Tag Archives: Burning Spear

Spiritual makes traditional and authentic roots reggae

unnamedJamaican singer Spiritual has been in the music business for many years, but has never released more than a handful of singles. But now his debut album has arrived.

Awakening is a slice of traditional and very well-produced roots reggae. And that’s something that could be expected when he has worked with renowned producers like Bobby “Digital” Dixon and Clifton “Specialist” Dillon.

Spiritual’s singing style lies close to reggae greats like Burning Spear and Culture’s Joseph Hill. And musically he treads the same path – conscious and authentic roots reggae with a high dose of integrity.

The two singles off the album – Time Has Come and Stand Up For Rasta – sum up the album very well.

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Rare dub album part of crucial Burning Spear reissue

R-1350951-1211931142_jpegIn the 70s Bob Marley & The wailers took the world by storm and he rose to global stardom. Bob Marley became synonymous with reggae and no other reggae singer or reggae band have even come close to what he has achieved.

But back in the days when Bob Marley was on his way to conquering the charts, labels were keen to find other acts to follow in his footsteps. Several tried, but no one managed. One who tried was Burning Spear, who – just like Bob Marley – was signed to Island Records.

Burning Spear started his career in the 60s; just as Bob Marley did. But his music was darker and rootsier from the beginning and Coxsone Dodd – who was the first to record Burning Spear – was at first reluctant to release the recordings due to its controversial messages and dread approach. Somehow, this draw the attention of Island Records who thought his music was for the masses.

Well, Burning Spear has recorded plenty of classics, but I think it’s fair to say that most of his albums and singles are far from commercial. His excellent 70s output for Island is slow, dark and dense and often lack hooks. His messages were regarded as revolutionary and Burning Spear often calls for repatriation and black consciousness set to a backdrop of smattering percussion, devastating bass lines and throbbing drums.

But Island believed in him and obviously still does since they only last year reissued his album Social Living, or Marcus Children as it was titled in Jamaica. This superb album is now expanded with another nine tracks when adding its rare dub counterpart Living Dub. And it’s the original version from 1978 and not the mixes from the early 90s that were put out on Heartbeat.

Social Living was Burning Spear’s second self-produced album and followed two albums each with Coxsone Dodd and Jack Ruby. It’s a coherent and accomplished set – and even more so with the added dubs – and presents Burning Spear at the peak of his career. It’s bold and edgy with plenty of spiritualty and references to the messages proclaimed by Marcus Garvey.


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Strong debut album from The Banyans

thebanyans-steppinforward_01In the teaser promotional video for The Banyans debut album Steppin’ Forward a number of acclaimed Jamaican musicians and artists are praising the band and wishing them luck. And they obviously know what they’re talking about, because The Banyans has put out a mature set heavily influenced by Jamaican 70’s roots and albums by Bob Marley and Burning Spear.

This six piece French band has played more than 300 shows in the past five years and shared stages with Aswad, The Wailers, Anthony B, U Roy and Clinton Fearon among many more. And it’s obvious that they know what they’re doing.

The organ is blistering, the guitar is sharp, but not dominate. The vocal is lively, the horn section – courtesy of guest musicians – is vital and the riddim section trudges on driving the beat forward like a bulldozer. Just listen to the closing track Dreamer where the bass is pulsating making the blood almost boil over.

I’ve previously written about the thriving and vibrating French reggae scene with roots warriors such as Dub Inc, Donkey Jaw Bone, Rockers Disciples, Postive Roots Band, Danakil and Tu Shung Peng. These bands have just been challenged by a highly-skilled newcomer. Bring it on.

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Leonard Howell was the first Rasta

Reggae music is for many people synonymous with the teachings of Rastafari and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, crowned Ras Tafari in November 1930. If you dig a little deeper in this philosophy you’ll find Jamaican Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), an important figure in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement as well as for the ideas behind Rastafari.

French film maker and director Hélène Lee has however dug way deep in the Rasta movement and made a documentary about a well-travelled Jamaican preacher called Leonard Percival Howell (1898-1981), contemporary with Marcus Garvey and perhaps the most important figure behind the creation and rise of the Rasta movement in Jamaica.

The First Rasta follows in the footsteps in Leonard Howell and contains interviews with his family, academics, co-workers, musicians, politicians and ordinary people.

In his late teen Leonard Howell boards a boat in Jamaica and travels the world. Upon his return to his home island after almost 20 years he has lots of ideas and criticizes the western way of living. He is regarded by the authorities as a revolutionary and refuses to pay taxes to King George VI of the United Kingdom and is in 1933 arrested for treason and blasphemy.

He’s jailed, ridiculed and treated as insane, but manages to establish the first Rasta community in 1939. In Pinnacle, as the community is called, the first ideas concerning Rasta are formulated.

Pinnacle is isolated from the rest of society and frowned upon by the authorities. The camp is raided several times before it is finally shut down in 1959. The Rasta followers start to spread all over Jamaica and many settles down in the Kingston ghetto areas, and contrary to what the authorities wanted the movement starts to gain followers, where some of the most well-known ones are Burning Spear and Bob Marley.

This is a well-researched documentary that goes beyond the mere obvious – marijuana, reggae and dreadlocks. Hélène Lee manages to present a movement and a complex person with inspiration ranging from spirituality and black awareness to communism.

Even though the Rasta’s lives were made difficult in the early years, the movement and the ideas behind Rastafari have spread all over the world, and have had a strong and positive impact on many people lives. And all of this thanks to a man regarded as a threat to society.

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A delightful surprise from I-Taweh

I usually believe that I’ve a pretty good idea of roots reggae albums being put out around the world, especially if they come from a Jamaican artist and has been something of a success.

But this is of course not always the case, as is clearly shown by I-Taweh’s debut album Overload, an album that has climbed the Jamaican album chart.

Even though Overload is I-Taweh’s debut album he is far from a novice. He has spent 17 years on the road with several different bands and musicians, including Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, Everton Blender and the late Sugar Minott. He has also recorded with artists such as Capleton, Sade and Luciano playing bass and guitar.

And now it’s time for I-Taweh to leave the shadows and be a star in his own right. Because he is a sublime song writer and warm vocalist. His raspy tone is reminiscent of Burning Spear, Joe Higgs and Clinton Fearon.

Overload collects twelve tunes plus a nyabinghi version of the title track. Musicians include drummers Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace and Sly Dunbar, saxophonist Dean Fraser and percussionist Bongo Herman and a number of others.

There are hardly any disappointing moments, and the several highlights include the moving Braveheart, the harmonious Jah Bless and the soulful Runaway with some memorable guitar playing.

Overload is a strong debut album and according to a recent interview with I-Taweh he is already working on his next album. I’ll be waiting patiently.


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Little Roy confident in his own classics

Little Roy is the writer and original performer of several untimely reggae classics, but has remained in the shadows for many years. Now he is set to take his music back and has begun re-recording his beloved music. Reggaemani has talked to a veteran that is disappointed at the music business.

A few years ago Earl Lowe – better known as Little Roy – dropped Children of the Most High, an album mainly built around re-recordings of his 70’s material. In March he put out a new album – Heat – with the same idea.

The idea of recording a number of new versions of your own material is far from new in reggae.

“Bob Marley recorded his songs ten to 20 times,” says Little Roy over the phone from his home in London.

Other notable reggae acts that have re-recorded their music are Burning Spear, Gladiators and Wailing Souls. They started recording at Studio One and when they got signed to major labels they did new versions. For Little Roy it seems to have been an easy decision.

“They [the original tunes] did not come out the way I had expected them to. The musicians, studio and moment were not right. It was not the way they should have come out,” stresses Little Roy, and continues:

“I have re-recorded much less than other Jamaican artists and I didn’t get the right appreciation and exposure.”

Better than before
He believes that the new versions have another feel to them. It’s due to different mixing, different arrangements, producers and studio. He has been working with people such as Mafia & Fluxy and Mike Pelanconi of Prince Fatty. And one thing Little Roy makes perfectly clear – he influences them and not the other way around.

“These new versions feel good. Better than before. I had the intention to make them even better. And I can’t say if I’ll record them again. These are the best songs of Little Roy,” he states.

He says that he has never thought of re-record his classic tune Tribal War, recently sampled by Nas & Damian Marley. And it is obvious that he is satisfied by the appreciation that he has got due to their version.

He believes that his music – or his original versions – is too unknown and that the lyrics are still strong and up to the time.

“Lyrics are forever. You don’t change them. These songs and their lyrics are everlasting.”

Little Roy is pleased with his new effort Heat, and he says that it is doing well in the shops and that it gets aired on the radio.

“People say that it’s a roots album with class,” he says in a joyful tone.

“Eight new songs on an album are the most that I’ll do”
If you are looking forward to an album with only new tunes from Little Roy – don’t hold your breath. It won’t happen unfortunately.

“I’ll never do an album with new songs. I’ve a lot of good songs. Lyrics and melody are everlasting,” he says, and continues:

“Eight new songs on an album are the most that I’ll do. That’s what Marley did. He re-recorded his 60’s songs. It was appreciated in later days.”

Nirvana cover album
He is already involved in a new project. A rather unexpected one actually.

“I’ve recorded a Nirvana album. It’s different from me. I have done covers of Stevie Wonder and Bruce Ruffin. But I didn’t stick on singing other people’s songs. I’ve always written my own songs,” he says, and continues:

“It was introduced to me. Mike Pelanconi was doing it. Mike told them that I could be the right artist and the album will be put out later this year.”

Disappointed in Jamaica
Little Roy has been settled in the UK for many years. Before that he lived in the U.S, where he relocated from Jamaica.

He left his home country because of lack of appreciation from the music industry.

“Jamaica was oppressing me as an artist. I wrote great songs, but people steal my songs,” he says, and adds:

“I visited Jamaica about five years ago. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I was presented as the man who wrote Tribal War and Jah Can Count On I. But people thought that I was singing other people’s songs. They didn’t show their appreciation for me as the original artist.”

Veteran with connections
Little Roy is a veteran Jamaican singer. He grew up with the crème de la crème of 60’s and 70’s roots singers. One of his friends was the late Gregory Isaacs.

“I saw him [Gregory Isaacs] in Stingray [studio] a couple of weeks before he died. We grew up in the same yard,” he says, and continues:

“Yesterday I spoke to Leroy Sibbles. He was like a teacher to me in the young days. He used to come and pick up me and Dennis Brown. The three of us used to be close.”

Little Roy says that he doesn’t really miss his former artist colleagues.

“Many of them disappoint me, like Freddie McGregor. He used to come around and listen to us rehearse. He had a wicked intention. I don’t need much singer friends.”

But as we talk it seems that he still knows a lot of people.

“If I wasn’t doing this interview I would have seen Marcia Griffiths. She’s here for the ska festival,” he says and concludes:

“I’m going to see Ken [Boothe]. He is my good friend. I’ll be at the festival on Friday and Sunday.”

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Fotografen Dave Hendley visar 70-talets Jamaica

Dave Hendley är en brittisk fotograf som plåtat en hel del reggae genom åren. Under 70-talet besökte han Jamaica med jämna mellanrum och lyckades fånga flera storstjärnor på bild, exempelvis Lee Perry, Burning Spear och King Tubby.

Han ligger bakom ett antal av bilderna i boken Reggae Explosion: The Story of Jamaican Music av Chris Salewicz och Adrian Boot. Hans material har också använts till skivomslag för bland annat I Roy.

Ett antal av hans bilder finns tillgängliga på webben. Det är fantastiska person- och miljöporträtt från 70-talets Jamaica. Titta på de 16 bilderna och dröm dig tillbaka till en tid när reggaen kanske var som allra bäst.

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I skuggan av Marley

Marley_Bob_004_C_c_MOA_(Nov_27_1979_Roxy_Theater).jpgFör de flesta ofrälsta är Bob Marley den musiker som är mest förknippad med reggae. Kanske, kanske finns Desmond Dekker, Toots & The Maytals eller Jimmy Cliff gömda någonstans i medvetandet.

De är tillsammans med Bob Marley de som internationellt skördat Jamaicas största musikaliska framgångar. Men i deras skugga finns ett antal artister som många gånger varit större i det karibiska hemlandet, haft än större inflytande på musiken och lämnat ett större musikaliskt arv.

Jag tänker i huvudsak på artister som Dennis Brown, Burning Spear och Jacob Miller under 60- 70- och 80-talen samt Garnett Silk som med buller och bång äntrade scenen under 90-talet. De här fyra är på intet sätt okända, men de har aldrig lyckats nå stora, internationella framgångar. Visst, Jacob ”Killer” Miller var sångare och frontfigur i Inner Circle (japp, samma grupp som efter hans bortgång levererade Bad Boys och Sweat). Under hans ledning spelade de även in ledmotivet till filmen Rockers som blev en skaplig framgång.

Frågar du någon musikkunnig så är det ändå inte säkert att de hört talas om Dennis BDennis Brown, Burning Spear, än mindre Garnett Silk. Detta trots att de i reggaekretsar varit oerhört betydande artister och skapat hela skolor för sina respektive sångtekniker, vilka hörs på efterföljande artister. Lyssna exempelvis på Brown-kopiorna Frankie Paul och Luciano, eller Daweh Congo som gått i Burning Spears fotspår.

Jänkaren Ras Shiloh går så långt att han kategoriseras som Garnett Silk-imitatör. Inget fel med det – Garnett Silk hann inte spela in särskilt mycket så jag gläds åt att han fått en värdig efterföljare.

burning_spear02Även Bob Marley själv har givetvis arvingar. Lyssna exempelvis på Nasio Fontaine som låter som att han vuxit upp på samma bröstmjölk som sin idol. Men trots Marleys bidrag till reggaen har både Burning Spear och Dennis Brown haft större inflytande och genomslag på reggaens utveckling än vad han har haft. Deras arv är reggaens kanske bäst bevarade hemlighet, och jag tycker att det är dags att lyfta fram dem i reggaens Hall of Fame.


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Republik torsdagen den 7 maj – “Josie Wales, Burning Spear, Supercat”

I går var det reggaedags på Republik. Skivbackarna var fyllda med de ena godingarna efter de andra. Jämfört med min senaste amatördjafton på Kägelbanan, så var gårdagen ett lysande exempel på bra musikönskemål.

I inlägget efter min senaste spelning – på Kägelbanan – raljerade jag en smula över de många märkliga önskemålen som dök in under kvällen – så här en dryg månad efter har Chopin gjort det starkaste intrycket.

Önskemålen under gårdagskvällen – Josie Wales, Burning Spear och Supercat – är av betydligt högre kvalitet jämfört med vad som efterfrågades på Kägelbanan.

Nu kanske någon hävdar att Frédéric Chopin faktiskt är en av de mest briljanta kompositörerna någonsin. Må vara så, men även hans mest dansanta mazurkakompositioner står sig slätt mot dansgolvsvältare som Boops med Supercat eller Code of conduct, på grymma Level the vibesriddimen med Josie Wales.

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Tre trumbeat – 40 år med reggae

Basen är reggaens blod konstaterade jag i förra veckan. Om så är fallet, vad är då trummorna? Kanske hjärtat, kärlen eller blodådrorna.

Hur som helst – trummor är en precis lika vital del inom reggae som bas. Var för sig gör basen och trummorna ingen glad. Det är tillsammans de skapar magi. ”No man is an island” som Dennis Brown konstaterade 1970.

Det finns många olika genrer inom reggae – roots, dub, ragga, ska, rocksteady m fl. Men det finns bara tre trumbeat. Vi har ”one drop” som användes flitigt till och med 1976. Sen har vi ”rockers” som var populärt mellan 1976 och 1980. Till sist finns ”dancehall” som uppfanns 1981, och ännu är aktuellt, precis som de två andra, men samtliga i uppdaterade versioner.

Skillnaderna mellan de olika trumbeatsen är inte särskilt tydlig, även för mig som lyssnat på reggae i många, många år. Det handlar om hantering och precision av baskagge, hi-hat och virveltrumma. Eftersom jag inte själv är trummis har jag själv svårt att sätta ord på det.

Därför är det så fiffigt att någon annan gör jobbet åt en, och förklarar. Litelet – ett alias på forumet på Roots-archives – har nämligen satt ihop en film som förklarar skillnaderna mellan de tre trumbeatsen. Kortfattat kan man säga att ”one drop” är slöare och långsammare, medan ”dancehall” är betydligt mer energisk i stilen.

”One drop” är fortfarande högaktuellt, likaså dancehall. Musiken låter annorlunda, medan trumbeatet är exakt detsamma. Underbart att historien fortfarande kan vara så aktuell. Lyssna exempelvis på The Wailers klassiska album ”Catch a fire” från 1973 eller Burning Spears självbetitlade från samma år. Jämför sedan med skivbolaget Greensleeves purfärska ”Nylon riddim”. Likheterna är slående.

Eller ta Toyans ”How the west was won” från 1981, och jämför med dagens låtar från Mavado och Busy Signal.

Den här kunskapen är kanske lite överflödig. Men det är rätt kul att kunna datera låtar endast med hjälp av trumbeat , eller att kunna säga på middagen – ”Marley, jahaja, han lirade ju bara slö one drop, tacka veta jag dancehall, där är det en massa skön energi”.

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