Tag Archives: Soul

John Legend should embrace his reggae curiosity

Last week John Legend dropped his latest album titled Wake Up! The album is a collaboration with hip-hop band The Roots.

Wake Up! is essentially a cover album and features eleven versions of great songs from artists such as Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. The songs that get the John Legend & The Roots treatment are mostly in the soul and R&B vein, with one notable exception for reggae fans.

Humanity (Love the Way It Should Be) was originally recorded by the late and great Prince Lincoln Thompson. The version included on Wake Up! isn’t nearly as nice as the original, but it certainly shows that the expressive and emotional John Legend should embrace his interest in reggae.

However, John Legend isn’t a rookie when it comes to reggae. Last year his duets with Estelle and Buju Banton hit the streets. And those are actually well worth picking up, especially the remixes provided by Curtis Lynch.

Hopefully John Legend – and other soul singers as well – will pick up on Jamaican tunes and make their own reinterpretations.

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Toussaint is a singer on a mission

Mixing styles and genres is difficult. To have a clear and easy labelled style is usually easier and more commercially successful. Someone who has managed to combine his two favourite genres is American singer Toussaint. Reggaemani had a chat with him just before he went on a 16 day tour.

Toussaint started his singing career like many other great singers – in the church. He’s the son of a preacher man, so church was a natural place outside his childhood home in Indiana. At home, his parents often played music. Mostly gospel and old school soul from legendary record labels Stax and Motown.

− I’ve always listened to music, but when I was younger I had to sneak out from home to listen to reggae and hip-hop, Toussaint laughs on the phone from San Francisco, where he is to set off on a U.S. tour with NiyoRah and Tuff Lion.

Toussaint is in a great mood, and describes himself as ‘psyched’ at the moment. The tour lasts 16 days through three states and he performs every night.

Something that probably also brightens his mood is his reggae debut album Black Gold, released the same day as we talk.
− The album has been well received so far and I was just on Facebook to ignite my fans, he says.

Toussaint successfully combines soul and reggae

Mashing up genres
On Black Gold Toussaint successfully combines soul and reggae. His blend of genres might be too much reggae for soul fans, while reggae fans find it too soulful. But I think he handles the mix very well.

− Over the years I’ve tried as many genres and styles as possible, whether funk, soul, jazz, reggae or hip-hop. With Black Gold I wanted to mash up genres. Mash up soul and culture, he says eagerly, and continues:

− For the first time in my life I’ve been able to do my own thing without having to compromise. I work with people who understand what I want to do and have the same ideas as myself. In Soulive, it was more difficult. We had different ideas, but it was an important experience to tour and perform live on stage.

Toussaint says that there is no difference for him to sing soul or reggae.

− Singing is a spiritual experience for me and it doesn’t matter what genre it is. I come from soul music and that’s my strength. But if I need to rhyme, I can do that too.

Afro-American issues
The concept of Black Gold is African heritage and history. It deals, among other things, with Afro-American issues. Toussaint says that there are big challenges ahead, and immediately becomes more serious, though obviously still close to laughter.

− Afro-Americans are facing difficult times. I believe that we have what it takes to conquer, he says, and quickly adds:

− I mean conquer in a spiritual sense and that Afro-Americans need to stand firm.

Toussaint says that in the U.S. black equals criminal and that people don’t understand what that really means.

− People don’t realize that power, to be judged, he says, and continues:

− It’s the same violence all over the U.S. It’s in New York, Los Angeles and even in Indiana where I’m from and that’s supposed to be a hick-state.

“You can’t own land if you’re dead at 25”
Toussaint has obviously put much thought into the lyrics and concept of Black Gold. And when I ask him if he has a solution for the problems he is quiet for a moment and then fires off several opinions and ideas.

− We need more self-determination. You can’t own any land if you’re dead at 25, he laughs, and then gets serious again:

− First we need to realize that we have problems and second we need to be aware of misconceptions about manhood and womanhood. We have to realize that we’re worth something. That we’re capable of great things.

A big heart is not enough
He wants to contribute to the cause, for instance through working with young people and teaching them history.

− I’d like to start a foundation and do workshops and things. Right now I’m just gathering capital to do greater things. Because you must have money. You can’t approach youths and say ‘Hey, I got this big heart, do you want to eat?‘ he laughs again and says:

− I want to be honest in my lyrics. I don’t write fluff. I want to show the problems we’re facing.

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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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Pama had it going from the beginning

UK dub fuelled ska, rocksteady and reggae outfit Pama International has released some really interesting records in the past years. The tune Highrise, featuring Michie One, was one of the best songs in 2008 and last year they released the soul drenched album Pama Outernational.

Now they’ve decided to re-release their self-titled debut, originally released in 2002. The sound on this album reminds a lot of their other releases – lots of ska, rocksteady and reggae fused with 60’s soul.

The production and mixing is a bit rougher on this early set. The bass and organ are in the foreground and hits particularly hard in Earthquake and Second Chance. The latter is a cover of a Lloyd Charmers tune performed by the great Ken Boothe. And singer Finny actually has a bit of Ken Boothe phrasing in his voice on this tune.

On the debut Pama International featured an all-star cast with members from legendary UK bands such as Steel Pulse, Galliano, Style Council and Special Beat. And they’ve managed to produce a great groove. But it has marks of its time and a bit 90’s feel on some tracks, for example the vinyl scratching in Earthquake and If You Want Me to Stay.

The album has been deleted for some years and this new version contains five bonus tracks taken from the Dub Store Special ep (also deleted) mixed by Groove Corporation.

Pama International has a distinctive sound and may not suit every roots reggae purist or dancehall aficionado. But if you’re interested in an upbeat and joyful sound with live instrumentation, you might just like this and other Pama International records as well.

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Mellow Baku gör det mesta själv

En blandning av soul, jazz och reggae. Så beskriver brittiska sångerskan Mellow Baku sin musik. I maj är hon aktuell med debutplattan Patchwork Prophecies, som hon ger ut helt på egen hand.

Bortom hiphop influerad jamaicansk dancehall och elektrisk brittisk dubstep finns reggaeartister som hämtar inspiration från mjukare genrer som jazz och soul.

Brittiska sångerskan Mellow Baku är en sådan. Hon växte upp i en kristen familj med en mamma som ofta och gärna sjöng både blues och jazz.

– Jag växte upp i ett hem utan vare sig tv, radio eller populärmusik. Att sjunga och spela gitarr var därför naturligt för barnen. Det är det enda liv jag känner till, säger Mellow Baku.

Hon var en av de starkast lysande stjärnorna på gruppen Soothsayers platta One More Reason från i fjol. Mellow Baku hade tuff konkurrens från andra gästartister, men sjöng ändå dreadsen av legender som Johnny Clarke, Michael Prophet och Linval Thompson.

One More Reason är en både jazzig och bluesig historia. Något som passar Mellow Baku perfekt, eftersom även hennes egen musik drar åt det hållet.

– Jag gillar det naturliga soundet man får om man använder bas, trummor och klaviatur. Det ska också helst vara akustisk bas eftersom det ger en varm känsla, menar Mellow Baku.

Hon säger att reggaerytmer är oslagbara för att skapa ett tungt groove, men att jazz och soul ger mer spelrum.

– Jazz och soul ger oändliga möjligheter att jobba kreativt med melodi och bas. Men jag är också inspirerad av världsmusik eftersom den är så mångsidig, berättar Mellow Baku.

Hon gör det mesta själv och har en tydlig DIY-attityd. På debutplattan Patchwork Prophecies, som släpps i maj, har hon skrivit nästan allt material själv. Dessutom säger hon sig inte behöva något skivbolag i ryggen.

– Det enda jag behöver är spelningar och möjligheten att sälja mina låtar. Jag har inte hittat något skivbolag ännu som gör det bättre än jag själv, utan att påverka kreativiteten. Men visst, hittar jag något som passar så vet man aldrig, säger Mellow Baku.

Patchwork Prophecies medverkar flera prominenta musiker, bland annat Steve Nutter och David Anderson, som tidigare spelat med skalegenden Laurel Aitken. Även hennes syster Michie One dyker upp på en av låtarna.

Fram till nu har hon haft fullt upp med att spela in material till debuten och härnäst hägrar spelningar för att marknadsföra materialet.

– De senaste fem åren har jag arbetat som sångerska för andra band på spelningar både live och i studio. Nu håller mitt bokningsbolag på att ordna spelningar för 2010 och 2011. Förhoppningsvis får jag möjlighet att även besöka Sverige, avslutar Mellow Baku.

Sex snabba till Mellow Baku

Bästa artist/grupp?
Bob Marley och Black Uhuru

Bästa reggaeplatta?
Exodus med Bob Marley och Sensemilla med Black Uhuru

Favoritgenre?
Roots och allt som har en spirituell eller dub vibe

Bästa reggaeproducent?
Lee”Scratch” Perry

Bästa skivomslag?
Originalomslaget till The Wailers Catch A Fire

Bästa rytm?
World A Reggae/World Jam och Sleng Teng

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Den jamaicanska musikens inspiratörer

Clyde McPhatterHäromdagen skrev jag en krönika på Rebelmusic om kopplingen mellan reggae och de förenta staterna. Faktum är att även om USA har dåliga reggaegener, så har landet haft stort inflytande över den jamaicanska musikens utveckling, och reggaen härstammar i ett krokigt nerstigande led från tidig amerikansk r&b och storbandsjazz.

Amerikansk r&b dök upp på Jamaica på 50-talet genom handelsresande och säsongsarbetare. De som hade radio kunde också lyssna på favoriter som Nat ”King” Cole, Fats Domino och Clyde McPhatter genom amerikanska radiostationer. När populariteten började dala i USA och delvis övergå till rock n’ roll, bestämde sig de jamaicanska herrarna Prince Buster, Clement Dodd och Duke Reid för att producera sin egen r&b.

Den jamaicanska versionen påminde en hel del om sin amerikanska motsvarighet. Men upphovsmännen valde att också använda influenser från latin och mento (tidig jamaicansk musik som bygger på afrikanska rytmer) samt sångteknik och klassiska melodier från England och Irland. Eftersom flera av dåtidens musiker var jazzskolade andades dessutom vissa låtar swing och bebop.

Klassiker från den här perioden är exempelvis Boogie in My Bones med Laurel Aitken, Donna med The Blues Busters och Easy Snappin’ med Theophilius Beckford. Det finns även ett antal instrumentala rökare från The Blues Blasters och Duke’s Group.

Rocksteadyns intåg
Rocksteady-perioden i den jamaicanska musikhistorien var kort – 1966 till 1968. Men genren har haft ett enormt inflytande på hela reggaens utveckling. Under den här perioden fick basen och trummorna en ännu mer framträdande roll. Rocksteadyn är cool, lugn och melodiös, och tempot är långsamt.

Dessutom hade 60-talets soul ett betydande inflytande på rocksteadyn. I boken Reggae: The Rough Guide, av Steve Barrow och Peter Dalton, menar reggaeradiostjärnan och selectorn David Rodigan att soulsångaren Curtis Mayfield är ”godfather of reggae”. Och det stämmer nog rätt väl. Lyssna på klassiska jamaicanska falsettsångare som Slim Smith, Ken Parker och Pat Kelly, så är det tydligt varifrån de hämtat en stor del av sin inspiration.mavado

Rocksteadyn och dess rytmer byggdes till stor del kring dessa Curtis Mayfield-imitatörer och därför kan soulens – och inte minst Curtis Mayfields – bidrag till rocksteadymusiken inte överskattas.

Reggae, rocksteady och jamaicansk r&b delar en gemensam  kärlek  till amerikansk musik. Relationen har varat i över ett halvt sekel, och ännu brinner lågan. Nutida dancehallstjärnor som Mavado och Sean Paul för traditionen vidare genom framgångsrika jamaicansk-amerikanska samarbeten.

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