Tag Archives: Black Gold

Toussaint Liberator leads the way

U.S soul turned reggae singer Toussaint Liberator dropped his debut reggae album Black Gold in 2010, a wickedly soulful set produced by the mighty Zion I Kings.

Two years later he is back with his second reggae album – the raw Where I Lead, produced by Jack Riddim courtesy of I Dwell Records in California, U.S.

The album collects ten original tunes, of which three are lethal dub versions and two are engaging combinations with Kulcha Knox and Mikey General respectively.

The sound is raw and warm and some of the very tasty influences include soul, ska, funk and blues. And if his debut album was soulful in the vein of smooth Philly soul or the distinct melodic soul of Motown, Where I Lead is more of the crude and unpolished southern soul from Stax.

He has a versatile, rich and very capable tenor voice, and sings smooth and stylish, the title track for example, but can easily switch to a gritty Wilson Pickett mood, such as the upbeat and joyous I Wanna Fly, with a chorus reminiscent of Lulu & The Luvvers 60’s UK hit Shout.

This album has been flying below the radar for me for some reason, and when I first listened to it I was completely blown away. Black Gold was a great set, but Where I Lead actually outshines the debut.

Currently available as digital download and on CD.

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Win a copy of Duane Stephenson’s Black Gold

A few months ago Duane Stephenson dropped his sophomore album Black Gold, mainly produced by his friend and mentor Dean Fraser. The album has a very soft feeling to it and will probably appeal to those who like Tarrus Riley.

The kind people at VP Records have provided me with a copy of Black Gold to give away.

To win a copy you just have to answer two questions:
1. When did labels VP and Greensleeves merge?
2. What was the name of the group in which Duane Stephenson started his career?

Send your answers to erik at reggaemani dot com. Among the people who answer both questions correctly I will draw a winner. The competition ends on Sunday November 14 and the winner will be presented next week.

And no, this judge cannot be bribed. And yes, it’s a physical CD, not mp3-files.

Good luck!

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Too much sugar in Duane Stephenson’s soup

Three years ago Duane Stephenson scored a hit with the beautiful August Town, taken from his solo debut From August Town.

His debut was a 15 track blend of romance and culture on one drop and acoustic riddims. In my view a weak album that didn’t match the quality of his hit song.

Now Duane Stephenson is at it again and his sophomore album Black Gold hit the streets some weeks ago.

Black Gold is made after the same recipe as From August Town – primarily smooth one drop riddims and acoustic ballads. The production is mainly done by Dean Fraser and Duane Stephenson himself. However, two tunes are credited to Christopher Birchill and one to Kemar “Flava” McGregor.

Stay At Home is a combination with Queen Ifrica on the Movie Star riddim. Her energy blends very well with Duane Stephenson’s sincere and intimate singing. Soon as We Rise is also a combination, this time with Garnett Silk’s successor Ras Shiloh. This one is on Kemar “Flava” McGregor’s Classic riddim, a silky riddim with nice horn arrangements.

But Black Gold consists of too many soft ballads. Sure there are some great pop hooks, but also too many pompous arrangements and save the world lyrics.

Duane Stephenson wrote music for Luciano’s edgy United States of Africa, released earlier this year. It shows that Duane Stephenson certainly is able to write music that appeal to listeners that don’t sit around the campfire or hold ligthers in the air at concerts. He should have saved some of Luciano’s tunes for himself. Because this album lacks both edge and energy.

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Toussaint is a singer on a mission

Mixing styles and genres is difficult. To have a clear and easy labelled style is usually easier and more commercially successful. Someone who has managed to combine his two favourite genres is American singer Toussaint. Reggaemani had a chat with him just before he went on a 16 day tour.

Toussaint started his singing career like many other great singers – in the church. He’s the son of a preacher man, so church was a natural place outside his childhood home in Indiana. At home, his parents often played music. Mostly gospel and old school soul from legendary record labels Stax and Motown.

− I’ve always listened to music, but when I was younger I had to sneak out from home to listen to reggae and hip-hop, Toussaint laughs on the phone from San Francisco, where he is to set off on a U.S. tour with NiyoRah and Tuff Lion.

Toussaint is in a great mood, and describes himself as ‘psyched’ at the moment. The tour lasts 16 days through three states and he performs every night.

Something that probably also brightens his mood is his reggae debut album Black Gold, released the same day as we talk.
− The album has been well received so far and I was just on Facebook to ignite my fans, he says.

Toussaint successfully combines soul and reggae

Mashing up genres
On Black Gold Toussaint successfully combines soul and reggae. His blend of genres might be too much reggae for soul fans, while reggae fans find it too soulful. But I think he handles the mix very well.

− Over the years I’ve tried as many genres and styles as possible, whether funk, soul, jazz, reggae or hip-hop. With Black Gold I wanted to mash up genres. Mash up soul and culture, he says eagerly, and continues:

− For the first time in my life I’ve been able to do my own thing without having to compromise. I work with people who understand what I want to do and have the same ideas as myself. In Soulive, it was more difficult. We had different ideas, but it was an important experience to tour and perform live on stage.

Toussaint says that there is no difference for him to sing soul or reggae.

− Singing is a spiritual experience for me and it doesn’t matter what genre it is. I come from soul music and that’s my strength. But if I need to rhyme, I can do that too.

Afro-American issues
The concept of Black Gold is African heritage and history. It deals, among other things, with Afro-American issues. Toussaint says that there are big challenges ahead, and immediately becomes more serious, though obviously still close to laughter.

− Afro-Americans are facing difficult times. I believe that we have what it takes to conquer, he says, and quickly adds:

− I mean conquer in a spiritual sense and that Afro-Americans need to stand firm.

Toussaint says that in the U.S. black equals criminal and that people don’t understand what that really means.

− People don’t realize that power, to be judged, he says, and continues:

− It’s the same violence all over the U.S. It’s in New York, Los Angeles and even in Indiana where I’m from and that’s supposed to be a hick-state.

“You can’t own land if you’re dead at 25”
Toussaint has obviously put much thought into the lyrics and concept of Black Gold. And when I ask him if he has a solution for the problems he is quiet for a moment and then fires off several opinions and ideas.

− We need more self-determination. You can’t own any land if you’re dead at 25, he laughs, and then gets serious again:

− First we need to realize that we have problems and second we need to be aware of misconceptions about manhood and womanhood. We have to realize that we’re worth something. That we’re capable of great things.

A big heart is not enough
He wants to contribute to the cause, for instance through working with young people and teaching them history.

− I’d like to start a foundation and do workshops and things. Right now I’m just gathering capital to do greater things. Because you must have money. You can’t approach youths and say ‘Hey, I got this big heart, do you want to eat?‘ he laughs again and says:

− I want to be honest in my lyrics. I don’t write fluff. I want to show the problems we’re facing.

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Impressive reggae debut from Toussaint

Soul music has had a tremendous influence on reggae, especially on the melodic rocksteady. Several reggae singers have been inspired by American soul singers. Alton Ellis, Slim Smith and Bob Marley were mainly influenced by names such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.

Less common are soul artists influenced by reggae. Texas-born Johnny Nash is one such artist who recorded both soul and reggae. A newer star on the soul and reggae sky is U.S. born Toussaint Yeshua, with a background as lead singer of the Stax Records and Blue Note recording group Soulive.

Nowadays he stands on his own feet and has together with the star-studded Zion I Kings production team created an album with a powerful blend of yearning soul and heavy roots reggae.

All 15 tracks on Black Gold are recorded with live instruments along with an all-star cast of musicians including Dean Pond, Tuff Lion and Carlton “Santa” Davis. This makes the sound rich and strong, but also smooth and soft, particularly on the title track Black Gold, which features live strings.

Toussaint’s voice is reminiscent of soul singers Stevie Wonder and John Legend, as well as reggae vocalists Dennis Brown and the new Dutch sensation Maikal X. The overall sound on Black Gold reminds me sometimes of British group Matumbi and their early material.

Black Gold offers pure soul (the sweet Hello My Beautiful), straight reggae (the mighty Roots In A Modern Time), and songs that are something of a mix of both genres (the single Be You). And the mixture works extremely well. In addition, Toussaint appears to be an excellent storyteller. The lyrics are personal and deals with topics such as struggles in life and overcoming addictions.

Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred is the mastermind behind this release and it certainly shows his great versatility as a producer. He has previously introduced and recorded great artists such as Dezarie and NiyoRah. However, I dare to say that this is his and his label I Grade’s best release so far.

Black Gold is released digitally on August 10 and physically on August 24.

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