Tag Archives: Midnite

Bambú Station are determined to make a change

Jalani Horton is lead singer and front man in Bambú Station.

Jalani Horton is lead singer and front man in Bambú Station.

Bambú Station are part of the thriving reggae scene on the U.S. Virgin Islands. Earlier this year they put out their fourth full-length album Children of Exodus, a set packed with bubbling rhythms and conscious lyrics.

I had the opportunity to talk to Bambú Station’s Jalani Horton. He’s a praised and gifted lyricist as well as front man and lead singer in the band.

We talked about the new album, its references to Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Exodus and why he is determined to make a change in the world. Check the full story over at United Reggae.

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Ras Batch is a powerful exponent of roots reggae

On Ras Batch’s seventh album Know Thyself he has teamed up with producer Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred from I Grade Records and the Zion I Kings, adding Andrew “Moon” Bain from Lustre Kings and David “Jah D” Goldfine from Zion High Productions to the team of arrangers and producers.

Ras Batch is a prolific figure in the rich and vibrant Virgin Islands reggae movement, and has via his label Sound V.I.Zion Records released albums from himself and others. Apart from running a label he is also a producer and a musician playing drums, keys and bass.

Know Thyself is an organic and crisply produced set with a handful of already classic Tippy I riddims, and includes Jamaican musicians Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace on drums, Dean Fraser on saxophone, Andrew “Bassie” Campbell on bass and Earl “Chinna” Smith on guitar.

Song titles such as Give Jah Thanks for Life, Trees and Dem Against Jah Rules tell of a strictly conscious affair dealing with topics such as religion, slavery, love and unity as well as environmental issues.

Ras Batch is a powerful exponent of contemporary roots reggae and has an honest and soaring tone in his voice. He occasionally lacks pitch control, something he makes up for in sincerity and emotional intensity.

Highlights include album opener Jah Children, something of an ode to nyabinghi drumming, Live Pray with its instant and memorable guitar hook courtesy of Chinna Smith and the first single Together, with a positive and infectious sing-a-long chorus.

Ras Batch might not be as well-known as fellow VI artists Pressure and Midnite, but with the rich and emotive Know Thyself he might be able to tell the world his story and put his name on the map.

Know Thyself is now available on CD and digital download.

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Bambú Station represents roots reggae

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ thriving roots rocking reggae scene have produced several great talents in the past ten years with trail blazers Midnite and their front man, singer and lyricist Vaughn Benjamin leading the way.

Bambú Station is another powerful band from the same group of islands. The band’s founder, lead singer and lyricist Jalani Horton hails from St. Thomas, and was in 1999 joined by bass player Andy Llanos and guitarist Tuff Lion. Their debut recording was Amadou Diallo, a heartfelt tribute to the Guinean immigrant who died in a hail of police bullets in New York City 13 years ago.

Children of Exodus is Bambú Station’s fourth full-length studio album, and follows their six years old Breaking the Soil. The album has the same laid-back atmosphere and is full of bubbly and natural riddims mesmerizing the listener.

Jalani Horton’s singing is accompanied by beautiful and well-arranged harmonies that uplift his mostly tough themed and insightful lyrics.

The album contains 16 cuts, of which two are short interludes and one a two minute tale of Bambú Station’s vision and mission set only to bass and percussion.

The partly acoustic All We Have is the most alluring moment of the album and sets a perfect tone to a bonfire at the beach.

The Virgin Islands offer way more than the relentless roots from Midnite, and Bambú Station is a great example of the many mighty talented musicians coming from this musically blessed group of islands.

Children of Exodus is currently available as digital download and CD.

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Skillful harmonizing on the Nazarenes’ fourth album

Ethiopian brothers Noah and Medhane Tewolde are known as the vocal and multi-instrumentalist duo Nazarenes, a duo that has been based in Sweden for many years.

They established themselves in 2001 with their self-produced debut album Orit. Their breakthrough came three years later with the acclaimed set Songs of Life, a set followed by Rock Firm in 2008.

Now the Tewolde brothers are back. Back in full swing with an album produced by Tippy I of Virgin Islands-label I Grade, a label known for working closely with Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite.

The first collaboration between the Nazarenes and Tippy I was the single Everlasting which was included on the various artists’ compilation Joyful Noise put out in 2009.

On Meditation the Nazarenes have made an album that confirms just how great roots reggae can sound in 2012. Meditation is reggae in the same school as excellent vocal harmony groups like The Meditations or The Mighty Diamonds. And hearing these two brothers sing together is a soulful experience.

Meditation re-uses some of the riddims used for previous Tippy I productions, and if you’re familiar with Jahdan Blakkamoore’s Babylon Nightmare, Toussaint’s Black Gold or Perfect’s Back for the First Time you’ll most likely enjoy tunes such as Mamy Blues, Everlasting and Lonesome Lady.

But there are also a number of new riddims. The dreamy Alive is one such, Politrickcians, in a UK dub style, is another.

Several of the songs come close to pop and rock arrangements and Get Together will probably make Chris Martin of Coldplay proud with its catchy sing-a-long chorus. It sounds like it’s made for playing at large festivals or stadiums.

The Nazarenes might have a long way until they’ve achieved a following as big as Coldplay, but if Noah and Medhane Tewolde keep making music as good as Meditation it’s just a matter of time until they play at Glastonbury or Madison Square Garden.

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Message is key to Vaughn Benjamin

Vaughn Benjamin is front man and lead singer in Midnite, a group that has been instrumental in shaping a new genre within in reggae music called VI-reggae.

They recently released their latest album Kings Bell, their first set together with an Jamaican producer and with several prominent Jamaican musicians involved.

I got a chat with Vaughn on the phone about messages in music, his inspirations and why he allowed the group’s first music video. Read the interview over at United Reggae.

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Midnite’s most accessible yet

I must admit I haven’t listened to VI-reggae trailblazers Midnite much at all. They came to my attention only a couple of years ago, even though they have been around since 1989 and dropped their debut album Unpolished 14 years ago.

Maybe their vast production has been some kind of barrier. If you didn’t know – Midnite drops an average of around five albums each year. I have found 45 albums with their name on it. And that doesn’t include singer Vaughn Benjamin’s solo efforts.

Kings Bell is the title of Midnite’s fifth album in 2011. It’s their first full-length with a Jamaican producer, and it’s mostly recorded at Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica with several acclaimed veteran musicians – Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace and Earl “Chinna” Smith to name a few.

Producer Andrew “Bassie” Campbell has made Midnite more accessible than I have ever heard before. It’s still the same raw, hypnotic and weighty sound that Midnite is known for. And they’re still not flirting with the listener. The sing-a-long choruses and grand harmonies are still nowhere to be found. Midnite do their thing whether you like it or not.

But the sound is fuller and the melodic hooks are very much present.

The punchy bass lines are as usual also included just as Vaughn Benjamin’s intensive and rugged chanting style of singing. He sings with honesty and sincerity about religion and social injustice.

Kings Bell is perhaps also Midnite’s most varied set yet – the ska-tinged Torpedo and the percussion driven The Quickening are the two most telling examples, although not the crucial moments of the album.

Instead the highlights include Earth is the Lord with its relentless bass line that made my kitchen utensils shake and Black Mamba and Jewel inna Africa Horn with their memorable guitar licks.

I’m not sure whether this album will rocket the charts, but it certainly made me discover a new side of this individual band.

Kings Bell hits the streets on November 1st on CD and digital download.

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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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The second day of Uppsala Reggae Festival belonged to the veterans

Abyssinians performing live at Uppsala Reggae Festival 2010. Photo by Stefan Gunnarsson, Reggaefoto.se

The second day of Uppsala Reggae Festival was a night of highs and lows, from big acts to smaller ones. But the night belonged to the reggae veterans – from Abyssinians and Bunny Wailer who have been in the business since the 60’s to Midnite and Peetah and Gramps Morgan, who started in the later half of the 80’s.

The elderly gentlemen behind monster tune Satta Massagana made for Friday’s high point. Their concert was backed by a young and hungry band with live saxophone and trombone who treated the audience to lots of great music from their well filled treasure chest, for example Declaration of Rights with its haunting organ and three versions of Satta Massagana. The last version bursts out into a bass pumping percussion extravaganza by Bernard Collins and the Manning brothers.

The big disappointment was VI roots reggae pioneers Midnite. Their concert began ten to seven, ten minutes ahead of schedule. This probably surprised many of the attendants, and although some rushed to the area, it never got crowded below the stage. This was perhaps also due to Midnite’s lack of energy, humour and vitality. Front man and lead singer Vaughn Benjamin seemed distant and may as well have been sitting in his car singing songs of freedom, oppression and propaganda to himself. Sure, Midnite’s music is introvert and unusually monotonous, which makes it difficult to convey live. However, it doesn’t get better when they insist on playing all their songs at full-length, which means no more than ten songs in 70 minutes. Not surprising, the audience decided to do something else.

This evening’s biggest surprise was Voicemail, a dancehall outfit on European tour to honour their recently deceased member O’Neil Edwards. The group tours with talented songstress Alaine who charmed the audience for the first part of the concert. When Voicemail took the stage they showed amazing energy and skilled showmanship, and got the entire audience to follow almost every move or call and response they made. It actually seemed like a very few wanted to leave the tent scene when Bunny Wailer entered the main stage.

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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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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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