Crate digging in London

Sounds of the Universe in Soho, London

Sounds of the Universe in Soho, London

New York and London are the musical capitals of the world, but London has the upper hand since it’s also the reggae capital of the world, second to Kingston of course.

Two weeks ago I was in London and had the opportunity to visit no less than 15 record shops all over town, well almost anyway. I was in Notting Hill, Soho, Camden and Islington. I didn’t have the time to head down to Brixton, so that’s on the list for my next visit.

Before coming to London I had realized that a lot of the shops have closed, just as all over the world. But I still had a list with almost 30 shops. And the list was pretty reliable. Only one shop was closed – Intoxica in Notting Hill. All others were there and usually offered a good selection of reggae. Almost always at very high prices though.

That was however not the case with Haggle Vinyl in Islington. The shop probably shuts its doors at the end of the year and its infamous and outspoken owner sold all records for £5 each. Fortunately he still carried lots of reggae albums and yes, I bought way too much. I left the shop with 22 albums and a laughing wife.

Honest Jon's in Notting Hill.

Honest Jon’s in Notting Hill.

If you’d like to know which record shops I visited head over to Instagram and take a look.

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A global reggae album from Dub Colossus

unnamedDub Colossus is a collective of pan-global musicians led by UK multi-instrumentalist and composer Nick Page aka Dubulah.

On their fourth and latest album Addis to Omega they take a leap in a partly new direction – from working primarily with Ethiopian artists and musicians to collaborating with singers and players mainly from Jamaica and the UK. It’s a funky reggae fusion nicely wrapped in a dubby package.

Nick Page has flavoured the album with a myriad of different genres – skanking reggae, ethereal dub, booming funk, silky soul, bouncy afrobeat, fresh Latin and hypnotic jazz are all intertwined on this experimental and roaring 15 track album with vocals provided by a diverse set of artists ranging from veteran Jamaican gruff deejay Joseph Cotton to the smoother styles of PJ Higgins and Steel Pulse’s Mykaell S. Riley.

But some of the greatest moments on this excellent album are provided by the beefy Horns of Negus, a horn section that impresses throughout the set. Just listen to tracks like Orpheus Underground, Soft Power or the title track, where PJ Higgins shows her deejaying skills.

If King Tubby would have mixed an album where The JB’s had teamed up with Fela Kuti and The Abyssinians in a studio in Ethiopia it might have sounded something similar to what Nick Page has done on Addis to Omega.

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Hypnotic and graceful from General Jah Mikey

COVERJamaican singer General Jah Mikey follows up on his Original Yard Food album, and together with French multi-instrumentalist, producer and sound engineer Tooney Roots he serves up yet another delicious treat.

General Jah Mikey has been in and out of the music business for almost three decades. He has tried and tested several different styles over the years, including jungle and dubstep. Tooney Roots’ productions lean towards the heavier side of roots with influences from the UK dub scene.

And together they have made an album that is hard and uncompromising, yet melodic and harmonious, partly thanks to General Jah Mikey’s smooth style. He has a deep and soothing voice that flows gracefully over Tooney Roots’ massive bass lines and pounding drums complemented by a vicious synthesizer or a bright piano here and there.

Jah Music is Timeless is a showcase album where each of the six vocals and followed by their dub counterpart. Tooney Roots works with analogue equipment and vintage sound effects built by himself, and the soundscape on the dub versions is hypnotizing and deliciously monotonous.

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A forgotten gem by Willie Williams and Yabby You

5433897Another long lost gem has been made available. Unification: From Channel One to King Tubby’s is the title of a set by Willie Williams produced together with legendary producer Yabby You, who is responsible of some of the most haunting roots reggae ever released.

Willie Williams is probably best known for his Armigideon Time, produced by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd in the early 80s. Apart from that tune Willie Williams is usually under the radar for most listeners, even though he has put several strong albums, including his debut set Messenger Man.

Unification is a hard and relentless set and contains several songs that has already been available but spread out on several different compilations over the years. And according to a recent interview with Willie Williams several of these releases are pirated, so it’s nice to have a proper album with timeless roots reggae.

The set was recorded in 1979; a chaotic time in Jamaica, when a general election was just around the corner. And this is reflected in the music – provided by an all-star cast led by Sly & Robbie of The Revolutionaries – and the thoughtful lyrics. It’s consciousness from start to finish with songs like Free Dem, Righteousness, Unification and Rally.

Willie Williams has a laid-back singing style similar to Don Carlos, and sometimes it’s hard to separate them. It’s almost half-spoken at times and very meditative, which clashes with the rock-hard bass lines.

The sound quality is well-above par compared to other releases of long forgotten albums, and it’s not every year you get to hear a previously unreleased Yabby You production, so head over to your nearest retailer and give it a listen. Satisfaction (most likely) guaranteed.

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Onlyjoe drops fourth single for free download and prepares for debut album

Energetic and multi-faceted ten piece reggae band onlyjoe from the UK has just released their fourth single Hold Me for free download. It’s a summery and infectious cut with a catchy sing-a-long chorus and comes with a swinging dub version mixed by acclaimed producer and mixing engineer Nick Manasseh.

“We actually recorded the rhythm section and the horns a little while ago, and were looking for an opportunity to work with Manasseh on something, and this track seemed like the obvious choice to take to him, and as we had it finished and there was demand for it we really wanted to give it to people,” explains Harry Bradford, saxophonist in onlyjoe.

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The reason for giving the song and its two versions is simple – they wanted to give something to the people who have been supporting them over the last few years. And at the moment they are in the process of recording their debut album, a set with production helmed by forward-thinking bass producer Hylu, who travels with onlyjoe as engineer. He has also produced all their previous singles.

“We’re getting funding from wherever we can at the moment, and while we’re slowing down on gigs getting money through t-shirt sales, and donations on releases is really helping pay for future sessions,” says Harry Bradford.

Onlyjoe aims at releasing the so far untitled album next year, and it will hold a mixture of tracks and sounds.

“People will know the music from our sets as well as some other bits which we have developed behind closed doors, those tracks are a progression of the same sound, while some are more dubwise and some have higher energy. The main focus of onlyjoe has always been making conscious music to move a dance,” says Harry Bradford, and concludes:

“It all fits under the umbrella of reggae music in its many different forms. We definitely want some surprises on the album, and if the studio session a few weeks back is anything to go by it’s looking like there will be some!”

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Papa Michigan shows how it’s done

Papa-Michigan-F-1024x1024A deadly new EP from Michigan, aka Papa Michigan, has recently been released and produced by a joint between Flash Hit Records, Rashanco Music and producer and mixing engineer Manu Digital.

Papa Michigan was previously part of ground-breaking deejay duo Michigan & Smiley, a duo that paved the way for several other successful double acts, including Yellowman & Fathead, Peter Ranking & General Lucky and Clint Eastwood & General Saint.

Flash Hit Records has continually been dropping high-quality material and DJ Legend is no exception. It might just be their best release yet. It’s pure vintage dancehall in a contemporary style with loads of musical references to Jamaica in the early 80s. And you can be sure to hear versions of riddims like Pretty Looks (Isn’t All) and Joyride.

Papa Michigan mixes cultural and radical material – the excellent Yami Bolo combination People Rise – with the biographical tongue twisting masterpiece Wa Mi Come From and the boastful Dance Nice, something of a follow up to his and Smiley’s legendary hit songs Nice up the Dance and Rub a Dub Style.

This year has presented several strong EP’s from Clay, Righteous Child and Randy Valentine. But DJ Legend outshines them all.

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Maxi Priest’s recipe for love

Maxi Priest is one of few reggae artists that have had a monster hit and succeeded in transcending musical borders. He reached international success in 1990 with Billboard chart-topper Close to You, and has kept a low profile in recent years, but dropped his first album in seven years only a few months ago. Reggaemani caught up with Maxi Priest on the phone to talk about the new album and the recipe behind a great love song.

Maxi Priest_Easy To Love_Press Image_0002British singer Maxi Priest started his musical journey in church and later on the UK sound system circuit singing with Saxon Studio International, Negus Negast and the legendary Jah Shaka. Early on he embraced Rastafari and cut mostly conscious and culturally themed material, but later shifted towards a more lovers oriented approach. Soon he introduced his R&B-tinged lovers rock to a global audience.

“First and foremost, I’m from a church background. My mother, a missionary, is where I would hear the beautiful sound of gospel, mixed in with reggae music that my older brothers played around the house. My sisters were into the Jackson Five, The Beatles, Al Green, etc. From an early age my family always encouraged me and I listened to all kinds of vocalists, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Dennis Brown, and without realizing it, I was developing my craft. I was taught never to limit myself – that’s why you’ll always find different styles of music on my albums, and a range of producers to bring out different aspects of my creativity,” says Maxi Priest in a press release.

Successful fusion
Few artists have explored the possibilities of pop/R&B/reggae fusion as successfully as Maxi Priest. His smooth voice and his comfort with soul and hip-hop have rendered him a massive following around the world, particularly in the U.S. and his native Britain.

His new album Easy to Love is a fine representation of reggae and lovers rock according to Maxi Priest – sophisticated, stylish and slick. And Maxi Priest himself seems to be enjoying the album and is pleased with how it sounds.

“It’s fabulous. I feel on top of the world and like I have pushed over a mountain,” says Maxi Priest over the phone from London where he is doing promotion for the new album, and adds:

“The support has been fantastic and I feel so good. I want to thank everybody for their support and the reggae community as a whole. Without you there is no us.”

New approach
On Easy to Love Maxi Priest is joined by drum and bass duo Sly & Robbie, who played on several of his early hit songs, including Close to You, Wild World, Some Guys Have All the Luck and the Shabba Ranks combination Housecall. Maxi Priest has together with them, and with Clive Hunt, Colin “Bulby” York and Steven “Lenky” Marsden, created a lovers rock album with one or two diversities.

unnamed“It’s an album that I can play from the top to the bottom. An album to play in a moment in time. Play in the car or play it with your girlfriend,” he explains.

Maxi Priest has used a different way of working compared to in the previous sets. This time he allowed himself to take a step back and let the experts do what they do best. He focused on what he does best – writing and vocalizing.

“I would normally be very hands on, but I was comfortable in my relationship with the producers. I have felt at home and been relaxed. We have been pushing the envelope and experimenting. You need to take chances and experiment. That’s the beauty of creativity,” explains Maxi Priest.

Back to basics
Seven years have gone by since he dropped his previous album Refused. The years have been spent touring the world.

“It’s a massive world out there and it takes time to get around it,” laughs Maxi Priest, and continues:Maxi Priest_Easy To Love_Press Image_0003

“But there have also been one or two singles.”

Maxi Priest says that the music business is confusing, another reason why he has kept a rather low profile and not released much material.

“I wanted to see some changes and wanted everything to calm down. I also needed to figure out where I was and my place in the business,” he says, and continues:

“Then I wanted to bring it back to foundation and start the wheels turning again. And it feels really good. Everybody’s been showing love for this thing I’m doing. I feel like I haven’t been away and that I have a massive army. And I’m leading this army with this album.”

Over the years Maxi Priest has dabbled in several genres, even though he has never lost focus. Smooth reggae has always provided the foundation, but it has been flavoured with lots of dancehall and hip-hop. Easy to Love is however back to basics.

“Every direction is different and a brand new experience for me. This album has been a direction chosen by myself and the producers involved in it. We have been walking in unison, like an arrow straight through the eye of an apple. That has given me strength and encouragement to push and move forward to the highest peak I could reach,” he says.

A recipe for love
Easy to Love is a telling title for two reasons. The music is easy to like and it contains loads of love and romance. Something that Maxi Priest is known for. So what’s his recipe for writing a great love song?

“Knowing how to love and how to be loved,” he says after thinking for a while, and continues:

“I think so, and that’s why the album is called Easy to Love. I’m easy to love. I was brought up in a large family with nine brothers and sisters. I was thought how to appreciate people and share. All that is love, and yes, I do think I know how to love.”

When writing his love songs Maxi Priest finds inspiration in experiences – his own, his friends’, their relationships, ups and downs and everything in between.

Just put your mind to it
The lead single off the album was released in mid-2013 and was another chart-topper for Maxi Priest since it reached number one in the reggae charts. But the success of Easy to Love is nothing compared to Close to You; a single that turned his life and career upside down. And Maxi Priest says that he today feels like he did when he had success with Close to You – on top of the world.

“They called me when I was in the U.S. and said ‘we are number one’. I was rushing to call everyone I knew in London. I had goose pimples and froze for a while. I was only a young kid from southeast London and now I had the opportunity to meet all these people from pop, hip-hop and R&B,” he says, and continues:

“In many ways it made me feel like we can achieve anything if we just put our minds to it. With power of decision there’s a way to achieve anything. So, friends and family – don’t give up. There’s always opportunity.”

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10 Ft. Ganja Plant delivers another solid instrumental set

PrintU.S. reggae band 10 Ft. Ganja Pant continues to deliver solid instrumental sets. On their tenth album and the third installment in their on-going instrumental only Deadly Shots series 10 Ft. Ganja Plant offers ten charming cuts.

The album collects a mix of upbeat tracks and slower jams rooted in late 60s and early 70s Jamaica. Most of them are dominated by a soulful guitar or a groovy organ and they are clearly influenced by bands such as The Hippy Boys, The Crystalites and The Dynamites.

Included on the set is the wonderful Castor Bean, the haunting Angel Trumpet and the Middle Eastern-flavoured Oleander.

10 Ft. Ganja Plant is a spin-off of the more progressive and psychedelic reggae band John Brown’s Body, and they have been making music for more than 14 years. And this beautiful instrumental series is a well-deserved addition to their more contemporary catalogue.

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Contemporary rub-a-dub on Kojo Neatness’ debut album

20769-800Can’t say I know much about the almost forgotten Jamaican singer Kojo Neatness, but he has recently recorded a gem with Polish production crew Dreadsquad titled Boom Sound.

He also has a fresh full-length album out called Reggae Street Showcase. The set was recorded in France, voiced in Jamaica, and collects six vocal cuts followed by their dub counterpart. The production was crafted by Webcam Hi-Fi’s Fredread, who was responsible for the excellent compilation Feeding My Faith released two years ago.

Kojo Neatness has a haunting and intense vocal style similar to Linval Thompson, Barry Brown and Tristan Palma. And his voice flows over contemporary rub-a-dub riddims, sometimes with tsunami-like bass lines, particularly the dub versions and cuts like Deep Dub and Rudeboy & Dub.

Reggae Street Showcase is Kojo Neatness’ first album ever and it took a few decades and a producer and a label from France to get it out there.

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War is in the dance!

One of last year’s best tunes was Keida’s excellent Stand For Something. Now – finally – comes a one riddim compilation with nine cuts of the heavyweight riddim. And it’s voiced by a great bunch of vocalists from Jamaica, Europe and the U.S.. How about Pressure, Bobby Hustle, Exco Levi, Khari Kill, Gappy Ranks, Rob Symeonn, Rocker-T, Addis Pablo & The Suns of Dub and of course Keida.

War is in the Dance riddim is produced by U.S.based Royal Order Music and drops on October 21. Until then you can check the megamix by Selecta Daniel below.

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