Virgin pushed the reggae front line forward

Virgin Records started releasing reggae albums in 1974, and the label’s initial release was B.B. Seaton’s Dancing Shoes, but it wasn’t until 1977 that Virgin decided to start a subsidiary – Front Line – dedicated to put out only reggae music.

So, in early 1978 Sex Pistols’ front man John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, went to Kingston to interview and sign the hottest new acts. Richard Branson – founder and owner of Virgin Records – had booked an entire floor at a Sheraton hotel, and artists and groups like Big Youth, U Roy, I Roy, Culture, The Gladiators, The Mighty Diamonds and Johnny Clarke were signed.

Over the next 18 months or so, the Front Line imprint put out 46 albums and 26 singles absorbing roots, dub, lovers, instrumentals and dub poetry. It was reggae of the highest calibre and among the very best Jamaica had to offer. But the label’s ambitious journey soon and suddenly came to an end, and in 1979 Front Line was dropped by Virgin.

Now – 35 years after Front Line’s demise – a new celebratory 5CD collection demonstrates what made Front Line so special and why the label is regarded as one key proponents in making reggae available to a broad audience. And Front Line managed – just as Island Records – to popularize reggae on the global arena in the late 70s, just when Bob Marley became a superstar.

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Virgin Front Line – Sounds of Reality features no less than 92 tracks, of which several are long forgotten and previously unreleased gems that make their debut on CD and digital download. Each of the first three discs comprise tracks from original Front Line albums, while disc four highlights a dozen of the discomixes released by the company between 1977 and 1979. The fifth CD brings together some of the long lost gems that until now were left all but forgotten in the vaults.

The package also includes a 52 page booklet, jam-packed with images, facts and recollections, with contributions from John Lydon, Front Line’s label manager Jumbo Vanrenen and designer Brian Cooke, ensuring the most authorative history of the label ever told.

When Virgin started the subsidiary they wanted to capitalize on Bob Marley’s stardom and Island Records’ success with him along with several other key reggae artists, including Burning Spear.

But Front Line’s albums were more dread, more eerie, compared to what Island put out. Just look at each label’s logo. Island had a palm tree. Front Line had a clenched black fist, gripping a length of barbed wire with blood dripping down the wrist. Front Line was Island’s unruly, anti-establishment cousin from the tough streets of Kingston.

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Shanty drops first single off new EP for free download

clip_image001London-based reggae/soul/hip-hop collective Shanty has announced their debut EP Leave Me Out, due for release on September 22. And the soulful title track is already now available for free download.

Shanty recorded the EP at Sawmills studio in Cornwall, UK, a studio where pop giants like Oasis, The Verve, Supergrass and The Stone Roses have previously recorded some of their material.

They may not share the same sound as those bands, and instead they are heavily influenced by The Police and Jamaican dub wizard King Tubby. Listen and download the stomping and uplifting title track over at Soundcloud.

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Michigan teams up with Flash Hit Records for new EP

The legendary Papa Michigan – of Michigan & Smiley fame – has teamed up with Flash Hit Records and producer and mixing engineer Manudigital for a new EP titled DJ Legend.

Michigan & Smiley were among the first deejay duos and begun their career in the late 70s, and soon scored two hit songs with Rub a Dub Style and Nice Up the Dance for producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. But their biggest hit was probably Diseases, which appeared on their successful album Downpression, produced by Henry “Junjo” Lawes.

Michigan’s new set collects six brand new tracks, from rub a dub to digital, and drops in September.

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Sounds like Pura Vida and Congo Ashanti Roy are at the Black Ark

Congo Ashanti Roy & Pura Vida Step by Step (2014)Belgian band Pura Vida has managed to create a sound almost identical with what Lee Perry did at his famous Black Ark studio in the mid-70s. It’s swirling, sweaty and raw, and has been a successful recipe on a number of albums over the past years.

Pura Vida’s latest set is yet another combination with The Congos, and this time with Congo Ashanti Roy, one of The Congos’ lead singers.

Step by Step collects 17 cuts, of which five are dub versions and one is an instrumental with acclaimed trombone player Tommy Tornado taking lead. It offers well-crafted and live-played riddims as well as interesting arrangements, especially when it comes lead and back-up singing.

But, the problem with this set also lies in the vocals. Because Congo Ashanti Roy isn’t at the top of his game. He suffers occasionally from pitch lapses, and is off-key several times. A pity since he has emotional intensity, an intensity particularly showcased on the skanking and swinging Be True to You with its infectious sing-a-long chorus.

Even though Congo Ashanti Roy’s singing isn’t always up to par, he’s still a powerful exponent of vintage-flavoured roots reggae.

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Sly & Robbie’s dub voyage

artworks-000081319303-f00x0w-originalThe story behind Sly & Robbie’s second dub album this year is an amazing and beautiful one.

A few years ago Sly & Robbie’s management stumbled on Dartanyan Winston and his Youtube “videos” of remixes of Bob Marley, Sly & Robbie and several other Jamaican artists. They asked him to stop posting unauthorized content, and he immediately accepted. However, they had at the same time recognized his talent and offered him to work on a legit multitrack of a Sly & Robbie’s produced track.

Sly & Robbie liked what he did and gave this aspiring youth a challenge and sent him more music to work with. Robbie and the management guided him and helped him to channel all of his energy to make something that could be commercially viable and up for an actual release.

The result is the 13 track album Dubmaster Voyage, a set that features dub mixes of tracks by Bunny Rugs, Brinsley Forde, Bitty McLean, Al Campbell, Horace Andy, Chezidek and a few more.

This set and its mixing definitely sounds like a Sly & Robbie dub album. The original versions are deconstructed to the bone and then built up again with a big dose of grim effects and studio wizardry.

Highlights include the groovy Free Ride, with its swirling guitar and hypnotic bass line, and the pounding Destroy the Walls of Jericho!.

The 20 year old Dartanyan Winston was flipping burgers at McDonald’s in Ohio, U.S., when Sly & Robbie discovered his potential. He didn’t just twiddled the knobs on this album, he mixed a full-scale dub voyage.

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New documentary tells the story about reggae from the Virgin Islands

The reggae scene in the Virgin Islands has grown a lot over the past ten years and is today a powerful force on the global reggae arena.

VI trailblazers Midnite are pioneers, even though reggae has been played on the islands since the 70s. Midnite’s socially conscious and take-no-prisoners style of roots, with extremely sparse arrangements and a dreader than dread approach, has paved the way for loads of other artists and bands from the Virgin Islands, including Bambú Station, Pressure, Army, Dezarie and Reemah.

French production company Reggaescape has produced a documentary about the roots movement in the Virgin Islands. Escape to St Croix VI dives deep into the culture, the history and the musical movement. It features music and interviews with several key artists and drops on September 15.

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Sounds like a bright future for Excellent

Love Language ArtTrinidad & Tobago is usually associated with hardcore and party-starting soca with artists like Bunji Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons. But reggae is growing on the islands, and has done so for a number of years. In the forefront are the likes of Queen Omega and Marlon Asher.

One of the latest additions to the Trinibagoan reggae scene is former calypso singer Excellent, and just like many other artists from the Caribbean she started her musical career singing in the church choir.

Her first official single Love Langue is put out via Trinidad-based label JahLight Records, and is a smooth and laidback tune with lots of lovers rock vibes. And more is to come from this talented and soulful singer.

JahLight Records has announced a remix of Love Language, yet another single plus a track on their upcoming Jehovah riddim. And early next the year they aim to release an EP with her. So stay tuned.

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It’s Crunch Time

One of last year’s best album releases was Jah Sun’s Rise as One, and one of its many highlights was the up-tempo Richie Spice combination Can’t Live Good, a cut produced by Dynasty Records.

The label has happily enough voiced a bunch of other artists on that tasty riddim, a riddim titled Crunch Time. The one riddim album collects impressive cuts from the likes of Gappy Ranks, Lutan Fyah, Delly Ranx, Bobby Hustle and Sensation & Jus Goodie.

Check Unity Sound’s megamix below and be prepared on September 2 when the riddim drops.

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Mr. Vegas catches the reggae euphoria

unnamedTalented dancehall deejay and label owner Mr. Vegas has been productive in recent years. In 2012 he dropped the acclaimed reggae-fused double disc Sweet Jamaica and last year he released the more dancehall-oriented Bruk it Down 2.0.

Now it’s time for a new album. His sixth to date. It’s called Reggae Euphoria and hits the streets on September 23.

Mr. Vegas has been in the music business for nearly 20 years and is best known for his energetic dancehall hits, but Reggae Euphoria is in a press release said to highlight a different style, just as the aforementioned Sweet Jamaica did when it came out.

The upcoming set collects 15 tracks and is expected to include a broad mix of genres. The greater portion is said to be reggae, but Mr. Vegas also ventures into dancehall, hip-hop, R&B, comedy (!) and gospel. It certainly sounds like another Sweet Jamaica.

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Mos Def meets Marvin Gaye on new mash-up masterpiece

coverU.S. experimental hip-hop producer Amerigo Gazaway has finalized his incredible two disc Yasiin Gaye project, where he has paired Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, with Marvin Gaye.

This project builds on deconstructed samples of Marvin Gaye’s Motown classics with additional samples and vocals provided by Yasiin Bey. Amerigo Gazaway has re-constructed the arrangements and instrumentation into new productions. It’s of the highest quality and sounds like an authentic collaboration between two musical maestros.

The Departure (Side 1) and The Return (Side 2) are inspired by Mos Def’s song Modern Marvel, a nine minute tribute to Marvin Gaye in which he raps over instrumental versions of Marvin Gaye’s Flyin’ High (in the Friendly Sky) and What’s Going On. During the second half of the song, Mos Def asks – “If Marvin was alive now, wow… What would I say to him? Where could I start? How could I explain to him? I know the modern world would probably look strange to him. Would he feel like today had a place for him?”.

This project is a response to Yasiin Bey’s tribute, and an attempt to answer the question he posed in Modern Marvel.

Both albums are available for free download over at Bandcamp, and they also include excellent track by track liner notes by Amerigo Gazaway. Stream The Return below and download that album here and The Departure here.

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