Reggae compilation albums can be attempts to recycle well-known tracks at minimal cost, or they can be more thoughtful attempts to bring some of the best reggae sounds to new audiences. This ‘heavy roots selection’ from Pressure Sounds is firmly in the latter category, bringing us classic names including U Roy, Linval Thompson, Cornell Campbell and Johnny Clark in twenty-one tracks of excellent reggae music (including Bunny Lee & King Tubby’s Dubplate Special). Available as a double album on vinyl or as a CD this is a welcome release indeed.
“Me used to record every day in the 70s. Sometimes 7 days a week, day and night inna the studio, daytimes in the main studios and then nighttimes in Tubby’s til daylight come again, and just get an hour’s sleep and then back to the studio again. King Tubby’s Studio was really like my headquarters. Me record the backing track at the big studios, but then most times me voice and mix at Tubby’s. When Tubbs stop mix it was me and Philip Smart, Pat Kelly, then Jammys and Scientist. Them always ready fi work with me when I work, and most times that was nighttime when it quieter. Me love the 4 track tape cos it’s what we have at Tubby’s, even when most everyone else move up to 8 or 16. That one-inch 4 track tape was cheaper and smaller, so it easier to store and you can carry it overseas. And 4 tracks is enough when you know what you’re doing…
…And so Bunny Lee recorded a massive volume of remarkably consistent music in the 70s. This compilation brings together rare and unreleased cuts that put the listener bang in the middle of a typical recording session, complete with false starts and studio banter. Linval Thompson is represented by two unreleased tunes and is also heard in the runup to ‘Tommy’s Vibration’. Once the ‘flying cymbal’ sound had taken off, Bunny often recorded a ‘flyers’ and a straight version of the same rhythm: ‘Tommy’s Vibration’ is a classic but little known Tommy McCook instrumental on the flyers cut of Linval’s ‘Jah Jah A The Conqueror’. ‘Ethiopian Rock’ is a total scorcher, the only recorded tune by the deejay Jah Smile, before Bunny persuaded him to turn to singing and changed his name to Barry Brown. In a healthy spirit of competition, Bunny often tried out different singers on tunes that he thought would hit, hence Ronnie Davis’s soulful take on Johnny Clarke’s ‘Every Knee Shall Bow’, Johnny’s version of Horace Andy’s ‘Better Collie’, and Johnny and Horace sharing vocals on ‘No Man Is An Island’, all unreleased until now. ‘No Babylon Shall Escape In This Time’ has Johnny Clarke and ‘Bongo’ Herman Davis recorded over the original version side of Johnny’s ‘None Shall Escape The Judgement’. ‘Life Of My Own’ is a beautifully constructed lament by a singer who neither Bunny nor various expert ears have managed to identify: at Bunny’s suggestion he is credited as ‘The Raver’. ‘War Zone’ and ‘Keep On Running’ are examples of Tubby’s mixes that have had further effects dubbed on elsewhere; sound systems and foreign record labels occasionally did this to manufacture their own specials from existing mixes. ‘Jamaican Fruit Of African Roots’ has recently been the subject of the fascinating documentary ‘Shella Record: A Reggae Mystery’; the Lennox Brown cut here has only just been discovered. Also included are two stinging dubplates by Cornell Campbell: the first is aimed straight to the head of Arrows sound system, while the second, recorded in the early 80s, sums up the vital partnership of two of Jamaica’s musical giants:
“King Tubby’s are the dub organizer, King Tubby’s are the dub supervisor, Bunny Lee him are the champion producer, Bunny Lee him are the A1 manager.”
Here’s something upbeat and positive to cheer us through the hard times of pandemic and political uncertainty. This new album features reggae and dancehall artist Zulu Bob (from Antigua and Barbuda) with a batch of reggae tracks released by what the publicity describes as the “one and only reggae music label” in China, namely Chinaman Yard. The album also features Jamaican reggaeman Blvk H3ro (Harvin Bailey) and France’s General Huge. It’s good straightahead reggae music – no worries – so let’s hope it’s a sign of a good year ahead.
Zulu Bob: Road to ReggaeVille, released 22nd January 2021 on Chinaman Yard records
Music can be inspired by the best and the worst of human experience. It can uplift us or drag us down. In this release, UK-based Percy Black takes the coronavirus pandemic as his inspiration and produces a thoughtful song about the current problems we face. He says that he “writes and sings educative music, identifying societal problems and trying to provide a solution where possible. Grew up listening to struggle music from legendary artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Currently inspired by societal issues affecting the world at large. This makes my music therapeutic to listen to, especially as the world battles the different and difficult problems experienced every day.” This track is a slow, even languid, piece of music, and the most striking aspect is the contrast between the image conjured up of Caribbean beaches and the harsh reality of the song’s subject matter. Much more educative than a Prime Ministerial press conference
From French label Dubquake Records comes a whole series of 7” and 12” releases, steeped in the original dub sound of 70s reggae, with an authentic feel that – were it not for the addition of synth sounds and contemporary production quality – could have been issued many years ago. Their “signz series” features artists including Aza Lineage, Pupajim, Shanti D, Sr Wilson, Junior Roy, Charlie P, and Eek-A-Mouse. There are some brand new tracks included here, namely “No War” with Junior Roy and “Mr Government”, plus the iconic 80s man Eek-A-Mouse featuring on two tracks recorded at the Dubquake studio. As you might expect, themes of resistance and rebellion are prominent here, especially on number 7 in the series which is ‘Mr Government’ featuring Eek-A-Mouse. ‘No Borderz Dub’ and ‘Dub the Government’. Music here for both the old reggae devotees and the younger brethren!
Release November 2020; digital and vinyl; OBF- Dubquake Records
From Jamaican-born singer Nga Han, supported by Belgian producer Kingston Echo, come this new album release ‘Emergence’. Recorded and produced in Antwerp, the album is released alongside its dub counterpart ‘Submergence’. The vocal album is a strong mix of reggae sounds, consisting of eight tracks, ranging from the title track which has an 80s feel with its guitar rhythm and brass backing through ‘Versatile’ with a semi-spoken vocal reminiscent of Linton Kwesi Johnson – not a bad comparison! The album closes with Way Out, a powerful roots song, previously released as a single. The album is accompanied by a dub version of the tracks, and these are excellent arrangements made in an obvious knowledge of the 70s dub masters but by no means dominated by the all-heavy bass of that period. An impressive release, authentic and powerful reggae music
Here’s Hungarian reggae band Manaky with a fine roots single, strong on melody and passion. The band released their first eponymous album back in 2016, and this new single ‘Kyana Run Weh’ is taken from their forthcoming new album entitled ‘Reborn’. The band produce an authentic reggae sound, relatively unencumbered by studio effects and electronics, and have already built up a live reputation in Hungary. This new release should enhance their impact further and the striking video released to accompany the single will also help achieve that. Good luck!
You may not be aware that Las Vegas is the base for impressive reggae outfit Bonafide, but here they are with a remastered mix of their track ‘Start and Stop’. With the involvement of Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley it’s a hard-hitting and in many ways troubling musical account of the current violence toward, and mistreatment of, black communities in the United States and elsewhere – including the toppling of the statue of slave trader Colston in Bristol in June of this year. Musically it’s a strong reggae track and the video images show that, at heart, the band’s perspective is an optimistic one.
Bonafide and Damian Marley: Start and Stop, Broadyard Records, Release September 2020
Here’s Bob Marley’s grandson with a live version of ‘Make Me Feel’ to lighten the days of lockdown. Released as part of the ‘at home’ series from Vevo, this laidback track is true to the spirit of reggae and roots, soothing and musical. The maternal grandson of Bob Marley, Skip Marley is a member of this legendary reggae family that also includes his mother Cedella and uncles Ziggy, Stephen, and Damian Marley. His own sound draws more widely from contemporary pop, rap, and rock, and he featured, perhaps surprisingly, on Katy Perry’s 2017 hit, ‘Chained to the Rhythm,’ followed by several solo singles.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Miami, Florida, Skip Markey is a self-taught musician and first performed at the age of 15, when his uncle Stephen prompted him to sing the chorus of ‘One Love’ on-stage. In 2016, Skip debuted on the family’s Island-distributed Tuff Gong label with the ballad ‘Cry to Me.’ After signing with Island Records itself, he debuted on the label in February 2017 with the pop-oriented ‘Lions’. A week later, Katy Perry released ‘Chained to the Rhythm,’ a collaboration with Skip, and the two performed it at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. Skip then released a series of well-received singles including ‘Calm Down’ and ‘Refugee’ as well as 2019 collaborations with his uncle Damien (‘That’s Not True’) and H.E.R. (‘Slow Down’). After a 2020 single, ‘No Love,’ he enlisted Rick Ross and Ari Lennox for ‘Make Me Feel’ which is now streaming on all platforms.
Here’s a new and intriguing sound from the OMG collective. Its owner is Chris Fosh, a singer, rapper and songwriter. Founded in London in 2011, the collective is a rare opportunity for singers, songwriters, producers and musicians to come together in a cross-genre music-making endeavour. Based on the values of creativity, work discipline and collaboration, it has a loose and fluid membership, united by the goal of creating and disseminating new music. This new release – ‘Bounce’ – is an arresting deep-voiced electronic excursion drawing from rap and dancehall, its closing electronic sounds almost reminiscent of the days of dubstep. It’s worth hearing in its own right, as well as worth supporting a venture committed to new sounds and new artists. No time fe yu nonsense: listen here!
OMG Collective: Bounce, release 2nd October 2020.