And now for something completely different. Or maybe not completely, but almost. NYC’s collective of musicians Megative fuses late-70s UK punk with reggae and dub. They also add slices of electric urgency to create a deep, dense, urban and dystopic sonic landscape owing much to Two-Tone creators The Specials, punk rock giants The Clash and Jamaican mixing maestro Lee Perry.
Singles like More Time and Can’t Do Drugz (Like I Used To) have narcotic soundscapes with singers Tim Fletcher and Gus Van Go trading verses completed by a distant trumpet and gothic sonic effects.
Best of the bunch is however the Metric Man combination Megative No Fear, which is a version of Derrick Morgan’s rocksteady classic Rudie’s Don’t Fear, with its aggressive and haunting production.
This is a youthful sound created by seasoned musicians who aim to create something new and fresh, yet not fearing tradition. It’s a big and bold sound full of defiance and attitude.
Agent Sasco’s, aka Assassin, fourth studio album Hope River is his most versatile and intimate to date. He is one of Jamaica’s most successful dancehall artists and is also popular with hip-hop crowds, showcased by collaborations with Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Raekwon the Chef and Royce Da 5’ 9”.
On Hope River he is accompanied by an all-star Jamaican cast of performers, including Dre Island, Wayne Marshall, Stephen Marley, Kabaka Pyramid, Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica, Romain Virgo and many more. Most of them appear on the upbeat closing track All Aboard.
Agent Sasco reflects on his upbringing in Kintyre in the parish of St. Andrew in Jamaica and he passionately shares his beliefs in a greater force making life and love possible. It’s an album about hope, gratitude and spirituality. It’s also musically diverse and Agent Sasco borrows from gospel, ska, hip-hop and nyabinghi on this stylish set.
Two of the cuts – Energy River and My Song – stand out because of their insanely catchy sing-a-long choruses, two songs sounding like they were written for large stadiums rather than small clubs.
Agent Sasco – with his authoritative tone and rockstone voice – has once again created a landmark album.
Two years ago I discovered Canarian reggae artist Dactah Chando. He started his career back in 2009 and dropped his fifth album in 2016. I had never heard of him, but the album Ansestral caught my ears with its warm vibes and uplifting spirit.
Recently he dropped his sixth album Global Cityzen, an eleven track set, including two dub workouts courtesy of German producer and mixing engineer Umberto Echo, who together with Dactah Chando has produced the album.
Global Cityzen is much like its predecessor and Dactah Chando again effortlessly flows between Spanish and English. He is backed by Gentleman’s current live band The Evolution and they provide solid and powerful rhythms, including live horns and harmonica.
Global Cityzen is another pleasant set, and when the album dropped I knew what to expect.
Jamaican singer Popcaan has come from being Vybz Kartel’s protege to a superstar in his own right. He broke big in 2010 when he joined Vybz Kartel and Gaza Slim on the nowadays classic Clarks tune. It was followed by a stream of singles and collaborations and his debut Where We Come From was put out in 2014.
That set was produced by NYC’s Dre Skull and he’s also in charge of Popcaan’s second album Forever, a 17 track set where the duo presents a tasty blend of dancehall, pop, reggae, R&B and electro.
In the Jamaican singles-based industry an album could be a collection of singles, but Forever is more than a collection of songs. It’s a cohesive body of work that bubbles with emotion and struggles and Popcaan is both care-free and introspective and spiritual. But it’s not really raw and gritty, it’s rather polished and clean, although lyrically Popcaan can be on the slack side. It’s sex rather than romance.
His expressive voice if often soaked with Auto-Tune, but it still works pretty well. The melodies are infectious and the choruses are catchy. He’s at his best in the deep and powerful Firm & Strong, on which he is joined by a 20 person choir. The last minute or so is pure goosebumps.
Dancehall is everywhere these days and Popcaan has toured with Drake and collaborated with both Jamie XX and Gorillaz. And hopefully this album can help to further elevate dancehall and his career.
London’s funky and soulful reggae oufit Soothsayers recently dropped their seventh album Tradition, an eleven track set mashing together reggae, dub afrobeat, jazz and soul. And just as their other albums it’s a masterpiece mixing grand and creative instrumentals with vocal cuts and angelic harmonies.
But Tradition is far from traditional reggae, even though all cuts are rooted in reggae. It’s like Fela Kuti and Bob Marley held a session in a cloudy London studio.
The music has a strong sense of urgency and the lyrics are often politically charged addressing themes of inequality and injustice. And even though many tracks deal with the harsh reality many people face everyday Soothsayers also offers several slices of joy. Good Vibration is one such track, Nothing Can Stop Us, originally written for Cornell Campbell and featured on their previous album, is another.
Soothsayers is in a league of their own with their fusion of reggae and afrobeat. Tradition is familiar, but at the same time something unique.
Protoje has come a long way since his debut album The Seven Year Itch in 2010. On his fourth set A Matter of Time he continues his creative collaborations with producer Winta James and fellow singer Chronixx, who turns up on two cuts – the western-tinged album opener Flames and the moody single No Guarantee.
This is a superb and cohesive album nodding quite a lot towards booming 90s hip-hop, but also incorporating rock and R&B. It has the essence of reggae, but it’s forward-thinking and Protoje manages to elevate to genre to a higher region with innovative production, clever instrumentation and attention to details. Check the dramatic orchestration on the title track and the sublime cowbell on No Guarantee.
The cover sleeve with a lonesome Protoje facing the endless ocean explains A Matter of Time very well – introspective, thoughtful and timeless.
For Studio One/Yep Roc’s second compilation of rare Studio One singles they look to Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Bongo Man imprint. More than half of the cuts on Natural High – The Bongo Man Collection have never been released on an album before and it also adds a previously unreleased discomix version of Horace Andy’s epic Skylarking complete with a toast by Prince Jazzbo.
Coxsone Dodd ran several sublabels to Studio One and Bongo Man was dedicated to the rootiser side of his productions and includes astonishing cuts from The Classics aka The Wailing Souls, The Beltones, Prince Lincoln of The Royal Rasses and Kingstonians’ lead singer Jackie Bernard along with many more.
The set was originally released for Record Store Day only, but is now available on a wider scale. The vinyl is and eye-catching red, gold and green and collections like these are essential and manage to uncover long-lost gems.
Alpheus released his fifth album Light of Day in late March and it’s his third set with talented Spanish producer and musician Roberto Sanchez. And together they have once again recreated a late 60s Jamaican sound nodding towards ska, rocksteady and early reggae.
Unlike its predecessors, Light of Day comes with no relicks or versions of 60s rhythms nor does it include dubs or instrumentals. But it still sounds both rough and raw and like it was recorded at a Kingston studio in 1968 or 1969.
Light of Day is another timeless musical masterpiece from this duo. It’s uplifting, positive and it will certainly make feet moving and heads nodding to the stomping reggae beat.
While waiting for the next Major Lazor album please check Jamaican producer Richie Loop’s debut album Manimal, which was released earlier this year. It collects ten cuts that could easily have fallen off Free the Universe or Peace is the Mission.
Manimal is a furious dancehall meltdown nodding towards tropical house, trap and soca with vocal contributions from a broad variety of lesser known performers, including Johnny Roxx, Kalibandulu and Tribal Kush.
This is modern Caribbean dance music with bombastic breaks, unpredictable hooks, distorted voices and frenzied percussion. Check album opener Way Up, a collaboration with Dutch duo Tribal Kush. It’s the blueprint of a modern tropical party anthem.
A while ago French producer and digi maestro Manudigital went to the Caribbean where he recorded yard sessions with both the older and younger generation of reggae artists. These sessions were published on Youtube and most have now been collected on the album Digital Kingston Sessions, a set collecting seven cuts recorded in Jamaica, Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.
This type of reggae – which originated in Jamaica in the mid-80s and went global with King Jammy’s game-changing Sleng Teng riddim – is raw and brash and the rhythms are fun and simple, yet often effective.
And for these digital sessions Manudigital has attracted originators like King Kong, Pad Anthony, King Everald and Derrick Parker, singers who recorded many tracks in the mid-80s when the digi craze swept Jamaica. He has also hired Trinidadian performer Queen Omega and she really kills it. She is a truly unique talent with one hell of a voice.
Manudigital also recorded Junior Cat, but for some reason that cut didn’t make it onto the album. Make sure to check the single and you’ll be swept away by his fast-chatting style and fashion.