Prince Fatty: Supersized

PRINCE FATTY

SUPER SIZE

[MR BONGO]

Prince Fatty’s debut album, Survival Of The Fattest, was the kind of joyous, old school sounding reggae release that couldn’t fail to put a smile on the face of even the meanest screwface. Happily for us, these same qualities underpin every track on this follow-up, again produced by Mike “Fatty” Pelancoli at his Brighton hideaway.

Tracks by Horseman, he of mid-eighties’ Horseman Giddy-Up fame, inject a welcome element of fun into the mix, and especially when paying tribute to Notorious BIG on Shimmy Shimmy Ya, or cutting loose on a cut of Cypress Hill’s Insane In The Membrane that careers through several dizzying changes of tempo. Already a dancefloor favourite, that one’s balanced by a stirring reworking of Christopher Columbus by Little Roy [who’s also heard on Still I Wanna Love You] and a cut of Bruce Ruffin’s Dry Your Tears, courtesy of Winston Francis, that fair takes the breath away. The former Studio One veteran’s mellifluous vocals can also be heard on Ain’t Got It and Come On Girl – tracks that confirm Winston’s timeless appeal and reveal the depth of Fatty’s appreciation for dub and early eighties’ style dancehall.

Super Size has it all since in addition to vocal and deejay tracks, we’re treated to generous helpings of vintage style reggae drum and bass that uplift the spirits, rather than head down the brutal, minimalist route favoured by many UK crews. We’re not talking versions here but standalone dubs, and how long is it since anyone included anything like that on a commercial reggae release?

For proof of how refreshing this can sound in the hands of people who really know what they’re doing, check out Roof Over My Dub and Bedroom Eyes Dub, featuring Little Roy and Natty respectively. And whereas Roof revisits a rockers’ format, the mix of Come On Girl has much in common with those speakerbox-shaking tunes producers like Jah Thomas used to make at Channel One, when engineers like Scientist ruled the roost. There’s an even a touch of lovers’ rock heard on That Very Night In Dub, co-starring Hollie Cook and a revitalised Dennis Alcapone. If there’s a more sultry young singer in reggae than the Slits’ Ms Cook, I’ve yet to hear them. Fatty’s learnt his lessons well and where exciting new dubmixers are concerned, there’s no one to touch him right now.

 

Bob Sinclar: Made In Jamaica

BOB SINCLAR WITH SLY & ROBBIE
MADE IN JAMAICA

[YELLOW PRODUCTIONS]

Made In Jamaica gathers up a dozen or so remixes of previous Bob Sinclar hits so don’t go mistaking these versions for the originals. Also, the music’s not Sinclar’s usual brand of dance / pop beats but Jamaican style reggae fit for an international audience, as typified by Shaggy & Sahara’s I Wanna. Mr. Boombastic’s catchy lyrics dovetail perfectly with Sahara’s girly vocals, which are brushed up with a touch of Autotune just to make DJs and r & b fans happy. It makes an obvious lead track, and yet it’s in good company.

One of the French DJ / producer’s biggest hits is Love Generation, featuring Gary “Nesta” Pines. He sings a bit like Marley, which is inevitable after his stint leading the Wailers. The eight-minute cut included here is mesmeric, just like so much sticky, old school reggae from the late seventies. This is hardly surprising. The Made In Jamaica sessions took place at Anchor studios last October and with the same group of session players Serge Gainsbourg used when recording Aux Armes Et Caetera back in 1978. For those unfamiliar with the French lothario’s work, we’re talking Sly & Robbie, Mikey Chung, Robbie Lyn and Sticky Thompson, plus Ronald “Nambo” Robinson and Dean Fraser from the Rass Brass horn section. You can’t get much better than that, and there are other guests you should know about too.

Tony Rebel pops up on Jamaican Avenue, sing-jaying like a master and borrowing from Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue over a dubby rhythm with burbling keyboards and choral harmonies. What a track! Rarely has heavy dub sounded so sweet and clean. The bouncy Sound Of Freedom, again featuring Pine is a club track, and a match for Marley’s Could You Be Loved in its dance-floor appeal. Pines’ singer / deejay combination with Dollarman works like a dream on that one, whilst World Hold On features Steve Edwards, who sang Peace Song and People Of Tomorrow on Sinclar’s last album. This new version of Peace Song is part dub, whilst Kiss My Eyes finds Camille Lafert invoking the spirit and sound of Grace Jones. Mikey Chung’s lead guitar on this track is worthy of George Benson at his best and we haven’t even mentioned I Feel For You yet, starring Queen Ifrica.

Bob Sinclar may not be a name on every reggae fan’s lips, but on the strength of this album, it deserves to be.

Pablo Moses: Revolutionary Dream

PABLO MOSES

REVOLUTIONARY DREAM

[ACOUSTIC MUSIC]

PABLO MOSES

A SONG

[ACOUSTIC MUSIC]

Pablo Moses went on to record some fine music after the mid-to-late seventies’ sessions that yielded Revolutionary Dream and A Song, yet these two albums are rightfully considered to be his masterpieces.

The first contains his 1975 debut single A Man A Grasshopper – a humble Rastaman’s defence of ganja-smoking recorded at Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark and that British reggae lovers were quick to hail alongside Burning Spear’s work from the same period. Both artists favoured conscious, Biblically inspired lyrics and deep roots rhythms embellished by flurries of organ and lead guitar. Neither were especially good singers in the technical sense, except there’s an expressive quality to what they do that hypnotises listeners into believing their every utterance. “Who feels it knows it” indeed. When Revolutionary Dream finally appeared it immediately attained cult status on the strength of tracks like Blood Money, A Love I Bring, Corrupted Man, the call to arms that is We Should Be In Angola and Give I Fe I Name, on which he urges Jamaica’s African descendants to cast off their European slave names. Recorded at Joe Gibbs with a complement of star session players [most of them recruited from Now Generation], Revolutionary Dream deserves a place in all serious reggae collections.

By the time A Song was first released it was the beginning of the dancehall era. The Jamaican public’s interest in roots rock reggae had began to wane although Pablo – who’d made the trip from rural Manchester to Kingston in search of a musical career – wasn’t for turning, and continued to make the style of music that had taken reggae and Rastafari international less than a decade earlier, albeit with marked contrasts. Always open to improvement, he’d spent two years studying at Jamaica’s School Of Music since the release of Revolutionary Dream and you can hear the difference this made in every song from the follow-up, again produced by Geoffrey Chung. Highlights include Dubbing Is A Must, Revolutionary Step, Music Is My Desire and One People but every song’s first-rate, and both albums contain bonus dub tracks.

Kush I: Solid Ground

KUSH I

SOLID GROUND

[GLOVER MEDIA]

Looking for a modern-day roots reggae album that offers something fresh and different from the oft-times predictable music coming from yard? Errol “Kush I” Henry sounds a little like Garnett Silk, which is no bad thing except there’s a lighter feel to his vocals that would lend itself just as happily to soul or r & b. He’s a good songwriter too, whether delivering breezy reggae gospel on songs like Conference Table, Frankincense, Living Again and Seek Ye First, or shedding conscious light on everyday concerns, as heard on Be Yourself, Poor Man’s Love and Nothing But Dust, on which he implores us “never to lean upon our understanding” but always seek to widen our perspective.

Organise reveals a more uncompromising side to his oeuvre as urges black people to “organise, sit down, reason and talk, otherwise Babylon gonna kill you off…” Toxic Rain is another hard-hitting roots number – a flash of hard, cold steel in an otherwise unbroken outpouring of Rasta love and principles. Even his more romantic songs like Love Fool, Mother Of Eternity, Run Come Love You and Sweetest Affection never stray from this benign and all-embracing worldview.

By Kush I’s reasoning it’s time for people to prove themselves and he’s done exactly that on this impressive debut. Each and every element – vocals, writing, rhythms and production – is first-rate and borrowing Luciano’s backing singers, the Daffodils, as well as Dean Fraser, Paul “Lymie” Murray, members of the Firehouse Crew and other top-flight JA session musicians was a smart move too! Every track is finely crafted as a result, whilst recording took place at a variety of studios, including Anchor, Tuff Gong, Mixing Lab, Mafia & Fluxy’s and Star Trail.

 

 

Various: Hi Grade Ganja Anthems 3


 

VARIOUS ARTISTS

HI GRADE GANJA ANTHEMS 3

[GREENSLEEVES]

The strap-line screams “18 Blazing Classics!” but the packaging’s even more impressive than the track-listing as Greensleeves cleverly reproduce the Wailers’Catch A Fire Zippo lighter cover on the inside artwork and include a handy pack of king-size cigarette papers, all neatly kitted in marijuana leaf patterns. It’s a marvellous design – one that’s arresting in every sense, despite the selection itself running out of puff towards the end.

High on the most wanted list is Busy Signal’s Spliff Tail for Shane Brown’s Jukeboxx label, Capleton’s Acres, Alborosie’s Real Story on which he mimics Eek A Mouse and Collie Buddz’ former No. 1 hit Come Around – a veritable anthem that put Bermuda’s finest on the map and remains one of the most graphic descriptions of herb dealings ever committed to hard drive. Reggae connoisseurs will delight in Lukie D’s One Cup A Day and Sizzla’s Free Up The Herbs, both voiced over a Maximum Sounds’ cut of I Know Myself, whilst Tarrus Riley’s Herbs Promotionfeatures De Marco and Vybz Kartel and tells the story of surviving a police raid with their precious stash still intact. It’s unbelievable – and not to say an outright injustice – that people are still being harassed and imprisoned because of a plant, whilst more damaging substances like alcohol and tobacco are freely available. That’s why reggae artists like those assembled here continue to man the barricades and sing about marijuana. They are standing up for something they believe in, and calling for an end to the wilful ignorance and no doubt dirty-handed politricks that continue to make criminals of so many good people around the world.

With this in mind every track here’s a winner, no matter whether it’s Ziggi licking out against cocaine on a cut of Tristan Palmer’s Joker Smoker; Inner Circle saying pretty much the same thing in tandem with West Coast reggae rockers Slightly Stoopid, Bushman reviving Peter Tosh’s Legalise It or Morgan Heritage highlighting ganja’s healing qualities on Plant Up The Herbs, which is the kind of well reasoned defence no doubter could refuse.

 

Sizzla: Musical Revolutionary

Bearing in mind the huge sums they get for concerts and voicing specials, it’s easy to think of Jamaica’s leading musical personalities as superstars, living in some kind of tropical paradise and driving around in luxury vehicles. The reality is often far different and in Sizzla’s case, you may as well be describing another world altogether.

He’s an enigma in truth – one who’s banned from performing in certain European countries because of his occasional anti-gay lyrics, and yet who’s honoured by heads of state whenever he visits African countries as on his recent trip to Gambia, where he met with the President, the Secretary of State and other local dignitaries. Such contrasts speak volumes about how a black man calling for equal rights and justice is treated in different parts of the world, and bear an uncanny similarity to what Black Power leaders such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael went through back in the sixties.

Sizzla’s only rarely engaged with the media in the past, and he’s been widely misunderstood as a result. By his own admission, he doesn’t talk much unless he’s “going to pray and chant, or unless I’m going to sing or have a reasoning.” He doesn’t have much time either, since in addition to being one of Jamaica’s most prolific and influential recording artists [and his output over the past fifteen years has been truly staggering], he also has a great many other responsibilities to take care of.

As a Rastaman, Sizzla follows the example of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, who he and other cult members revere as the Messiah. This doesn’t involve mere lip service, but a lifetime spent helping others less fortunate than themselves. It’s here where the lines between commerce – i.e., the music industry – and religion or social conscience begin to blur, since Sizzla is also a fully qualified priest within his chosen Rastafarian Order, as well as their treasurer.

With the money earned from his best-selling Da Real Thing and Overstanding albums, he built a tabernacle and 24-track recording studio in his home community of August Town. It’s there, in this rundown outpost several miles north of Kingston where you’ll find Judgment Yard – a Rasta enclave some have described as Sizzla’s personal fiefdom, but which clearly doesn’t even begin to explain what really happens there. More than just a modern-day equivalent of Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong [now a museum], it’s also a place of worship and learning, where acolytes can join together in pray or religious studies, and discuss how best to help alleviate the suffering of Jamaica’s underprivileged. If that sounds grandiose, well so be it, because it’s actually the truth.

“From we praise Rastafari, certain things must happen,” Sizzla explains. “Rastafari is a man and a King, and the King is supposed to take responsibility for the country. He’s supposed to look after the people and give them what they need, so if we praise the king, then we should be doing the same thing. Because if His Majesty wouldn’t be here, just walking about. Are you joking? No, we’d have to be doing what we can, building something to help the King lead this beautiful nation…”

As part of their everyday reverences, many Rastafarians say, ‘Let the hungry be fed, the naked be clothed, the sick be nourished and the aged protected.’ Sizzla takes such matters seriously and uses his earnings to fund a wide range of projects, whether it’s helping local people with their everyday struggles, or establishing a communications centre that’ll provide the international Rastafarian fraternity with a direct link to what’s happening in Jamaica.

“That is why I make so many songs,” he says, speaking on the phone from Jamaica. “I don’t only make songs to give people inspiration. I make songs to trap money also, so I can help people with their lives. We need to step out of this bad influence where people say, ‘Why is Sizzla making so many songs?’ It’s just that the youths are catching on to the music so fast, and if they’re going to come to me to record for them, then what am I going to do? Am I going to turn them away? No, I just record straight, and I never stop recording. If today they bring five rhythms, by next week I’m on them, and if the week after that they bring ten, then I’ll record on them as well. That’s the way we do it, because we need money to buy computers, laptops, mobile phones and all the things that can be of benefit to the people. The law says we shouldn’t steal or kill, right? And yet some people can’t see how they’re going to survive without doing those things. If the government were to provide more jobs and more opportunities for the youths, then you might see a decrease in the crime rate, but that’s why so many youths turn to music, because they see it as a way to get what they want, without having to steal or kill for it. They see how Sizzla sing a beautiful song like Thank You Mama and it comes like a gift to every one of them, because it give them the inspiration to start doing the music for themselves, and it was the same thing for me too, because from I hear artists like Bob Marley and Peter Touch – singers who see the people suffering and decide to help – then I decide I want to do it too. I want to do songs that give a vibes to the people and make things easier for them.

“Every morning in my community, I stand out in the road and all the kids come to me for lunch money. They come running, saying, ‘Dadda!’ and I give them what I have. To them, I am always rich, and so it’s up to me to keep finding the money so that I can give them something because it’s not my family alone who lives in the community; other people live there too. We are there with other Rasta people like ourselves. We sit and reason, and I don’t have just one family or one set of parents; I have a whole community of them so you share the spirit with them, and also the tribulations because they’ll say, ‘Dadda, I’m hungry and can’t feed my family…’ They’ll weep and moan with you, but when there’s a time of praise and joy, let them share it, y’understand? That’s what keeps me balanced, and that’s what living in the community does for me. I don’t hide the music either. If I’m going to do a stage show and they’re going to give me $3 million to do it, I let them hear it and they say, ‘What? Dadda get that kind of money to do one show?’ From there, they start singing and take their responsibilities seriously now. I use my life, my money and my higher self to inspire these people to do righteousness. That’s how I do it, but the government should give these youths work, instead of leading them into crime. A lot of countries like Jamaica have land that’s left unused, so they should build properties on it; teach the people to make clothes, shoes, tents, anything… A lot of people are quick to criticise the youths after someone gets convicted or becomes wanted, but why can’t they do something for them instead? Because the youths we have here are carrying too much, and it’s them getting all the lynching, the persecution and the beatings. The system’s not doing anything for them. All they can do is think of how to survive, and their only way out is to sell drugs and to rob or kill, because if they don’t eat, they’re going to die and so they’ll do anything to get that food to put in their mouths. The problem keeps adding up on us, and the government should have been thinking about this from a long time, but that is why we keep saying how we need more jobs, more schools and more training centres, and that is why you find the music is being flooded with so many young youths today. Whether they’re singing conscious songs or not, the music is a channel through which they can eat something without robbing or killing for it, so it’s just simply that my father.”

If you assume that singing for money lessens the power of his music, then it’s time to think again. People are already describing his latest album, Ghetto Youthology, as his strongest in years and with good reason, since tracks such as Black Man In The White House, Tax Payers’ Money, Gwaan Bear and Ghetto Yutes Dem A Suffer articulate what’s happening in the world around us with unflinching accuracy, and no small measure of compassion. By way of balance [and just like those classic Bob Marley and Dennis Brown albums of old], Ghetto Youthology also includes its share of love songs; most notably I Am Loving You and a gorgeous duet called What Am I To Do Baby? Sizzla’s far from one-dimensional and he’s loyal too, since he shares production credits with the Firehouse Crew, who’ve backed him on innumerable hits over the years – ever since he first appeared on a scene as a precocious young sing-jay back in the early nineties.

“Firehouse Crew were Luciano’s band originally,” he reminds us, “and I’ve been travelling with that band all this time, ever since I took my first trip off the isle of Jamaica, and I’m still not through with them. We get together and say, ‘you know something? We’ve been through all these changes, and so we should come together and do an album,’ and we’ve been doing it for a while; recording one song here or in Europe, then we get back and write another song. We might do one for Bobby Digital or Fatis, but from we get back then I do one with the Firehouse Crew as well. That’s how we did it, and the tracks add up until we get an album. I’ve got a whole lot of songs like that though. Currently, I’ve got about ten albums of unreleased material; we’ve got a lot of other projects going on.”

The closing track on the new album is called Babylon Ease Off. It’s a sufferers’ lament, chanted over Rasta drumming, and Sizzla’s demonstration of where this music originates from will stay with me forever.

“Right now I’m going to go by the nyahbinghi and let you hear,” he says, opening the door of the Judea Coptic Church next door to where he lives. “You hear that?” he asks, as the sound of Rasta chants and drumming begins to drown out his voice.

“That’s the real music right there and no matter which Rastaman in the world, whether it’s Bob Marley, Jacob Miller or whoever; that’s their churchical music. Those aren’t young boys playing either. Those are the priests and the music band from one of the churches of His Majesty, and they’re here at the tabernacle, where they practise and chant and they reason on certain matters before going out in the community.

“People listen to reggae and thinks it’s only music, but reggae is an inspiration,” he says, with just a hint of sadness. “It’s a musical route to educate the world; to make a money and to make a living. It’s a part of our culture and we don’t let it go. We maintain it, and people say ‘One love’ yes, but they don’t know about this nyahbinghi, yet it’s the same music that crowned His Majesty. It’s part of an ancient Order, and we’ve been tracking it, coming right down from even before Christ. It’s just one lineage, yeah? And from I wake up in the morning, I can hear the Rastamen reading their Bible and giving thanks and praises. I’m very active in the Rastafari community, y’know? I spend four years studying the Melchezidek Order. What I do, I just take care of the yard, build the fences, fix the drum, get the robes, get the turbans, get the shirts and everything… I just maintain that; I don’t need to be running down the altar and stuff like that. I let the elders take care of that, but I’m a reader at the Judea Coptic Church, and I’m a treasurer for the Ancient Order of Nyahbinghi, so I’m not just an artist. I’m registered to teach the foundation of Rastafari, and I got a lot of history…”

John Masouri

 

Originally printed in Echoes, May 2009

UB40: Collectors Edition

UB40

SIGNING OFF: COLLECTORS’ EDITION

[VIRGIN]

 

It’s been thirty years since the release of UB40’s debut album and the band are celebrating by touring some of the smaller venues they first headlined back then, and also playing a two-part set that includes Signing Off in its entirety. That’s going to stir up a few memories. UB40 didn’t fit in easily with either Jamaican reggae or 2Tone and yet that first album, wrapped in an unemployment benefit form as if dressed for class war, was ubiquitous at the time.

A mix of reggae, dub and even a little jazz, it sounded unlike anything else from that period and left us in no doubt they were serious about both their music and political stance. Opening with a protest song about a black man imprisoned unfairly for murder in a Louisana state jail saw to that, and also the tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King that asked, “King. Where are your people now?” Other tracks like Food For Thought, which lambasted politicians for their cynical attempts to take advantage of Third World suffering and the class conscious Little By Little again reinforced this multi-racial band’s raison de entre.

Recorded during the initial stages of Thatcherism and then released just in time for the riots that erupted throughout Britain’s mainly black inner city communities, Signing Off was a rallying cry for everyone who knew or sensed that the country was in danger of becoming a police state. Civil liberties and workers’ rights were under siege, and the liberal advances of the sixties and seventies being attacked by an increasingly repressive right-wing rearguard action. Whilst it was King, Food For Thought and the Randy Newman cover I Think It’s Going To Rain Today that appeared on 45, it was Burden Of Shame that provided the album with its moody, atmospheric centerpiece. “I’m a British subject and not proud of it while I carry the burden of shame,” lead singer Ali Campbell laments, after announcing how “bloody deeds have been done in my name.” It was the National Front, not the BNP or EDL who were spouting race hate back in 1980 and the band’s opposition to such shameful ignorance remains undiminished to this day, as underlined by their support for Love Music, Hate Racism.

The remainder of the original album was taken up by instrumentals like 12 Bar, 25%, Adella and the title track. Whilst clearly inspired by Jamaican dub, these added something different to the genre. At no stage were UB40 trying to compete with or pass for their yardie peers. Right from the start they made it clear they had their own sound and like them or not, that’s still true all these years later. Just to make the package even more enticing, the bonus CD contains 12” versions of several tracks – including another 1980 single, The Earth Dies Screaming b/w Dream A Lie – additional material such as Reefer Madness, Madam Medusa and Strange Fruit, as well as live radio sessions recorded for John Peel and Kid Jensen.