by the brute fact that the genii who made so much incredible music from such a tiny island were left frequently unrewarded, fucked over by record companies both here and there, ignored in reissue campaigns, unpaid by reissue labels, even as those labels were supposedly set up by and catered for reggae aficionados.

In 76, the Mighty Diamonds, The Gladiators and Max Romeo all delivered their finest work and were then confronted with the real choice of leaving, or staying. The Diamonds’ attempts at global appeal were mismanaged by Virgin, Max Romeo had a giant falling-out with Scratch and never recaptured his 76 heights, the Gladiators responded to Tony Robinson’s attempts to make them crossover by digging their heels in and staying put. Reggae of course would continue to exert a massive influence over black british music but interest in it from pop’s official curators has waned the further we get away from those figureheads the narrative finds so easy to process - because the rock-critical narrative over here is that reggae is essentially homogenous, it’s become acceptable to kick it safely into touch with a few necessary documents.

I can only suggest that these three 40 year old albums should be remembered in 2016, and strongly advise you follow the trails all three of these masterpieces leave in their wake, both in Jamaica but also in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Coventry - they represent what for many of us, who were introduced to this music via friends, big sisters, big brothers, blues and sound systems, remains a high point in Jamaican music, a zenith of political incisiveness, of playing, of poetry, a zenith of beauty in reggae music. Let’s mark those anniversaries that matter, that still make you feel and think and shake your perceptions and suggest further exploration, rather than those canonical dead texts that shut down that exploration, that safely summate an era for the purposes of filing and ordering. Just two reggae albums in the best 500 ever made? What Jamaica was creating in 76 should be seen as a high flashpoint in 70s music, not a footnote, as important and influential as punk, as disco, as hip hop. We’ve got war in babylon right fuckin’ now. The right time to mix it up again.


Reggae With A South Georgia Twist

When it comes to chart-topping Reggae, most people think of steel drums and Jamaica. But with a local band having an album recently debuting at No. 4 on the worldwide iTunes Reggae Chart, people might start thinking of South Georgia and a saxophone.

Yamadeo, a four-piece rock/reggae band from the Thomasville/Tallahassee, Florida, area, emerged onto the music scene seven years ago. According to the band’s online biography, its music, initially, was just a fun way “to score ladies and free booze” at Valdosta State University (VSU).

In an area where Southern Rock dominated, the group’s mix of reggae and hip hop was different than what crowds were used to hearing and was well received.

“We realized pretty early that our music was unique,” said Brannen Goldman, 28, of Pelham, who founded Yamadeo with his brother, Ben.

Goldman said Yamadeo is part of “a new American Reggae movement that is really popular in the West and is moving east.”

“We play a fusion of several modern genres, including Reggae and punk,” he said.

The brothers soon realized they were on to something with great potential and decided to take the band in a more professional direction.

In 2010, the brothers added VSU Jazz Ensemble member and saxophone player TK Edmondson of Valdosta and drummer Bobby Boyd of Thomasville. According to the band’s bio, “After the four were all finally in the same room, the chemistry was undeniable and the band’s lineup was set. Within months, they were already in the studio to record their first release ‘People Get Crazy EP.’

Upon college graduation in 2011, the band decided to relocate to Tallahassee to take advantage of the improved music scene, venues and major universities that the town has to offer. By late 2012, the band was back working with engineer Lee Dyess (Mayday Parade, From First to Last) at Earthsound Studios to record its first full-length album “Doin’ It.”

Its 2016 release, “Follow the Sun,” debuted and peaked at No. 4 on the worldwide iTunes Reggae Albums Chart. That was followed by a video release for the album’s first feel-good single, “Cigarillos.”

Today, the band is grinding out more than shows per year and touring all over the southeastern United States.

The band has shared the stage, at several sold-out shows, with some of the biggest names in music, including Bob Marley’s band The Wailers, as well as the Dirty Heads and Rebelution. Yamadeo has also headlined its own successful tours.

Yamadeo is currently booking festivals and venues across the country and continues to extend its reach to a wider audience.

The band’s last show was the JGB Rockfest at St. George Island, Florida. Its next show is Thursday at the Bricks at Jacksonville Beach, Florida. On May 23, Yamadeo will perform with The Wailers and Sway Jah Vu at The Side Bar in Tallahassee.


Chronixx Performs At Coachella 2016

Chronixx brought the sun kissed warmth and soulful roots reggae of Jamaica to his debut set Saturday at the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival. Under the scorching heat at the Outdoor Theatre, an early festival crowd gathered. Some were seated comfortably on blankets and others stood, jumping up and down with their hands in the air as Chronixx yelled out “Coachella do you love reggae?”
Jamar Chronixx McNaughton, the 23-year-old from Spanish Town Jamaica, moved through the set with ease, and sang hit songs off his "Dread and Terrible" album including the massive crossover hit "Here Comes Trouble" and "Capture Land."
There was no shortage of reggae enthusiasts among the festival goers, who knew many of the lyrics and sang along. For a moment I was transported back to the Caribbean and forgot I was on Southern California soil as the crowd lifted their hands to the air and bounced to the rhythmic flow of roots reggae.
As Chronixx led the way moving his hands left to right during the hit song "Here Comes Trouble,"  the crowd mimicked the action and sang in unison"Left- right Jah soldiers ah' come, left -right."  Chronixx brought the audience, to a slow sway with "Queen Majesty"  and the popular "Smile Jamaica."
Special guest Proteje brought fire to the stage with "Who Knows" and Chronixx performed harmoniously with his fellow Jamaican reggae artist. "Big up mi brother Protege, Coachella what you say," he sang out in pace with the melody. Chronixx closed the set with telltale Caribbean air horn sound and a chant out to "blaze up the fire"
As the set closed and the Coachella crowd continued to sing "what a bam bam." One millennial, standing far left from the stage held a Jamaican flag over his head, the green and gold banner flapped in a much- needed breeze.
"We love reggae," he shouted.
That sounds about right for a Chronixx debut set.
Earlier this week before his Weekend Two Coachella performance I spoke to Chronixx about music, what inspires him and what it means to be at the forefront of what many are calling a reggae revival.
TDS. How did Coachella come about?
Chronixx: I can't really say, not sure of (all the logistics). I always view these things as purposeful and something that was always meant to happen. We give thanks whenever these thing manifest. It’s very humbling and we give thanks and are very grateful to be invited to places like Coachella at this stage in our musical journey.
TDS :How did your career and love for music begin?
C: Growing up in the musical environment and growing up and seeing one of the persons you respect the most and love the most doing music helped to create a certain love and respect for the art from when I was a little youth (His father is Chronicle--a Jamaican musician) and it was born over time naturally. And in Jamaica there are a lot of opportunities for you to come about being introduced to music. There was school, there was church and home just bare music and there was always music.
TDS : So I grew up in Guyana and listening to music from Peter Tosh and Bob Marley and Tracy Champman because that’s the music my parents played. And I feel like those lyrics helped to shape my life. How has the Rastafarian culture shaped your music. For people here who may not know a lot about the culture of reggae music, explain the Rasta influence on music?
C: Rastafari have a lot to do with the consciousness that is encrypted in the music and each song has lyrics that carry a level of consciousness and spirituality and love of Rastafari. So our  music becomes a new gospel and a new avenue through which people can access another height of consciousness.
TDS: Speaking of consciousness your music is deliberately conscious with its lyrics about love, social justice and freedom. What motivates you to sing about what you sing about?
C: Simply because I believe my art should reflect how I feel as a human being and troddin' through creation in this time. It is what comes naturally to me and it is what I feel my contribution to humanity should be be, songs like these, words like these.
TDS: You’re doing a lot of collaborations. What makes you want to fuse your music with other artists from different genres too. Like you have a song with Joey Bada$$.
C: There is a lot of good music right now in the world music space and a lot of these people I would love to make music with them and it’s just a matter of time because  whenever I connect with another artist who I respect their art it’s always easy no matter the musical genre or background. New genres and new cultures. Every collaboration should be a collaboration of cultures and continents and peoples.
TDS: OK so is there someone in the near future you’re hoping to collaborate with? Throw out a name for me.
C: Stephen Marley. He’s one my favorite artist. Salaam Remi, I like Esperanza Spalding and Emilie King. There are a lot of people who I think are really talented at this moment.
TDS: People have called your entrance on the music scene reggae revival. Do you see it that way?
C : Yes it’s definitely a reggae revival. I think people should take the time for themselves to learn the music and not just look at what’s happening in the culture or what the headlines portray. It’s really important to learn the culture from an intimate level so we can know for certain what’s happening in our musical space.
TDS: What do you want people to know and hope they remember your music for?
C : Right now, I would like to know that our music is a source of  introducing consciousness into time and space and I would love it if our music could be appreciated as a clear and true expression of what is happening in the modern era and what is happening in our society and culture in the truest way because I believe one of the greatest purposes of any artist is to reflect the times and what is happening. Any music that makes it out there in the public space it should impact that culture and it should play a role in where the culture should go next and I would love it if the music I was chosen to make and so blessed to make was one of those things that helped to drive our culture and  humanity at large forward.

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