Reflective roots on Prince Alla’s Run Come

CS3111406-02A-BIGLegendary 70s roots singer Prince Alla, initially known as Ras Allah, hasn’t recorded much in recent years and he wasn’t actually particularly productive – by Jamaican standards – even in his heydays in the late 70s and early 80s. He recorded a number of roots landmarks, but his most recent albums are from more than ten years ago and was recorded together with Jah Warrior.

Now – however – he has joined forces with M7 Allstars and Dubvisionist to create the solid twelve track showcase set Run Come. It’s a reflective and cultural set collecting several nods to the past yet it remains firmly rooted in contemporary production techniques with its shiny sonic landscape.

The title track is a version of his massive Gather Round – produced by Jah Shaka and released in 1996 – and on Pillar of Salt Prince Alla returns to his Lot’s Wife.

Run Come has a deep and rootsy atmosphere with militant beats and a haunting soundscape. File next to the recently reissued The Best of Prince Alla which collects rock-solid classics like Stone, Bucket Bottom and Sun is Shining.

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Gentleman and Ky-Mani Marley make edgy pop reggae on Conversations

unnamedOn Gentleman’s second combination album Conversations – his first was with powerful crooner Richie Stephens – he teams up with Bob Marley’s son Ky-Mani Marley. He appeared on Gentleman’s excellent MTV Unplugged set and that was the start of their future collaboration, which led to a joint tour and ultimately this album.

No Solidarity – which they sang together on the unplugged album – is also featured on Conversations, but with a more polished production. And that’s the case with the album as a whole – it’s polished and sophisticated with ingredients such as vulnerable strings, subtle piano, grand backing vocals and melancholic lyrics about ways to make things better in a world of war and despair.

Conversations is a call for change. Gentleman and Ky-Mani Marley are tired of social media and faceless communication and believe that face to face communication can create better interactions and deepen connections between people.

It might be some truth to that, but social media is also a powerful tool to reach people and connect with others around the world. People that you would never have talked to otherwise. For artists it’s also an immensely important marketing and promotional tool, a tool that can be tailored for sharing messages of universal love and equality.

So, sure, there are challenges with the digital age. Unplug and disconnect and talk at the dinner table, but don’t forget that there’s another world out there with people waiting to hear from you.

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The 15 best reggae albums of 2016 so far

The other day I presented my 20 favourite reggae and dancehall cuts so far this year. Now it’s time to present the 15 best albums so far. Last year the list collected ten albums, but 2016 has been very strong so I decided to increase the list with five sets.

If last year was somewhat disappointing, 2016 has been solid with albums from both newcomers and veterans. The list collects – for example – truly excellent sets from The Viceroys, Biba, Soom T and Assassin aka Agent Sasco.

Best of 2016 so far covers

Hopefully the coming six months will be just as strong since artists like Hempress Sativa, Chronixx, Kabaka Pyramid, Jah9, Hollie Cook, Lutan Fyah and Romain Virgo are expected to drop albums this year.

The list below is presented in no particular order and no reissues have been allowed. If you are curious about the albums you can download this Spotify playlist with all 15 albums. Enjoy the music!

Artist – title

Silly Walks Discotheque – Smile Jamaica
An excellent compilation with a broad variety of riddims highlighting many of Jamaica’s emerging talents.

Flowering Inferno – 1000 Watts
Producer and multi-instrumentalist Quantic has crafted a beautiful and mostly instrumental set with warm vintage grooves, summery vibes, dub wizardry and excellent musicianship.

Alborosie – Freedom & Fyah
When Alborosie put out his debut album Soul Pirate in 2008 he presented a fresh take on roots reggae. He came in from another angle and created his own sound, and has developed it into perfection.

Jahcoustix – Seriously Positive
A throw-back to vintage reggae and the organic sound owes quite a lot to rocksteady, especially the driving organ and the tight and beautiful harmonizing on several tracks, for example on a cut like the insanely catchy Old Tongue.

Biba – Massavana
Spanish producer 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.

The Rockers Disciples & The Producers – Sounds From the Ark
A stellar 12 track album where wonderful instrumentals rub shoulders with killer vocal cuts and lethal dub versions.

The Viceroys – Iroko Showcase Vol. 2: Memories
Heavy roots. Roots full of culture and consciousness. Just like in the 70s.

Tippa Lee – Cultural Ambassador
A bona fide killer with its tasty and excellent relicks of a number of immortal riddims, including a murderous cut of the lethal Drum Song riddim.

Soom T – Free as a Bird
Power, rhythm and melody all come together beautifully on this album. It’s a grower so you need to give it some time. But it’s well worth the time. A spot on album.

Sara Lugo – Sara Lugo & Friends
A sultry and soulful album where Sara Lugo’s light, breezy and effortless singing is exquisitely matched with both riddims and collaborators. Stay close to the repeat button.

Assassin aka Agent Sasco – Theory of Reggaetivity
A stellar album and a landmark in Assassin’s career. It’s a reflective and conscious set painting a vivid portrait of reggae and its diverse set of sounds, styles and themes.

Perfect – Reggae Farm Work
A striking and innovative album that drops like a bomb.

Zion I Kings – Dub in Style
Melodious and elegant dub of the highest calibre.

Taj Weekes & Adowa – Love, Herb & Reggae
Taj Weekes tackles difficult issues and calls for changes throughout the album. But it’s never dark or dismal. He sings with a smile. And it’s infectious.

Raphael – Reggae Survival
Straight up contemporary and uplifting roots reggae with live instrumentation – including a brass section supervised by legendary Jamaican sax maestro Dean Fraser – and infectious melodies.


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The 20 best songs of 2016 so far

Soon we have passed the midpoint of 2016 and it’s time to sum up the first six months. Below is a list of 20 reggae and dancehall favourites released this year, and it can hopefully help to navigate among the tons of reggae released so far in 2016.

The year has actually so far been slightly disappointing and the competition to get on the list hasn’t been too fierce. I’m however very pleased with the 20 cuts selected and a few shines brighter than others.

The harmonies on Soothsayers Nothing Can Stop Us and Sara Lugo’s & Jah9’s Rejoice are divine, the lingering guitar on Clinton Fearon’s Waiting is sublime and Hempress Sativa and Jesse Royal kills it as usual with their stylistically superior flow. Also nice to include a new song from Damian Marley. If it’s from an upcoming album it certainly promises very well.

Best songs of 2016 so far covers

The list is as usual presented in no particular order and the songs included are only singles or tracks taken from compilations. If you are curious about the songs you can download a Spotify playlist with 19 of 20 tracks since Damian Marley’s Caution is currently only available on Soundcloud. Download the Spotify playlist here and I hope you enjoy the music as much as I do.

Artist – song title (label/riddim)
Jesse Royal – Blowing in the Wind (Larger Than Life Records/Guidance & Protection)
Hempress Sativa – Rock It Inna Dance (Conquering Lion Records)
Lukie D – Lukie Feeling (Street Rockaz/Tribute To Dennis)
Perfect – Nobody Knows (Irie Ites/World War III)
I-Octane – My Struggles (DJ Frass Records)
Kiko Bun – Sticky Situation (Island Records)
Dub Inc & Jah Sun – Open Up Your Eyes (Diversité Records/They Want)
Sara Lugo & Jah9 – Rejoice (Oneness Records)
Randy Valentine – Hold On (Maximum Sound/Blueberry Haze)
Ronnie Davis – Now Generation (Tuff Scout)
Flowering Inferno & U Roy & Alice Russell – A Life Worth Living (Tru Thoughts)
Clinton Fearon – Waiting (Chapter Two Records)
Christopher Martin & Busy Signal – Steppin’ (VP Records)
Kazam Davis & Infinite – Free Yourself Up (Rebelmadiaq Sound/No Stress)
Ady Suleiman – Runnin’ Away (Winta James remix) (Sony)
Chronixx – Out Deh (Shiah Records/Lion Paw)
Randy Valentine – Too Late (Royal Order Music)
Soothsayers – Nothing Can Stop Us (Kudos Records)
Good Vibe Styla & Kazam Davis & Infinite & Exile Di Brave– Nothing More To Say
Damian Marley – Caution


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Ganja Anthems pays tribute to the plant

unnamedMarijuana is a more than common reggae theme and has been so for decades. On almost any reggae album one can hear about its spiritual powers, a plea for its legislation or one of its many suggested benefits for health – “it’s good for the flu, a good for asthma, good for tuberculosis, even umara composis” as Peter Tosh once sang.

All these themes are covered on Irie Ites‘ new compilation Ganja Anthems, a 16 track set where no less than 17 artists sing praises about weed and why it should be legalized. A majority of the cuts have been previously released, including scorchers like Chezidek’s masterpiece Bun Di Ganja, Lorenzo & Chezidek’s Please Mr. Officer, which transforms into a tasty dub version, and The Tamlins’ smooth Irie Collie.

But it also comes with three unreleased killers. Russ D has remixed Specular’s More Herb with great effect and Peetah Morgan is as soulful as ever on Healing of the Nation, a cut composed by Roots Radics. Suga Roy & Conrad Crystal relicks a Studio One piece on Weedman Look Out and at the same time borrows from Rita Marley’s monumental One Draw.

Whether you smoke it or not, this compilation will heal any nation.

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The Italian reggae scene showcased on new compilation

unnamedThe European reggae scene is today probably stronger than ever before and countries like Spain, UK, Germany and Italy are particularly interesting with several talents touring parts of the world.

A new – not brand new since it was put out in January – compilation spotlights the Italian reggae scene and includes a number of strong moments. It presents artists and bands that have reached beyond the national borders, such as Lion D and Raphael. They – among five more artists – have recorded new tunes made especially for Stronger Than Ever.

Niam and DotVibes Crew are responsible for an album far from opera divas and bedroom balladeers. It presents a thriving reggae scene full of confidence, talent and creativity.

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Hip-hop meets reggae on Raggamuffin Power

Front_CoverOn the compilation Raggamuffin Power Nico from Furybass has teamed up with Inity from Undisputed Records to create a dynamic and explosive set featuring a number of talented deejays and singers from Europe and Jamaica.

The 15 track set is built around five different riddims, hip-hop tinged relicks of classics and lesser known gems. Included are three already released songs along with one remix and six unreleased tracks. The digital version also comes with five riddim instrumentals.

The bouncy and inspired version of Bellyfull – originally recorded by The Gladiators – is murderous and both cuts – a wicked Tippa Irie & Million Stylez & Skarra Mucci combination along with a passionate version by Yami Bolo – are solid as rocks.

Hip-hop and reggae have a strong link and often work well together. And this is certainly the case with Raggamuffin Power.

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Time travelling with Flash Hit Records

COVER-TimeMachine-web_1500x1500On Flash Hit Records’ Time Machine EP they have worked with veteran artists from the early dancehall era and the digital dancehall craze. Papa Michigan, Lieutenant Stitchie, Derrick Parker and Carl Meeks all showcase their talents over explosive riddims created by the team behind Flash Hit Records along with the insanely productive Manudigital, an expert in recreating 80s digital reggae with a contemporary flavour.

This short set – four vocal tracks and two instrumentals – is boiling with energy and Lieutenant Stitchie spits lyrics over a crazy, pulsating beat, while Carl Meeks’ dramatic singing bounces over a lively riddim.

An excellent introduction to the Flash Hit sound.

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A melodious dub tribute to Style Scott

dubinstyle_lustrekingsAcclaimed U.S. production trio Zion I Kings is behind several of the finest reggae releases in recent years, including beautiful sets by Jahdan Blakkamoore, Lloyd Brown and Pressure.

Now comes the first album under their own name. Dub in Style is a tribute to the late drummer extraordinaire Lincoln “Style” Scott, who started playing drums in the early 70s and went on to record for many of Jamaica’s top producers as part of the Roots Radics band. He and Roots Radics are closely associated with rub-a-dub, a sound that defined the early dancehall era and together they recorded some of the deadliest riddims and records of all time.

Bassist Jah David, keyboard player Tippy I and guitarist Moon Bain are collectively known as Zion I Kings and for each production they work with a number of different musicians. In 2014 they had the opportunity to work with Style Scott and all riddims on Dub in Style were tracked in one day at the Tuff Gong studio in Kingston, Jamaica. The tracks recorded that day appear on releases from Midnite, Akae Beka, Pressure, Ziggi Recado, Jahdan Blakkamoore and Glen Washington.

And a number of those cuts – plus a few others – have now been given an excellent dub treatment by Digital Ancient and Jah David. They use some of the key dub ingredients, but they also focus on the strength of the rhythms and the real heroes on Dub in Style are the instruments, which are given plenty of space to shine.

Highlights include the playful Spare Change Dub with its beautiful horns and rolling bass line, the sombre Snow Hill Dub with vocals courtesy of pop/folk singer Sara Azriel and the militant Cold War Dub with its lingering Spanish guitar and fanfare like horns.

Dub in Style is melodious and graceful dub of the highest calibre.


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King Yoof’s tribute to the masters

CS3089548-02A-BIGUK bass music specialist King Yoof has dropped his debut album Homage to the King, a set that has been in the making for years, but never intended for actual release. When recording and producing other bands and artists King Yoof shelved samples and some of those centerpieces have now been reworked and given the dub treatment.

King Yoof grew up in Lewisham, UK, where he from an early age delved into sound system culture. The local sound was Saxon and this album is a tribute to sound system culture and dub masters like King Tubby and King Jammy. The latter’s immortal hit Sleng Teng even receives a version titled King Sleng, a cut that lies close to the original.

Apart from a vocal track with Earl 16 and MC Spee this is a strictly instrumental set where the bass and the drums and getting the full exposure. The vibrant bass lines and pounding drums are complemented by a haunting melodica – courtesy of I-Lodica – on Rum on Ice and a funky sax – played by Raggs – on Barter Town and A New Dawn A New Dub.

King Yoof has previously tampered with several bass heavy genres, especially jungle and dubstep. But Homage To the King is dubby and heavy sound system oriented reggae with a clean production.

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