A reggae star emerges from Madagascar

COVER ALBUMAfrica has a fast rising reggae star. His name is Bi.Ba and he’s from Madagascar. He’s actually been around for quite some time and on his brand new album Massavana he has collaborated with Spanish musician, producer and mixing maestro Roberto Sánchez and his Lone Ark Riddim Force. When Roberto Sánchez is involved satisfaction is usually guaranteed. And this is the case with Bi.Ba’s second album.

Bi.Ba has a touching and soothing tone in his voice and the production is heavily influenced by 70s Jamaican roots. Roberto Sánchez has given the set a feel of authenticity with vintage vibes and live instrumentation complete with beautiful harmonies – listen to Mr. Babylon – and dub versions to four of the cuts.

A stunning album from an artist that will put Madagascar on the reggae road map.

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Winston Jarrett and Horace Andy rock Kingston

various-the-kingston-rock-dub-store-lp-34488-pJapan’s Dub Store Records has reissued The Kingston Rock. This twelve track combination album was originally released in 1974 on RCA, and was at the time issued as a generic reggae compilation with no main artist credited on the cover.

On the first reissue, which was on Atra, Horace Andy was pictured on the cover and the album was titled Earth Must Be Hell.

The set is however no Horace Andy set; it’s a combination effort with Winston Jarrett produced by Brent Clarke and Aston “Family Man” Barrett. The latter was at the time part of The Wailers and one might think that such a thing would have been a blessing for any marketer, but for some reason it wasn’t highlighted.

The Kingston Rock is a marvellous album with killer cuts from both Horace Andy and Winston Jarrett; two singers with radically different voices. Horace Andy is soft, while Winston Jarrett has a rougher and more rural style complemented by beautiful harmonies. Check for example the stunning Wake Up Suzy with its rock steady harmonizing.

A rock solid album showcasing two of Jamaica’s most distinct voices.

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A roots explosion in the British Midlands

Midlands Roots V2 PACKSHOT BlueLast year Reggae Archive Records put out the compilation The Midlands Roots Explosion, a critically acclaimed set uncovering reggae from the British Midlands. Now another volume in the series has been released.

The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume Two collects more of the same and offers an equally strong selection of unreleased cuts, scarce gems and readily available material. The collection shines light on some of UK’s finest, yet most overlooked, singers and bands showcasing themes of struggle, resistance, justice and equality.

Five of the 15 tracks are from bands making their debut in the series and it starts off just as its predecessor with Steel Pulse. Their rocking Bun Dem was originally released in 1977 and is a slice of classic British roots deserving far wider attention than the original 7″ has received.

Another strong cut is Musical Youth’s pulsating General. It certainly shows that this outfit was far more militant than their monster hit Pass the Dutchie.

This is British roots reggae at its roughest and fines. Luckily it’s Reggae Archive Records intent to put out enough volumes to properly document the stories of the bands, singers, musicians and labels in the Midlands. So stay tuned – more to come.

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Warrior roots on Adam Prescott’s debut album

coverProducer Adam Prescott is a fresh new addition to the UK digital roots scene. He has received guidance from Mark Iration of Iration Steppas and has put out tunes with the likes of Cornel Campbell, Michael Prophet, Ranking Joe and Johnny Osbourne.

And finally his debut album has arrived. It’s a bass heavy eleven track set showcasing a broad palette of styles and grooves with both vocal cuts and instrumentals included.

Warrior is sound system music and kicks off with the one and only Brother Culture, who chats over a militant steppers style riddim. From then and there it’s a deep and dynamic journey with veterans and newcomers rubbing shoulders – Rod Taylor, Charlie P, Donovan Kingjay, Dark Angel and UK rapper Karizma are some of the talents lending their skills to the project.

Two of the best cuts are however instrumentals and Onlyjoe’s Papa B does a tremendous job on the funky Throwback and the dark Prophecy.

This varied set is deeply rooted in the UK sound system tradition, yet Adam Prescott manages to add his own contemporary flavour to it. It’s no coincident that he’s receiving consistent airplay on BBC Radio One and Rinse FM as well as support from Sir David Rodigan.

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Clinton Fearon’s short and sweet new EP

36ffc41085Reggae veteran Clinton Fearon – former bass man and singer in The Gladiators – has had a stunning career since he left The Gladiators and moved from Jamaica to the U.S. He’s one of the most consistent reggae artists and he hasn’t dropped a poor production yet.

And his brand new EP is no exception. The only bad thing about Waiting is that it’s too short. Way too short. It only collects four songs – two vocal cuts and their dub versions. But it’s greatness without a doubt.

The standout song is the title track with its lingering guitar and Clinton Fearon’s emotional and playful singing on top of a sweet riddim underpinned by a pulsating organ.

Let’s hope this EP is just a taste of a new album.

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Roll the tape – Bunny Lee & Friends rocking and swinging

unnamedAbout a year ago reissue giants Pressure Sounds issued a killer Bunny Lee compilation titled Next Cut!. Now comes another one collecting more of the same, i.e. unreleased versions, alternate takes and hard to find gems from the Bunny Lee vaults.

Tape Rolling! is however focused on an earlier part of Bunny Lee’s insanely long career. The collection spans 1971-1974, a period when Bunny Lee worked with the hottest musicians on the island and managed to put out loads of hits, including Eric Donaldson’s festival winner Cherry Oh Baby and John Holt’s Stick By Me, both tracks included, but not the original versions.

This is a fascinating album with lots of excitement – check Big Joe’s excellent take on Count Prince Miller’s Mule Train – and creativity – listen to I Roy’s mystic chant on Noisy Place, a version of The Paragons’ Man Next Door.

The tracks collected were recorded at a time when smaller and up and coming producers were taking over from the more established ones, like Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and Duke Reid. These producers were not afraid of experimenting and had lots of imagination. No musical boundaries, just great music.

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Sounds From the Ark is an wonderful ode to nature

Sounds from the Ark - sleeve frontFrench label and sound system Blackboard Jungle has once again put out a killer release with help from France’s Rockers Disciples and Spain’s Roberto Sánchez along with a few other key musicians.

Sounds From the Ark is a stellar 12 track album where wonderful instrumentals rub shoulders with killer vocal cuts and lethal dub versions. The set is inspired by nature and the classical elements, and with that backdrop a team of musicians, including Rockers Disciples, The Producers, Don Fe and Prince Jamo, created a number of instrumental pieces that later formed into Sounds From the Ark.

The inspiration for this album is clearly showcased by the song titles – Water of Life, Fire Rises and Mystic Wind – and the set is organic taking the listener on a journey from the depths of the oceans to the mountain tops.

A beautiful album. Just as nature.

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Still Cool’s debut album from the 70s unveiled

stillcoolThe reggae reissue market has produced a number of gems in recent years, but it’s not often an unreleased album turns up. This is however the case with vocal harmony quartet Still Cool’s self-titled debut set that has now seen the light of day through Digikiller.

Still Cool was in the 70s part of the musical arm of the 12 Tribes of Israel and regularly performed at their shows. The album was produced by the obscure Carl “Stereo” Fletcher and was supposed to have been released via his Uprising label, but it never materialized. Now – about 40 years later – it has finally hit the streets.

Still Cool is much in the same vein as other Jamaican vocal harmony groups and the set should appeal to anyone interested Israel Vibration, The Meditations or The Abyssinians. The harmonizing is however slightly less polished and the singing is a little rough around the edges.

Four of the ten tracks have previously been put out as singles, but the other six have never have issued before. The LP comes with ten tracks, while the CD collects 16 – the full LP plus six bonus cuts of alternate and extended mixes from rare 7” and 12” singles. The ten album tracks are on the CD also longer versions.

It’s insane that an album like this has been shelved for about 40 years.

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Less jazz and more roots on Harrison Stafford’s One Dance

harrisonstafford_theprofessorcrew-onedance_01U.S. reggae band Groundation’s lead vocalist and front man Harrison Stafford is a man with many hats. Lecturer, music producer, movie producer, musician and singer are some of his talents. He’s probably best known for his work with Groundation, but already in 2011 he started a solo career as Professor with the album Madness, recorded after a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine.

Now when Groundation is on a break he has a new project under his own name – Harrison Stafford & The Professor Crew. The first album One Dance was recorded in Jamaica in 2015 with seasoned musicians like drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace and bass man Errol “Flabba” Holt.

One Dance is less progressive and more straight-forward compared to Groundation. It’s more traditional roots reggae owing quite a lot to Bob Marley heydays in the mid-70s, particularly album opener Jah Shine and the pulsating Morality, but with a number of detours, for example One Dance, the first single off the album, which is a jaunty ska tune with minor electro influences.

The Music is an infectious tribute to reggae itself with its breezy mento-inspired rhythm, sounding like something Steely & Clevie could have composed in the late 80s, but with live instrumentation.

Harrison Stafford’s bandmates in Groundation also have a solo project – Rising Tide – and their self-titled debut album dropped in March. That set is more traditional Groundation with lots of influences from jazz, funk and soul. One Dance is less jazz and more roots.

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A successful blend of reggae, jazz and psycedelica on Man From Higher Heights

unnamedCount Ossie is a legendary Jamaican percussionist and a pivotal figure in the development of Rastafarian roots music, and in January this year Soul Jazz Records reissued Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari’s second album – the ground-breaking and progressive Tales of Mozambique, originally released in 1975.

That particular release is now followed by another Count Ossie set – Man From Higher Heights, an album originally put out in 1983, seven years after Count Ossie died in a car crash. And it remains unclear whether this set includes original recordings with overdubs or if Count Ossie’s post-Mystic Revelation of Rastafari players recorded it without the Count himself.

Compared to his other two albums this one is more traditional reggae, especially the first five cuts, but with a large amount of percussion and free-minded horn arrangements. The last two tracks are intensely psychedelic with tripped-out fuzz guitar and a flute on acid.

It’s a fascinating set that comes with a few surprises. The heavy fuzz guitar is one such, and the version of Pat Boone’s Speedy Gonzales is another.

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