Hylu and Jago: Anansi Riddim

This is the second release from the Unit 137 label and its resident producers Hylu and Jago. It combines reggae, dub, club and jungle in a series of five mixes over the basic Anansi rhythm. The opening track, ‘Anansi’, is a vocal version from Nanci Correia with a gentle reggae take on the rhythm, a sleepy kind of melody and an industrial strength bass located so deep as to almost exit the range of human perception. David Boomah’s more assertive vocal version – ‘No Have No Heart’ – follows, the rhythm coming to life as if in support. Kahn’s remix of Nanci Correia’s vocal track makes serious creative inroads into the rhythm, generating a slightly doomy club feel to the initial ‘Anansi’ track, while the Run Tingz Cru remix of the David Boomah version adds a distinct jungle mix to the basic rhythm. The closing ‘Dub’ from the label’s own Sleepy Time Ghost (STG) in one sense brings it all together and in another takes it all apart, with its deconstruction of some of the instrumental elements of each of the mixes, snatches of both Nanci Correia’s and David Boomah’s vocals, and an overall pace that’s fixed somewhere between the slow original rhythm and its jungled-up bigger brother, all rolled into one great big latter-day dub.

Hylu and Jago: Anansi Riddim; Unit 137 label (CD, download, limited edition EP) release 30th July 2012


Ras Sis Highness: Temptation

This new release from Ras Sis Highness – Rosalind Brooks/Simpson, born in the UK but having spent much of her life in Jamaica – is her debut album. Although it clearly demonstrates the influence of vintage era reggae (as she says, “I have been inspired by a lot of vintage and veteran artists such as Horace Andy, Dennis Brown, Bob Marley and many more…”) it would do the album a disservice to label it as a revivalist nostalgia exercise. Its rhythms and production are cutting-edge, its style is contemporary as well as being influenced by the past. The striking opening track ‘Jah Love’ is a slow-paced roots song with a loping rhythm that could have come straight from Lee Perry, together with an excellent echo/dub instrumentation behind the sweet vocal track, fading out in a classic dub style. Next up is ‘Vous Aimez Jah’, a straightforward reggae track with a simple circular melody, reminiscent almost of a traditional song or a tune from the blues, an impression reinforced by the presence of a distinctly retro organ happily making itself known in the mix. ‘One One Coco’ is a standout, its three chords providing a Shanty Town feel to the rhythm, with the minimal mix – percussion and skanking guitar up front – providing a great backdrop to the vocals. It draws to a conclusion with a strong dubbed-up instrumental section. The title track itself has a slow and sharp rhythm, again hinting at the influence of blues as well as of the reggae classics, while ‘Kulcha’ reminds us that the album is brand new in 2012, not something unearthed from the archives: its faster rhythm is unrelenting in supporting the vocal, again with a minimal mix of instruments apart from a driving percussive rhythm which provides the backbone for the track. For good measure, it’s followed by an instrumental version of the same track which in no way sounds ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’. Much the same could be said of closing track ‘Steppin’ which leans toward the dubstep venue where Ras Sis Highness made her public musical debut.

With production and mixing from Digikal Roots, and executive production from Gibsy Rhodes, this release sounds like a labour of love and makes for an excellent debut  – “in the future I would like to work with a live band and travel to perform for my fans is this is for them very much indeed. Look out for me”.

Temptation by Ras Sis Highness, CD and download, Springline Jamaica/Roots Lab Intl Records,  July 2012.  

Lotek (feat. Spikey Tee): Rebel Hi-Fi Remixes

Wayne ‘Lotek’ Bennett follows up last year’s ‘International Rudeboy’ album with this new six-track release from First Word Records. It features remixes and reconstructions of ‘Rebel Hi-Fi’ from Warrior One, Andy H, the Ubiquitous Dub Legitimizers and of course Lotek himself. The initial track begins with a sound that hints at vintage reggae DJ style but quickly develops into something else, its unrelenting rhythm track powering along in the background with strong bass and echo, concluding in a much more contemporary mix of sounds that are then taken further in the remixes that follow. Thus the ‘Lotek Remix’ follows-through with a complex mix, its electronic bass-heavy rhythm placing the vocals further back as the dubstep-influenced sound takes over.  Warrior One’s ‘Trancehall’ mix is accurately named, the original vocals being selectively deployed at the service of a merciless drum-and-bass derived rhythm. Andy H’s remix starts off with a straightahead reggae rhythm but quickly transforms itself into a dancehall-based reinvention complete with a highly persistent descending electronic bass line. A further Andy H remix – the ‘Jungle Refix’ – is pretty much what would be expected from the title, the jungle/bass-and-drum feel establishing itself assertively at the outset, interspersed with traces of the original rhythm, and quite possibly the fastest beat recorded on any recent reggae release.  The dub reinvention from the Ubiquitous Dub Legitimizers starts off like a dub version in the received tradition, with powerful bass and echo, then adds some strong electronic beats, concluding with a rich mix of sound that takes the music much further than anticipated from the opening track. Australia-based British producer Lotek, having produced a Mercury prize winner and established a strong reputation from his work with Roots Manuva, Speech Debelle and others manages on this release to demonstrate exactly what can be generated from working at the boundaries of reggae, hip-hop, dance, electronics and latter-day dubstep, drawing from each but not being limited by any of them.

Lotek: Rebel Hifi Remixes. Download release July 2012, First Word Records

Reggae Roast Feat. Earl 16: Occupy the Session

Earl 16 enjoys a deserved reputation as one of reggae’s leading vocalists, having started out at the celebrated Studio 1, and over the years going on to release classic tracks produced by Jamaica’s A-list including Lee Perry, Linval Thompson and Clement Dodd. Reggae Roast are a DJ/post-dub contemporary-roots sound collective who have built up a formidable live performance reputation gained at festivals including Glastonbury and Bestival, and residences in London. So putting the two together promises much indeed. This new single release (on Reggae Roast Records) offers up five versions of ‘Occupy the Session’ with remixes, constructions and deconstructions at the hands of some top contemporary producers including Noisses, the highly respected Nick Manasseh, and newer names like Adam Prescott who has previously remixed for outfits including Mungo’s Hi-Fi (see reggaemusic.org.uk 2nd November 2011) and the eardrum-challenging Iration Steppas.

To start, the base track, ‘Occupy the Session’ is produced by Manasseh and label boss Moodie, and in this original form is a straightahead vocal version with Earl 16 mixed up-front, backed by a subtle instrumental mix and an overall upbeat feel. No assault on the senses here, just the uplifting feel that reggae has promised and delivered from the start. There is also a fine and straightforward instrumental ‘version’ in the time-honoured tradition, again produced by Moodie and Manasseh, lilting along without a care in the world and almost inviting some DJ to declaim, albeit gently, over the top. Adam Prescott’s ‘Full Up Mix’ radically strips down the instrumentation, with familiar riffs from reggae appearing and disappearing in the mix, together with elements of the original vocal manipulated into what amounts to a contemporary definition of dub. The ‘Carnival Mix’, courtesy of Noisses, is a great dubstep/drum and bass/dance take on the rhythm with a deep electronic pattern running through that deposits you somewhere between Jamaica and Ibiza. Maybe Cape Verde.  ‘Occupy the Session Dub’ is a Manasseh dub take on the initial rhythm track, this time treating dub in the received tradition of the great dub producers of previous years, and a highly pleasing treatment it is too.

What a joyful little record. Bankers, government ministers and captains of industry should be compelled to listen to it. They might become better people.

Reggae Roast Feat Earl 16: Occupy the Session. Release 6th August 2012, 12”/digital (Reggae Roast Records)

Jah Van I: In My World

From Royal Warriors Music comes a new album from Jah Van I, recorded in Jamaica and Martinique. The twelve tracks on In My World, composed by Etifier ‘Byr’ Johann, are mostly in a melodic, sometimes mellow, reggae style but are saved from predictability by the quality of the rhythm tracks, the instrumentation and the production. ‘Hello Suzy’ for instance is a straightforward song with a spoken introduction, but the mix and the driving echo of the percussion keep it interesting when set against Jah Van I’s strong vocals. ‘Down a Yard’ is led by a powerful rhythm, with strong instrumental backup, while the closing track ‘Reggae Music’ (why bother with a complicated title after all) is a roots song with hints of both dancehall and disco somewhere in the mix. Some of the instrumental rhythm tracks have been available separately on download since late 2011, and strong they are too (hear if you can the Ika Overdub Instrumental Riddim – the rhythm track of ‘Down a Yard’). The vocal style and sound of this new album will interest an audience that listens to the likes of Luciano or Gyptian and it should get an appreciative hearing in Europe, given its homage to influences from the classic era of reggae alongside its cutting edge instrumentation and production.

 Jah Van I: In My World: Royal Warriors Music, release July 2012


Web Cam Hi-Fi: Feeding My Faith

From Tube Dub Sounds Records and the guiding hand of Fredread comes this second album from Web Cam Hi-Fi.  With guest vocals from, amongst others, El Fata, Trevor Junior, Kiko and Lyrical Benjie the album generates the feel of a musical collective rather than a reggae band. Adopting the tried and tested format of vocal track followed by dub version over the same rhythm , the album is very much in the classic tradition of reggae releases from the past, although the instrumentation and production values are highly contemporary. Based in south west France, and having toured extensively to French audiences and those further afield, the music of Web Cam Hi-Fi reflects the roots European reggae tradition of gentle and soothing sounds from a time before the assertive style of dancehall and the electronic bass-saturation sound of dubstep changed things forever. Musically, a track such as Oooh Noo (feat. El Fata) recalls the tradition of reggae great Gregory Isaacs while the sharp skanking guitar of Dub Garden hints at the characteristic sounds of roots of the Marley era, and Sweetest Sound (feat. Faye Houston) is melodic reggae at its best atop an interesting and lively rhythm. The album is issued as limited edition vinyl, with additional tracks on the digital download.

Have a listen and look for yourself here: