UK’s Reggae Archive Records has done it once again – released a previously unissued album of a band among the many unsung heroes of reggae music. Last year they dropped Capital Letters‘ Reality and now they have released a “new” album from Black Symbol, a set that collects singles, compilation cuts from the two volumes of Handsworth Explosion and unreleased material from the early 80s. This is an album that does their music justice and place them among other reggae greats from the UK.
The first thing that comes to mind when listening to this self-titled set is whether this is Burning Spear or not. Vocalist and founding member Fatman, who is just like Burning Spear from St Ann’s in Jamaica, has a similar vocal style and the music itself is just as haunting, political and spiritual as the material The Spear turned out in the 70s.
This is roots reggae at its best and Black Symbol doesn’t sound like any other reggae band from the UK. They were darker, slower and more uncompromising always being conscious and cultural often with religious and radical themes.
The CD version comes with 16 tracks, of which four are versions, while the double vinyl collects twelve tracks. Both do however contain sleeve notes based on interviews with original band members Fatman, Blobbo and Rhino plus archive photos provided by bandleader Fatman.
Black Symbol didn’t put out much under their own name back in the days, but they did much for the local reggae scene in Birmingham because of the two self-financed volumes of Handsworth Explosion. Hopefully this solid collection of confident and faithful roots will provide them with new fans and followers from the UK and beyond.
In 2008 U.S. label Shanachie released a four disc Augustus Pablo box set titled Mystic World of Augustus Pablo: The Rockers Story Box Set. It was a stunning set including both classics and insanely rare material.
About a month ago the same label released a similar box set, but this one focused on another cornerstone of roots reggae music – Yabby You, a producer and singer that is the sheer essence of spiritual and devoted roots reggae from the 70s.
Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You collects a hefty 56 cuts spread across three discs and comes with a booklet that’s almost equal to an ordinary book. It tells the fascinating and touching story that is Yabby You, but it also give details on almost each track.
This collection is spectacular as it collects classics like Conquering Lion, Jah Vengeance, Run Come Rally and Deliver Me From My Enemies along with ridiculously rare singles, dubplates and previously unreleased material from both Yabby You and protégés like Michael Prophet and Wayne Wade. Apparently 30 tracks are new to CD and ten are previously unreleased.
This collection has been hugely anticipated for a long time. And even though there have been a number of extremely strong Yabby You compilations in recent years – two on Pressure Sounds and one on Blood & Fire – this one might just outshine all three.
So don’t even think for a second that you can sleep on this epic collection of mystic, powerful and anti-establishment music where Yabby You and his friends chant down Babylon again and again and again.
UK reggae legends Capital Letters reformed in 2013 and it hasn’t taken them much long to get back in the business and they have already announced a number of live dates in 2015.
Last year Reggae Archive Records released a set titled Reality, an effort collecting 15 tracks originally recorded in 1985, but not out until last year. And now they have a brand new set on Reggae Archive Records’ sister label Sugar Shack Records to share with their audiences around the world.
Wolverhampton is the first all new Capital Letters album in 30 years. It has been preceded by the rootsy single Wolf, which was – just like all other cuts – recorded together with former Taxi Gang and Maytals keyboard player Noel Browne. He has previously worked with artists like Luciano, Freddie McGregor, The Wailing Souls and Papa San.
This set is mainly roots themed and it kicks off in fine style with no less than three hard hitting roots gems in a row. But even though Wolverhampton revolves around politics and conscious messages the music is often upbeat with memorable melodies. Capital Letters also manage to throw in a number of more heartfelt tunes. The title track is one such and Jamaica and Movie Star are two others.
A number of UK reggae bands from the 70s and 80s have recently reformed and most of them have presented solid sets after leaving the music industry for many, many years. Wolverhampton is one such effort and it doesn’t sound like Capital Letters have been away for 30 years.
Last year France’s Blackboard Jungle – a sound system and a label – dropped two devastating showcase albums – one from UK’s Reality Souljahs and one from Spain’s Roberto Sánchez, both backed by RockDis All Stars aka the Rockers Disciples, a band from France making solid music in the rockers tradition.
But they also presented a 15 track compilation titled Musically Dread with material released between 2010 and 2014. This set is only available on CD and is well-worth investigating since it’s an excellent roots collection featuring talented singers and deejays like Johnny Osbourne, Jah Mason, Tony Tuff, Afrikan Simba, Patrick Andy, Earl 16 and Christine Miller.
Musically Dread is vintage rockers sounding like it did in the mid to late 70s. There is plenty of highlights and some of the finest moments include Christine Miller’s breezy Feel the Sunshine, Roberto Sánchez’ blazing Fire, Echo Ranks’ militant Chant Down the Wicked and Don Fe’s beautiful flute instrumental Consider the Ravens.
The title of this fine compilation tells it all – this is dread music. Militant and dread.
Guyanese born and Brooklyn bred Jahdan Blakkamoore has finally released his follow-up to the rightly acclaimed Babylon Nightmare, released in 2010. And Order of Distinction is yet another masterpiece from this ruthlessly versatile and talented singer, deejay, rapper, producer and Grammy-nominated songwriter.
Jahdan Blakkamoore isn’t a particularly prolific recording artist and Order of Distinction is only his third full-length, but he has also released singles and been key in a number of other artists careers, for example Snoop Dogg, aka Snoop Lion aka Snoopzilla, and his underrated reggae effort Reincarnated.
Order of Distinction is well-crafted from beginning to end and Jahdaan Blakkamoore is a innovative wordsmith delivering positive and insightful lyrics, ranging from sexy locers rock on Smood Blakk Skin and Everything I Love to the encouraging and electrofied Faith, the spiritual Come Back Around and the more boisterous and energetic Ting Tun Up! with Lady Leshurr and Melodic Yoza.
This set is mainly produced Zion I Kings – one of the best and hottest production crews today – along with Paper Stars, a production and writing duo forged between Jahdan Blakkamoore and Andrew “Moon” Bain, who is also part of Zion I Kings. But on board is also dancehall maestro Dre Skull and electro whiz Nate Mars.
Zion I Kings and affiliated labels Lustre Kings, Zion High Productions and I Grade are synonymous with reggae productions of the highest calibre. They are no strangers releasing both fresh talents and seasoned veterans, and they always deliver on putting out music with clever arrangements, innovative production and a conscious approach.
Italian/Nigerian artist Lion D – one finest talents on the contemporary European reggae scene – has recently released his new album Heartical Soul, which follows the super solid Bring Back the Vibes, released two years ago.
About a year ago Lion D flew from Europe to Jamaica to hook up with fellow Italian musician Alborosie, who resides in Jamaica. He spent a month in Alborosie’s Shengen Studio in Kingston and the first cut from the collaboration was the uplifting title track, a song later followed by two other singles – the bouncy early 80s flavoured Ruff inna Town and the rootsy ganja anthem Blaze Up.
Heartical Soul is Lion D’s fourth album and his most rootsy set so far. His previous efforts have been hip-hop infused contemporary European one drop, while Heartical Soul is more Jamaican sounding.
Lion D is at the top of his game deejaying rather than singing as showcased on Ruff inna Town and Be Strong, on which he borrows from Anthony Red Rose and King Tubby’s smashing Tempo riddim.
This album comes with two standout Italian artists – Alborosie being one of the leading reggae artists today and Lion D who has now come on strong on two consecutive sets. With their passion for music and reggae they have created a Jamaican reggae album with sounds of roots, dancehall, ska and dub.
UK dub pioneers Zion Train’s brand new album Land of the Blind is classic Zion Train with its tasty mix of live instrumentation, organic arrangements and digital programming. And as usual the horns are superb being both melancholic and uplifting.
Zion Train celebrated 25 years in the business last year and this studio album features six vocalists, both fresh talents, like Jazzmin Tatum, along with Zion Train regulars, such as Fitta Warri and Dubdadda. It collects both new material and previously released tracks, cuts that have been released to wide critical acclaim.
Among the many highlights is the devastating seven minute long Dirty Dunza/Go For It with vocals from the fierce Fitta Warri and the more ethereal Jazzmin Tatum. The bass line on this track is just ridiculous and custom-made for breaking down the walls of Babylon.
Tranquillity Through Humility and The Great Flood/Gaia’s Tears come with a beautiful flute, while More and More and We Are Water are dreamy with smashing drums and dubby effects on the latter.
Fans of UK dub in general and Zion Train in particular will not be disappointed.
On Jamaican singjay Exco Levi’s debut album Country Man he fulfils his dream of working with one the giants in the reggae industry – Donovan Germain and his Penthouse imprint.
Donovan Germain has previously worked with successful artists like Buju Banton and the late Garnett Silk, but he’s also responsible for discovering Romain Virgo, who also teams up with Exco Levi on the excellent Get It In Your Head.
Country Man collects previously released songs along with new material and is largely an autobiographical album where Exco Levi over a hefty 19 tracks tells stories about growing up in the Jamaican countryside, going to church and walking around with no shoes. It’s his life experiences and his journey so far.
On City Life Exco Levi paints a harsh picture of Kingston living – “It’s not a nice life, make sure you know the streets… and people get missing, without nobody know, city life, where people don’t trust the cops, cus the only time they see them is when another youth drops, city life, where people break the stop light, bullet echoes in the distance anytime it touch night”. And on a beautiful version of Twinkle Brother’s mighty Since I Throw the Comb Away he sings about the realities you face being a Rasta.
As usual when Donovan Germain is involved this album is jam-packed with sweet melodies, infectious hooks and grand arrangements. Country Man is solid and well-crafted contemporary Jamaican roots music.
Jamaican songstress Toian – not to be confused with late 80s deejay Toyan – has just released her debut EP Retrospect, a summery set collecting five tracks with a contemporary sound.
Toian was previously only Toi and has for the past two years worked with artists such as Protoje and Vybz Kartel and she also sung on Alexander Star’s infectious reggae crossover Sippin’ On Rum.
My first encounter with her music was the dubby Rude Boy released last year. That track is also featured on Retrospect along with her latest single Love It, a catchy cut that borrows from two classics – The Uniques’s My Conversation and Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam.
Style & Fashion is bouncy, while the emotional Next To Me lies close to a classic power ballad. Album closing track Come Away is airy with Toian’s sweet and delicate singing echoing back and forth in the mix.
An excellent and youthful debut from a fresh new voice.
French deejay Biga Ranx rose to prominence back in 2008 when he recorded a combination with gruff Jamaican deejay Joseph Cotton. He released his debut set in 2011, its follow-up two years later and now he has dropped his third album Nightbird.
The title is a telling one since this album is dark and melancholic. It’s a subway journey through a desolate city on a late Sunday night. A time when it’s just you, your headphones and Biga Ranx’ tongue twisting vocal delivery.
Nightbird is electronic and electrified. It’s digital reggae with a twist. Not aimed at the party, rather for the ride home or for a dozed off after-party.
Biga Ranx and producer Manudigital have also accomplished something unique. They have managed to have no less than four legendary Jamaican deejays on the same track. On Hate Biga Ranx teams up with Big Youth, U Roy, U Brown and Joseph Cotton and the result is a great one. It’s not often you hear those deejays on an electronic and futuristic beat with a slow bass line and dreamy synths.
Nightbird might be digital reggae, but it’s nothing like digital reggae. It has its own very contemporary sound complete with influences from the 80s reggae scene.