New albums from Etana and Protoje

New albums from two of the biggest names on the contemporary reggae scene have just been announced.

In October Jamaican songstress Etana follows up her acclaimed album Better Tomorrow with I Rise. It will be her fourth studio album and the first single Richest Girl is featured on Reggae Gold 2014, set for release in mid-August. Richest Girl is smooth with an edge and is produced by the legendary Clive Hunt.

Protoje has announced that he has finished recording his third album Ancient Future, a set that will drop in September. And on his Facebook page he writes that “the sound changes once more…”.

Until his album is released – don’t hesitate to check out the first single off the album. It’s a combination with Chronixx voiced over a hip-hop influenced beat produced by Overstand Entertainment. A solid single that managed to be included on Reggaemani’s list over the best reggae songs of 2014 so far.

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Hezron makes music for the people

Jamaican singer Hezron dropped his soulful and intimate debut album The Life I Live(d) in late May. As the title suggests it’s an album based on experiences; both his own and from people around him. Reggaemani had a chat with Hezron about his music, his experiences and why he relocated from the U.S. to Jamaica.

Hezron 1Hezron Clarke was born in St. James, Jamaica, and developed his singing and talent being a member of the local church choir. He later moved to the U.S. and transitioned into R&B as a young adult.

“I did R&B in the U.S., but Jamaica took over,” he explains when I talk to him over Skype from Jamaica where he is doing interviews from Tad’s Record’s office.

The Life I Lived(d) is Hezron’s debut album, but it sounds remarkably mature thanks to his powerful voice and the skilfully produced riddims . Over the years he has steadily been building a name for himself in Jamaica and abroad through a number of hit songs, including So in Love, Forever and Always and Can’t Come Between. He has also been compared to Jamaican crooner Beres Hammond as well as a highly acclaimed soul singer.

“Hezron is one of the most soulful reggae singers in Jamaican history and to me, he is the Teddy Pendergrass of our beloved genre,” says Tad Dawkins, President of Tad’s Record, in a press release.

Being compared to these two individuals might come with great obligations, but Hezron is cool and calm.

“I’m more than happy to hear such comparisons, and those two are some of my influences, and they represent different styles. But I’m also influenced by Luther Vandross, Dennis Brown, Bounty Killer and Buju Banton,” explains Hezron, and continues:

“When I grew up most things were about those singers; their melodies and style and their style and passion. They represent different flavours with multiple melodies.”

From Jamaica to the U.S. and back again
But singing reggae wasn’t always the case for Hezron. He started in the R&B vein after he had migrated to the U.S. to get a better life.

“Jamaica is a tough country, and it’s a better living overseas. The U.S. is a first world country, but music called; it was a true calling from Jamaica. It was natural for me to go back, since I grew up in a reggae environment,” says Hezron.

He was involved in the local reggae scene when he lived in the U.S – did a few gigs and things. But the scene wasn’t as authentic as the one in Jamaica, so he felt compelled to return to Jamaica to fulfil his destiny as a reggae singer.

“I wanted the true vibes and then you need to be in Jamaica,” says Hezron, and continues:

“It feels good to be back. There are good vibes here. And what has happened to me is great. It has brought out the best in me. It’s a hard place though, and you need to struggle a lot. But poverty builds character. Great words have come from this.”

Everyday life channelled through music
The Life I Live(d) comes as a double disc with a whopping 26 tracks anchored in reggae’s scorching drum and bass backbeat with an organic and richly textured sound. The lyrics are personal and intimate and deal with love, violence, relationships and poverty.

“I write about life and everyday situations. My life and other people’s life,” he explains, and continues:

“I’ve been a musician for most of my life. It has been serious for many years and I put my stories to melodies. It’s about my own experiences and other peoples stories that I have seen. It’s like everyday things channelled into melody, lyrics and music. That’s the life I’ve lived, what I’ve seen.”

Hezron 3

Singing for the people
Hezron is dedicated to what he does and is serious about his music, and that is shown on the album, which is carefully produced and well-crafted from start to finish. Music is his life.

“It may sound boring, but my life is about music. I go to work and start working. That repeats every day. I practice with my band and it’s all about music. I love it madly. It’s my life,” he says.

Hezron describes The Life I Live(d) as his most important experience as a musician yet. It’s his life’s work and a testament that reggae music lives and breathes.

“When I came back from Jamaica people said that reggae music was lost, that talents have been lost. But I still went back and wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted people to see the depth of my talent; I wanted a career in this great music,” he says, and continues:

“It’s the vibes of Jamaica, the vibes of my country. You need to understand that people cry, you have to understand the people. And I believe I understand all that. I have taken time to write songs and wanted to put out something that the world would respect. That’s why the album has taken some time to finish. That was important to me.”Hezron - The Life I Live(d) (cover)

Reggae music has over the years often been described as the people’s music. And this is something that Hezron comes back to when discussing his album and his music.

“This is the only music that accommodates the stories of people, common man stories. It’s a fight against oppression, but it’s also about love and relationships. And with our music we praise the Almighty. Reggae accommodates everything and it make you dance. That’s why I love it,” concludes Hezron.

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Smashing mixtape from Jesse Royal and Walshy Fire

artworks-000085148363-e0weqh-t500x500While we wait for his debut full-length album Jamaican singer Jesse Royal has joined forces with Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire for a fierce mixtape titled Royally Speaking.

This is Jesse Royal’s third official mixtape and his first with Walshy Fire, a DJ and producer that has previously dropped storming sets with Addis Pablo and Chronixx.

Jesse Royal is part of Jamaica’s recent roots revival scene, a scene that features artists like the above-mentioned Addis Pablo and Chronixx, but also Protoje, Kelissa, Iba Mahr, Dre Island, Loyal Flames, Jah9 and Micah Shemaiah.

Royally Speaking comes with 25 tracks excellently mixed together by Walshy Fire. It comes with original cuts, interludes, dubplates and hip-hop-flavoured remixes.

Listen, download and check the full track list over at Soundcloud.

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Heart and pulse on Nicodrum’s Back to Fundechan

Nicodrum-BackToFundehchan-VisuelHDFeeling a bit stressed and exhausted? Well, what you might need is some meditative and uplifting sounds. And those are provided by French musician Nicodrum and some of his friends on the album Back to Fundechan, a twelve track album offering a fusion of reggae, nyabinghi, jazz and bossa nova.

Nicodrum is a noted percussionist as well as a session and live musician who has worked with Capleton, Richie Spice, Queen Omega, Jah Mason, Pressure and Willie Williams. His mentor is legendary Jamaican percussionist Noel “Skully” Simms, who has played with almost everyone in the reggae business since the 60s up until today.

Back to Fundechan is the result of a clever blend of rhythms from Africa, Jamaica and Africa, and it sounds rural and organic, yet urban, slick and contemporary. And loads of instruments were used when this album was recorded. You’ll hear flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, melodica, guitar, bass and of course several different drums. This album is mostly about percussion and drumming, hence the title, which is a reference to the fundeh, one of three different drums essential when recording nyabinghi.

The set is instrumental all the way and recorded together with renowned French producer and mixing engineer Fabwize. Each track has its unique identity and is led by two main instruments accompanied by a large brass section and chest-pounding drumming.

This is music with a big heart, a solid pulse and lots of soul. Love it.

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A playful and genre-bending set from DJ Vadim

Vadim-DubcatcherRussian born producer and musician DJ Vadim follows no musical rules, and on his latest album Dubcatcher he has crafted a clever mix of reggae, hip-hop, bashment, soul, funk, dubstep and probably a few other genres too. He’s a genre-bending artist to say the least and has worked with luminaries such as Stevie Wonder, The Roots, Public Enemy, Kraftwerk, Sly & The Family Stone and Paul Weller. In 2002 he was also nominated for a Latin Grammy for his work with Spanish hip-hop group 7 Notas 7 Colores.

Dubcatcher is DJ Vadim’s eleventh studio album and neighbour with recent sets from artists and groups like Mr. Benn, Major Lazer and The Courtney John Project. It’s rich, varied and based around samples and live playing courtesy of Fat Freddy’s Drop and King Porter Stomp.

Even though DJ Vadim has glanced at the history of reggae and hip-hop, he has not tried to recreate roots reggae, dancehall from the 80s and 90s or boom rap. Dubcatcher is not the sound of yesterday, rather the sound of today and tomorrow.

On the set DJ Vadim has invited a notable and interesting list of guest artists, including Jamalski, Demolition Man, Governor Tiggy, Serocee, Katrina Blackstone, YT, Jimmy Screech and Gappy Ranks, on a remix of his single Carpenter. They sometimes fight the propulsive and fat beats, other times they float effortlessly over them delivering pop hooks and catchy melodies.

With Dubcatcher DJ Vadim has delivered a set with unprecedented energy, playful production and impressive vocal efforts, especially Demolition Man’s and Jamalski’s fiery tongue twisting on Badman and Raggamuffin Life respectively.

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Jah Vinci drops debut album in July

disc-3231-jah-vinci-ghetto-bornReggae and dancehall singer and former Portmore Empire associate Jah Vinci drops his debut album Ghetto Born on July 22nd, a collaboration with Khabir Bonner of Grillaras Productions known for his recent album with Lutan Fyah, Life of a King, and the Beenie Man & Ce’Cile single Thug Love.

“Working with Grillaras Productions was almost instinctual, and we have worked on many projects before and they all went well, so naturally I thought to work with him again,” says Jah Vinci in a press release.

The 13-track album features collaborations with legends such as Beenie Man and Junior Reid and is based on reggae, dancehall and crossover sounds, with Jah Vinci taking on societal issues as well as crime, violence and poverty, matters often surrounding Jamaican inner-city life.

“I know this one is going to be a hit! I will continue to raise the bar in music by putting out only quality work. Not only that but these songs are going to be a favourite with my fans,” concludes Jah Vinci.

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The fascinating story of Stones Throw Records

Our-Vinyl-Weighs-A-Ton-1For a few years I have been a regular reader of U.S. music magazine Wax Poetics. But when I started to read this excellent publication I didn’t know half of the hip artists they wrote about. After watching the fascinating documentary Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, about California-based underground label Stones Throw, I realized that several of the artists that I have been reading about – like Madlib, Dam-Funk, Mayer Hawthorne and the late J Dilla – were all based around the same label. You guessed it – Stones Throw Records.

The story about this independent label is an inspiring one and starts in 1996 when it’s founded by Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf. For about ten years it was largely a hip-hop label, but from around 2006 they went into a new direction and started to put out a plethora of genres, including rock, punk, soul and funk. Soul singer Aloe Blacc’s acclaimed Good Things, with its infectious single I Need a Dollar, is the best-selling album yet.

But selling records is not Peanut Butter Wolf’s primary focus. He goes beyond music and releases what he likes rather than what actually sells. Being commercial and successful comes second. Music and creativity come first. And that’s an honourable and admirable approach.

With lots of highly successful albums – of which several are hip-hop – Stones Throw has grown into an independent empire, much like punk label Epitaph. Today Peanut Butter Wolf does almost the same thing he did in 1996, but in a wider scale and in an industry that is completely transformed thanks to Internet and file sharing.

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is a moving and impressive story about a pioneer that has overcome several challenges – both personal and commercial. He has been fighting the unpredictable music industry and has also managed to make change over these 18 years.

Being anti-establishment and against the grain spark change and originality. That’s a fact after being overwhelmed by his story and energy. Unfortunately – for us reggae-heads – there is nothing on Stones Throw’s recent venture into reggae territory via excellent releases from Tom Chasteen’s Dub Club.

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Lloyd Brown turns 50 and drops another consistent set

disc-3211-lloyd-brown-lb50Not many people can treat themselves with an album to celebrate their birthday. One who can is the celebrated and consistent UK singer and songwriter Lloyd Brown. He turned 50 in March and a few months later his 18 track album LB 50 was put out.

Lloyd Brown is one of the most productive singers in the industry and turns out at least one album each year. Last year he actually dropped two – New Veteran and Rootical. Both were critically acclaimed, with the Zion I Kings’ Rootical being slightly better with its spiritual messages and sparse arrangements.

LB 50 is Lloyd Brown’s 18th album and he has as usual invited several guest artists and has worked with a number of different producers, each with their own sound, which gives the album some versatility. It offers lots of reggae of course, but also a little bit of electro, dancehall and soul.

Lloyd Brown’s singing is always a joy and on LB 50 he is as comfortable and smooth as ever before. It sounds like he weighs every word and every syllable carefully before he sings them. His style is very well-crafted, easy-going and warm, and it’s impossible to him and songs like All About You, a rocksteady-tinged version of The Mighty Diamonds’ Country Living, the dense Million Dollar Baby, or the jazzy sound boy destroyer My Sound, with an introduction by David Rodigan.

Lloyd Brown has treated himself with an exceptional birthday gift, and this is yet another bright and harmonious set from one of most reliable artists in the reggae industry.

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SoulJazz nice up the dance with new Studio One compilation

401060SoulJazz – a premier reissue label from the UK – have for the past ten years or so put out about 30 albums focusing on one of Jamaica’s most well-known and influential producers – Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and his various labels.

The latest instalment – Studio One Dancehall – Sir Coxsone in the Dance: The Foundation Sound – is SoulJazz’ first reissue from the mighty vaults of Coxsone Dodd to focus solely on dancehall.

When dancehall started to emerge at the dawn of the 70s Coxsone Dodd noticed that several of the young and upcoming producers had their artists performing over re-played classic Studio One riddims. Naturally he also wanted a piece of the pie and brought forward emerging artists to record over his own riddims. The success was instant with acclaimed albums and singles from Freddie McGregor, Johnny Osbourne, Lone Ranger and Sugar Minott, just to name a few.

And this new compilation focuses on that period, a period when Coxsone had singers and deejays riding classic Studio One riddims originally recorded in the 60s. It explores dancehall from a Studio One perspective, which is something rather different from, say, Junjo Lawes slick and polished productions.

Studio One Dancehall has the usual full, warm and organic sound, and it’s far from polished. It’s rough and raw, but at the same time innovative and creative. Lots of rare cuts, some in their extended version, are included – Green Tea & Chassy’s Getto Girl, Field Marshall Haye’s Roots and Herb Style, DJ Dawn & The Ranking Queens’ Peace Truce Thing and Brentford Disco Set’s Rebel Disco, are a few that at least I haven’t come across before.

This is yet another successful release from the SoulJazz camp and it comes as CD, digital download and triple LP.

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A rootikal showcase from Roberto Sánchez and The Rockers Disciples

lp-roberto-sanchez-meets-the-rockers-disciples-blackboard-jungle-showcase-vol-2The second showcase album from French label and sound system Blackboard Jungle features renowned Spanish producer, mixing engineer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Roberto Sánchez and French roots rockers The Rockers Disciples. It follows the first showcase album on which The Rockers Disciples teamed up with UK vocal duo Reality Souljahs.

And just as the first volume, Blackboard Jungle Showcase Vol. II comes with 12 tracks and each has a hard and driving dub version.

It’s a stellar set. Even better than the first volume. Roberto Sánchez is a gifted vocalist with a smooth, yet passionate, style. And the riddims, oh the riddims. They are rough and touch and sounds like they’re directly lifted from a Channel One album recorded in the late 70s, when roots reggae started to give way for early dancehall.

The set is magnificent from start to finish, but stand-out cuts include the groovy Rising Light, the militant Some More (Politricks), the dread Tell it to the Children and the galloping Fire.

Excellent vintage-sounding roots and dub from some of Europe’s finest musicians.

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