Tag Archives: Aswad

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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Revolution, rock, reggae from UK’s RasItes

Reason Time FrontUK quartet RasItes dropped their debut album Urban Regeneration in 2001 and then vanished from the scene. Seven years later – in 2008 – a second set was put out. This time on a new label.

Now – twelve years after the debut album – RasItes is back with another release, this time in the form of a four track EP titled Reason Time. It’s said to be the first of two EPs to be put out prior to a third full-lenght set.

Reason Time offers captivating and conscious roots reggae in classic UK tradition, think Aswad, Steel Pulse, Misty in Roots and Black Slate. Maybe RasItes is a bit more rock influenced though, especially on EP opener Drum & Bass Line, which includes sharp rock guitar.

There have been several rock solid EPs in past months – Christopher Ellis and Wayne Marshall for example – and Reason Time is no exception. Looking forward to hear more from these talentented Rastafarians.

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Entertaining debut album from Mr Benn

Mr-Benn-Shake-A-LegThe UK city of Bristol is probably best known for groundbreaking trippy 90’s bands such as Massive Attack and Portishead. But the reggae scene has also been vital for many years, as shown by the many excellent albums and compilations coming from Bristol Archive Records.

One of the more recent additions on the Bristol reggae scene is Mr Benn, who on his debut album Shake A Leg takes an old school meets new school approach.

The album is an eclectic smorgasbord set with Aswad, The Specials and King Tubby along with various ingredients coming from 90s hip-hop and boom rap, soca, jungle, dancehall, dubstep and bashement.

This vast list of musical influences and guest artists, ranging from UK heavyweighters like Top Cat and Tenor Fly and to newcomers like Eva Lazarus and Nanci Correia, creates a cheerful jump-up vibe directly aimed at setting dance floors worldwide on fire.

And it’s hard to sit still when you play this entertaining album. Your head starts to nod, your feet beings to stomp and suddenly you feel an urge to dim lights, call all your friends and turn up the bass, even if it’s just a boring Thursday afternoon. Then just do it.

And don’ forget to check out the out the free download of a wicked combination with gruff voiced deejay Blackout JA, not included on the album.

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Powerful debut solo album from Brinsley Forde

Brinsley Forde Urban JungleBrinsley Forde has been at the heart of UK reggae for more than 40 years, even though he has kept a low profile on the Canary Islands since he left Aswad in 1996. He has made occasional recordings and concerts, and rumors about a full-length album from him have circulated for many years. And together with the PlatinumRoots label Dutch JahSolidRock Records finally made the project materialize.

Urban Jungle is Brinsley Forde’s excellent debut solo album produced by Marc Baronner and Manu Genius from Dutch Not Easy at All Productions. These two musicians are known for their work with artists such as Earl Sixteen, Chezidek and Apple Gabriel as well as their higher than high quality.

Their standard is always way above par, and Urban Jungle is no exception with its live instrumentation and full horn arrangements. Far from it. It may be their finest work yet and they’ve managed to capture Brinsley Forde at his very best.

He sings with leisure and passion about personal experiences of hardship, violence, love and relationships. In album opener Sodom & Gomorrah he describes a London in decline and in Blaze it Up he reminisces about smoking ganja back in the day.

David Hinds from Steel Pulse lends his voice to several tracks and Brinsley Forde also uses no less than seven backing singers, eight including himself. The result is stunning with grand and beautiful choruses as well as catchy ooo’s and aaahhh’s.

Aswad has made a number of immortal albums essential in any record collection and with Urban Jungle Brinsley Forde has shown that he’s capable of making a rock solid album on his own. File next to Hulet, New Chapter and Showcase.

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Dan Ratchet shines in a conscious style

UK vocalist Dan Ratchet’s debut album now sees release on Bristol Archive Records after 26 years.

The release has been preceded by the strong 12” Ekome is Unity/Afrikana Policies, also included on the album.

Jah Poor People collects 16 tunes in a showcase style, i.e. each vocal is followed by its dub counterpart. The recordings were conducted in both Kingston and in London in 1985 and 1986 with production helmed by Dan Ratchet’s cousin Simbarashe Tongogara and mixing by Steven Stanley.

A number of well-renowned musicians hosted the sessions, including Earl “Chinna” Smith, Sly Dunbar and members of Aswad and Misty in Roots.

The album is semi-computerized with bouncy syndrums and a hint of Augustus “Gussie” Clarke’s powerful style. It ranges from the political themes of title track Jah Poor People and Afrikana Policies to expressions of love with tunes such as Sweet Rosie and Girl You Want My Love.

The conscious cuts, which make up about half of the album, are by far the strongest. The lovers oriented material somewhat lowers the overall score. But this is nonetheless an interesting set, especially the first three tracks.

Jah Poor People hits the streets on July 16 as CD and digital download.

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A polished set worth reissuing

When talking about vintage UK roots reggae, groups such as Aswad, Steel Pulse and Misty in Roots usually come up. One of my all time favorite UK roots reggae outfits from the 70’s or early 80’s is however Bristol’s Black Roots, a group whose debut album from 1983 includes eight rock solid tunes.

Last year British label Bristol Archive Records teamed up with Black Roots’ own Nubian Records in order to drop the critically acclaimed Black Roots – The Reggae Singles Anthology, a set collecting several immensely strong tracks.

Now Bristol Archive Records have once more been allowed into the Black Roots/Nubian tape vaults.

This time it’s about a 25th anniversary deluxe CD edition of the group’s fourth album All Day All Night, a set where they teamed up with Mad Professor and moving away from their original sound for a more polished version, embracing new technology and production techniques to present a more – at the time – contemporary UK sound.

The music may have been brought up to date, but the lyrics concerned the same themes of social and historical justice that define the roots genre.

All Day All Night originally included twelve tunes, and this deluxe edition adds another six – five dub versions and an extended 12” mix of Pin in the Ocean
 
All Day All Night is certainly worth reissuing, even if it sounds a bit more dated than their earlier and more roots oriented material. But even if lavish synthesizers are overused on some tracks, you can’t go wrong with the breezy nonchalant vocals in Realize or the mighty horn riff in Pin in the Ocean.

Bristol Archive Records have as usual paid attention to detail and to complement the re-mastered music, the booklet includes many previously unpublished photos of the band.

Available now on CD and digital download.

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Bristol’s fantastic reggae legacy

The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983Black Roots are one of my all time favourite UK reggae bands. Their sound is in the same great tradition as Aswad, Misty in Roots and Steel Pulse – heavy as lead bass lines, groove and clear melodies. And Black Roots were apparently part of the Bristol reggae scene, a music scene that is now put on wax by Bristol Archive Records.

The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983 is according to the label the first and only attempt to document the local reggae scene from the late 70’s and early 80’s.

According to Bristol Archive Records none of the tunes – except for the Black Roots tunes – have ever been reissued and this is their debut in digital format.

It was certainly a long overdue deed. This is a historical document that includes great music and very informative liner notes about the Bristol reggae scene and the bands and artists that appear on the compilation.

Roots reggae dominates the 14 tracks by eight bands and artists and there are several highlights here.

Four Point Plan, by a band called Restriction that only released one four track twelve inch in 1983 mixed and engineered by Mad Professor at his Ariwa Studio in London, is a deejay lead masterpiece with some nice dub echoing going on.

Black Roots and Talisman are represented by three tracks each; two of Talisman’s are live recordings. All six are classic UK roots with solid brass arrangements.

Sharon Bengamin’s Mr Guy is lovers rock in the Janet Kay tradition and keeps things sweet and smooth.

Today DJ Stryda of Dubkasm keeps the Bristol reggae flag flying high, and this compilation shows that he has a firm foundation to rely on.

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