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Sunday, 12 January 2014 23:00

Getting Started With Deep Roots Reggae

Geek obsession: Roots reggae

Why it’s daunting: With the death of Junior Murvin in December, reggae lost one of its most influential voices. But the subgenre of roots reggae also lost a prime mover. After coming into existence in the early ’70s, roots reggae rode a rising tide of political and spiritual consciousness—particularly in regard to the Rastafarian faith—that ran counter to the more romantic air of its immediate predecessor, rocksteady. Roots reggae dug deeper, both thematically and sonically, directly addressing poverty, brutality, and Rasta culture with a sparser, darker sound that evolved parallel to dub—to the point where the two became inseparably intertwined. But roots reggae, in spite of its experimentation with the concept of studio-as-instrument, remained primarily a singer-songwriter’s domain. And while Bob Marley became roots’ most visible and bankable icon by far, his legend and fame continues to overshadow multitudes of worthy artists like Murvin—who together not only influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to The Clash to Jay Z, but also unleashed a flood of recordings that have attained the status of classics. If any one subgenre of reggae spawned the stereotypical complaint that “it all sounds the same,” it’s roots. But once that gross misconception is swept away, a broad and consistently underappreciated spectrum of roots emerges, from the aching and ethereal to the brooding and revolutionary.

Possible gateway: Various Artists, Rockers soundtrack

Why: Dozens of roots reggae anthologies have been compiled since the subgenre’s ’70s heyday, but none can compete with the soundtrack to Rockers. The film (and accompanying album) came out in 1979, and it encapsulates roots just as it was about to give way to the more upbeat sound of ’80s dancehall. Taken together, the songs and artists featured on the record provide just as vivid a snapshot of Jamaican culture as does the film. Along with fierce tracks from Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer—both solo artists after spending formative years harmonizing with Marley in The Wailers—are songs from rising stars like Jacob Miller (both solo and with the band he fronted, Inner Circle) and Gregory Isaacs. But towering figures such as Murvin and Burning Spear and also appear, in addition to the rocksteady-turned-roots outfit The Heptones, which lends a righteous gravitas to the album that’s only grown over the decades. Murvin’s contribution, “Police And Thieves,” became known to a wider audience after being covered by The Clash—but there’s no beating the keening, hymnal, Curtis Mayfield-esque power of the original.

Next steps: Even if “Chase The Devil” were the only song Max Romeo had ever recorded, he would have been recorded in the annals of roots as a singer of prophetic resonance. Luckily, he released much more than that—and the album “Chase The Devil” appears on, 1976’s War Ina Babylon, stands as one of roots’ major works. Produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry at his studio Black Ark, War Ina Babylon is part of what would become known as his “holy trinity” of albums (the others being Junior Murvin’s Police And Thieves and The Heptones’ Party Time)—a hat trick that cemented Perry’s stature as a roots architect (that is, when he wasn’t being a roots astronaut). But it’s Romeo’s supple yet authoritative vocals (as well as the superb backing by Black Ark’s house band, The Upsetters) that turn Perry’s atmospheric, effects-laden production and make War Ina Babylon far more than the sum of its rhythm and voice.

Although not officially considered part of Perry’s “holy trinity,” The Congos’ Heart Of The Congos is one of Black Ark’s most stunning productions. Saturated in echo and shadow, the 1977 album nonetheless manages to straddle everything from bleak, end-times testimony to melancholy lamentation to relatively breezy and uplifting tracks like “Solid Foundation.” As if the group’s trio of poignant yet steely singers needed any assistance, fellow roots legends The Heptones and Gregory Isaacs provide backup, forming a thick, rich layer of harmony that oozes from the songs like molasses.

There’s a deceptive brightness to Culture’s 1977 album Two Sevens Clash—a friendly, inviting sunniness that conceals a militant Rastafarianism and iron core of passionate idealism. It’s no wonder the punk movement that reached full steam in England the same year drew so much inspiration from it. The album’s apocalyptic undercurrent doesn’t hurt, either—but rather than sounding condemnatory, Two Sevens Clash is a celebration in the face of imminent Armageddon. It’s also one of many winning productions by Joe Gibbs (a former partner of Perry better known for his lighter rocksteady work) and Errol Thompson, who produced together under the name The Mighty Two.

Many roots artists preached in broad terms and big ideas. Others, like Mighty Diamonds, made it more personal. On Right Time, the trio’s 1976 debut, a more humble, intimate, and everyday approach to roots helped make the group one of the first of the subgenre’s commercial hopefuls following the breakout success of Bob Marley. In particular, the album’s highlight, “I Need A Roof,” addresses homelessness and hunger in a way that cuts through all the sermonizing, right to the nerve of how it feels to be in need. That doesn’t mean Right Time skimps on outrage, critiques of violence, or biblical portent. But the way it translates social consciousness into soulful entreaty is nothing less than heartrending.

Bob Marley is roots’ greatest exemplar—and its greatest exemption. But before he became a household name (and a veritable messiah to some) around the globe, he and his Wailers made Catch A Fire. Let loose in 1973, the album is Marley’s first fully mature work, a statement of strength and intent that harnessed the heavy sounds and sentiments of roots while overtly appealing to mainstream rock audiences. Within a year of its release, fellow Wailers founders Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh would leave the group to go solo. But their synergy with Marley on Catch A Fire marks the point at which roots reggae turned from a spark into a flame.

Where not to start: Many great roots artists continued making solid music well into the ’80s (and beyond). By and large, though, roots became lighter and less adventurous after the aggressive stance and striking innovation of the ’70s had faded. With that in mind, 1979 stands, not only as the release date of Rockers, but also a rule-of-thumb benchmark of the subgenre’s apotheosis; it’s best to save post-’70s roots for later exploration. And as much as Lee “Scratch” Perry is essential to the sound and spirit of roots, very little of his prodigious output, even in the ’70s, falls squarely in the roots camp—partly because he’s always been more of a mastermind than a deep, melodic roots singer. When getting acquainted with roots, it’s better to look for Perry’s name in the production credits than on the front of the album.

Published in General Reggae News
Thursday, 21 November 2013 23:00

Jamaica Earns World Heritage Committee Seat

Jamaica has been elected to the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, for the first time.

At the elections in Paris on Tuesday, Jamaica received more votes than Angola for a seat on the important Committee which decides whether a property is inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, who led the lobby for support of Jamaica's candidacy for membership of the Committee, described the vote as historic, important and well deserved.

"I am elated that we won our bid for membership of the World Heritage Committee. It was a difficult lobby, but we never relented as a seat at this table has exponential benefits to our country for the future as we are positioning culture as a pillar for growth. So in that respect, we can say mission accomplished.

"But the work to promote and protect our heritage continues. As a member of the World Heritage Committee, Jamaica will represent the interests of small-island developing states that are not very well represented, or in our case, not represented at all, on the list of World Heritage Sites."

 

CONSISTENT EFFORTS

 

The election to the committee for the first time was due to the consistent lobbying efforts of the Jamaican Embassy in Brussels, the Jamaica National Commission for UNESCO, the Ministry of Youth and Culture and Hanna's overtures at the recent UNESCO General Conference.

Jamaica's membership to the Committee will run until 2017. The country will be represented by Vivian Crawford and Dr Janice Lindsay. Other countries represented on the Committee are Croatia, Finland, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Vietnam and Turkey.

"This is a historic day for our country, as Jamaica has never had a property inscribed as a world heritage site despite our culture and heritage being revered by the globe," said Hanna.

She asked all Jamaicans to keep interested as the progress continues.

Jamaica has applied for the Blue and John Crow Mountains to be inscribed on the World Heritage List and will begin preparing a dossier for Port Royal's nomination to the list. Jamaica will also be putting a case for reggae music to be inscribed on the Intangible Heritage List.

Published in General Reggae News
Monday, 21 October 2013 00:00

Reggae Meets Jazz and Tropicalia

"On the Move" is the 2nd full-length album by Jersey City-based group Kiwi, a masterful and joyful celebration of reggae rhythms, soulful vocals, and Latin jazz-inflected harmonies. The band's expansive, brass-heavy arrangements echo the classic reggae and R&B grooves of the late 60s/early 70s.

Kiwi's music is welcoming and eminently danceable, radiating an infectious energy that belies the oft-introspective content of singer-songwriter Alex Tea's lyrics. Tea, the grandson of a classical violinist, playfully sets melodies inspired by the classical music he grew up hearing against Brazilian jazz chords and an insistent reggae rhythm.

Initially founded as an acoustic duo, Kiwi has grown into an 8-piece juggernaut with a stable core comprised of the New York area's best jazz and funk players. "On the Move" features the talents of Ramsey Norman (drums), Matt Quinones (bass), Ben Guadalupe (percussion), Dave Stolarz (keys), Barami Waspe (tenor sax), Curtis Taylor (trumpet), and Rob Edwards (trombone).

As a singer, Tea is a gentle crooner one moment and a raw-throated proselytizer the next. A lyrical ferocity undercuts the percolating rhythms of many Kiwi songs; a conscious lyrical vision of a world full of injustice as well as possibility. "My poetry leaned left as I was leaning to the right," Tea sings on the Wailers-evoking album track "Sun Never Set."

The inspiration for Kiwi's sound has its origins in Tea's multiple extended stays in Brazil, beginning with a trip to the ocean-side city of Fortaleza over a decade ago. It was in Fortaleza that Tea first fell in love with the Portuguese language and capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that combines exuberant dancing with powerful strikes and take-down maneuvers. Capoiera was developed in colonial Brazil by enslaved Africans and their descendants, who wanted to keep their battle training a secret from their Portuguese overseers.

"What drew me most into capoiera was the sense of community among everyone involved," says Tea. "Each roda [capoeira exhibition/match] also had a live soundtrack that featured instruments, melodies, and cadences that I had never heard before." The new album features an original love song sung entirely in Portuguese called "Aprendiz".

Brazilian instruments also play a large role in shaping the sound of the record; Brazilian jazz aficionados may recognize the sounds of the cuica and agogo, as well as the fishing-pole shaped berimbau. "On the Move" was produced by the band and mixed in upstate New York by Jocko (moresound).

After honing their sound at clubs, parties, and dancehalls in New York City's Greenwich Village, Philadelphia, and Boston, Kiwi is currently booking its first national tour and seeking label/management representation.

Published in Reggae Music News
Saturday, 24 November 2012 01:23

Live Reggae At Costa Rica's Monkey Bar

For everyone that wants to hear some incredible tunes, head to Jaco this weekend for a great taste of reggae Saturday night, starting at 10 pm. There is no cover charge and Monkey Bar will have DJ Who-lio playing before and after the show. WATUSI is the original, “REGGAE / WORLDBEAT” band in Texas and one of the top reggae / worldbeat groups in the USA, with 10 players from around the world and based in Dallas,Texas. WATUSI is the premier artist on World Beatnik Records, for 28 years a Texas reggae legend, a “worldbeat” pioneer and are respected and played worldwide. Winners of numerous Reggae and World Music Awards including 2011 Dallas Music Award for Reggae and.. nominated for the Roots Music Association “Reggae Artist of the Year” . Watusi is a charter member of Reggae Ambassadors Worldwide (R.A.W.)

Published in General Reggae News
Friday, 23 November 2012 20:56

Reggae Party At Revamped Centre

REGGAE beats will usher in a new chapter at the relaunched Afro Caribbean Centre, when it holds its first party this weekend after being shut for a year.  The building is taking on a new lease of life after a revamp and will once again offer a focal point for a community which does not have a base in the town. Since a quiet opening two months ago, teething problems have been ironed out and the management is ready to welcome members old and new.  Swindon 105.5 DJ MC Ranks will mark the centre’s return to full health by entertaining the crowd.  Colin Cole, the acting secretary of Swindon’s West Indian Community Association, said: “We have carried out a facelift as the place needed freshening up.

Published in General Reggae News
Saturday, 29 September 2012 00:00

International Reggae And World Music Awards 2013

By special request and popular demand, the Annual International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA), by Martin's International, returns to South Florida for its 32nd Anniversary, for the fifth time in 26years. On Saturday, May 4th, 2013, the prestigious Coral Springs Center for the Arts, 2855 Coral Springs Drive, in Coral Springs/Fort Lauderdale, Florida will be the site for the staging of the star-studded 32nd Annual IRAWMA.  The red carpet arrival with the glitz, glamour and interviews, kicks off at 6:00pm. Special early-bird tickets go on sale Friday, October 5th, 2012 at www.coralspringscenterforthearts.com or www.irawma.com. For information call 877-9-REGGAE (734-423) or 312-427-0266.

Published in General Reggae News
Saturday, 22 September 2012 00:00

Stephen Marley Minnesota Interview

Stephen Marley, the eight-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, producer and son of legendary reggae artist Bob Marley, has proven time and time again that his blood runs pure with naturally gifted musical ability. After many years of helping produce/write songs for other Marley family projects, Stephen released his first solo album “Mind Control” in 2007 to widespread critical acclaim. It was quickly honored with a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. Last year, Stephen released the album, entitled “Revelation Part 1: The Root Of Life,” which also won a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.

Published in Reggae Artist News
Sunday, 02 September 2012 03:00

Alpha Blondy Israeli Trip

Singer Alpha Blondy was in Israel this week for the Zion Reggae Festival. Arutz Sheva met Blondy in Tel Aviv where talked about his deep connection with the land. "My family and I, we are so excited to be in Israel. It's a high spiritual level," he said. Blondy was born in the Ivory Coast as Seydou Koné to a Muslim mother and Christian father.  Among his popular songs are Jerusalem and Masada, in which he sings in Hebrew. He has also composed such songs as Apartheid Is Nazism, Black Men Tears and other tracks that deal with various religions and world conflict. "There is no rational explanation that I can give you for why I love Israel," Blondy commented. "Why did I come to Israel the first time [in the 1980s]?

Published in General Reggae News

On the fifth day of the ROTOTOM's Reggae University term, the elder statesmen of reggae - the Congos and Wailing Souls - took to the stage, as the youth of Raging Fyah from the previous day's session moved on. In some ways it was akin to the 'passing of the baton' at College, as the weighty topic of 'Rastafari, Jamaican Music and Cultural Affinity' was tackled. Once more, this University session was very well attended, featuring special guests: movie maker Monica Haim and the musicians from the Congos (Cedric Myton, Congo Ashanti Roy, Kenroy Fyffe and Watty Burnett) and Wailing Souls (Winston 'Pipe' Matthews and Lloyd 'Bread' McDonald), together with the University's popular panel comprised of David Katz, Ellen Koehlings, Pete Lilly and Pier Tosi.

Published in General Reggae News
Sunday, 26 August 2012 00:00

Reggae At 50

OLD time people used to say: "Cow don't know di use a him tail till him loose it." Outside of formal sessions, I have been having a series of discussions with delegates attending the University of the West Indies' Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) 50/50 conference. The most popular issue that these delegates have raised with me time and again is the current raging debate about whether Jamaica is the headquarters of reggae. Using any objective measuring stick, be it size, and frequency of festivals and shows, volume of music products sold, or successful artists/musicians, sadly we are no longer in pole position.  Those readers that follow my columns already know that as painful as it is for me, personally, to admit, on the issue of whether Jamaica is still the headquarters of reggae, I stand squarely with Lloyd Stanbury.

Published in General Reggae News
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