Tag Archives: Lustre Kings

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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Several treats from Jahdan Blakkamoore

Jahdan Blakkmoore – one of Brooklyn’s finest reggae singers – dropped his sophomore album Babylon Nightmare in December last year, to wide critical acclaim. The album included the sweet single All Comes Back to One.

Now production crews Lustre Kings and LionDub International are releasing a remix EP of All Comes Back to One, which includes versions with influences from dubstep, drum & bass, one drop and nu-soul. The remix duties are handled by Nate Mars, Potential Badboy, LionDub, Nick Fantastic and Ticklah. The funky and soulful version BoBos Remix is available as free download. Check it here.

If that wasn’t enough, DJ Theory has just put out the refreshing Quick Money for free download, a tune full of reggae, hip-hop and soul. It uses a sample from Amadou & Mariam’s Sabali – also used by Nas & Damian Marley for the mellow Patience – and comes with a lethal soca version courtesy of So Shifty. Check both tunes here.

Thanks to The 45 Shootout for the heads up.

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Jahdan Blakkamoore outperforms himself

For those that have followed Jahdan Blakkamoore since his days in Noble Society and were disappointed with his electronica infused debut album Buzzrock Warrior can relax. His second album – Babylon Nightmare – is a completely different story compared to the debut set.

The dubstep and electronica influences from European music have been switched towards Africa, Jamaica and old school hip-hop for this diverse set rooted in reggae, hip-hop and soul.

Babylon Nightware is produced by gifted producers Andrew “Moon” Bain of Lustre Kings, Laurent “Tippy” Alfred and Nick Fantastic. This U.S-based trio was the masterminds behind Toussaint’s solo debut Black Gold earlier this year. And that set is reminiscent of Babylon Nightmare.

However, Black Gold had more soul influences whereas Babylon Nightmare leans more towards hip-hop with live instrumentation. Listen for example to Against All Odds featuring his bands mates in Noble Society. This tune is basically hip-hop. And it’s very well executed.

Jahdan is immensely talented and has no problem riding riddims like Junior Kelly or Konshens. And he can sing like Pressure. This, together with the very varied riddims, makes Babylon Nightmare a very joyful listening from beginning to end. It’s never a dull moment.

The majority of the tunes are new. But some old time favorites show up. For example Flying High and Proverbs, titled after their riddims respectively. It’s also a real treat to listen to the wicked reworking of Golden City on the Rainbow riddim.

I was one of those that thought Buzzrock Warrior was a decent set. But with his second album, Jahdan has managed to outperform himself. If I haven’t already awarded album of the year, this one would have made it into the top ten.

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Jahdan Blakkamoore wants to inspire

Jahdan Blakkamoore made a name for himself in the trio Noble Society, an outfit that received the award Reggae Album of the Year on iTunes in 2008. Last year he dropped his solo debut Buzzrock Warrior, an album that received the same award. Next week he is about to drop his second effort. Reggaemani got a chance to speak to him about the new album and his desire to inspire.

Jahdan Blakkamoore. Photo: Amir Ebrahimi

Jahdan Blakkamoore was born in Guyana and moved to the U.S. at an early age. Now he’s based in Brooklyn, NYC, and spends all his time in the studio recording and learning.

He seems to have no musical boundaries. On Noble Society’s debut album Take Charge, he and his band mates Delie and Diego “Fuego” Campo tried their hands on many different styles ranging from one drop reggae and dancehall to hip-hop.

On Jahdan Blakkamoore’s solo debut in 2009 he explored raw digital bass lines in the field of electronica and dubstep.

Buzzrock Warrior was very electronic and I was inspired by European house and jungle. It was supposed to be a mixtape, but ended up as an album, says Jahdan Blakkamoore on the phone from a recording studio in New York.

Jahdan in a new light
The first single from his sophomore album Babylon Nightmare is a different excursion compared to what he has previously put out. All Comes Back to One is partly acoustic, laid back and easy going.

− It’s a beautiful tune, states Jahdan and explains:

− It has a folky acoustic feeling and is about the concept of oneness. It’s a unique part of the album.

He describes Babylon Nightmare as a mixture of hip-hop and soul with a Caribbean feeling. And he emphasizes that it’s a musical album with live instrumentation such as live bass and horns.

Jahdan Blakkamoore – All Comes Back to One (single version)

Treats and surprises
Some of the tunes on the album have been featured on different compilations. But Jahdan has something up his sleeve.

− People might have heard some of the songs before, but the versions on Babylon Nightmare are different. It’s a little treat, a surprise, he says and gives an example:

− The album version of All Comes Back to One has horns and a different mix.

Babylon Nightmare is the antidote
Jahdan says that Babylon Nightmare is a conceptual album about the world we’re living in.

− We’re all facing negative elements created by ourselves. We created the babylon nightmare, he says in a serious tone, and continues:

− Babylon nightmare is mass confusion. But it can be utopia. We can change the nightmare. My personal antidote is to look inwards. You need to understand yourself. Learn about your culture and the true power of love.

Babylon nightmare is a state of mind that you can change. And Jahdan is willing to help.

− All songs on the album are bits of antidote to the nightmare. For example All Over the World [starts singing], it’s about reggae and that it’s everywhere. Love is everywhere.

Four years to complete
Jahdan and producers Andrew “Moon” Bain, Laurent “Tippy” Alfred and Nick Fantastic have put a lot of time and love into the album. The recording started about four years ago. Jahdan seems confident in what it could achieve.

− It’ll kick up doors for me and show me in the correct light. People will hold on to this album. It’s my best body of work to date and you can play it to your grandmother or your son.

− I want people to take my music seriously and I always want to have a message. I want to inspire and enlighten.

“Hot now and not later”
And he wants to be recognized now. Not in 20 years.

Busy Signal gives me the chills when I hear his music. He’s on top of the game, Jahdan says, and continues:

− I want to be unique and have originality. If you’re a genius, you’re able to inspire your contemporaries, not 20 years later. People in your era need to say “wow” and recognize you for your music. Hot now and not later.

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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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Bright future for VI-reggae

U.S. Virgin Islands has over the last ten years become a powerful force in reggae, especially in the United States. But in Europe the impact has been more moderate. Reggaemani has talked to producer and label owner Laurent “Tippy” Alfred to learn more about the scene in the VI.

U.S. Virgin Islands is an autonomous part of the United States, and can best be described as a tourist paradise. The three main islands of St Thomas, St John and St Croix are located in the western Caribbean, just east of Puerto Rico. The largest island – St Croix – has about 60.000 inhabitants and is the base for a type of reggae which is popularly known as Virgin Islands reggae (VI-reggae).

U.S Virgin Islands are located just like Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea. But they have more in common. For example, the Rastafari movement have been strong on the islands for many years.

Laurent "Tippy" Alfred in his studio in St Croix

− Elder rastamen from the VI will tell you that the Rastafarian movement has been in St Croix and St Thomas since 1930 – and 1940’s, not long after the inception in Jamaica. So reggae, which is rasta music at its core, has been here a long time, writes Laurent “Tippy” Alfred, producer and owner of the record label I Grade based in St Croix, in an email to Reggaemani.

Started in the 70’s
He says that the first reggae recording in the VI, which he knows of, is Ras Abijah from St Thomas, who released the album Ras Abijah vs. The Beast in 1979. But there are more pioneers than that.

− Zeus & the Kasha Heads, The Zioneers, Umoja, Inner Vision and of course Midnite. Midnite was formed around 1989, eight years before they released their first album Unpolished. This crucial first release marked the start of the contemporary VI-reggae scene, Tippy writes, and continues:

− From there numerous studios and production houses emerged like Glamorous Records, Sound VIzion and I Grade.

Midnite is the foundation
Tippy describes the feel as unique and far more diverse than most people think. For example, there is not only one VI sound.

− The Midnite sound is the foundation of the VI-reggae. So that’s the dominant sound and what most people associate with the VI. Heavy bass lines, slower tempos, live instrumentation, sparse arrangements, bubbling keyboards and stiff guitar skanks.

Something that brings together reggae from VI is that most use live instruments, which he considers to be classic roots reggae, but Jamaica seems to have left it behind.

While the VI has a classic reggae sound, it is not reactionary or boring. Tippy lists several producers who he thinks we describe VI-reggae the best.

− We have Dean Pond’s polished modern roots, Sound VIzion’s upful digital roots and Bambú Station, who produce deep roots.

Tippy has a hard time classifying his own sound. He mentions Midnite, but also hip hop, soul, jazz and British steppers as his influences.

− Overall, I think the lyrical content is what unifies the VI-reggae sound. It is the only reggae movement that I know of where 100 per cent of the artists, so far, sing conscious lyrics.

Magic island
For an island with only 60.000 residents St Croix has succeeded in shaking up lots of talented singers and producers. Tippy says that the islands have an abundance of talented artists and it seems that it every month emerges voices with international potential. When he shall explain why there is so much talent, the answer is somewhat puzzling and reminds one of the popular TV series Lost.

− St Croix is a unique and mystical place. We’ve produced many internationally known artists, thinkers, musicians, writers and athletes. I think that St Croix has some of the most creatively talented people on earth. Why is something of a mystery. My feeling is that there are centers of energy in the earth that create and shape minds in a way that modern science cannot grasp, writes Tippy and continues:

− St Croix must upon one of those energy centers. I think there are undocumented reasons why the VI has been so sought after by so many colonial powers on history. That is also why there are so many military installations and radio telescopes located nearby.

He also provides more robust explanations and writes that St Croix has always been a rebellious island and the population is independent of the mind, something he believes fosters musical creativity. To be part of the United States he believes also has an effect.

− We are a U.S. territory and have a large population from all over the Caribbean. Those who grow up here may be influenced by both the U.S. and the Caribbean. All this cross-cultural mixes makes for a very fertile environment for creative music and arts.

Moderate interest in Europe
Reggae from the VI has had a stronghold on the U.S. mainland for many years, but in Europe, interest has been moderate so far. Midnite and Pressure Buss Pipe are the most successful to date. Even singer Dezarie has received some attention. But not really much more, despite talented artists such as NiyoRah, Ras Attitude and Batch.

− VI-reggae is starting to get wider attention in Europe, but I think that it is difficult because artists from here have not received much support from Jamaica. Commercial success in Europe depends on the acceptance in Jamaica, says Tippy, who says that Midnite still managed to break that rule.

Laurent "Tippy" Alfred and singer Toussaint in St Croix

Midnite has never had a single in the Jamaican charts. They have never played in Jamaica, but is still respected and loved in Europe. Tippy also highlights the lack of resources as an additional reason.

− VI labels are small organizations without the resources to launch promotional campaigns that penetrate Europe.

“A lot to be hopeful about”
Tippy is critical of some Jamaican artists and believes that dancehall is currently undergoing significant musical changes right now.

− It is hard to even call most of the riddims reggae in any form. They are basically hip hop / pop arrangements with little originality. It’s nothing like the dancehall of the 80’s or 90’s that brought a whole new sound to the world.

He adds:

− There may be a lot to be disgusted by contemporary reggae, but also a lot to be hopeful about. Even though artists like Vybz Kartel and Mavado get most of the airplay, there are countless others who spread positivity.

Tippy is not worried about the future, either for roots reggae in general or VI-reggae in particular. He believes that the contemporary dancehall sound may come and go, but the roots will always remain.

− The key will be for conscious reggae artists and producers to adapt commercial and promotional formats so that we can continue to create music that will be heard.

SEVEN QUICK ONES TO TIPPY

Favourite artist?
Vaughn Benjamin (Midnite)

Favourite label?
Lustre Kings Productions

Favourite tune?
Handsworth Revolution by Steel Pulse

Favourite genre?
Roots

Favourite producer?
Karl Pitterson

Favourite riddim?
Hard Times

Favourite record sleeve?
A New Chapter of Dub by Aswad

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Lustre Kings om dagens reggae

Dagens reggae har kommit på avvägar och i USA släpper skivbolagen bara dålig musik. Men det kanske kan ändras. Amerikanska producentduon Lustre Kings hoppas att musik med budskap kan ta sig tillbaka in på hitlistorna.

I höstas skrev jag en krönika på Rebelmusic om avsaknaden av amerikansk reggae. Visst, Shaggy, Johnny Nash och producenten Bobby Konders kommer därifrån. Men inte mycket annat. Eller?

Efter att jag skrev krönikan började jag hålla ett extra öga på reggae från USA. Och vips så hittade jag ett gäng intressanta namn. Populära Groundation är från Kalifornien och SOJA, John Browns Body och 10 Ft. Ganja Plant är från östkusten. Sen finns också hela reggaerörelsen från Virgin Islands med artister som Midnite, Dezarie och Ras Attitude.

Några av de mest intressanta namnen på den amerikanska reggaescenen är Corrin Haskel och Andrew ”Moon” Bain, mer kända under sitt producentalias Lustre Kings.

Corrin, Moon och Jahdan Blakkamoore

Både veteraner och nya talanger
Lustre Kings började producera musik 1998 och har sedan dess arbetat med många stora namn, exempelvis veteraner som Yami Bolo och Capleton.

Duon har genom åren också varit vassa på att snappa upp nya förmågor. Lutan Fyah, Jahdan Blakkamoore och Turbulence är några namn som Lustre Kings var tidiga med att upptäcka.

− Det finns så mycket talang därute. Att ha örat mot rälsen, hänga i studior och hålla oss a jour med vad som händer hjälper oss att hitta nya talanger, berättar Corrin Haskel.

”Eklektiskt sammanhängande”
Lustre Kings har en tydlig uppdelning i vem som gör vad. Andrew Bain är musikern och kreatören, medan Corrin Haskel är den som håller i trådarna och ser till och saker och ting blir gjorda.

Den klassiskt skolade multiinstrumentalisten Andrew Bain har flera influenser, och har lyssnat på såväl hip-hop som rock och amerikansk folkmusik. Hans många inspirationskällor och musikalitet genomsyrar deras produktioner, bland annat i rytmer som Salam Addis, Shining och Talking Drums. Alla är reggae i grunden, men tre helt olika stilar.

− Jag skulle beskriva vår stil som eklektisk sammanhängande. Den är ”digital ancient”, säger Andrew Bain.

Dagens reggae är inte vad den varit
Lustre Kings producerar musik som bär ett budskap. Men Andrew Bain ställer sig frågande till om det finns en framtid för den typen av medveten reggae.

− Vi har haft svårt att motivera oss den senaste tiden på grund av den riktning reggaen tagit. Reggaen i USA är på nedgång. Det verkar inte finnas särskilt många skivbolag som regelbundet ger ut bra musik längre. Dessutom bryr sig de stora radiokanalerna inte om reggae och andra genrer får betydligt mer speltid, anser han, och fortsätter:

− Budskapen och produktionstekniken som är populära just nu är inte vad som fick oss att ge oss in i musikbranschen.

Men Andrew Bain verkar ändå förhoppningsfull.

− Saker kommer och går i cykler, och förhoppningsvis slår pendeln tillbaka till roots och musik med budskap, säger han.

Ger sig inte
Även om duon inte är helt nöjda med dagens reggaescen, så har de inga planer på att kasta in handduken. Utöver att nyligen ha gett ut två plattor har de flera projekt på gång, bland annat nya skivan Babylon Nightmare med Jahdan Blakkamoore och ett mixtape tillsammans med Project Groundation. På önskelistan över artistsamarbeten syns namn som Jah Cure och Natural Black. Men Andrew Bain verkar rätt nöjd som det är och berättar att de inte letar efter nya artister.

− Att få möjlighet att arbeta med en sådan talang som Jahdan räcker gott, säger han.

Sju snabba till Lustre Kings

Bästa artist?
Kan inte välja någon enskild (Corrin)
Jahdan Blakkamoore, Peter Touch, Tarrus Riley och Vaughn Benjamin (Andrew)

Bästa skivbolag?
Utöver Lustre Kings så är det Digital B (Corrin)
I Grade, Lustre Kings och Zion High (Andrew)

Bästa platta?
Real Thing och Black Woman and Child med Sizzla, Catch a Fire med The Wailers och It’s Growing med Garnett Silk (Corrin)
Burning Spears första på Studio One, Two Sevens Clash med Culture, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown med Augustus Pablo, The Real Thing med Sizzla och Rule the Time med Midnite-I Grade (Andrew)

Bästa genre?
Roots Radics på Channel One på 80-talet samt 90-tals roots (Corrin)
Studio One, Rockers, 90-tals roots och VI-roots (Andrew)

Bästa skivomslaget?
Greensleeves från 80-talet (Corrin)
Scientist och några från Midnite (Andrew)

Bästa producent?
Moon eller Bobby Digital (Corrin)
Joe Gibbs, Bobby Digital, Bob Marley & The Wailers och Don Corleone (Andrew)

Bästa rytm?
Party Time och Credential (Corrin)
Bad Road, Hard Times, Grasslands och Drop Leaf (Andrew)

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