Tag Archives: Not Easy At All

In the mood for Vernon Maytone

VERNON MAYTONE - IN THE MOOD (FRONT COVER)Vernon Buckley, aka Vernon Maytone, returns with another solid set for France’s Uniteam Music. In the Mood is the follow up to the excellent On the Right Track, which was released about three years ago.

Both sets have been mixed and mastered by Manu Genius – previously one half of acclaimed Dutch production duo Not Easy At All – and have largely the same smooth sound.

Vernon Maytone was lead singer in 70s roots duo The Maytones and his rural voice remains intact some 40 years after his debut recordings with fellow Maytone-singer Gladstone Grant.

In the Mood is slick with an edge and it comes with relicks of a number of classic riddims, including a scorching cut of the mighty Cuss Cuss riddim. Vernon Maytone sings passionately and emotionally about life and losses.

Another warm and charming album from one of Jamaica’s many unsung musical heroes.

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New, shelved and forgotten gems on new Benaïssa EP

cover170x170For a few years around 2010 Dutch production duo Not Easy At All – Marc Baronner and Manu Genius – made a number of ultra-solid albums, singles and compilations, including masterpieces by Chezidek, Earl 16 and Brinsley Forde. Unfortunately the duo went separate ways about three years ago.

Now a few more recordings from Not Easy At All have fortunately surfaced. Benaïssa’s EP African Blood collects four cuts produced by Not Easy At All and two produced by Manu Genius, who today runs his own Dubshelter Recordings.

The set collects versions of some of Not Easy At All’s best riddims and only one has been previously released – the title track, which appeared on the flip to Chezidek’s Walk With Jah 7”.

The powerful, yet insanely sweet, Rock It is probably the strongest cut and is voiced over the One Blood riddim. But tracks like the aforementioned African Blood and Jealous are almost equally strong. The solo additions from Dubshelter is in the same smooth and earthy vein and could have been recorded during the same sessions.

Break-ups happen all the time and since Not Easy At All probably is history it’s nice to have a few “new” recordings from one of contemporary European reggae’s finest production teams.

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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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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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Chezidek returns with another rock solid scorcher

The Order Of Melchezedik CoverThree years ago Jahsolidrock Music blessed the world with the brilliant and critically acclaimed album Judgement Time from Jamaican singer Chezidek, a set produced and recorded together with Dutch musicians Not Easy At All.

Now Chezidek has returned with a new organic and original album on Jahsolid Rock. But Not Easy At All is not involved much this time. The riddim tracks are instead mainly provided by Austria’s House of Riddim, Dutch band The Skanking Monks and Ziggi Recado’s keyboard player Rekesh Dukaloo. And the result is very pleasant and highly enjoyable.

Judgement Time was more or less presented in a showcase style, i.e. a vocal followed by a version. This is not the case with The Order of Melchezedik. It collects only two versions. The rest are vocal cuts.

More of Chezidek’s highly individual, distinct and sometimes unbalanced high-pitched vocal style. But The Order of Melchezedik contains some of his finest moments as a singer and his pitch control is above his usual standard.

There is not a dull moment on The Order of Melchezedik and the musicianship is first rate, particularly the horn section, the smooth guitar and the exquisite harmonies.

This is definitely a set directly aimed at the best of the year lists. It’s currently exclusively sold via the label’s website, and will be available on CD and other digital platforms around 20 April.

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Vernon Maytone is still in fine form

Remember the great vocal duo The Maytones? They recorded some great tunes with producer Alvin Ranglin in the 70’s. Songs such as Boat to Zion, Madness, Zion Land and Money Worries, also featured on the Rockers movie soundtrack.

Anyway, lead singer Vernon Buckley, aka Vernon Maytone, is nowadays living in Canada and runs his own label – Music Life Movements – together with his cousin Everton Phillips.

Last year the label collaborated with Dutch producers Manu Genius and Marc Baronner from Not Easy At All, the same producers responsible for acclaimed albums from Chezidek, Earl Sixteen and Apple Gabriel. The result was an album titled Foundation Compilation – Reggae Series vol.1 with performers such as Ken Boothe, Leroy Sibbles and the late Sugar Minott.

Their collaboration obviously worked out fine since they have teamed up for the album Words of Wisdom. This album is almost a solo album from Vernon Maytone.

It collects 15 tunes, where of three are duets with Linval Thompson, U Roy and Vernon Maytone’s son Dillon Buckley, who turns out to be an above par rapper.

The U Roy duet was featured on Foundation Compilation, Show us the Way was originally put out in 1979 on the One Way album and some of the riddims have been heard on other Not Easy At All productions.

Words of Wisdom is however a well-produced modern roots reggae album. Vernon Maytone’s heartfelt singing is just as great as it was in the 70’s and suits the polished live-played riddims nicely.

I’ve been a long-time fan of The Maytones and I’ve previously praised Not Easy At All’s productions. So don’t get fooled by the gangsta hip-hop album sleeve and check out Words of Wisdom.

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A perfect fit for Earl Sixteen

You can’t go wrong with a showcase album. And certainly not if the production is handled by Not Easy At All and Earl Sixteen is responsible for the vocal duties.

The collaboration between the JahSolidRock label and production crew Not Easy At All has certainlyborn some sweet tasting fruit. First the Chezidek album and then the full length set from Apple Gabriel. Both praised by critics.

Now these Dutch fellows drop another scorcher – The Fittest from foundation artist Earl Sixteen, responsible for the wicked, and recently re-issued, album Reggae Sound and several timeless tunes.

The Fittest does not resemble the hardcore riddims and production style courtesy of the late Mikey Dread. The sound on The Fittest is airy, relaxed and smooth with great live instrumentation.

It contains 10 tunes, each followed by its dub version, or, as in one case, by its U Roy deejay cut.

Hardcore followers of JahSolidRock and Not Easy At All will notice some familiar riddims. Changing Times utilizes the backing from Chezidek’s Live and Learn and Rise Up is based on Gifted Ones by Apple Gabriel.

A bunch of the riddims are new, and I literally get the chills each time I hear Modern Slavery. Clavinet, saxophone and a pulsating riddim similar to early 80’s Sly & Robbie. Earl Sixteen’s pleading voice and the moaning saxophones are intertwined in a perfect combination. An excellent mix of hopelessness and joy.

Modern Slavery is also a good example of Earl Sixteen’s conscious lyrics that concerns issues such as the situation in Africa, slackness, child labor and trafficking. He sings “there are more slaves today, than there were four centuries away…trafficking drugs just to survive” and calls repeatedly for a solution.

This is the third stunning album released by JahSolidRock and Not Easy At All. I have a feeling there is more to come, even though it will be a tough task to outshine any of these three releases.

The Fittest reaches the street on May 26th.

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Listen to Apple Gabriel’s teachings

Earlier this year the fruitful relationship between label JahSolidRock and production crew Not Easy At All gave us the acclaimed Judgment Time by Chezidek.

Now they’re at it once again. And this time they’ve laid their hands on veteran Apple Gabriel from legendary trio Israel Vibration, probably best known for their dread 78’ debut The Same Song.

Teach Them Right is Apple Gabriel’s follow-up to his solo debut Another Moses released in 1999. During the past eleven years Apple Gabriel has been living a tough life in the streets of Atlanta, USA.

His struggling is reflected in both the music and the lyrics on Teach Them Right – “To all those homeless people, I know your cry” he sings in the album opener Mr. Conman, a great introduction to this phenomenal and occasionally autobiographical album.

Teach Them Right is produced according to the 12” principle. This is a great Jamaican tradition that offers the listener a dub version to the original tune and makes the music experience very enjoyable.

The arrangements are bluesy and jazzy without ever losing their reggae roots. Apple Gabriel sounds like he did back in the 70’s – hissing, nasal and with a clear vibrato. Sometimes it sounds like his is whispering rather than singing and his delicate voice may seem a bit shaky at times. But that’s all part of his narrative. Don’t be fooled, Apple Gabriel’s voice is very distinct and may take some time to appreciate. But when you come to understand it, you will love it.

In Gifted Ones he pays tribute to great soul singers and plays effectively with melodies to a wicked jazzy backdrop with some major percussion work. In Give Them Love, Apple Gabriel gets political and corrects fellow rasta singers that show intolerance. This tune is based on Chezidek’s Live and Learn, the best tune on his Judgment Time album.

Teach Them Right is quality roots reggae produced in a very careful way. It’s vintage without sounding outdated or dull. And Apple Gabriel’s devotional singing stands in bright opposition to all the auto-tuned crap released these days.

The album is released in Europe and the U.S. on the Heartbeat label on November 15th. Hopefully their wide distribution will give this release the recognition it needs.

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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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