Tag Archives: Soul

Reggae loves soul

untitledReggae and soul have since the 60s had a fruitful and productive relationship. Rocksteady is for example more or less based on U.S. soul and the genre and its groups and artists were influenced by The Impressions, The Temptations and Al Green, just to mention a few.

Reggae adaptations of soul hits have been too many to mention and several of them have been extremely popular, one of the most notable examples is probably Bob Andy & Marcia Griffiths’s cover of Nina Simone’s Young, Gifted & Black, which reached number 5 in the UK Singles Chart in 1970.

France’s Undisputed Records has now put out a compilation where contemporary reggae artists cover soul songs, several of them bona fide classics originally issued in 60s.

It’s an excellent compilation that gives these nuggets a fresh and modern reggae treatment. It also presents these gems to a new audience, an audience that might not have been exposed to their parents or grandparents favourite songs.

Of course it’s hard – or impossible – to outshine the original versions. But Marina P certainly gives Wendy Rene’s I Wish I Were That Girl a run for its money. Same goes for the big voiced Maikal X and his cover of Bobby Bland’s I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me).

Other highlights include Diana Rutherford’s powerful version of Ann Peebles’ Trouble, Heartaches and Sadness and Faye & Mystic Loic’s swinging take on California Soul, originally sung by The Messengers, but made famous by The 5th Dimension and later by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell and Marlena Shaw.

Chezidek & Skarra Mucci’s Sunny, originally performed by Bobby Hebb, is also strong, even though it might have been even better without the fragile voice of Chezidek. Skarra Mucci alone would probably have been a wiser voice.

Don’t miss out on this compilation. It’s lovely that Undisputed Records takes reggae back to some of its roots.

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Jah Cure moves from riddim to rhythm

World-CryJah Cure’s sixth album World Cry was slated for release more than a year ago, and for some reason it was postponed several times. Now however it’s finally here, and it shows Jah Cure in a different light compared to his previous albums. Where The Universal Cure – his fifth album – was reggae influenced by contemporary R&B, it’s the other way around with World Cry. This set is mostly contemporary R&B and electronic dance music spiced with dancehall and reggae.

Those who wanted Jah Cure to go back to his early hard roots reggae sound will be disappointed, but I guess no one really thought World Cry would be full of commitment to Rastafarian ideals set to dread and eerie beats.

Jah Cure mostly sings passionate love songs and his voice is as usual intimate and heartfelt, but also a bit whiny and tiresome. The electric beats are bombastic and the arrangements are lush and the producers have gone all in on several tracks, for example the title track which has gentle strings, a melancholic piano and an army-styled snare drum. It could have been recorded by Coldplay and suits any football stadium around the world.

The reggae tracks include a version of The Gladiators Mix Up and a cut of House of Riddim’s brilliant up-tempo riddim The Sensimillionaire. Best is however the heavyweight hip-hop and dubstep-tinged Like I See It with Mavado (the non-album version also features U.S. rapper Rick Ross). The mariachi trumpets in the chorus seem a little out of place though.

There was a time when Jah Cure was seen as one of the leading lights in roots reggae. But that was then, and this is now, and now he has travelled down the same path as Sean Paul. Hopefully this direction will be successful in the mainstream charts.

World Cry is now available on digital platforms. A CD version will be available in January.

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Toussaint’s call for mama earth

low_RES_toussaint-REAL-53_V1In late November the World Bank presented a new scientific report showing that the world is barreling down a path to hear up by four degrees at the end of the century if the global community fails to act on climate change. This might lead to extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people.

And just a few days ago the two week long UN conference in Doha, Qatar, came to a close and the talks wound down with few major issues being resolved and there were for instance no agreement on the key issues of financing and carbon permits. The overall feeling from most countries was disappointment, especially the lack of engagement by the U.S.

Rich and poor countries have different agendas and it’s obviously hard to agree on a common goal and how to reach it.

But for reggae and soul singer Toussaint it’s simple – if the earth dies so do we. His latest album Dear Mama Earth – produced by Brian McKenna – has perfect timing and he calls for a change in the way we live and exploit the earth and its resources.

Dear Mama Earth is an earth-conscious and soulful suite of music that mixes reggae, vintage soul, neo soul and hip-hop with fine results, and Toussaint’s rich voice and vocal versatility suit the smooth production nicely, and he sounds convincing when he sings about taking action to heal the earth by making both small and big changes in everyday life and in society. Energy consumption, energy conservation, renewable resources, global warming and wasteful habits that affect our planet’s sustainability are some of the topics he touches upon.

Dear Mama Earth has a distinct vintage feeling, but is at the same time very modern, and I guess messages about mankind’s relationship with the planet never go out of style.

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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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One of the best lovers rock compilations yet

Song titles such as It Must Be Love, Thinking of You and I Love You give a hint of what lies behind the album title Harmony, Melody & Style – Lovers Rock & Rare Groove in the UK, one of Soul Jazz Records’ recent compilations.

You probably guessed the genre – lovers rock. A British style of smooth reggae kick-started in the mid 70’s with Louisa Marks’ Caught You in a Lie.

Fusing the tough bass lines and relentless drum patterns of Jamaican reggae with U.S. stylish soul, elegant R&B and pulsating disco and funk rhythms, lovers rock almost became the antithesis to the dread riddims and conscious lyrics that reigned the Kingston and London sound systems at the time.

Lovers rock was an escape from the tough urban jungle of London and other big UK cities marked by racism and tough financial conditions. It was way a expressing heartaches and relationships as well as a tool for female vocalists to make themselves heard, and lovers rock is truly dominated by women, also manifested by the track list of this compilation – only five out of 25 tracks are sung by men.

Harmony, Melody & Style moves from some of the earliest cuts in the genre to its commercial explosion in the late 70’s and early 80’s to being an underground phenomenon in the 90’s.

The album includes classic tunes and ones rare as a hen’s teeth. Several of them are also extended, providing plenty of space for the mixing engineer and the players of instruments to shine. Just listen to the last one and a half minute of La Famille’s cover of Mary Jane Girls’ funky All Night Long. The interplay between the saxophone and trumpet is sublime.

The extensive liner notes – about 40 pages – is written by Soul Jazz Records’ founder and boss man Stuart Baker. It contains photography dating from the 50’s to the 80’s along with interviews and features on the artists, musicians and producers who helped define lovers rock and put it on the global music map.

Harmony, Melody & Style may not be the definitive lovers rock compilation since smash hits such as Janet Kay’s Silly Games and Brown Sugar’s I’m in Love With a Dreadlocks are missing. But those tunes can be found on almost any lovers rock compilation, and it’s a clever choice focusing on a less obvious collection of tracks, tracks just as great, but less known to other than hardcore collectors.

The album is available as a double CD pack with slipcase, digital download and as limited edition two gatefold sleeve double vinyl sets. The vinyl edition might be a bit expensive, but the investment is definitely worthwhile.

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Fascinating album from Ziggi Recado

There’s a new Ziggi in town. His last name is Recado and he has got a brand new reinvented sound on his third album. It’s an adventurous blend of reggae, soul, hip-hop, funk and rock.

One thing that has remained from his previous albums is his vocal style. It’s rebellious, cool and edgy.

Most of the production is handled by Ziggi Recado himself and the majority of the tracks are recorded together with his live band The Renaissance Band. And the live feeling is present through most of the album.

Ziggi Recado celebrates musicianship and careful production. There are pleasant surprises on almost every single track.

Just listen to the beautiful and organic Can’t Stop Me Now built around a laid back rock guitar. It starts with guitar, moaning saxophone and funky drums. Then it’s just Ziggi Recado and the guitar. Along the way it adds organ, percussion, drums, bass and strings. You’ve to wait over three minutes until the song is complete in its instrumentation.

Real Talk showcases his vocal capabilities, when he sings both in a high Prince style and then switches to his usual singjay approach.

Reggae purists also get their share too. The heartfelt single Mary produced by Special Delivery, the Omar Perry/Tippa Irie duet Jah Alone on Curtis Lynch’s Gorilla riddim and the pumping Maikal X duet This Year are contemporary one drops in fine style.

Whether or not you like the genre mixing of distorted funk rock, psychedelic Prince-styled soul and reggae riddims you have to be fascinated by this bold, remarkable and unexpected set of songs.

Ziggi Recado has been available in the Netherlands since April and is released internationally on June 20th.

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Pama Outernational dubbed to the bone

Legendary dub master Mad Professor has taken on Pama International’s latest album Pama Outernational released last year.

Pama International is known for their exquisite blend of 60’s soul and 70’s reggae with a modern edge. Their music is neither reggae nor soul. And that’s why this new album Rewired in Dub is so interesting. It’s like hearing a soul or disco album in dub.

Mad Professor has been producing and mixing since the early 80’s. He has worked with a broad range of artists – Max Romeo, punk rockers Rancid and soul songstress Sade to name a few. So he knows how to twiddle a knob and work with faders and delays.

And he has certainly done some great twiddling on Rewired in Dub. The main elements of the songs have remained intact and the other parts show up from time to time.

Just listen to the two versions of the up tempo track Happenstance that is stripped to the bone. Dubstance Dub with its great drumming and percussion and Orgon You Don’t with a lethal organ work. Dub A Disco, here titled Disco Dub, takes you to the 70’s club scene.

Mad Professor may have blown a few fuses when he dubbed this one, but the result is astonishingly well-wired.

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John Legend should embrace his reggae curiosity

Last week John Legend dropped his latest album titled Wake Up! The album is a collaboration with hip-hop band The Roots.

Wake Up! is essentially a cover album and features eleven versions of great songs from artists such as Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. The songs that get the John Legend & The Roots treatment are mostly in the soul and R&B vein, with one notable exception for reggae fans.

Humanity (Love the Way It Should Be) was originally recorded by the late and great Prince Lincoln Thompson. The version included on Wake Up! isn’t nearly as nice as the original, but it certainly shows that the expressive and emotional John Legend should embrace his interest in reggae.

However, John Legend isn’t a rookie when it comes to reggae. Last year his duets with Estelle and Buju Banton hit the streets. And those are actually well worth picking up, especially the remixes provided by Curtis Lynch.

Hopefully John Legend – and other soul singers as well – will pick up on Jamaican tunes and make their own reinterpretations.

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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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