Tag Archives: I Grade

Cornell Campbell’s New Scroll

PrintNew Scroll is the new album by foundation Jamaican singer Cornell “Original Gorgon” Campbell. In a press release it’s describes as “evoking that timeless sufferah’s sound and spirit of the golden era of Jamaican reggae within a treasure trove of original roots music”.

It boasts nine new songs penned by Cornell Campbell, as well as four dub mixes. New Scroll is furthermore described as injected with “the musicality and poetic flow that brought Campbell early and unparalleled success in the 1960s and 70s with solo recordings like the iconic Queen of the Minstrel or as a member of Jamaica’s most beloved harmony groups, the Eternals and the Uniques.”

The album bears Zion High Productions’ sweet sound crafted by the Zion I Kings production team – Jah D on bass representing Zion High Productions, I Grade Records’ Tippy I on keys and guitarist Moon, who co-founded the Lustre Kings label and is credited with writing on Snoop Lion’s debut album.

New Scroll hits the streets on CD and digital platforms on June 18.

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Jah Golden Throne is a cohesive and soulful journey

U.S. production trio Zion I Kings – David Goldfine from Zion High Productions, Alfred Laurent from I Grade and Andrew Bain from Lustre Kings – have over the past two years delivered several accomplished sets from Jahdan Blakkamoore, Perfect and former soul singer Toussaint.

And now comes a compilation with 16 tunes signed and delivered by these extremely talented and passionate producers.

Jah Golden Throne features original and contemporary roots riddims voiced by old and new artists from across the reggae spectrum and from around the world. It’s a set with a rich, full-bodied and rootsy sound set to stimulate heart, mind and soul.

All tunes are recorded with live instrumentation with particularly tasteful horn arrangements and a laid-back soulful vibe, especially Toussaint’s Crown I Got with its powerful harmonies or UK veteran Lloyd Brown’s Just So That You Know, a tune perfectly suited for a hammock on the beach.

On multi-faceted singer Jahdan Blakkamoore’s World Needs Love it gets more progressive and up-tempo, while still with a gentle tone.

Other notable tracks include Puerto Rican singer Chet Samuel’s Empress Omega, the Tippa Irie and Lloyd Brown combination Make it Work with its rolling bass line, Jah Bless’ beautiful saxophone instrumental Highway To Zion or raspy voiced singer General Jah Mikey’s Set A Way.

The weakest track is surprisingly the U Roy and Cornell Campbell combination Babylon Yuh Wrong, their first ever studio recording, and the only tune that has been previously released.

Compilations are usually not as cohesive and solid as Jah Golden Throne, which makes this is a highly impressive album from a trio that obviously knows how to work as a team.

Jah Golden Throne drops on CD and digital download on April 3rd.

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A perfect time travel

Perfect, aka Perfect Giddimani, has managed to deliver yet another accomplished set of songs.

His latest album – Back for the First Time – is produced by Zion I Kings, and that usually means reggae of the highest quality. And this album is far from an exception. These masterminds were namely responsible for Toussaint’s and Jahdan Blakkamoore’s very worthwhile sets released last year.

Perfect’ previous album, French Connection, was an excursion into innovative dancehall with hip-hop ingredients. Back for the First Time has a completely different sound. It’s more polished and soulful with live instrumentation and fine tuned arrangements. This album is like a 70’s soul album done in a modern reggae style.

It also reminds me of Sizzla’s latest album effort The Scriptures. Both albums have their respective singer going back to the roots, and both do more straight singing than usual.

Perfect’s delivery is edgy and moody. He can just like Sizzla easily travel from passionate heartfelt singing to fiercely spitting out his lyrics. One fine example of the former is the love tune HIM Smile with its simple, yet so sincere, yet so devout, lyrics of Rastafarian praises:

“I got a picture on my wall with Selassie I smiling, Jah Rastafari smiling, for us. There’s a picture on my wall with the Most High smiling, the King of Creation smiling, for all. Cherish this picture, now and forever, King Rastafari, I love you so, much more than money, this is a treasure, cause I never seen nobody else in the world smiling like this before.”

It’s one of the finest love songs I’ve heard, and Perfect’s singing is so earnest I almost feel bashful listening to it.

There are also some mighty fine horns on this album. And I have a confession to make. I’m a sax addict. And this album quenches my sax thirst. 

Check the upbeat Lion Haffi Roar or Slave Driver with a nanana reminiscent of Bob Marley’s Them Belly Full (But We’re Hungry). The sax solo comes rather late in the tune, but it’s well worth the wait.

This is the first time Perfect comes back, and I hope to see him back several times more.

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Danny I’s smooth To Your Majesty

Virgin Islands’ roots singer Danny I is back with his third album to date. To Your Majesty follows his sophomore album Unchangeable released in 2007. Both albums have been released on the VI-based I Grade label.

The production duties on To Your Majesty are handled by The Zion I Kings. This is the same trio – Zion High Productions, I Grade and Lustre Kings – that crafted Toussaint’s magnificent solo debut Black Gold put out last year.

To Your Majesty contains 14 tunes and is similar to Black Gold. Not lyrically, but musically. It contains heavy bass lines, smooth and mellow tempos and live instrumentation, including some nice horns.

Lyrically this is an album heavily inspired by reality and Rastafarian culture and teachings. On the Streets Again utilizes the Proverbs riddim and Danny I comments on the increasing violence in the small cities and towns of St. Croix.

Some of the best tunes are duets. The foremost highlight is Sometimish a Rastaman with Sabbattical Ahdah on the same riddim that was used for Toussaint’s wicked Roots in a Modern Time. And the nicely skanking Never Lay Down features veteran singer Army.

If the cool and easy VI reggae sound is your thing, then To Your Majesty will probably appeal to you.

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NiyoRah is loaded with important messages

Virgin Island based singer and chanter NiyoRah dropped his third album Feel Your Presence in June and went on a U.S. tour with Toussaint in August. Reggaemani has had the opportunity to hear his thoughts on reggae music and what it was like to record in Jamaica.

In June I published a review of Feel Your Presence and stated that NiyoRah is a hidden gem. And I still believe that’s correct. His music may be widely present in the U.S, but here in Europe I wouldn’t say that he is too well-known.

And that’s a shame. Because Feel Your Presence is a great album that will hopefully appeal even to those that aren’t into the VI-reggae scene.

NiyoRah started his career in the group Star Lion Family – a collective of seven VI-reggae artists including the well-known Pressure Busspipe – and is nowadays a solo artist.

Special mission
He has previously worked with Laurent “Tippy” Alfred, a producer and label owner that has done some great VI-reggae, a genre NiyoRah describes as earthy, celestial and bright. It’s also a type of music that he thinks is uplifting.

– I feel courageous and triumphant when I listen to our artists from the Virgin Islands. It’s almost like the Creator has downloaded important messages within us to present to the people of the world and beyond, writes NiyoRah in an e-mail to Reggaemani, and continues:

– Our writing approach is the one thing that’s unique because we take time to write intelligent and spiritual songs. We try hard not to rush or hustle the music.

Confident in VI-reggae
NiyoRah seems very confident in VI-reggae and believes that the genre differentiates from other reggae music due to its frequency and richness of the sound.

– It’s a sound that resonates because our producers go deep within to find something that doesn’t sound like anything constructed before, while keeping the primary foundation of powerful drum and bass.

Read before you sign
NiyoRah is grateful for the opportunity to share what’s in his heart and soul as well as to represent a good and honest lifestyle. But he also has a business approach.

– I cherish independence and being an example for other artists to follow in terms of entrepreneurship. Artists should investigate labels before they sign contracts because some don’t take the time, or don’t have the skills, to push artists properly.

Feel Your Presence was recorded in Jamaica and put out on his own label Denkenesh, so NiyoRah has supposedly had some problems with labels in the past.

“Music is truly a means of survival”
According to NiyoRah, working in Jamaica was not that different from St. Croix. But one thing seemed to make an impression.

– In Jamaica, music is truly a means of survival. There are many artists that hover around the recording facilities looking for a “bly” from producers. In St. Croix, the environment is more personal. I can deal with either environment. Both environments are blessed.

Promotion matters
Feel Your Presence is mainly one drop roots reggae, a genre not heard in Jamaica much anymore. Some people – myself for one – feel that there’s a decline in music coming from Jamaica. It’s not reggae anymore. NiyoRah doesn’t agree and writes that it’s just a matter of promotion.

– I don’t think there is a decline in reggae. I’ve heard many wonderful albums from artists the world hasn’t heard as of yet. There seems to be a decline because of where the most vital media/promotion outlets put their focus. They are responsible for choosing and pushing the music, he writes, and concludes:

– Dancehall is not reggae. Roots music with a soulful vibe is reggae. My view of reggae will always be one hundred percent positive!

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Impressive reggae debut from Toussaint

Soul music has had a tremendous influence on reggae, especially on the melodic rocksteady. Several reggae singers have been inspired by American soul singers. Alton Ellis, Slim Smith and Bob Marley were mainly influenced by names such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.

Less common are soul artists influenced by reggae. Texas-born Johnny Nash is one such artist who recorded both soul and reggae. A newer star on the soul and reggae sky is U.S. born Toussaint Yeshua, with a background as lead singer of the Stax Records and Blue Note recording group Soulive.

Nowadays he stands on his own feet and has together with the star-studded Zion I Kings production team created an album with a powerful blend of yearning soul and heavy roots reggae.

All 15 tracks on Black Gold are recorded with live instruments along with an all-star cast of musicians including Dean Pond, Tuff Lion and Carlton “Santa” Davis. This makes the sound rich and strong, but also smooth and soft, particularly on the title track Black Gold, which features live strings.

Toussaint’s voice is reminiscent of soul singers Stevie Wonder and John Legend, as well as reggae vocalists Dennis Brown and the new Dutch sensation Maikal X. The overall sound on Black Gold reminds me sometimes of British group Matumbi and their early material.

Black Gold offers pure soul (the sweet Hello My Beautiful), straight reggae (the mighty Roots In A Modern Time), and songs that are something of a mix of both genres (the single Be You). And the mixture works extremely well. In addition, Toussaint appears to be an excellent storyteller. The lyrics are personal and deals with topics such as struggles in life and overcoming addictions.

Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred is the mastermind behind this release and it certainly shows his great versatility as a producer. He has previously introduced and recorded great artists such as Dezarie and NiyoRah. However, I dare to say that this is his and his label I Grade’s best release so far.

Black Gold is released digitally on August 10 and physically on August 24.

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Chezidek prefers European producers

Chezidek is one of the top reggae artists and has recently released the acclaimed album Judgement Time. After his concert at Swedish reggae festival Öland Roots, Reggaemani had a chat with him about his new album and the reggae scene of today.

Chezidek released his first album Harvest Time in 2002 and has since delivered several strong efforts. He has worked with producers from Jamaica, the U.S. and Europe.

He has a unique delivery and fragile voice that may not suit everyone. But he has managed to become one of the brightest stars among the new generation of cultural singers and is currently in the forefront of the international reggae scene.

Chezidek performing at Öland Roots. Photo by Anna Thunander

I meet him about 20 minutes after his performance at Öland Roots. He is noticeably calm and in a cheery mood where he’s sitting backstage with a spliff in his hand.

This is his third festival gig in Sweden. The first two were at the Uppsala Reggae Festival.

− I remember the first time I was in Sweden. It was in 2005 at the festival in Uppsala. A very special occasion. I sat on my knees on the stage praying and suddenly rain came streaming down, says Chezidek philosophically and takes a puff.

His last two albums were recorded in collaboration with European producers. At last year’s I Grade, he worked with Guillaume Bougard from France and on this year’s Judgement Time Dutch Not Easy At All Productions was behind the controls. Both records have been praised by critics around the world.

Judgement Time has very natural vibes. The producers have a clean energy and they really love the music. It’s not about money for them, Chezidek says and continues:

− It’s a deep roots album and it’s very special for me. Easy and natural.

He believes that his latest album is substantially different from its predecessors, especially Inna di Road from 2007.

Inna di Road was a serious album. I wanted to reach the people, to move and connect, he says and starts singing Dem A Fight We.

Chezidek has also made several notable songs with French production team Irie Ites, including Bun di Ganja and Mr. Officer, a duet with Lorenzo.

− Irie Ites take music back to the roots and they really love reggae. I’ve known them for a long time. I used to sing with Lorenzo when I met them in Jamaica in 2002. He followed them to Europe. I was supposed to come along, but stayed and recorded Harvest Time with producer Phillip “Fatis” Burrell, he says.

Chezidek explains that Europe has better vibes than Jamaica and that is why he works extensively with European producers. In Jamaica, he says, it’s all about dancehall and hip-hop rhythms.

− There is no reggae scene in Jamaica today. Everything revolves around money, money, money. The more expensive it is, the better. I sing about life and that type of music is not played on the radio or on sound systems. It’s like climbing a mountain backwards, he says, and continues:

− People want to hear the music, but no one plays it in Jamaica. It’s all about the negative sounds. Bad people claim the space and spread negative energy, while the good ones are in the dark.

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NiyoRah’s best yet

Reggae from the Virgin Islands is often equated with highly productive Midnite. But if you scrape the surface, there are several golden nuggets. NiyoRah from the tiny island of St Thomas is such a hidden gem.

On the new album Feel Your Presence – his third – he has outdone himself. Feel Your Presence sees the coexistence of creativity, new rhythms and talented musicians such as Earl “Chinna” Smith with NiyoRahs distinctive expression – he is an almost equally good singer as he is singjay. However, it is in his explosive singjay style he is at his best. Listen for example to his clattering delivery in the political Propaganda or singing in beautiful Capture the Moment.

Feel Your Presence is in contrast to his earlier works recorded in Jamaica. Actually at the famous Tuff Gong studio. In the producers chair you don’t find former partner Laurent “Tippy” Alfred of I Grade Records, but Jamaican Andrew “Bassie” Campbell, producer and musician who, among other things, has toured with Junior Reid and Yami Bolo. And he has done an excellent job with this album.

The production is smart and creative. I tend not be particularly fond of guitars in the forefront of the mix, but this time it works really well in several tracks. Stolen Legacy is a vague remainder of the sad guitar loop in Don Corleone’s rhythm Heavenly and Indigenous World is based solely on percussion.

As the crown of the work, Feel Your Presence features legend Sugar Minott and the angry Jah Mason on one track each. A dub version is also featured. No One Go Round the Track is just over six minutes and the last two and half is dub produced in Jamaica. Yep, you read it right. Hope it will become a trend.

Feel Your Presence is available through iTunes and eMusic. The physical cd release is on June 29.

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Chezidek lyckas igen

I höstas släppte Chezidek I Grade. En skiva som tog sig in på min topp tio lista över årets bästa plattor. Sju månader senare slår han till igen. Nu ännu starkare.

Nya Judgement Time – den åttonde i ordningen – har spelats in tillsammans med holländska Not Easy At All Productions och skivbolaget JahSolidRock, som drivs av sångaren Benaïssa. Och de har gjort ett fantastiskt jobb med både Chezideks sköra röst och arrangemangen. Framför allt är många av blåsarrangemangen brutalt bra.

Judgement Time är inspelad med live instrument och bygger på nya, fräscha rytmer. Här finns inga relicks, något ganska ovanligt i dag.

Ett av Chezideks starkaste kort är gräshyllningar. Hans Leave the Trees är en av de bästa låtarna från 2000-talets första tio år. Ganja Tree från nya plattan är också en välskriven och välsjungen hyllning. Men Judgement Time innehåller mer än så. Mycket mer. Exempelvis följs sex av låtarna av instrumentala versioner. Och de låtarna byggs in i varandra, så att lyssnaren inte tappar fokus.

Bäst blir det i Live & Learn och i Walk With JahCollie Weed riddim, som släpptes innan plattan. Redan då kunde man ana att det var något stort på gång. Burning Fire, vars gitarrslinga för tankarna till Dennis Browns Westbound Train, är också ett av de starkaste korten.

Det här är reggae från den gamla skolan, men utan att någonsin låta tråkigt eller mossigt. Precis så här låter modern roots när den är som allra bäst. Judgement Time är utan tvekan årets bästa platta så här långt.

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Sly & Robbie lyfter Chezidek

i_gradeChezidek är kanske reggaens mest ojämna sångare. Få kan sjunga så falskt, men ändå lyckas knipa åt sig feta riddims och duktiga producenter.

På debuten Harvest Time och andra plattan Rising Sun rattade Phillip ”Fattis” Burrell spakarna. Och på Inna di Road var Bobby Konders från Massive B en av flera prominenta producenter.

På nya I Grade samarbetar Chezidek med klassiska duon Sly & Robbie samt Guillaume Bougard, som tidigare producerat åt bland annat Horace Andy och Gregory Isaacs.

Inga dåliga sammanhang Chezidek lyckats ta sig in i med andra ord.

Rösten är Chezideks främsta styrka, men samtidigt hans största svaghet. Därför är det viktigt att han arbetar med producenter som kan hantera hans sånginsatser, så att han inte tar sig för stora friheter.

I Grade har man hållit Chezidek hårt i örat. För det är glädjande nog ont om falsksång och Chezideks försök att hålla höga toner hålls till ett minimum. Och det är precis så han ska hanteras.

Det finns ett antal klassiska riddims på I Grade, exempelvis Solomon och The Girl is Mine. Båda fungerar utmärkt med Chezideks sång och Sly & Robbies kompromisslösa trummor och bas.

Soundet är modernt och återspeglar 70-talets roots. Det här är klassisk modern one drop enligt formel 1 A.

Att Chezidek väljer att göra en cover på irländska singer/songwritern Gilbert O’Sullivans Alone Again (Naturally) visar ändå att han har mod att gå utanför ramarna.

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