The 15 best reggae albums of 2014 so far

Six months of 2014 have passed and a few days ago Reggaemani presented a list with the 25 best reggae songs from 2014 so far. Now it’s time to present the albums, and competition has as usual been fierce with a huge number of strong albums from debutants and veterans alike.

Half-year report albums

The list below collects 15 albums and is presented in no particular order. No reissues or compilations have been included. If you are curious about the albums you can download this Spotify playlist with 13 out of 15 albums.

Artist – album title
Popcaan – Where We Come From
A remarkable, exceptional and unique dancehall effort that hopefully can start a new trend in the otherwise very busy and non-consistent dancehall industry.

Raging Fyah – Destiny
The melodies and the arrangements are beautiful and it’s impossible not to get struck by a sweet piano ballad like Brave or pulsating non-stop rocking rockers like Barriers and Step Outta Babylon.

Hezron – The Life I Live(d)
Hezron’s debut album, but it sounds mature, partly because of the well-produced riddims by some of Jamaica’s finest, and partly because he sings like he has never done anything else in his life.

Lee Perry – Back on the Controls
A dark and dense album showcasing Lee Perry’s signature style.

Soul Majestic – Setting the Tone
With its angelic vocal harmonizing and alternating male and female lead vocals – this is a sublime, beautiful and uplifting album.

Hollie Cook – Twice
Nine tracks and over 40 minutes of discofied reggae in its greatest form. Free your mind, take off your shoes and hang on, this is a rollercoaster into dreamy territory.

Earl Sixteen – Natty Farming
Organic and analogue with Earl Sixteen’s pleading voice floating elegantly over the throbbing and syncopated riddims.

Bugle – Anointed
Probably best known for singles like Doh, What I’m I Gonna Do, Journey and Don’t Give Up, and if you dig those you’ll love this album.

Sizzla – Born a King
Wickedly well-produced, balanced and detailed. This scorching album is definitely one of the strongest sets from Sizzla’s more than extensive catalogue.

Alpheus – Good Prevails
Skip the poorly sounding rocksteady reissues and go for this meticulously constructed and well-produced set. This is the sound of real reggae music.

Chronixx – Dread & Terrible
Solid debut set from this youthful and passionate singer that has focused on quality rather than quantity.

Clinton Fearon – Goodness
Yet another fine example of how Clinton Fearon and his Boogie Brown Band takes the reggae legacy into contemporary territory.

Black Symbol – Journey
A spiritual and sometimes meditative journey with sublime harmonizing and beautiful back-up vocals courtesy of Empress Bev. Her touch gives the album a character of its own.

Addis Pablo – In My Father’s House
Its 17 tracks takes the listener on a meditative, haunting and melodic roots reggae journey.

Tarrus Riley – Love Situation
Slick, polished and timeless with lots of classic and vintage sounding riddims.

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Getting acquainted with Jo Mersa

jomersa-comfortableJo Mersa is son of Stephen Marley. His grandfather is Bob Marley and his uncle is Damian Marley. One could say that the music industry has great expectations on him and his debut EP Comfortable, a six track set mainly produced by himself.

He was born in Jamaica, but has migrated to Miami, U.S., and made his musical debut last year with the track Comfortable, included on Ghetto Youths International’s – a label owned by Stephen, Damian and Julian Marley – compilation Set Up Shop Vol. 1. He has also toured extensively with his father.

Comfortable is a cross-over effort with an infectious and hook-filled mix of reggae, dancehall, pop, hip-hop and electronic dance music. Best of the bunch is hip-hop-influenced opener Rock and Swing, which borrows elements from the mighty Enter Into His Gates With Praise, and the catchy remix of Comfortable, on which Jo Mersa shares vocal duties with label mate Wayne Marshall.

Jo Mersa certainly has much to live up to, but manages to carry his family’s legacy forward into the 21st century.

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Thibault Ehrengardt portraits a boiling island

Jamaica is a country probably best known for reggae and its beautiful landscape and beaches. But also for its political and gang related violence. The latter has been subject to several books, for example Laurie Gunst’s Born Fi’ Dead from 1995 and Thibault Ehrengardt’s Gangs of Jamaica from 2011. Both target Jamaican crime and politics, and these issues are the theme in Thibault Ehrengardt’s new book Jamaican Greats – Ten Portraits to Draw the Portrait of a Boiling Island.

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Thibault Ehrengardt has been involved in the reggae industry for more than 14 years. He was editor of French reggae magazine Natty Dread between 2000 and 2010, when the magazine ceased its publication. He shifted to publishing books via Dread Editions and his Jamaica Insula series includes a French translation of the above-mentioned Born Fi’ Dead.

His new book takes a deep look at the lives of ten famous and notorious Jamaicans – Bob Marley, Tacky, Marcus Garvey, Edward Seaga, Lewis Hutchinson, Trevor Wilson aka Johnny Too Bad, Ryghin, Claudius Henry, Yabby You and Sir Henry Morgan. The book paints a naked picture of these ten characters and shows that living in Jamaica is no fairy tale.

Jamaican Greats was s farewell to Jamaica at a time when I had decided to put an end to Natty Dread Magazine,” says Thibault Ehrengardt.

He used to visit Jamaica about twice a year and knew his relationship with the island would be less intense when Nattry Dread ceased, and he wanted to pay tribute to an island that had taken so much room in his life.

“It is sort of a testimony, or a letter sent to a younger me – ‘so, you wanted to see Jamaica so bad, now that you’ve seen it, what do you say?’,” explains Thibault Ehrengardt, and continues:

“And that’s what surprises me the most – now that I have been beyond most of my own personal clichés about Jamaica, about Rasta and about ‘badness’, I find these ‘naked stories’ even more fascinating. The incredible tale of Yabby You does not surprise me anymore, but his determination to live by it fascinates me more than ever.”

During the process of writing the book Thibault Ehrengardt found new perspectives on Jamaica, reggae and some of the main characters.

“Bob Marley might not have been the international freedom fighter I idealized as a teenager, but his position in the Jamaican struggle is now even more extraordinary to me – and his music sounds better when I listen to it in that context,” says Thibault Ehrengardt.

One of the stories that fascinated him the most was the one of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga (JLP), who played a central part in shaping and developing the Jamaican music industry. According to Thibault Ehrengardt he had to stop writing that particular part before it became a book of its own.

“I tried to analyse the facts and corner his unusual personality and unveil the repercussions he had on his own country. I never really knew reggae before I knew all that,” explains Thibault Ehrengardt, and concludes:

“Reggae is an islanders’ music, an epic music, fed on its own mythology. It took me 15 years or so, but I think I’ve come to find out what I was looking for the first time I set foot on this island. And that’s what Jamaican Greats is all about.”

Jamaican Greats is now available as hard copy and e-book.

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A global reggae tribute to The Beatles

516-GHvuv3L__SL500_AA280_Argentinian reggae musician and producer Hernan ”Camel” Sforzini loves The Beatles so much that he has put together no less than two reggae tribute albums in their honour.

“I love The Beatles,” states Hernan Sforzini, and continues:

“When I discovered Revolver I became a serious listener of their musical legacy and I asked myself ‘why not get my two passions, Beatles and reggae, together?’”.

Hemp! Reggae Tribute to The Beatles Vol. II is the follow-up to El Album Verde – Reggae Tribute to The Beatles Vol. I released in 2005 and collects 56 (!) artists from 16 (!) different countries recorded in 35 studios around the world – from Jamaica, Argentina and Brazil via the U.S. to the UK, France and New Zealand.

“For Hemp! I took a world map and I explored every country’s reggae history. I listened to a lot of bands to select the ones that I considered interesting and invited them to join the project,” says Hernan Sforzini, and adds:

“On this album I have put together reggae legends well-known all over the world with artists that are growing, new school bands and artists like Mellow Mood, Nairobi Dub, Dubies, Sebastian Sturm, Ras Attitude and Matamba,” says Hernan Sforzini.

Among the more well-known acts are artists and bands like Groundation, Dennis Bovell, Yellowman, Prezident Brown, Ras Michael, Don Carlos, Danakil, Mad Professor, The Aggrolites and Sly & Robbie. But putting the project together was not easy.

“It was Jah’s work and it took three years working full time. I express my love and gratitude to all the artists that are included and made this project possible,” concludes Hernan Sforzini.

Hemp! Reggae Tribute to The Beatles Vol. II comes as triple CD and is also available as digital download. It was recently awarded Reggae Album of the Year in Latin America’s Pelagatos Awards. All profits generated from the album will be used for the construction of a water well for a soup kitchen in the Shipibo children community in Pucallpa, Peru.

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The 25 best reggae songs of 2014 so far

As 2014 now has passed its midpoint Reggaemani has collected 25 reggae and dancehall favourites so far. It can be hard to grasp just how much great music that is released every day and every week. It’s tons. So the list below might be of some help to navigate in the heavily competitive and extremely productive reggae industry.

The past six months have been great and lots of tunes have lingered in my memory for weeks, for example Zagga’s uplifting Attitude of Gratitude, Protoje & Chronixx’ hip-hop flavoured Who Knows and Morgan Heritage’s soulful Put it On Me.

Half year 1

If I was to select only one favourite song and only one favourite riddim it would have to be Cornell Campbell & Burro Banton’s Pressure and Jugglerz’ Penthouse riddim. Luckily I’m not a victim of such limitations.

The list below is presented in no particular order and the songs included are only singles or tracks taken from compilations. If you are curious about the songs you can download this Spotify playlist with 23 out of 25 tracks.

Artist – song title (label/riddim)
Chan Dizzy – Informer (Frequent Flyer Records)
Kelissa & Chronixx & Kazemde – Winna (Anbessa Productions & Zinc Fence Records)
Konshens – The Journey (Irievibrations Records)
Jah Sun – Never Give Up (House of Riddim)
Raging Fyah – Jah Glory (Frankie Music)
Stephen Marley & Sizzla & Capleton – Rockstone (Ghetto Youths International)
Bugle – Anoited
Mr. Benn & Champian – Everytime (Nice Up! Records/Stars)
Stick Figure & Collie Buddz – Smokin’ Love (Roughwood Records)
Protoje & Chronixx – Who Knows (Overstand Entertainment)
Collie Buddz – Thank the Almighty (TJ Records/Peace and Love)
Cornell Campbell & Burro Banton – Pressure (Muti Music/I’m Living)
Loyal Flames – Go Hard (Maximum Sound/Jah Blessings)
Sizzla – Away With the Violence (Irie Ites/Soulful Spirit)
Sound Dynamiq & Skarra Mucci – Revolution
Lukie D – Calling (Akom Records/Way Back)
Zagga – Attitude of Gratitude (Liv Up Records/Zion Train)
Lutan Fyah – Roll it Up (Irievibrations/Village)
Demarco – Rise to the Top (Deadline Recordz/New Day)
Burro Banton – Inna Mi Legue (Jugglerz Records)/Penthouse)
Busy Signal/Christopher Martin – Lock Di Endz (Weedy G Soundforce)
Randy Valentine & LionHeart – Sound the Alarm (Hemp Higher Records)
Addis Pablo – Road to Addis (JahSolidRock)
Morgan Heritage – Put it on Me (JukeBoxx Productions)
Bushman & Skarra Mucci – Pretty Looks (Flash Hit Records/Pretty Looks)

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Lutan Fyah fights for peace and unity on new album

LUTAN_FYAH_GET_RID_A_DI_WICKEDJamaican chanter Lutan Fyah is one of the most successful contemporary Jamaican artists with over 200 singles and twelve albums under his belt. On his 13th album Get Rid a di Wicked he has teamed up with Grammy Award nominated producer Richard “Breadback” Bramwell.

This 15 track set – 16 if you count the closing interview with Lutan Fyah – has Lutan Fyah spitting lyrics with messages of peace, passion, ambition and inequity on tracks like Tired a di Suffering, This Love, which features veteran deejay Lady G, and Children Safe. He also shows affection for all mothers on the heartfelt My Mother, pays tribute to The Gaylads on Jamaican Girl and borrows from the mighty Herbman Hustling on Ganja Man.

Lutan Fyah is one of the most productive Jamaican artists, not matching the insanely prolific Sizzla, but close. And Get Rid of di Wicked is not one of his strongest albums to date, but it includes enough strong cuts to stand out in a highly competitive genre.

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New reggae compilation celebrates Africa

untitledA new compilation from reggae powerhouse VP Records celebrates the kinship and inspiration that Africa has given reggae music.

Some of the industry’s greatest voices and biggest artists pay tribute on Reggae Loves Africa, a twelve track collection including classic cuts with themes of liberation and repatriation sung by the likes of Buju Banton, Warrior King, Queen Ifrica, Luciano, Freddie McGregor, Beres Hammond, Dennis Brown and Tarrus Riley.

Reggae Loves Africa presents Africa’s history and its modern day struggles. It’s conscious reggae with messages of upliftment and hope. It drops in the UK on July 14 and the rest of Europe on July 20, not including France though, where fans have to wait until August 25.

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RC’s promising debut

righteouschild20150518C2009 Magnum Kings and Queens of Dancehall runner-up R.C. aka Righteous Child has just unleashed his debut EP Rough Survivor via Donovan Germain’s Penthouse imprint. He’s maybe best known for his Busy Signal combination Dreams of Brighter Days, released last year.

This eight track set – of which two cuts are previously unreleased – features four productions by Donovan Germain himself along with material overseen by Austria’s Bassrunner Music, Germany’s Silly Walks Discotheque and Jamaica’s Vikings Productions.

Rough Survivor is a promising and smooth debut album by a passionate and uplifting vocalist, who sings about struggling and overcoming difficulties in life. It’s hard not get excited and moved when listening to tracks like Holding Firm, on the excellent Focus riddim, or the uplifting and infectious Good Morning World.

Donovan Germain has taken R.C. under his wings and is currently managing this emerging roots singer. And Donovan Germain is known for spotting great talents, so don’t be surprised when you see R.C. climbing the charts in a year or two.

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A brutal musical showdown between Reality Souljahs and Rockers Disciples

lp-reality-souljahs-meets-the-rockers-disciples-blackboard-jungle-showcase-vol-1On a new and excellent ten track set UK’s rootsy vocal duo Reality Souljahs meets France’s Rockers Disciples in a western-inspired showdown.

This rocking and bouncy set is presented in a showcase style where the vocal cuts are directly followed by their fierce dub counterparts.

Blackboard Jungle Showcase Vol. 1 starts off with a haunting tribute to Italian composer Ennio Morricone titled The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. And from there on it’s a conscious and militant rockers fiesta with bad ass bass lines, evocative horns and fuse-blowing dub mixing.

A warm and affectionate tribute to the Jamaican sounds of the 70s, which is now available on LP and digital download.

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Africa and the Caribbean in perfect sync on Anbessa Dub

a0331037542_10Tel Aviv-based band Zvuloon Dub System connects the dots between Israel, Ethiopia and Jamaica on their brand new album Anbessa Dub.

This ten track effort is not a dub album as the title suggests. It collects funky instrumentals and soulful vocal cuts sung in Amharic by singer Gili Yalo, who was born and raised in Ethiopia.

Zvuloon Dub System started in 2006 and mainly focused on 70s styled roots reggae. Three years later Gili Yalo joined and they started to experiment with Ethiopian instruments and chord changes. And the result is the extraordinary Anbessa Dub, an album that merges Israel with Africa and the Caribbean.

Anbessa Dub was recorded using analogue equipment and recording techniques. It is warm, natural and organic with excellent musicianship throughout the set, especially the organ maestro who owns album opener Alemitu with his smooth playing.

This is certainly a unique mix of styles with an atmosphere influenced by the gritty and raw sounds of 70s Kingston and a sweaty and funky club in 70s Addis Abeba.

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