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Soul Sugar drops reggae version of Marvin Gaye’s I Want You

GEED006-2500pxFrench outfit Soul Sugar – the brainchild of Guillaume “Gee” Metenier – drops another soulful reggae 12”, this time a version of Marvin Gaye’s classic I Want You, originally released in 1976. Jamaican vocalist Leonardo Carmichael sings lead and legendary drum and bass duo Sly & Robbie add their flavor on two versions on the B side.

Marvin Gaye’s single I Want You is taken from the album of the same name released in 1976. The album was a big step forward for Marvin Gaye and marked a change in direction – from hip Motown soul to sultry and elegant soulful disco with intimate and explicit lyrics.

I Want You is one of the great classics of the sophisticated, yet intense and provocative, soul sound of the 70s. It has that unique and sincere combination of great harmony, groove and sexiness. It’s one of the hottest tracks of its era,” says producer and musician Guillaume Metenier, who runs Gee Recordings.

The A side is a discomix version with a more modern flair and the B side showcases a traditional reggae mix with Sly & Robbie on drum and bass. The backing was recorded in France, while the vocals and Sly & Robbie’s parts were recorded in Jamaica. The discomix was mixed by Guillaume Metenier, while the vocal version on the B side was mixed by him along with Jahno. The dub mix on the B side was mixed live and direct by Jahno himself.

I Want You is the follow-up to Why Can’t We Live Together, which also had Leonardo Carmichael on lead vocals. It was an easy decision to work with him again since he already knew this song and does it really well. He has got enough talent to come in after Marvin Gaye,” says Guillaume Metenier, and continues:

“Our version is different from the lush and orchestrated original, and it combines elements of funk and reggae as well as drum machines and vintage instrumentation combined with modern production techniques. I think we’re bringing a fresh and up to date take on this timeless classic while remaining true to the original sound of Leon Ware and Marvin Gaye.”

A version of I Want You was recorded together with legendary Jamaican rhythm machine Sly & Robbie, known for playing on countless of songs from the 60s up until today. The connection with Sly & Robbie came from French horn man Guillaume “Stepper” Briard, who has played with Sly & Robbie for many years.

“It was a real honor working with Sly & Robbie since they have recorded so many great tunes over the years. They have also made a heap of solid soul covers in reggae style and they are heroes of mine since the 80s,” concludes Guillaume Metenier.

I Want You 12” is now available on 12″ and will hit digital outlets on June 15th.

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Jah9 heads on first U.S. tour

Jah9 is ready to head on her first U.S. tour.

Jah9 is ready to head on her first U.S. tour.

Jah9 took the world by storm two years ago when she dropped her much anticipated debut album New Name. Since then she has put out a few singles, and now starts a new chapter – her first U.S. tour on February 4 to 8.

Reggae has never been huge in the U.S., even though Bob Marley sold well in the 70s and 80s. A few singles have also been successful on the charts and the latest one to climb high is Gyptian’s monster smash Hold You, released in 2010.

But away from the charts is an ongoing roots resurgence. It can be felt and heard both in the U.S. and Jamaica where artists such as Protoje and Chronixx have started making names for themselves. The most successful is definitely young Chronixx who graced The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon with Here Comes Trouble last July.

Janine “Jah9” Cunningham is also part of the reggae revival, or Rastafari movement as she puts it.

“This movement is Rastafari, and it is a resurgence of consciousness. It is not just in the music, it is in all forms of expression and the arts. All of the forms of the feminine which are no more dominant in our time and space, especially in this new age that we’re being ushered into. An age where the principals of the feminine, principles of self-conquering heart, principles of nurturing and care and love are more significant to us as a people than war and competition. That’s the essence of the movement,” explains Jah9.

More than music
It’s more than reggae. It’s more than music. And it’s more than Jamaica. It’s driven by certain Rastafari principals and ideals.

“Fortunately we as Jamaican youth have tapped into that current, and are using that to create and share the messages with the world,” she says.

And because it’s not merely about music, the success is built on the teachings of Rastafari, Bob Marley and Burning Spear; two artists that have made a tremendous impact around the world.

“They have always put Rastafari and principles of Marcus Garvey and knowledge of self and kind sustainable living and all of these things. They’ve always put them to the fore. Whatever their personal life entailed, when they were given an opportunity to speak they spoke on behalf of Rastafari, on behalf of consciousness, and I think that is we have also tapped into, what our message is resounding throughout the Earth,” explains Jah9.new_name_cover

Bringing the roots and culture
Jah9’s debut album New Name was highly praised when it came out. The set was produced by Rory Gilligan of Stone Love and has a sound far from the ordinary. It’s conscious, spiritual and has a smoky jazz vibe to it.

And now she’ll be performing her material live on her first U.S. tour. Between February 4 and 8 she visits Raleigh, Washington, New York City, Stowe and New Jersey.

“It’s a really good opportunity [to tour in the U.S.] because that is a market that reggae music made a significant impact in, but more of late Jamaican reggae music hasn’t really had an opportunity to shine in that space. So it feels really fitting to be able to bring the experience of roots and culture to the U.S. Especially because a few of the dates I will be there with my brothers, Midnite, so it’s a really good opportunity to really share a particularly poignant significant message of Rastafari and liberation in the U.S., especially at a time like this,” says Jah9.

Jah9 has been described as Jamaica’s best-kept secret by veteran musician Mikey Bennett.

Jah9 has been described as Jamaica’s best-kept secret by veteran musician Mikey Bennett.

Not just an entertainer
She says she tries not to have many expectations on the tour, but she has a clear aim – to give the U.S. East Coast an opportunity to see the culture of Rastafari. And as she’s a young Rastafari woman she also wants to kind of be an example.

“We bring elements of believity, that’s why I we’re calling it the dub-treatment rather than just ‘Jah9 coming to entertain ’. So it is really going to be more of an experience, a sharing, than just one entertaining event,” she says.

On several of the date she will support VI reggae trailblazers Midnite, her brothers as she calls them. She’s honoured to be able to perform along them and it will be the third time they share stage. Together they will create an experience rather than just a show.

“I think it is a great opportunity for healing and for growth and development of spirit. And I think the persons who come out will get an opportunity to be truly blessed. And even for us, our performance will also have an opportunity to share with each other and also be blessed,” she explains.

Spreading consciousness in 2015
Jah9 didn’t release much last year, but in October she dropped the single Revolution Lullaby, an unusual bright cut produced by Bregt Puraman and released in celebration of the crowning of Haile Selassie. This year seems to be different though and much is happening for Jah9 in 2015.

“Singles and new free download mixed tape, with information mixed with music, as well as another EP project with Rory Stonelove. Some of my own productions coming forward as well this year,” she reveals, and adds:

“There is also community activism through the dub treatment, through yoga and dub, through omega vibrations, projects which are specifically targeting women in particular. And hopefully this year we will be able to enter the South American markets and the continent of Africa in a real way with more than just entertainment, but with empowerment and crucial, crucial learning.”

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Onlyjoe drops fourth single for free download and prepares for debut album

Energetic and multi-faceted ten piece reggae band onlyjoe from the UK has just released their fourth single Hold Me for free download. It’s a summery and infectious cut with a catchy sing-a-long chorus and comes with a swinging dub version mixed by acclaimed producer and mixing engineer Nick Manasseh.

“We actually recorded the rhythm section and the horns a little while ago, and were looking for an opportunity to work with Manasseh on something, and this track seemed like the obvious choice to take to him, and as we had it finished and there was demand for it we really wanted to give it to people,” explains Harry Bradford, saxophonist in onlyjoe.

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The reason for giving the song and its two versions is simple – they wanted to give something to the people who have been supporting them over the last few years. And at the moment they are in the process of recording their debut album, a set with production helmed by forward-thinking bass producer Hylu, who travels with onlyjoe as engineer. He has also produced all their previous singles.

“We’re getting funding from wherever we can at the moment, and while we’re slowing down on gigs getting money through t-shirt sales, and donations on releases is really helping pay for future sessions,” says Harry Bradford.

Onlyjoe aims at releasing the so far untitled album next year, and it will hold a mixture of tracks and sounds.

“People will know the music from our sets as well as some other bits which we have developed behind closed doors, those tracks are a progression of the same sound, while some are more dubwise and some have higher energy. The main focus of onlyjoe has always been making conscious music to move a dance,” says Harry Bradford, and concludes:

“It all fits under the umbrella of reggae music in its many different forms. We definitely want some surprises on the album, and if the studio session a few weeks back is anything to go by it’s looking like there will be some!”

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Maxi Priest’s recipe for love

Maxi Priest is one of few reggae artists that have had a monster hit and succeeded in transcending musical borders. He reached international success in 1990 with Billboard chart-topper Close to You, and has kept a low profile in recent years, but dropped his first album in seven years only a few months ago. Reggaemani caught up with Maxi Priest on the phone to talk about the new album and the recipe behind a great love song.

Maxi Priest_Easy To Love_Press Image_0002British singer Maxi Priest started his musical journey in church and later on the UK sound system circuit singing with Saxon Studio International, Negus Negast and the legendary Jah Shaka. Early on he embraced Rastafari and cut mostly conscious and culturally themed material, but later shifted towards a more lovers oriented approach. Soon he introduced his R&B-tinged lovers rock to a global audience.

“First and foremost, I’m from a church background. My mother, a missionary, is where I would hear the beautiful sound of gospel, mixed in with reggae music that my older brothers played around the house. My sisters were into the Jackson Five, The Beatles, Al Green, etc. From an early age my family always encouraged me and I listened to all kinds of vocalists, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Dennis Brown, and without realizing it, I was developing my craft. I was taught never to limit myself – that’s why you’ll always find different styles of music on my albums, and a range of producers to bring out different aspects of my creativity,” says Maxi Priest in a press release.

Successful fusion
Few artists have explored the possibilities of pop/R&B/reggae fusion as successfully as Maxi Priest. His smooth voice and his comfort with soul and hip-hop have rendered him a massive following around the world, particularly in the U.S. and his native Britain.

His new album Easy to Love is a fine representation of reggae and lovers rock according to Maxi Priest – sophisticated, stylish and slick. And Maxi Priest himself seems to be enjoying the album and is pleased with how it sounds.

“It’s fabulous. I feel on top of the world and like I have pushed over a mountain,” says Maxi Priest over the phone from London where he is doing promotion for the new album, and adds:

“The support has been fantastic and I feel so good. I want to thank everybody for their support and the reggae community as a whole. Without you there is no us.”

New approach
On Easy to Love Maxi Priest is joined by drum and bass duo Sly & Robbie, who played on several of his early hit songs, including Close to You, Wild World, Some Guys Have All the Luck and the Shabba Ranks combination Housecall. Maxi Priest has together with them, and with Clive Hunt, Colin “Bulby” York and Steven “Lenky” Marsden, created a lovers rock album with one or two diversities.

unnamed“It’s an album that I can play from the top to the bottom. An album to play in a moment in time. Play in the car or play it with your girlfriend,” he explains.

Maxi Priest has used a different way of working compared to in the previous sets. This time he allowed himself to take a step back and let the experts do what they do best. He focused on what he does best – writing and vocalizing.

“I would normally be very hands on, but I was comfortable in my relationship with the producers. I have felt at home and been relaxed. We have been pushing the envelope and experimenting. You need to take chances and experiment. That’s the beauty of creativity,” explains Maxi Priest.

Back to basics
Seven years have gone by since he dropped his previous album Refused. The years have been spent touring the world.

“It’s a massive world out there and it takes time to get around it,” laughs Maxi Priest, and continues:Maxi Priest_Easy To Love_Press Image_0003

“But there have also been one or two singles.”

Maxi Priest says that the music business is confusing, another reason why he has kept a rather low profile and not released much material.

“I wanted to see some changes and wanted everything to calm down. I also needed to figure out where I was and my place in the business,” he says, and continues:

“Then I wanted to bring it back to foundation and start the wheels turning again. And it feels really good. Everybody’s been showing love for this thing I’m doing. I feel like I haven’t been away and that I have a massive army. And I’m leading this army with this album.”

Over the years Maxi Priest has dabbled in several genres, even though he has never lost focus. Smooth reggae has always provided the foundation, but it has been flavoured with lots of dancehall and hip-hop. Easy to Love is however back to basics.

“Every direction is different and a brand new experience for me. This album has been a direction chosen by myself and the producers involved in it. We have been walking in unison, like an arrow straight through the eye of an apple. That has given me strength and encouragement to push and move forward to the highest peak I could reach,” he says.

A recipe for love
Easy to Love is a telling title for two reasons. The music is easy to like and it contains loads of love and romance. Something that Maxi Priest is known for. So what’s his recipe for writing a great love song?

“Knowing how to love and how to be loved,” he says after thinking for a while, and continues:

“I think so, and that’s why the album is called Easy to Love. I’m easy to love. I was brought up in a large family with nine brothers and sisters. I was thought how to appreciate people and share. All that is love, and yes, I do think I know how to love.”

When writing his love songs Maxi Priest finds inspiration in experiences – his own, his friends’, their relationships, ups and downs and everything in between.

Just put your mind to it
The lead single off the album was released in mid-2013 and was another chart-topper for Maxi Priest since it reached number one in the reggae charts. But the success of Easy to Love is nothing compared to Close to You; a single that turned his life and career upside down. And Maxi Priest says that he today feels like he did when he had success with Close to You – on top of the world.

“They called me when I was in the U.S. and said ‘we are number one’. I was rushing to call everyone I knew in London. I had goose pimples and froze for a while. I was only a young kid from southeast London and now I had the opportunity to meet all these people from pop, hip-hop and R&B,” he says, and continues:

“In many ways it made me feel like we can achieve anything if we just put our minds to it. With power of decision there’s a way to achieve anything. So, friends and family – don’t give up. There’s always opportunity.”

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Hezron makes music for the people

Jamaican singer Hezron dropped his soulful and intimate debut album The Life I Live(d) in late May. As the title suggests it’s an album based on experiences; both his own and from people around him. Reggaemani had a chat with Hezron about his music, his experiences and why he relocated from the U.S. to Jamaica.

Hezron 1Hezron Clarke was born in St. James, Jamaica, and developed his singing and talent being a member of the local church choir. He later moved to the U.S. and transitioned into R&B as a young adult.

“I did R&B in the U.S., but Jamaica took over,” he explains when I talk to him over Skype from Jamaica where he is doing interviews from Tad’s Record’s office.

The Life I Lived(d) is Hezron’s debut album, but it sounds remarkably mature thanks to his powerful voice and the skilfully produced riddims . Over the years he has steadily been building a name for himself in Jamaica and abroad through a number of hit songs, including So in Love, Forever and Always and Can’t Come Between. He has also been compared to Jamaican crooner Beres Hammond as well as a highly acclaimed soul singer.

“Hezron is one of the most soulful reggae singers in Jamaican history and to me, he is the Teddy Pendergrass of our beloved genre,” says Tad Dawkins, President of Tad’s Record, in a press release.

Being compared to these two individuals might come with great obligations, but Hezron is cool and calm.

“I’m more than happy to hear such comparisons, and those two are some of my influences, and they represent different styles. But I’m also influenced by Luther Vandross, Dennis Brown, Bounty Killer and Buju Banton,” explains Hezron, and continues:

“When I grew up most things were about those singers; their melodies and style and their style and passion. They represent different flavours with multiple melodies.”

From Jamaica to the U.S. and back again
But singing reggae wasn’t always the case for Hezron. He started in the R&B vein after he had migrated to the U.S. to get a better life.

“Jamaica is a tough country, and it’s a better living overseas. The U.S. is a first world country, but music called; it was a true calling from Jamaica. It was natural for me to go back, since I grew up in a reggae environment,” says Hezron.

He was involved in the local reggae scene when he lived in the U.S – did a few gigs and things. But the scene wasn’t as authentic as the one in Jamaica, so he felt compelled to return to Jamaica to fulfil his destiny as a reggae singer.

“I wanted the true vibes and then you need to be in Jamaica,” says Hezron, and continues:

“It feels good to be back. There are good vibes here. And what has happened to me is great. It has brought out the best in me. It’s a hard place though, and you need to struggle a lot. But poverty builds character. Great words have come from this.”

Everyday life channelled through music
The Life I Live(d) comes as a double disc with a whopping 26 tracks anchored in reggae’s scorching drum and bass backbeat with an organic and richly textured sound. The lyrics are personal and intimate and deal with love, violence, relationships and poverty.

“I write about life and everyday situations. My life and other people’s life,” he explains, and continues:

“I’ve been a musician for most of my life. It has been serious for many years and I put my stories to melodies. It’s about my own experiences and other peoples stories that I have seen. It’s like everyday things channelled into melody, lyrics and music. That’s the life I’ve lived, what I’ve seen.”

Hezron 3

Singing for the people
Hezron is dedicated to what he does and is serious about his music, and that is shown on the album, which is carefully produced and well-crafted from start to finish. Music is his life.

“It may sound boring, but my life is about music. I go to work and start working. That repeats every day. I practice with my band and it’s all about music. I love it madly. It’s my life,” he says.

Hezron describes The Life I Live(d) as his most important experience as a musician yet. It’s his life’s work and a testament that reggae music lives and breathes.

“When I came back from Jamaica people said that reggae music was lost, that talents have been lost. But I still went back and wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted people to see the depth of my talent; I wanted a career in this great music,” he says, and continues:

“It’s the vibes of Jamaica, the vibes of my country. You need to understand that people cry, you have to understand the people. And I believe I understand all that. I have taken time to write songs and wanted to put out something that the world would respect. That’s why the album has taken some time to finish. That was important to me.”Hezron - The Life I Live(d) (cover)

Reggae music has over the years often been described as the people’s music. And this is something that Hezron comes back to when discussing his album and his music.

“This is the only music that accommodates the stories of people, common man stories. It’s a fight against oppression, but it’s also about love and relationships. And with our music we praise the Almighty. Reggae accommodates everything and it make you dance. That’s why I love it,” concludes Hezron.

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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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Brinsley Forde’s solo journey

Brinsley Forde is a living legend. He’s a skilled musician, talented singer and founder of legendary UK roots outfit Aswad. Last year he dropped his debut solo album Urban Jungle, a set produced by acclaimed duo Not Easy at All Productions. Reggaemani caught up with him on the phone while he was in London rehearsing for a show.

Legendary reggae singer Brinsley Forde.

Legendary reggae singer Brinsley Forde.

Aswad is possibly the most well-known roots reggae band from the UK. They formed in the 70s and dropped their self-titled debut album 1976, to wide critical acclaim. They had – or have since they are still active – a conscious and social approach and much of their early output was hard and spoke to the angry youths in the UK.

The band formed in 1975, the same year as another roots rocking outfit – Steel Pulse. The nucleus of Aswad – meaning black in Amharic – was vocalist and guitarist Brinsley Forde, bass man George Oban, keyboardist Courtney Hemmings, lead guitarist Donald Griffiths, drummer Angus “Drummie Zeb” Gaye and Tony ”Gad” Robinson, who later replaced Courtney Hemmings on keys and later George Oban on Bass.

They reached pop-chart success with Chasing the Breeze in 1984 and the smooth chart-topper Don’t Turn Around in 1988. But their best song to date is probably the hard-hitting Warrior Charge, used for Dennis Brown’s Promised Land and later versioned by Nas & Damian Marley.

No longer part of Aswad
When I reach Brinsley Forde he is in London rehearsing for a show where he together with Jazz Jamaica All Stars and the Urban Soul Orchestra performs an orchestral interpretation of The Wailers’ legendary album Catch a Fire. The first shows were held in 2012 and were so successful that another round had to be scheduled in 2013.

He’s no rookie in performing music originally recorded by reggae legends. In the 70s he and Aswad guested with a number of Jamaican singers, for example Dennis Brown and Burning Spear on his album Live released in 1977.

Brinsley Forde is no longer part of Aswad. He left in 1996, but didn’t take the name; even though he’s the one who came up with it.

“For me it’s like marriage and family. The band was like a unit, but it was time for me to move on. I wanted to take a different journey, but I’m grateful for everything. I still call Aswad family. And after so many years of singing and one love, we never argued about money or whatever,” explains Brinsley Forde over the phone, and adds:

“But it might come a time when we come together and work again. It’s one love between us. It was a break-up, but we can still work together.”

He wanted to take a different journey and left for spiritual reasons. Today he lives on the Canary Islands, about 100 miles west of Africa.

“It’s a little piece of Africa, and it’s a long story. You have to leave it to the Father. It was his decision I ended up there, but it’s a great place to write,” he says.

Friend inspired him
On the Canary Islands he has over the years done a little bit of everything. He has had a bar there and was also one of the DJ’s to open the UK’s first digital BBC radio station with his reggae radio show Lively Up Yourself.

“I wasn’t doing music seriously for some years, but I had a friend on the Canaries, guitarist Marco Vavassori, who played in a band, and he asked me if I could come and jam with them. So I went to see how it felt,” he says, and continues:

“To sit and play with people just for the love of music steered my whole vibe and I understood why I started with music. It inspired me to start working with music again.”

Different being solo
Rumors about a solo album from Brinsley Forde have been circulating for a number of years, so Urban Jungle came as no big surprise. But he reveals that he has a number of albums cooking – one for a producer from Germany and one for Sly & Robbie.

Brinsley Forde strumming his guitar.

Brinsley Forde strumming his guitar.

“This was meant to be the first, but there are more albums to come. I love my music and I love what I do, so this won’t be the last,” he reveals, and continues:

“But it’s also difficult. I have been working with great musicians like Drummie and Tony and I needed to re-educate myself. You have other people to bounce with when you are on your own. You can’t have any doubts in yourself, and this time everything has worked out fine.”

Working with Not Easy at All
Urban Jungle was released via Dutch label JahSolidRock and Platinum Roots from the UK with production by Marc Baronner and Manu Genius, formerly known as Not Easy at All Productions.

For this album Brinsley Forde was approached by Ras Denco, owner of JahSolidRock and he told him about Marc Baronner and Manu Genius. But when talking to Brinsley Forde about recording a new album it was not an easy decision.

“Music business is a different thing. It’s difficult to be both commercial and being artistic. I struggled with it for a long time. Because once you have success it’s hard to maintain your integrity. Stick to what you believe in and stay true to yourself. It’s a learning process and I had to decide what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do,” he says.

Brinsley Forde had heard a couple of productions by Not Easy at All and liked what he had heard. So Marc Baronner and Manu Genius sent him a couple of riddims. The first being the one used for She Don’t Want to Try and the second being Can’t Stop Me Now, lifted as the first single off the album.

“The vibes were great,” remembers Brinsley Forde, and continues:

“I went to Holland and met them and it was instant. They loved the vibe of early Aswad and early Steel Pulse. Roots music. That was the kind of album they wanted. But for myself, it was ‘do we really want go there or move forward’? But it has been a blessing. It sounds relaxed. Manu wanted the 80s vibe and he really captured it. It was a great collaboration and I really enjoyed making the album.”

A conscious effort
The album was recorded using two studios – one in Holland and one in the Canaries, and according to Brinsley Forde the mixing and production were meticulous.

“I wasn’t just voicing an album and Urban Jungle isn’t a riddim album. It was like a production and it took a lot of time to finish. Each track has a special feeling and we bounced ideas back and forth. It was a constant molding of ideas. Rhythms were changed, drum patterns were changed. Hope it shows,” he says and comes back to working with what you believe in:

“I’m struggling with this business. It’s about having hits and recording commercial songs. I want to make a good song that maintains what I believe in.”

Urban Jungle is a conscious effort in many respects and several songs have deep and spiritual meanings, like the title track.Brinsley-Forde-Urban-Jungle_01

“The song Urban Jungle is just an observation of a couple of wars that have taken place over the last few years. Like Europe coming together and joining up for war. The countries bankrupt themselves,” he says and gets into a discussion about the actual motives behind certain wars:

“We have been told it was about this and that, but what was the reality? You have to make your own decisions. The title invokes all that. It’s an urban jungle and the strongest will survive. And I want to ask a question – what do you see? This is what I see,” he explains, and continues:

“We were told about weapons of mass destruction, but my view is that it was all about economics.”

But there is also a song like Sodom & Gomorrah, a track with a more local perspective.

“It’s about what has happened in London. Mark Duggan was shot in Tottenham and it’s still believed to have been unjustly by the police and it sparked the riots,” says Brinsley Forde.

“You have to believe what you are saying”
Brinsley Forde’s first solo album certainly echoes from the 80s, but the music scene has changed a lot since he started almost 40 years ago. Digitalization and technology improvements have been key for these changes, but also globalization and the rise of consumerism.

“I remember Bob [Marley] saying I and I is the root. And reggae music is the root of modern day music. Just take rapping. Herc [Kool DJ Herc] from Jamaica was playing his sound system in New York City, and if it wasn’t for him, hip-hop would not have been here today,” he believes, and continues:

“Technology has caused quality control to go out the window. You have to know your craft in this time when music is disposable and quick,” he says, and concludes:

“I’m hearing more cultural music coming from Jamaica. This is what we need. Social commentaries last. Not just jumping up and down and sing. Lyrics are important and you have to believe what you are saying. You owe it to yourself.”

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Gentleman has come a long way

Successful German singjay Gentleman has gone from dropping hip-hop and conscious roots via eclectic dancehall to reggae-tinged electronic dance music. Over the years he has toured the world and recorded extensively in Jamaica and Europe. Reggaemani caught up with him while he was in Jamaica making music videos and promoting his latest album New Day Dawn.

Gentleman is probably the most successful European reggae artist today, even though the European reggae scene is strong at the moment with several artists making a name for themselves in the Caribbean and the U.S. Gappy Ranks, Million Stylez, Randy Valentine, Patrice, Jahcoustix and Lion D are some of the singers and deejays that come to mind.

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But the reasons behind his own global success isn’t something Gentleman thinks about on a daily basis.

“Otto Tilmann is my real name and I don’t play a role. I have a passion for music and a hunger and strive to develop myself. And one of the key things is the right surroundings. No man is an island and I have a sense for good people, people that give me energy and people that I can learn from,” says Gentleman, and continues:

“I don’t know where I’m going and I’m surprised to have come this far. I’m not the best song writer and not the best singer. I just love music. I make music for myself.”

Gentleman’s success earned him a contract with a major label in 2010 and last year he dropped his sixth album New Day Dawn, his second on Universal. Being signed to a major label has given him a lot of muscles in terms of marketing and promotion – very important these days when anyone can start a label and distribute and sell music via the Internet.

Working with the right people
I reach Gentleman on his mobile phone, while he’s on a break from shooting a music video in Kingston, Jamaica.

“This is where it’s happening. It’s the motherland of the music I do. It’s good for the motivation to be here and I also get some great feedback here. Music is very important in Jamaica and it’s on a natural level,” explains Gentleman.

For a European – or anyone not from the Caribbean – it’s hard to get attention on Jamaican radio, something that UK-based producer Frenchie talked about in a recent interview with United Reggae. This has not been a big issue for Gentleman though.

“I receive some radio play, but I’ve never really worked hard to get it. I’m just glad my music gets played sometimes. If you want to be accepted, if that’s your goal, it will be hard. I never strived for it and I’ve never aimed to be successful in Jamaica. I’ve spent a lot of time in the studios here, and with the right people. But music comes first and people second,” he states.

Gentleman has previously worked with several big producers, both within reggae and from other industries as well, for example Benny Blanco, who has worked with superstars such as Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry.

New formula
On New Day Dawn he has tried a new formula – doing most of the production himself.

“I was ready for it and wanted to do it different this time. Different compared to previous albums. I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound and with a vibe like that you can’t compromise,” he explains, and continues:

“This time every riddim was suited for me and I didn’t have to compromise or anything. I worked with different musicians, like the drummer of my band, and together we finished the ideas I came up with. It was all natural and I knew where I wanted to go. If I would make an album with different producers again, it has to be right.”gentleman_newdaydawn

The end result is a slick and clean album with weeping acoustic ballads and house-inspired dancehall. But one drop reggae is not completely left out of this contemporary cocktail. Another Drama, with its dub mixing and crying saxophones, or Road of Life, with its catchy na-na-na, are two fine slices of modern reggae. New Day Dawn certainly stands out compared to his previous albums, partly thanks to its more mature approach.

“The album is versatile. On one hand you have handmade roots reggae, and on the other hand you have dancehall and an electronic sound. It’s a lot of passion and love in the project. I love it and a lot of the songs also work well on stage. I had imagined how I could deliver on stage and the result is very alive,” he explains, and continues:

“I grow with the times. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over. Roots is my first love and probably my last, but I don’t like categories. Roots reggae is at the center of everything.”

Follows his inner voice
For Gentleman New Day Dawn stands for a new beginning and a new opportunity, it’s just a matter of attitude.

“There is a revolutionary dynamic in this world. Just look at Cairo. There was a revolution in Egypt and this has been a significant experience for me. Young people striving for change, striving for a new episode. It’s very positive, even though there still is a lot of darkness out there,” he says.

Gentleman strives to do good and is a very positive person, something that’s also reflected in his lyrics.

“Every feeling I have flows through my music. There are days when I go through life reaching nowhere. It can be depressive, but two days later it’s a new vibe. It’s just a matter of decision and perspective, what you see and what you feel,” he says, and adds:

“I follow my inner voice and I’m not thinking about what I’m doing, I just do it. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s not.”

Pure Gentleman
Gentleman has a history of voicing a lot of combinations with other artists. On Diversity, for example, he shared vocal duties with Christopher Martin, Tanya Stephens, Red Rose, Million Stylez, Patrice and Sugar Minott. He has also dropped an album together with Richie Stephens. But on New Day Dawn it’s just Gentleman.

“My first album had no combinations either. This time I didn’t have a plan, it just happened. I just loved the songs and loved the idea more and more without any features. I didn’t need it this time,” he says, and adds:

“I love to work with other people, but it was time for a pure Gentleman album.”

“A change is in the making”
15 years have passed since Gentleman put out his debut album Troddin’ On, a set that offered a potent mix of hip-hop and dancehall. In 2002 his perspectives had changed and his breakthrough album Journey to Jah was released. This album showcased a new and rootsier side of Gentleman with guest performers such as Luciano and Capleton.

Now, twelve years after his breakthrough, things are different. The music industry has undergone huge changes and Gentleman is a superstar in his native Germany.

“I’m still the same and I have the same direction, but the world is much more complex and things are not black or white. It’s not as easy today as it used to be. I didn’t think too much in the beginning. Today, I know what people want, I’m a better song writer and I have process. Some lyrics from back in the day would not do it today,” he explains and adds:

“The whole music business and how we consume music has changed. It’s not better or worse today, it’s just different. Good or bad, I don’t know. But the morality is gone. People don’t spend money on music anymore which makes it difficult for newcomers. There is a lot of talent, but no opportunities. Labels don’t work the way they used to. They are looking for that one hit and it’s not easy. But I think a change is in the making. It’s moving in cycles.”

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I-Octane aims for a global journey

I-Octane has over the past years voiced several hard-hitting dancehall productions. But on his new album My Journey he showcases his sometimes velvety, sometimes aggressive, singing style over both pulsating and mellow reggae beats. Reggaemani caught up with this confident singer, a workaholic that aims for the sky.

I-Octane_Press1I-Octane was born Byiome Muir in Clarendon, Jamaica, and started his musical career about five years ago. He is a singer that has managed to stay out of controversy despite being highly successful in dancehall circuits.

I reach him via Skype and initially we small talk about Tarrus Riley and I-Octane’s performance with him in Stockholm a few years back.

“It was a great opportunity touring with Tarrus Riley. He was like a big brother to us,” says I-Octane.

At the time I hadn’t heard much about I-Octane. One thing I remember from the concert though was his energetic voice and big smile.

He sits in a huge brown armchair in Tad’s Record’s office in Jamaica. And smiles. He also talks a lot and answers my questions thoroughly. That was not the case when I interviewed him two years ago as he was about to drop his debut album Crying to the Nation.

Independent artist
I-Octane is doing interviews for his second album My Journey. This effort is released via Tad’s Record and not reggae powerhouse VP.

“I never signed with VP. It was an independent album. My perspective and their perspective were different. I don’t believe in being signed to a label. I’m a free flowing artist and no one can stop me from creating songs, stop me from being a creative person. I like to record. I like to sing. I like to contribute to music,” explains I-Octane in a serious tone, and continues:

“If someone tries to stop me, I have a problem. I need to keep voicing. Be active. VP was doing the album because Robert Livingstone was the executive producer, and I was an independent artist for Robert. It was just the end product.”

More reggae, less dancehall
My Journey is more in the reggae vein compared to its predecessor. And that was the general idea.

“My career has mostly been about dancehall, so I decided that in 2014 I want to do straight reggae. Straight drum and bass songs. And I feel like I’m doing something substantial. I’m contributing to reggae and I have grown between the two albums,” he says, and continues:

“The album is more of me, more I-Octane. From my perspective it has a more worldwide appeal. When I was voicing it I was thinking about the world, not just Jamaica. I pronounce clearer now and it’s more English, more like an album that can cross a lot of borders. It’s a worldwide thing.”

But it’s not just I-Octane singing. It’s also the music and the riddims created by his long-time friend and hit-maker Andre “DJ Frass” Gordon. Together they have created a set jam-packed with memorable hooks and catchy choruses.

“It’s about how the songs are constructed, the riddims and the mood. The mood is different this time. It’s more current. I’m also a more mature vocalist,” he says.

Going global with confidence
The album title explains where I-Octane is coming from and all the obstacles and challenges that he has managed to overcome.

“Experiences have been harsh, but it’s great. I just put it in writing. I have learned a lot and I appreciate life more. I appreciate people more.”

I-Octane says that one of his goals is to go global and to reach a much wider audience. To be heard motivates him and makes him a better artist, he believes.

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And there’s nothing wrong with his confidence. He gives thanks to the Lord for his musical gift and refers to himself as a super talent.

“Music is not hard for me. I just go to the studio and I never write. I hear a beat, I take up a paper and a pen and I record. I voice a lot of songs. I voice 20 and make 5. It’s not about the volume, it’s about substance”, he explains, and continues:

“It’s hard to market the brand properly. And that’s my aim now. Get in to major festivals and major concerts. The world needs to see what I’m capable of doing”.

The next generation
My Journey is a melodic and consistent set. It has an overall pop feeling to it and the upbeat dancehall cuts are few. The man responsible for this is DJ Frass.

“Frass is my brethren and he has produced a lot of hit songs. He’s comfortable to work with and he’s also a workaholic. We help each other,” he says, and continues:

“Frass produced the album, but we got all these great musicians in Jamaica to work on the album. All the great players played them.”

I-Octane’s youthful and energetic style is popular, especially in Jamaica. Over the years he has been nominated and won several music prizes in both Jamaica and abroad. The most recent ones are two top prizes and Jamaica’s Youth View Awards, where he was awarded Favourite Local Music Video and Favourite Music Collaboration.

“I was nominated in ten categories, but it’s not about being the winner. I was a winner in ten different categories,” he says and concludes:

“It’s great in terms of marketing. Kids are the next generation. It makes me a better person. I want to work harder and contribute more. You can be five, six or seven years old. Music is always music.”

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Ten years with Zion High Productions

Zion High Productions is one part of acclaimed U.S. production trio Zion I Kings, responsible for a number of major releases in recent years. Zion High Productions has now been alive and kicking for ten years and Reggaemani took the chance to catch up with Jah David, bass player and musical director. He spoke freely about being a reggae musician, about Zion I Kings and also revealed some exciting upcoming projects.

David “Jah David” Goldfine is one third of Zion High Productions and lives near Tampa, Florida. The two other members, Ras Elliott and Quashi, live in Oregon and West Palm Beach, Florida.

Zion High Productions is a production house and a label and the story started ten years ago in San Diego, California, where Ras Elliott owned and operated a record shop called Trade Roots Reggae, a mainstay of the southern California reggae scene for almost 20 years. Jah David worked there and he and his childhood friend Jah Oil – an early member of Zion High Productions – were in the bands Kush and Jah Bloodfyah Angels.

“Yami Bolo’s Rebelution was our first project,” remembers Jah David, and continues:

“It was a great project and a great learning experience for me as a producer, writer and bass player. We had Santa Davis from Soul Syndicate on drums and Scientist as an engineer. Ras Michael was also involved in the project. It was a wonderful experience and we made great music inspired by Haile Selassie the First.”

Shortly after the release on Rebelution Jah Oil left and Quashi came onboard.

From violin and guitar to the bass
Jah David has been playing music since he was around seven years old. He started with the violin, but moved on to acoustic guitar and later played in various rock bands. He started listening to reggae, especially Bob Marley, as a kid, and when in his early teens his interest in reggae gained momentum with artists like Burning Spear, Culture and a little Israel Vibration.

“From that time, when I was around 15, I forgot the guitar. I was feeling the bass. I listened to Familyman and I felt those bass lines and I thought ‘I know I can play that’. It seemed so simple, but it is so complex,” explains Jah David with a calm, almost soothing, voice, and continues:

“I picked up the bass and started seeking Jah at the same time. Jah Oil and I started our reggae journey together; me as a bass player and he as a guitarist.”

I reach Jah David on the phone from his home studio. He has just finished recording dubplates together with Glen Washington and he says that they are also recording a new album together. No title yet though since the project is in its formative stage. Jah David is not like other producers or label owners when it comes to talking about new and upcoming releases. Many usually keep quite on work in progress, while Jah David speaks freely about what is about to come from him and his collaborators.

Forming the Zion I Kings
But let’s come back to the releases and continue with the fruitful collaboration between Zion High Productions, I Grade Records and Lustre Kings, more commonly known as the Zion I Kings.

Moon, Jah David and Tippy I in the studio.

Moon, Jah David and Tippy I in the studio.

Andrew “Moon” Bain, guitarist and musical director in Lustre Kings, started working together with Jah David, prior to Jah David’s involvement in Zion High Productions. Jah David played bass and was co-producer on one of Lustre Kings’ releases in the early days.

“My first love is the bass and I’m a bassie. I was playing sessions for Lustre Kings and worked on the Culture Dem album. I also did some singles before that, like 12-13 years ago. I was working on singles in Jamaica and material from Sizzla, Capleton, Al Pancho and Lutan Fyah. Lutan was just busting and started to get a buzz and I worked on the first Lutan Fyah album,” remembers Jah David, and continues:

“Tippy [keyboard player and owner of I Grade Records] and I met through Ras Attitude. We were working on the Holding Firm album. He said he had a good brethren in St Croix and Tippy had produced a great song, which he wanted to include on the album. Ever since that we have been working together,” he explains, and adds:

“Moon and Tippy met around the same time in New York City and that closed the circle. Moon is a great guitarist, Tippy is a great keyboard player and I play the bass. We are all producers and engineers. Zion I Kings – bass, keys and guitar. And we do sessions with different drummers.”

Their classy productions have gained lots of interest around the world and the trio was recently involved in the much discussed and talked about Snoop Lion album. The breezy Breadfruit riddim, that provided the basis for Lloyd Brown’s Just So That You Know, was utilized for Snoop Lion’s So Long, a standout cut on his Grammy nominated album Reincarnated.reincarnatedalbumcover

“It was really through Moon. That’s Zion I King’s involvement. He worked a lot on the project together with Jahdan [Blakkamoore]. They were hired by Diplo to go to Jamaica and help write for the album. They were hired to write lyrics and melodies. Not music,” he explains.

For the love of the music
Zion High Productions is a small label, even though it has put out a number of major and much talked about albums, including the aforementioned Yami Bolo album and the Jah Golden Throne compilation. And just as for many other labels the reality is harsh and Zion High Productions struggles with balancing costs and revenues.

“The most challenging is figuring out a way to make our business profitable. To stay afloat,” explains Jah David.

It’s however crystal clear that Jah David and his partners are not in this business for the money. They do it for the love of the music and for the love of Rastafari.

“This is our vehicle to glorify and praise Rastafari. It is our mission and we are using the talents we have been blessed with.”

But running a label and being a producer takes time, energy and money, and great response and wide file sharing does not translate well into dollars on the bank account.

“Everything costs. Lights have to be turned on and we need to bring in other musicians. I’d love if it becomes more profitable,” he explains, and adds:

“When we invest in a CD we usually make money, but not the kind of money we would like to see. There is support for CD and physical products, but it doesn’t cover the total cost of putting it together. It takes more than we are seeing. Everyone feels good artistically, but not monetary,” he says and adds that he’s not really preoccupied with dealing with file sharing and that he rather focuses on writing a bass line or mixing a song.

Being one with the music is important to Jah David and the response he gets from fans and other musicians are some of the greatest rewards.

“That the world hears the message, accepts the message and feels good about it; that’s the biggest reward. We are not making music for ourselves; we make it for the world to hear. That’s my greatest accomplishment. People in Africa, in Asia and in Budapest have heard my works,” he concludes.

Working with Lloyd Brown
Jah David has worked on countless of albums, compilations and singles and it is hard for him to pick favorite projects. To him they are all special and unique. But after a while when he has thought the question over he comes up with a few suggestions, most of them being upcoming projects rather than already released ones.

lloydbrown-rootical“I’m really excited about the Lloyd Brown album. This is something else. This is my album. Boy, I’m very excited about this one. This album is very different from every other Lloyd Brown album. To me Lloyd is like a virtual soul singer, like John Coltrane on sax, or Miles on trumpet. That’s how he is on the microphone,” explains an excited Jah David, and continues:

“I have been a fan of Lloyd for a long time. I used to tour with Tippa Irie and he and Lloyd are close, so I got introduced to him by Tippa.”

Lloyd Brown and Tippa Irie also had a combination on the Jah Golden Throne compilation called Make It Work.

“They have done so many things together. Lloyd heard the Make it Work riddim and contacted me. We linked and he wanted to listen to some other riddims. I sent him the Breadfruit riddim and he loved it and said we should do an album. From there it just went on,” he says and reveals two other upcoming projects:

“We are also doing an instrumental album from Jah Bless. It will be eclectic with a lot of dub, horns, solos and jazz. I’m really excited about that. And we are also doing an album with Ziggi Recado.”

Hopes for the future
Capleton, Lutan Fyah, Prezident Brown and Yami Bolo. The list of artists that Jah David has worked with is long. There are a few artists he has yet to work with, but aim for in the future.

“Lloyd was a big one for me. And I’d really want to do more with Queen Omega. She has voiced a tune on the Jah Warrior riddim [drops on February 25] and also has a combination on the Lloyd Brown album. I’d love to do an album with her,” he explains, and continues:

“I have never done any work with Tarrus Riley. I really love him from a technical production standpoint. Don’t know about an album, maybe just a record.”

Re-worked a Cornel Campbell album
Another recent release from Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings is Cornel Campbell’s New Scroll, a rootsy and melodic set jam-packed with the usual memorable hooks and bright horns arrangements. The story of the album goes back many years. Actually almost ten years. So let’s take it from the beginning.cornel-campbell-new-scroll

“Ras Elliott has been a fan of Cornel Campbell for years. Elliott is an elder to me and could almost be my father. He has been into Cornel Campbell for 30 to 35 years. He’s a huge fan. Owns all of his records on vinyl and the whole thing. He has also known Cornel for years. And when he toured the west coast around 2004/2005 Ras Elliott was the tour manager. He called me and said ‘Jah D, book some studio time in Florida. We are coming there to voice and record an album, ’” he says with great excitement, and continues:

“He came for a week, but we weren’t satisfied with the result. We didn’t have enough time and I was much greener than I am now. My approach then was like a more hands-off approach. It didn’t happen and we moved on to other projects. But then finally, about a year ago, he came to Tampa again and we redid the album. One or two new songs are new, but the bulk of it is the same with different riddim tracks. The songs have been reworked and rearranged from the originals in a way where it seemed to become better. The result is great.”

On a mission
Jah David is a humble and dedicated musician that knows his talent and skills. People in the business know him by the trail of relentless bass lines he has provided the world with. And when he works with artists they can expect two things.

“First, it’s the music. Whenever I play a riddim for any of these artists, Capleton, Sizzla etc, they get excited. They shout when I play the bass. Even in the beginning, in the Culture Dem days. I play real reggae music. That’s the main thing,” he says, and continues:

“Secondly, the fact we are heartical Rasta and that we’re serious about the misson. People know what we’re about.”

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