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
American band Groundation has been around for some time now, with a loyal following based on their jazz-tinged brand of roots reggae. Now they come our way once more with a new album (their first new studio album in four years) entitled ‘The Next Generation’, and a new single ‘My Shield’.
Featuring musicians from both Jamaica and their home state, California, the eleven tracks of the new album expand the range of the band into dub, reggae and jazz and together provide an original take on contemporary roots music. The opening brass sounds of the introductory track ‘Vanity’ are almost reminiscent of 1970s US bands like Blood Sweat and Tears before the song is resolved into a tight reggae workout. The slow reggae of ‘New Life’ is musically powerful while the wah-wah rhythm guitar of single ‘My Shield’ suggests that the disco era didn’t entirely bypass the band. A fascinating album in many ways and certainly worth hearing. Groundation have a formidable live reputation and with upcoming dates in Europe, including three UK dates in August, there is the imminent prospect of hearing them live.
Lineup: Harrison Stafford (lead singer and guitarist), Will Blades (organ and clavinet/keyboard), Isaiah Palmer (bass player), Jake Shandling (drummer), Brady Shammar (harmony vocalist), Aleca Smith (harmony vocalist), Eduardo Gross (guitarist), Craig Berletti (keyboard & trumpet) and Roger Cox (saxophone).
Groundation: ‘The Next Generation’, release September 2018, Baco Records
Here comes Mosiah (Akeil Martin) from Trinidad with a political message in his new single Burning Red. It’s a dancehall-influenced song based upon the ‘Volcano’ rhythm together with a sampling of Barrington Levy and indeed it sounds as though it could have emerged in the 1980s rather than now – but that’s no bad thing. Drawing his inspiration, and indeed his name, from religion, from Rastafari and from Marcus Mosiah Garvey, this is a vital sound that should propel Mosiah beyond his familiar audiences to wider appreciation.
Mosiah: Burning Red, release July 2018 on Reggaeville.
From the album ‘Repatriation’ (see reggaemusic.org.uk 16th January 2018) here is another great track from King Kong, entitled Wake up the Town. It features the unmistakable vocal and melodic input from none other than Eek a Mouse, a lively dance sound over a solid rhythm track. Dub festival dates due in France in November!
Protoje (Oje Ken Ollivierre) is from Jamaican reggae aristocracy, his mother being none other than Lorna Bennett (‘Breakfast in Bed’) and his father ‘Calypso king’ and recognised sports coach Michael Ollivierre aka Lord Have Mercy. Quite a pedigree. After the weird orchestral beginning, the ten tracks on Protoje’s fourth album ‘A Matter of Time’ are varied in pace and style. Some, like ‘Lessons’, are melodic and thoughtful, while the two tracks featuring Chronixx are faster and sharper, with guitar and the influence of both dancehall and hip-hop very evident. On ‘Blood Money’, which has been around for a while, the political critique is more explicit and other tracks, such as ‘Mind of a King’ are good old-school reggae, tuneful and, toward the end, getting a little dubby. Following through his recorded success, Protoje has broken into the festival circuit and this album will cement his reputation and leave his followers wanting more.
Protoje: A Matter of Time, released 29th June 2018 (CD and digital), 3rd August (vinyl) on Mr Bongo records
From Med Tone Records here come two new 45s, one with Robert Dallas as the Bearer of Bad News, the other featuring the great Linval Thompson with Fussing and Fighting. The Robert Dallas track is a slow-paced roots song in a classic style, backed up with a fine dub version courtesy of the Med Tone All Stars. It’s particularly good to hear Linval Thompson in great voice with another classic-style release, recorded in Kingston Jamaica, again with an old-style heavyweight dub on the flip side. Don’t cut off those dreadlocks!
Linval Thompson and Robert Dallas, singles released on Med Tone records 21st May 2018
From Italy we find Mellow Mood with a new collection of twelve roots reggae songs. This is their fifth studio album and is politically informed and socially aware throughout. The band has sought to reinvent itself and maintain a fresh approach with each successive album in order to capture something of the strength of their live performances on their recorded output. During April they played a number of dates in England, before heading out across France, Spain and Italy, with a final date due in the next few days in Amsterdam. As for the music, it largely remains true to the band’s name: heartfelt and quietly angry at the state of the world but fundamentally gentle in nature. The album opens with the brief and wistful ‘Call Back the Love’ which sets the scene for a series of fine roots songs underpinned by a powerful bass sound. There is a strong dub feel to some of the songs, as in the fadeout of ‘Another Day’ and a melancholy tone to the album as a whole. The production is strong throughout. Sweet reggae music for soothing the soul.
Mellow Mood ‘Large’, DDL/CD/vinyl release on La Tempesta Dub/Believe Distribution, April 2018
Here is a new single from Elijah Salomon in conjunction with Gambian artists King Kora and Sambou Suso who are both Griots, that is, West African troubadours and cultural historians. The sound is fresh and vital – and also unusual in its highly effective combination of reggae rhythm and African vocals alongside ascending and descending Gambian instrumentation. Based in Switzerland, Elijah has been releasing his distinctive brand of reggae for over ten years and the fusion achieved on this release is worthy of your attention. The single is accompanied by a dub version courtesy of Joe Ariwa which proceeds with a fine pace and great clarity: take a listen!
Elijah Salomon: You Never Know, release February 2018 on One Camp Records
There must be something about the atmosphere or the water in Seattle, given its musical impact upon the late Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, and latterly upon Peter Buck. Here from the same city we have a new release from the Georgetown Orbits who are inspired directly by the sound and the feel of Jamaican ska. Since the band’s conception in late 2004 the Georgetown Orbits have shared the stage with leading names including the Skatalites, Clinton Fearon, The Gladiators, Israel Vibration, The Roots Radics, the (English) Beat and Pato Banton, and toured the US west coast with New York’s ska band the Slackers.
The fourth album by the Orbits is due for release in May 2018. In the meantime we have this single, ‘Keep Your Chin Up’, to consider. Released by Portland ska label, Simmerdown Productions, it also features the classic reggae song ‘Picture on the Wall’ as the B-side. It seems that the Pacific Northwest is the place to be if you’re serious about contemporary US reggae.
Georgetown Orbits: Keep Your Chin Up, single release 2018
British reggae band New Town Kings are back with an uncompromising new track entitled ‘Borderline’, focussing on migration and upon politically-motivated hostility towards difference and towards those who seek to escape persecution.
The New Town Kings have featured on these pages before (see reggaemusic.org.uk 14th December 2014). The eight-strong ska/reggae band seek to merge old-school Jamaican rhythms with a novel take on UK-inspired ska and they have already built up a strong live reputation. In April and May 2018 the New Town Kings will be touring in England where you can have the chance to hear their forthcoming album ‘Reach Out’ live in a relatively small-scale venue setting.
New Town Kings: ‘Borderline’, single release 9th March 2018