Roland Kemokai: Smile Again (featuring Roland and the Roots Riddim)

“Music was my first love. When bullets were flying in the streets of Monrovia, taking lives at random, my three-stringed guitar became my best friend and deepest comfort.”

From such adversity in his early life, what a pleasure to hear this gentle melodic reggae sound from Roland ‘Mista Muzic’ Kemokai, reggae artist and writer born in Liberia and now living in Austin, Texas. There’s nothing complicated here: just a nice optimistic vibe as we are almost at Christmas. This single, ‘Smile Again’, is taken from Roland’s new 12-track album ‘Set My Spirit Free’ and it’s definitely worth a listen.

Wishing everyone who reads these pages a very Happy Christmas. Let’s hope the world regains some sanity in 2019.

Aya Waska: CBD

Following a series of singles (and a couple of previous albums, ‘Connexion’ and ‘Espace d’un Instant’) here’s a new track from French performer Aya Waska, named after the substances promoted in this video. With a reputation established primarily in Switzerland, Aya Waska offers this little tune in a ragga style on the Heart of Sun label. Don’t know if it amounts to a hallucinogenic brew as his name implies but it’s a nice tight bass-heavy digital mix.

Aya Waska: CBD, release 2nd December 2018

Reggae: a Cultural Treasure!

The United Nations has now added reggae to the official list of international ‘cultural treasures’, constituting a type of music deserving of protection and promotion. Jamaica applied for this status at a meeting held earlier this year in Mauritius, and it has now been granted, with UNESCO commenting that reggae had contributed to an “international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity”. One love!

Me and My Friends: Look Up

This forthcoming album is a very pleasant surprise. While it’s common to hear of bands being promoted as ‘genre defying’, in this case it’s an accurate statement of their very open and original musical approach. The opening track, ‘Another Lifetime’, featuring the characteristic ascending and descending African guitar style, a strong bass sound from James Grunwell (who also produced the album) which powers everything along and, certainly not least, the vocals of Emma Coleman that manage to be simultaneously vulnerable and powerful. This gets us off to a strong start, followed through by the single ‘High as the Sun’, upbeat and featuring the cello, again by Emma Coleman. ‘Look Up’ highlights the instrumental Afrobeats and guitar sound of the band, while ‘Promise Me This Much’ hints at Curtis Mayfield-era soul. As if this were not enough, ‘Gently Blinded’ has a guitar interlude inspired directly by jazz rather than rock, while ‘Good Life’ is the nearest thing to a reggae tune on the whole album, and impressive it is too. Proceedings come to a close with John Lee Hooker’s ‘Sometime’, a poignant song on which to end, and demonstrating that the band are at home with the blues too. A summary of this kind may make the album sound like a discordant mix of every style under the sun, but it doesn’t come over like that. It’s a collection of new and pleasing songs from a young band who are the polar opposite of the cynical heaven-knows-I’m-miserable school of thought. This album is joyous and fun and designed to be enjoyed.

Me and My Friends: ‘Look Up’, release 6th December 2018 on Split Shift Records

Spectacular: Speed It Up

Here comes a 12” vinyl release entitled ‘Speed It Up’ from Jamaican performer Spectacular. Also available in digital format, it’s the second collaboration between Spectacular and Avignon-based French label Conquering Records. As well as the lead vocal track, the single features a dub version courtesy of Jo Welders (of Welders Hi-Fi Sound System) plus two remixes from the French dubbers Mahom and Ashkabad. The remixes take contrasting views of the source material on the basic track. ‘Speed It Up’ is lyrically about the serious topic of money, no doubt a matter of some importance to Spectacular. Musically, the track is a great mix of old and new influences: bass-driven in a digital style, vocals hinting at the dancehall influence, vital and fresh. A nice sound.

Spectacular: ‘Speed It Up’, vinyl/digital, released October 2018 on Conquering Records

Black Roots: How Long

Black Roots, hailing originally from St Paul’s (Bristol) have been around for a long time now and, after a mid-career break, are still producing great roots reggae music. This new digital-release single with its strange but effective chord changes and classic reggae sound is very much in the tradition of this great band. The single is taken from the band’s forthcoming album ‘Take It’ (due for release in all formats on 2nd November 2018). The question ‘How Long’ is posed in relation to how long will mankind have to wait for its liberation and it implies references to both biblical prophecy and to the present-day troubles of the secular world in Africa and beyond. The band are touring in France in November, beginning with an album launch party in Paris. Good luck to them with this strong release.

RudeSix: Trip Club

Here’s a young band from Nuneaton in the English midlands with their brand-new debut EP entitled ‘Trip Club’. Unsurprisingly, given their name, they are a six-piece band playing reggae and ska and it’s a refreshing and lively sound. ‘Wet Wipe Boy’ is a fast reggae tune, guitar-led, more like a rock band playing reggae than a traditional reggae band- but that’s no bad thing. The title track is bass-heavy with a decisive brass input. ‘Chelsea’ is a strong reggae song with a powerful skanking rhythm and a rock outro – it would make a good single in its own right. ‘Reality of War’, with its assertive bass and distant drums, is a thoughtful conclusion. On the evidence of this EP, RudeSix will go a long way and bring new fans to the vital sound of contemporary reggae.

RudeSix: ‘Trip Club’, release 31st August 2018

The Drop: Far and Wide / CCTV

Here is the second double A-side single from The Drop’s debut album ‘Last Stand’ which is due out on Shoal Records on 14th September 2018. ‘Far and Wide’ is a mix of rock and reggae, forceful and powerful. ‘CCTV’’ is very different, a spooky extended intro taking us into The Drop’s take on this noughties classic dub step track by LV. The press release says that, as on the original version, “… Dandelion reignites his soulful vocal melodies, this time over gloomy laid-back Roots Reggae, with lashings of psychedelic guitars” which just about sums it up.

The forthcoming album. ‘Last Stand’, promises much with none other than Lee “Scratch” Perry featuring on first single ‘Dunna Runna’. The Drop are heading towards a UK tour in October and November so watch out for those dates – to be announced.

Bob Marley and the Wailers: Kaya 40 Remix

The classic ‘Kaya’ album is now forty years old and here is a brand-new remix of all ten tracks, courtesy of Stephen Marley, released in conjunction with the original album. It is hard to imagine that the original version could be improved upon, and, unlike some Bob Marley remixes (such as ‘Roots, Rock. Remixed’) there is no attempt here to construct new songs from the old ones. Instead, the Kaya 40 remix is relatively subtle: for instance, adding a dub-leaning mix to ‘Sun is Shining’ and ‘Kaya’ itself or bringing out the lead guitar (presumably from Julian ‘Junior’ Marvin) more strongly on ‘Crisis’. Stephen Marley has used Bob’s vocals from demos of the same tracks and made use of different takes of the songs to come up with something distinctive.

Musically, the band at this time, featuring Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, Carlton Barrett and Tyrone Downie, were at their peak. Listening to these songs today, it is striking how strong they remain melodically. ‘She’s Gone’ is a powerful song, and when it comes to final track ‘Time Will Tell’ you can almost hear the bells ringing in the local gospel church.

No fussing and fighting, this has always been a gentle and relaxed album. Now, with a more assertive remix, it gains a new, and well-deserved, lease of life. Stephen Marley’s remix respects the integrity of the original album and, unlikely though it seems, manages to improve it. A great listen.

Bob Marley and the Wailers: Kaya 40 Stephen Marley Remix; 2 CD, 2 vinyl, and digital releases, 24th August 2018

Natty and the Rebelship: Man Like I

This album came out ten years ago and was a lively infectious take on contemporary reggae. Natty and the Rebelship band now plan to perform the whole album live in their forthcoming tour of the UK. The tour is scheduled for Autumn 2018, kicking off in Milton Keynes on 2nd November and concluding in Manchester on 29th of that month.

Prior to the tour, a limited-edition reissue of the album is planned for September 2018. Released on no less than the Tuff Gong label, ‘Man Like I and I…X’ will be a double-vinyl remastered version of the original ‘Man Like I’ album together with new recordings of favourite tracks featuring some of Natty’s associates including Seun Kuti, Benjamin Zephaniah, Maverick Sabre and El Fari and Ramzi (from Palestinian band 47soul). The album also shares an acoustic version of live favourite “Bedroom Eyes” and a track Natty recorded with Sly & Robbie that did not feature on the original album, alongside four further new original tracks to complete what has justly been described as a ‘collector’s package’.

Natty and the Rebelship: ‘’Man Like I and I…X’, release September 2018 on Tuff Gong records.