Here comes the warm sound of roots in the classic style, with fourteen tracks from reggae’s best. Produced by Tapper Zukie, this compilation features a range of tracks from the Stars label he set up in the 70s. Instrumental support is provided here from musicians including Tony Chin, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Vin Gordon and Ansell Collins, amongst others. On Side One, things get off to a bright start with ‘Liberty’ from Junior Ross and the Spears, followed by tracks from Prince Alla and Linford Nugent, the latter offering a melodic and upbeat ‘Black Princess’. Next up is a rota of reggae royalty in the form of Cornell Campbell, Dennis Brown, Horace Andy and the Mighty Diamonds. Of these, Dennis Brown’s ‘Death Before Dishonour’ reveals its relatively late (1988) origins in the form of the distinctive percussive sound and the relatively minimal instrumentation, while the Mighty Diamonds contribute ‘Morgan the Pirate’, a great little track in slow deliberate roots style.
Side Two begins with Rockey Dread, Ronnie Davis and Freddy McKay; of these, Ronnie Davis’s ‘No Weak Heart’ is a great early (1976) reggae song, powered along by the vintage rhythm section (featuring Vin Gordon) and the echoing drum sound. Next comes no less than the venerable Alton Eliis with a surprisingly contemporary-sounding ‘We A Feel It’, and the album concludes with the Mighty Diamonds, Cornell Campbell and Horace Andy. Of these, Cornell Campbell comes close to a dub sound as the track closes (and some dubs of these songs would indeed be good to hear). The Mighty Diamonds add their typically sweet vocal sound. All in all, a fine compilation of roots reggae music and a joy to hear.
Tapper Zukie: Stars Ah Shine: Stars Records 1976-1988; release (vinyl) March 2016; Kingston Sounds label
This new release from Koen Duncan, his first in five years, carries the same strong religious roots message evident on previous albums. Winning the DJ Performance of the Year in 2010 at the Marlin Awards in Bahamas for the song ‘Mountain Mover’, this was a track taken from his 2009 album ‘Shine High’ – a powerful collection ranging from the dramatic hip-hop/dancehall title track, through more soulful reggae songs, to the final explicitly devotional tracks. The 2011 album ‘Trinity’ added to his impressive output with its message of hope in songs such as ‘Don’t Be Afraid’.
The new album, ‘Rebel of a Different Nature’, reinforces an already strong reputation. One of the singles released from the album – ‘Down to the Wire’ – is a rapid-fire hip-hop dancehall track with an underlying melody and an underlying message. ‘Lift Him Higher’, another single release, is a similarly fast-paced dancehall-influenced dance track with an explicitly spiritual message. The overall sound of the album is both gentle and committed: worthy of attention.
Koen Duncan ‘Rebel of a Different Nature’, release 25th March 2016, Fox Fuse/JahLight Records
This seminal UK band is back with a new 11-track album, with – as always – a strong political message at its core. With their origins in the Saint Paul’s area of Bristol, Black Roots began in 1979 and built up a formidable reputation for writing and performing firmly in the roots reggae genre until their peak in the 1980s. With their music steeped in the urban political fragmentation of the UK of the time, they played roots music in an uncompromising but melodic way and were a key reggae band of that era. Their last album – in their initial incarnation – was released in 1990. Various re-releases and dub makeovers were released subsequently but the band was not an active performing and recording outfit until they bounced back in 2012 with On the Ground (featuring most of the original members). Its dub counterpart was released in the following year. The French label, Soulbeats Records, released Ghetto Feel in 2014, and now the band is back with a brand new album, Son of Man.
Although the band no longer tour extensively they have played a series of selected live shows since they reformed, both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe including I’ll Be Your Mirror curated by Portishead at Alexandra Palace London UK, Glastonbury , the Lambeth Country Show , Garance Reggae Festival in France, Dour Festival in Belgium, the Polish Ostroda Reggae Festival and Reggae Sun Ska in France. So it is possible, if not easy, to catch them live: meantime, the title track from the new album (see above) is a good solid roots track in the fine Black Roots tradition.
Black Roots: Son of Man, release on Soulbeats Records, 22nd January 2016
Here’s a taste of kaneka, a reggae-infused music from the South Pacific island of New Caledonia. Deriving from the diverse music heritage of the island and its kanak peoples, together with the political and religious influences of French administration over the years, the music is broadly rather than narrowly defined. Due to its remote geographical location, and technological underdevelopment of internet connectivity, there have been severe commercial limits to how far the music has travelled from New Caledonia to the ears of listeners elsewhere in the world.
There are also limits to how far it has spread within New Caledonia itself where kaneka can at best serve as a unifying movement amongst different groups of the population and amidst political conflict. While none of the kaneka bands and artists are well known beyond New Caledonia, OK! Ryos have perhaps the highest profile internationally, and their album Wa Coco Le Meilleur (the best of) OK! Ryos (2008), with its mainly gentle quasi-reggae sound, is readily available. More recent releases (above) are a fine introduction to this engaging music.
To coincide with Lee Stratch Perry’s 80th birthday this new film is a celebration of his massive and eccentric contribution to reggae. It can be seen via UK film screenings around the country in February and March, and subsequently through DVD and Video On Demand (iTunes, Amazon Prime, Netflix). Mr Perry will also perform live at some UK dates in March.
If you are reading this you will already be familiar with Lee Perry’s unique musical career, starting with his work for Clement Coxsone Dodd’s label in the late 1950s, a further apprenticeship at Joe Gibbs’s Amalgamated Records, before setting up his own label (and eponymous house band) the Upsetter in 1968. He built the legendary Black Ark Studio in 1973 where he produced records for no less that Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Byles, Junior Murvin, The Heptones, The Congos and Max Romeo. Along the way he pretty much created what we came to know as dub and at the time of writing he’s still going strong.
Vision of Paradise is directed by Volker Schaner who followed Perry around Jamaica, Ethiopia, Switzerland and London to the point where he could gain an insider’s perespective on Perry’s idiosyncratic world. The film includes footage of Perry himself and of a stellar cast of dub/reggae musicians together with original animated scenes by the artist Maria Sargarodschi, drawn from different elements of Perry’s psychic world. There is also a look inside Lee Perry’s remarkable ‘laboratory’ in Switzerland, now destroyed by fire, but recorded here forever. The DVD version includes a host of extras, including a book and some deleted scenes. In whatever format, this release takes us inside a completely unique world.