Tag Archives: Al Fingers

The aesthetics of dancehall according to Wilfred Limonious

000-wilfred-limonious-in-fine-style-cover-angleThere are books about singers, groups, producers, music studios, music genres and technicians and engineers. But not much has over the years been written or published about the artists that are responsible for an integral part of the music business – the graphic designers.

The most well-known in reggae circuits is probably Tony McDermott who designed countless of classic sleeves for Greensleeves in the late 70s and early 80s. Then there is Neville Garrick who designed for Island Records, including immortal album jackets for Bob Marley and Ijahman Levi.

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But there are of course others as well. And one of the most important is Wilfred Limonious, a Jamaican cartoonist that during the 80s became one of the key visual architects for dancehall album jackets and record-label logos. His outrageous humor and wit were perfect for this emerging new genre that challenged roots reggae with its more light-hearted and slacker sound and style.

His legacy has now been recorded in the massive and superb In Fine Style: The Dancehall Art of Wilfred Limonious. With this enlightning retrospective Christopher Bateman and Al “Fingers” Newman consolidate Wilfred Limonious’ role as one of the founding fathers of dancehall art.

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Wilfred Limonious’ style is unique and sheds light on the primary aesthetics of Jamaican dancehall culture from the 80s. And what sets him apart from several other graphic designers of that era is his raw, scribbled and often stereotyped characters and hilarious and patois-filled social commentaries that can often be found in speech bubbles.

But the book tells a story beyond his graphic work for music producers. It also showcases other illustrations as well as his comic strips for Jamaican national newspapers. It’s an extensive and thorough reflection of a visual mastermind that skillfully interpret a cultural movement.

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Clarks – the soundtrack

Following Al Fingers’ excellent and in-depth look at Clarks and its Jamaica/UK connection comes its musical companion.

This 21 track compilation – 12 cuts on the vinyl edition – celebrates an iconic footwear and its role in Jamaican music and culture. The album showcases several tough tunes from the 80s, including Little John’s anthemic Clarks Booty, Laurel & Hardy’s driving Dangerous Shoes and Early B’s pulsating Pedestrian.

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The most well-known Clarks tune today – Vybz Kartel’s smash hit Clarks from 2010 – is not included since the compilation is focused on old school reggae and dancehall. And that’s because Al Fingers wanted to show this deep-rooted love affair and highlight the many artists that have sung about Clarks several years before the Wurl Boss did.

So, put on your mesh marina, your three piece suit or khaki dress and your Clarks and you might be able to carry the swing.

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Al Fingers’ fascinating story on Clarks

In early 2010 Vybz Kartel and his former fellow Gaza members Popcaan and Gaza Slim dropped the shoe anthem Clarks on ZJ Chrome’s Mad Collab riddim. In the first verse Vybz Kartel stated “mi nuh love crep enuh Clarks mi prefer, Clarks with the leather yea, Clarks with the fur, Clarks fi di summer, Clarks fi di winter, Clarks fi di sun, Clarks fi di water”.

It became a massive hit that year and was soon followed by two new cuts from the Wurl Boss – Clarks Again and Clarks 3 (Wear Weh Yuh Want) on the Wallabee riddim. At the same time the demand for Clarks increased in the Caribbean.

But this was not the first time Clarks had been celebrated in reggae. Dillinger had done it. Eek-A-Mouse too. But the best known Clark’s tribute up until Vybz Kartel’s anthem is Little John’s Clarks Booty released in 1985. And if you browse record sleeves from the 70’s and 80’s you’re bound to find Clarks. Just look at Dennis Alcapone’s Guns Don’t Argue or Michael Prophet’s self-titled album.

Street style has no boundaries and follows no rules. Converse is worn by punks and rockers all over the world, skinheads prefer Dr. Martens and Adidas Superstars was celebrated by Run DMC in the early days of hip-hop.

The story about Clarks dominance in Jamaican reggae and dancehall culture is fascinating since it’s a shoe partly synonymous with comfortable footwear for children and pensioners. It intrigued London-based DJ, musician and graphic designer Al Fingers so much that he recently put out a nearly 200 page book on the subject.

Pompidou and General Leon in King Jammy's yard in 1986. Photo by Beth Lesser.

Pompidou and General Leon in King Jammy’s yard in 1986. Photo by Beth Lesser.

Clarks in Jamaica is a stylish and colorful photo-essay of Clarks’ celebrated status on the island, where Wallabees and Desert Boots have ruled dancehalls ever since the 60’s. But it’s also a lesson in general Jamaican fashion, social history and the importance of brands and brand values.

Style and fashion are integral to Jamaicans, especially in dancehall culture, and Al Fingers and photographer Mark Read tell the story from Clarks earliest years in the 19th century via its arrival in the West Indies about 100 years ago to today’s iconic status.

Triston Palmer in Kingston in 1982. Photo courtesy of Greensleeves.

Triston Palmer in Kingston in 1982. Photo courtesy of Greensleeves.

It features current and historic photographs as well as never before-seen archival material and is based on interviews with veteran and contemporary artists and producers as well as industry people like Chris Lane and John MacGillivray from Dub Vendor.

Clarks in Jamaica gives interesting insights of how a comfortable shoe established in Somerset in 1825 could be the choice of rudeboy’s and Rasta’s. It also gives an exciting overview of Jamaican fashion and how Jamaican’s dress to impress.

What’s the recipe for its success? Check the book yourself, but it has a little something to do with simplicity, durability and price.

I currently don’t own any Clarks, but ten years ago I had around four or five pairs. When I read this book I suddenly felt an urge to address this problem and update my wardrobe.

Jah Stitch in Kingston in 2011. Photo by Mark Read.

Jah Stitch in Kingston in 2011. Photo by Mark Read.

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Reggaemani’s top ten mash-ups

Mashing genres has been a favourite topic on Reggaemani lately. Dancehall star Busy Signal goes beyond his genre and Toussaint successfully combines soul and reggae. Another way of mixing genres is through mash-ups – taking bits of songs to make a new tune. This is a nice way of introducing genres to a new audience and has been made popular by Mark Vidler and others.

It starts with the unmistakable organ of Take A Ride rhythm. But something is different. The tempo is a bit higher. Then Marvin Gaye starts singing “Mother, Mother”, the first words in his classic What’s Going On. This is certainly not Truths & Rights by Johnny Osbourne. It’s something new, something fresh.

And this is what a mash-up is all about. “Presenting the songs in a new light”, as DJ and producer Al Fingers put it in an interview earlier this summer with Reggaemani.

A mash-up is at its best when it adds something new and when it reinvents the tunes used. It has to be unique, but at the same time well executed. The best mash-ups are often those that follow the chord progression, are in the same key and don’t mess with the pitch too much.

Many DJs and producers that make mash-ups seem to have no musical boundaries. Max Tannone, for example, said in an interview with Reggaemani that he recommends trying whatever sounds good.

I think the weirdest combinations are usually the best, like Jr Blender’s brilliant mashing of hardcore deejay Bounty Killer with 80’s British synthpop trio Bronski Beat.

I’ve collected mash-ups for some time and can easily say that they’re usually fillers on the dance floor and have also lured one or two of my friends into reggae music. It can just as easily go the other way, like when Bost & Bim have introduced Usher and other hip-hop/soul artists to a reggae crowd.

Below I’ve compiled my ten favourite reggae mash-ups. These gems certainly present the tunes in a new light and give them a new dimension.

Producer – song title (original performers)

10. Nuff Wish Crew – Hammy’s Theme (Anthony Hamilton vs. G Corp)
9. DJ Shepdog – No, No, No (Mama Don’t Like You) (Dawn Penn vs. Alborosie & I Eye)
8. Max Tannone – Mr. Universe (Mos Def vs. Observer All Stars)
7. Nuff Wish Crew – African Billie (Michael Jackson vs. Joe Gibbs)
6. Al Fingers – What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye vs. Johnny Osbourne)
5. Nuff Wish Crew – Sensi Spice (Alozade, Mr. Easy & Richie Spice vs. Dr Dre)
4. Jr Blender – Ghetto Gladiator (Bounty Killer vs. Bronski Beat)
3. Max Tannone – In My Math (Mos Def vs. Michael Prophet)
2. J Star – No Diggity (Blackstar vs. Sound Dimension)
1. Jr Blender – Rougher RMX (Cocoa Tea, Home T & Cutty Ranks vs. Black Eyed Peas)

Many thanks to DJ Axxel of Axxionpack Sound for introducing me to the great works of Jr Blender.

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Al Fingers reinvents music

“There are no rules in the world of mash-ups, the weirdest combinations can have the best results.” These words are from Al Fingers, a London-based musician, producer and DJ, who recently orchestrated the Greensleeves/Stüssy collaboration resulting in a book, a mixtape and t-shirt line.

Al Fingers has made blends using two decks since he was a kid – often for mixtapes, but sometimes to play out live in clubs and at parties. The first mash-up he put out was Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On over the powerful Take A Ride rhythm, originally produced by Coxsone Dodd.

− At that time I was putting together a themed mixtape called Serious Times. All the tunes were about the state of the world – a musical attack on George Bush and his minions. I wanted to use Marvin’s What’s Going On and Johnny Osbourne’s Truth & Rights, because they both fit the theme. I had the Marvin acapella so I tried blending it with the Truths & Rights instrumental and it worked, writes Al Fingers in an e-mail to Reggaemani.

“Presenting the song in a new light”
He writes that a great mash-up is one that sounds natural, like the singer was really singing over that particular beat. But you need to be patient and put in a lot of time.

− I spend a lot of time tweaking the phrasing of the vocal, so that it sits on the beat in the right way. The main thing is that it needs to sound believable and not forced in any way, he writes and continues:

− At the same time, I think a good mash-up reinvents a tune, in a way that is unexpected, sometimes bringing out parts of the vocal that you may not have noticed in the original. A great mash-up needs to be musical but also interesting – presenting the song in a new light.

Interest in different kinds of music
According to Al Fingers, a great mash-up producer needs a good ear, but it also helps to have an interest in different kinds of music as the mix of genres can produce unexpected and interesting results. He also points out one thing that French producers Bost & Bim thirst for.

− Ideally, you also need a big selection of acapellas and instrumentals, and a lot of patience, because although some mash-ups can be put together in no time, others can take a lot of fine tuning.

Trial and error
In producing mash-ups, Al Fingers tries a lot of different combinations and develops the ones that sound promising. He always combines tunes that are already in the same key and doesn’t mess with the pitch too much, although sometimes uses a bit of Auto-Tune to fine tune the vocals.

− For example, sections where the singer has been slightly out of tune may not have been noticeable in the original, but can stand out more over a different beat. Tempo’s obviously also important. If the tempo of the vocal needs to be changed too much, it won’t work, he writes and gives an example:

− I recently tried a well known Motown vocal over the Usher/Lil Jon Lovers & Friends instrumental. In terms of feel and key, the vocal worked great, but because the beat is so slow and for longer phrases the song sounded ridiculous being slowed down so much, so I dropped the idea. It’s a shame because I could hear that it would have been a sweet slow jam.

Hassle with clearances
Al Fingers writes that he hasn’t got many comments from the artists he has mashed and doubts that the artists have actually heard them.

Mark Ronson liked the Bob Marley No woman No Cry remix I did over his Love Is A Losing Game beat and I’m trying to get the Kings Of Leon to listen to a mash-up I’ve done with one of their acapellas with a view to putting it out, but it’s difficult, he writes and continues:

− I’ve approached a few labels to suggest that they release some of the remixes I’ve done. But generally they seem to see it as too complicated with all the clearances, and aren’t that interested. It’s a shame because there are some great mash-ups out there that don’t really get heard because they don’t get the exposure.

He mentions some mash-ups that have had proper releases, for instance Mark Vidler with Blondie & The Doors and the Mashed album for EMI, and Gloria Estefan over Mylo’s Drop The Pressure. However, he thinks they are too few and far between and reveals a dream.

− Recently I was lucky to be able to produce some legit Greensleeves mash-ups, using Junjo Lawes’ instrumentals. Ideally I’d like to be approached by a label like Motown, and pair them with another label like Studio 1. That would make for a wicked mash-up album! You just need someone at the label to have the vision and belief in that kind of project.

Curious about how Al Fingers productions sound? Check out his web site or download a mash-up of Cher’s Believe and the Declaration of Rights rhythm.

 Believe (Declaration Remix). (Right click, save as).

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This was the third and last part of Reggaemani’s interview series on mash-ups. The previous two was with Bost & Bim and Max Tannone.

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“I just do what I think is cool”

He has put Jay-Z together with Radiohead and made Mos Def rap to heavy dub rhythms. Collaborations that sounds impossible. How he did it? Mash-ups of course. Reggaemani has talked to New York-based musician Max Tannone.

This spring, I stumbled upon the album Mos Dub, an album that sounds downright crazy when described. Rapper Mos Def mainly combined with dub rhythms by masterminds Henry “Junjo” Lawes and Scientist? But I was completely blown away. This was undoubtedly a brilliant mash-up album.

The man behind Mos Dub is Max Tannone, a musician from New York. He’s probably best known for mashing up Jay-Z, Radiohead and the Beastie Boys, but aside from mash-ups also works on regular productions.

− I’ve made beats for a long time, and making mash-ups was just a side project. I wanted to try and combine making beats with mash-up techniques. That’s how I got started with Jaydiohead and afterward continued with my other projects, writes Max Tannone in an e-mail to Reggaemani.

On Mos Dub – his latest effort – Max used reggae rhythms and combined them with Mos Def vocals. He explains why.

− It’s just a great genre of music that sounds especially good with hip-hop. Hip-hop is so rhythmic, and therefore reliant on the downbeat. That reggae’s upbeat style gives it a new twist.

The whole greater than the parts
Max writes that a great mash-up is a song that’s able to stand on its own.

− A great mash-up sounds natural, and can be considered without having to reference its disparate parts. I guess in other words, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts, or at least attempt to be.

Making mash-ups is not something that’s done overnight. You have to find the right moods, tempos and, probably most important, make the a cappella in tune with the music. Max writes that he doesn’t have a set process for selecting the tunes that he later combines.

− If the tempos of the two songs are relatively close, it’s easier, but sometimes that doesn’t even matter. I begin with a concept. With Jaydiohead, the concept was obviously Jay-Z mixed with Radiohead. If the Jay-Z vocals were dark or introspective, I tried to select music to compliment that, and then go from there.

No set boundaries
According to Max there are no set boundaries for mash-ups. He usually starts with a concept but recommends trying whatever sounds good.

Mos Dub, for example, limited me to Mos Def vocals and dub music. Granted, dub music is a pretty huge boundary, even more so considering that I used a few tunes that are more ska and roots than strictly dub, but it still reigns in my choices. From here I just go by feeling, he writes and concludes:

− Listeners are the final judges on whether something is good or not. I just do what I think is cool.
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This is the second part of Reggaemani’s series on mashups. Next up is an interview with London-based dj and producer Al Fingers.

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Interview series on mashups

There has been several massive mashups lately. Therefore Reggaemani will start a interview series on this phenomenon.

Starting the series is French duo Bost & Bim aka The Bombist crew, who are responsible for the Yankees A Yard series.

Then we move over the Atlantic and focus on Max Tannone, dj and producer of several great mashups. He recently released the huge album Mos Dub.

The series ends with Al Fingers – a musician, producer and dj from London. He has done some really interesting mashups, for example Cher over the classic Declaration of Rights riddim.

Stay tuned.

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Greensleeves samarbetar med Stüssy

Street wear-företaget Stüssy inleder samarbete med skivbolaget Greensleeves, skriver rub a dub-specialisterna på bloggen New Romantic. Det hela kommer att resultera i ett mixtape, signerat brittiske Al Fingers, t-shirts, kepsar och, kanske allra roligast, en bok med de 100 första skivomslagen som Greensleeves gav ut. Boken kommer också att innehålla bilder på artister samt intervjuer med bolagets grundare och chefsdesigner.

Enligt Al Fingers var det mixtapet som la grunden för samarbetet. Han fick frågan av Stüssy om att sätta ihop ett schysst mixtape och valde att kontakta Greensleeves, eftersom bolagen har en liknande historia och bakgrund.

Mixtapet innehåller 56 klassiska låtar från Greensleeves storhetstid 1977-1987. Men det finns också delar som andas 00-tal eftersom Al Fingers kickar in några mash-ups, exempelvis mixar han Mavados Wa Dem A Do över Wailing Souls Fire House Rock.

Kollektionen släpps i slutet av maj eller början av juni. Själv kommer jag att hänga på låset.

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