Tag Archives: Roots reggae

A traditional roots reggae album from Ras Daniel Ray

Jamaican singer Ras Daniel Ray – since a decade expatriate in France – met up with French reggae band Tu Shung Peng in the late 90’s and a close creative collaboration started and resulted in him voicing a bunch of tunes on their albums Around Tu Shung Peng and Trouble Time.

But this wasn’t Ras Daniel Ray’s first recordings. As a teenager he performed for  three Jamaican sound systems. Starting with Echo Tone Night Rider and then moving on to work with Killamanjaro and Jahlovemusik. In 1993 his debut singles Bubbling Pot and Jamaica Nice was put out produced by veteran Harry J. These recordings were followed by singles for Mafia & Fluxy and Reggae On Top.

His debut album Ray of Light is however recorded together with Tu Shung Peng and contains 13 fresh tunes in the traditional roots reggae vein. Jazz and soul inspired live instrumentation, organic mixing and tasty horns arrangements are some of the main ingredients.

You can trace a hint of reggae legends Dennis Brown and Garnett Silk in Ras Daniel Ray’s tone. But his voice isn’t as powerful and sounds a bit thin at times. Lyrically he also lies close to conscious reggae singers – spirituality, equality, love and repatriation are themes Ras Daniel Ray sounds comfortable with.

Highlights include the pleasantly skanking Deliver Us, the soulful Same Dream and Lesson the Ants, especially the dub breakdown towards the end of the song. Also don’t miss out on the hidden dub version of Trust in Jah with its echo laid melodica floating in and out the mix.

Ray of Light is a well-crafted roots album that probably appeals to fans of classic reggae music.

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The Twinkle Brothers defend roots reggae culture

The Twinkle Brothers have stayed true to their roots for more than 30 years. They started in the 60’s as a hotel-circuit band, but transformed to one of the deepest and most spiritual vocal harmony groups in roots reggae music.

Their debut album Rasta Pon Top – put out in 1975 – included titles such as Give Rasta Praise and Beat Them Jah Jah set the standard.

They’ve continued in the same vein ever since and have relentlessly put out albums with positive and defiant messages. Cross-over is just not for Ralston and Norman Grant and they won’t succumb to lyrical slackness.

The latest album from The Twinkle Brothers is Culture Defender – the follow-up to the excellent Barry Issacs-produced Praises to the King showcase set released in 2009.

Culture Defender is produced by Gussie P and combines The Twinkle Brothers two showcase ten inches on the Sip a Cup label together with unreleased mixes to the in demand Repent showcase as well as an unissued tune and some exclusive dub mixes.

Norman Grant’s agitating chesty delivery together with militant and heavyweight steppers riddims provided by talents such as Mafia & Fluxy makes this a crucial set for anyone who is interested in warrior-styled roots reggae.

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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 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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Message Music an acquired taste

Last Friday I read a short article in a Swedish daily about the new Augustus Pablo compilation out on Pressure Sounds. The piece was written by Andres Lokko, a well-known Swedish music journalist, usually writing about obscure pop and dance music. If he writes about Augustus Pablo you know that he was an important and influential musician vital not only to the reggae scene.

Message Music collects 16 dubs and instrumentals produced by Augustus Pablo spanning roughly from the mid 80’s to the early 90’s. The tunes are rootsy and partly digital, partly with live instrumentation.

This is the third compilation dedicated to Augustus Pablo out on Pressure Sounds. And it’s the least accessible yet. It’s ethereal, meditative and unique as label manager Pete Holdsworth put it in the booklet.

Several riddims are familiar. The reworkings offered are harsh and potent. Ammagiddeon Dub on Jackie Mittoo’s Drum Song is one example, the stripped version of Java another.

This brilliant album sheds light on a previously somewhat neglected period of Augustus Pablo’s career. There hasn’t been anyone like him in reggae music since he passed in 1999. It was too early as this album clearly shows. But his music lives on thanks to great labels such as Pressure Sounds.

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Solid from Slimmah Sound & Lyrical Benjie

The Dutch has done it once again. Firm in Jah from Amsterdam-based Slimmah Sound and Lyrical Benjie is yet another example of fine reggae coming from the Netherlands. It is a deeply conscious effort with long-lasting hooks and harmonies.

Tim “Slimmah Sound” Baumgarten and Lyrical Benjie teamed up in 2008 for the singles Sit n Wonda and Girl don’t Trust the World. Their collaborative efforts have now resulted in sound system veteran Lyrical Benjie’s second album, where production and arrangements, as well as most instruments, are handled by Tim Baumgarten himself.

Firm in Jah assembles ten tunes – five vocals followed by its dub counterpart. If you have been reading Reggaemani you will probably know that this is format that I’m very fond of. And this album is no exception. Far from it. Firm in Jah is essential listening and has not a dull moment. It’s a meditative blend of tough, deep bass lines and melodies.

This is Roots Tribe’s 10th release and second long-player. Hopefully more albums in the same great vein as Firm in Jah will follow.

Firm in Jah is available on vinyl, CD and digital download.

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Musical Raid is a hidden gem

RockDis aka The Rockers Disciples and the crew behind Blackboard Jungle sound system, both based in France, have sneaked out the excellent roots reggae compilation Musical Raid. It assembles ten vocal cuts and five dub versions of the heaviest sort.

The vocal duties are mostly handled by fairly unknown singers, like Daba, Anthony John and Mo’ Kalamity. The most well-known names are probably Prince Malachi from Jamaica or African Simba from the UK.

Regardless of the singers previous credits all tunes are solid, and the production is loaded with distinct influences from the late 70’s Channel One sound.

Standout tracks include Reality Souljahs’ Born Again where the singer goes Marvin Gaye over a thunderous steppers infused riddim, Christine Miller’s Signs of the Times with a nicely pumping organ or Prince Malachi’s apocalyptic Jah Fire.

This compilation is a must have for fans of contemporary reggae firmly rooted the 70’s.

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Heartical celebrates an impressive journey

Heartical is originally a French sound that started in 1999, and has since played all over the globe. They have clashed against, and juggled with, some of the biggest sounds in Europe and Jamaica, including Killamanjaro from Jamaica, Massive B from the U.S. and Supersonic from Germany.

In 2001 the crew launched their label aimed at releasing old school roots music. To date over 50 titles have been released on vinyl and digital download.

As a ten year celebration Heartical is now set to put out its first official compilation featuring an impressive line of artists. Most of them reggae legends like Johnny Osbourne, Little Roy and the late Sugar Minott and Alton Ellis, who sings Peaceful Valley over the Ministerio del Dub riddim, which must have been one of his last recordings.

Heartical Story compiles 20 tunes – 17 vocals and three instrumentals – built on eight riddims from BDF (Basque Dub Foundation). Most riddims are relicks of classics such as Derrick Harriott’s pulsating Tonight, Glen Brown’s haunting Slaving and Studio One’s Far East or the rolling Real Rock.

The compilation is a minor chord celebration in a foundation style. This is roots music as it was meant to be. Just listen to Lone Ranger in Original Style. It’s the chatting Ranger with his ribbiting and oinking against the riddim led by an apocalyptic organ.

Now available as digital download and on CD on June 6th.

Heartical Story shows that none of these foundational artists have lost their flow. They sound just as fresh in the 2000’s as they did in the 70’s and 80’s.

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Takana Zion calls for a Rasta government

Takana Zion is the Guinean singjay sensation that went to Jamaica and recorded his third full length album Rasta Goverment at the legendary Harry J studio together with producers Samuel Clayton and Stephen Stewart.

Takana Zion was born in Guinea in West Africa. By the age of 17 he left his family and moved to Mali without saying goodbye. In an e-mail to Reggaemani Takana Zion explains why:

“They never do me wrong, but I wanted to be free and live my life. They are Muslim and my young faith was a problem for them and at the same time I was tired to see my mother spending her money on my school fees while I was chanting and praying king Selassie I God at the beach.”

Prior to Takana Zion, artists such as Ivoirians Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly, as well as the late South African singer Lucky Dube, have done a lot to promote African reggae.

According to Takana Zion, Guinea is also a country with a lot of talent and a strong musical culture.

“Trust me that it influenced me a lot. Yes, I can sing any traditional music from Guinea,” he reveals.

Two unreleased albums
While he lived in Mali he met Tiken Jah Fakoly, for whom he also recorded two albums, both yet to be released.

“The project was called back to Zion, but Tiken Jah is very busy with his own music, so it couldn’t be released. I didn’t want to waste my time, I wanted to learn and progress in music. I had to find food for myself being young (19 that time), and far from my family,” he explains, and continues:

“We don’t have plans to put them on market now that I start to get busy too.”

Shifted producer
His first albums that have been put out – Zion Prophet and Rappel a L’Ordre – were produced together with Manjul, a French producer nowadays based in Mali. For Rasta Government he instead teamed up with Jamaican producers Samuel Clayton and Stephen Stewart.

“I made two albums with Manjul, and it was a good experience for me. But as you know, in the process of development there is no limit, so working with Samuel and Stephen was the next level of experience. They know a lot of things in the music that will help me. They choose musicians and everything for this album. Their efforts are felt in it.”

Rasta Government is strictly roots and, according to Takana Zion, all about high level consciousness, justice and  peace for one and all.

“This album is like the rebirth of the original reggae that existed before,” he writes, and continues:

“We made a progress in the message and the music and I am satisfied.”

The Almighty lyricist
The lyrics are – just as on his previous albums – sung in several different languages. Eight out of ten songs are in English, one in Sousou and one in Manding. And where do his lyrics come from?

“I don’t write lyrics. I would say it’s almighty himself that tell me what to sing and how to sing it.”

Rasta government shall rule the world
Takana Zion explains that Rasta Government differs from his previous albums due to many reasons. The most obvious are the location of the production and the use of veteran Jamaican musicians, such as Sly Dunbar, Robbie Lynn and Dalton Brownie.

“Kingston is the capital of reggae, so if you know what you want in your music, you will surely get it. The musicians them know from what they hear in your way of singing which kind of spirit you are getting,” he explains.

Takana Zion seems tired of the public image of Rastafari, and with the title Rasta Government he wants to show that Rasta is more than smoking weed and singing.

“Rasta is a lot of things, and thing is, if Rasta men can be the greatest artist, they can also be the greatest leaders and everything they want. It’s a prophecy that Rasta government shall rule the world. Just wait and see.”

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Stephen Marley takes tender care of roots reggae

In 2007 Bob Marley’s second son Stephen Marley dropped the Grammy winning and critically acclaimed album Mind Control. The year after he won another Grammy for its acoustic version.

Mind Control was a versatile and borderless album, whereas Stephen Marley’s new album Revelation Pt 1: The Root of Life is more or less roots reggae – foundation style.

And Stephen Marley fosters the heritage from his father and other foundation artists and groups well. Very well actually. Because this is a stunning album from beginning to end.

Thematically and lyrically it is in the same vein as last year’s Distant Relatives set from Nas & Damian Marley. It is conscious with messages of Africa and Rastafarian teachings of love and unity.

Stephen Marley handles the production himself, and the album is built on live instrumentation. The result is an organic and rich sound that assembles drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, saxophone, flute and harmonica in perfect harmony.

Stephen Marley’s raspy voice and singing style is close to his father’s. And when listening to his three reinterpretations – Freedom Time, Pale Moonlight and The Chapel – of Bob Marley’s catalogue it is almost as if you were listening to the father himself.

The remarkable Damian Marley duet and first single Jah Army – the album version also features Buju Banton – set high expectations with its thunderous one drop riddim accompanied by dub reverbs.

With this album Stephen Marley was set to preserve the foundation of roots reggae, and he has exceeded in doing so.

In the press material he is labeled as a five-star general in Jah Army, and I believe that he has rightfully earned every star and can now be nominated for supreme commander.

Revelation Pt 1: The Root of Life hit the streets on May 24th.

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