Thursday, 14 January 2010

Ten years of reggae and dub

Here's a partial (in both senses) glimpse of reggae, dub and related genres from 2000-2009. This isn't intended as a historical overview or anything like that. What it represents is a cross-section of tunes produced in the last ten years which I have played more than usual on sound system, in clubs and bars or in my house. I’ve attempted to give it some kind of vague thematic organization. As a result there’s a multitude of one-away pieces which I’ve left out. But never mind. My more productive and prolific colleague Mr Eden has recently offered an excellent account of the same period over at his place. We have a couple of tunes in common.

1. Much of my roots selection concentrates on the 1990s. Don’t tell the avid 80s digital ebay posse, but this is because the 90s was the strongest decade for JA digital roots. So here, as a starter, kicking off the decade on the Fat Eyes label, are two big cuts in a 90s digital style, Culture’s Revolution and Morgan Heritage’s Kebra and the Fetha.

2. Which leads us on to Ruff Cutt. When thinking about this list I was struck by how many of my favourite upbeat roots tunes are on Ruff Cutt and Charm: two UK labels which have generally followed a more JA sounding direction. In particular I tend to think of Ruff Cutt as something like the UK’s answer to Xterminator. In the late 90s I was rinsing Freddy McGregor’s Give Jah the Glory and Glen Washington’s Give Jah Praise Every Day. Then in 2000-2001 came the Betta riddim, with cuts by Mighty Diamonds (A Better Day), Junior Kelly (One Day) and Anthony B (All Jah Children). These were followed by Starky Banton’s Blaze Up The Fire, Junior Kelly’s Jah Live On, Starkey Banton’s Righteousness and Nereus Joseph’s Rude Boy Town, all of which received heavy rotation at the time and ever since. Charm, meanwhile, put out the Bandits riddim, with cuts by Yami Bolo (Babylon Is Out Of Control), Luciano and others. At some point I might do a mix to showcase this material and other related stuff. In the meantime, here's Anthony B:

3. Generally known for hip hop and hardcore dancehall (too many to mention), Bobby Konders (Massive B) also put out a number of heavyweight relicks of classic riddims. His Cuss Cuss and Truth and Rights pieces were solid, but for me the crown goes to his massive cut of Tempo, featuring the inimitable Burro Banton.

4. Some time around 2003 I went round to visit a friend and found him waving his arms round his head and shouting about dancehall. ‘It’s coming from all kinds of angles right now!’ he said. And he was right: surprising and innovative bashment riddims were bumping and booming out of JA at a steady rate. One which hit me and stayed with me was 2004’s Big Up. Here's General Degree (D'Music) and Bounty Killer (No More Suffering).

5. Dave Kelly's 85 riddim is a case-study in how much can be done with how few musical elements. Cham's Ghetto Story was the original hit, but the YT counteraction, England Story, was really the one, with its litany of UK sound systems: 'I remember those days, Saxon used to shock, when dem and Coxson had People's Club locked, Unity from North London a run the place hot, and Java dat a West London top-a-top...' The 85 in turn swiftly gave birth to John John's Nukie riddim, which if anything is even more minimal: my favourite cut is the stomping Old Gun A Bus by a resurgent Tonto Irie. Here they are together:

6. Nick Manasseh has always been one of the most versatile producers on the UK roots scene: witness his early Riz label, and particularly his work with Earl 16 (Zion City, Natural Roots) on the one hand, and the raw Riddimwize with Danny Red on the other. Starting in 2005 he released a stream of storming 45s on the Roots Garden label, as well as several showcase LPs. When the Levi riddim came out in 2007 I was telling everyone who would listen that the Luciano and Ras Zacharri piece, River Jordan, was my tune of the year. I’m still feeling it.

7. What about UK dub? For me UK dub went through a bit of a stagnant period in the first half of the decade, bouncing back around 2007. Throughout the time, though, a constant point of reference is Russ Disciples, whom I regard generally as the benchmark UK dub producer. I wouldn’t necessarily say that his output in the last ten years has been as innovative as his early stuff but it’s always heavy, well arranged, with effective melodic hooks and strong percussion. Among the tunes that never leave my crate are Danny Vibes's Feel the Vibe, Tony Roots's Chant, Lutan Fyah's Serious Ting, Nya-Azania's Work With It, Singie Shante's Mental Slavery and, most recently, Johnny Clarke's Intruder.

8. The last ten years saw UK dub increasingly spreading throughout the rest of Europe, with the result that UK-based producers and sound systems are often heard to say that they get bigger, better crowds abroad than they do in their home territory. I’m not going to attempt to compile a representative list of big dub tunes from France, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Poland and so on. Instead, here’s a single early example which I’ve played a lot and which never fails to recall dark grimy squats and booming bass bins: Uzinadub's From The Tribe, released in 2003.

9. In 2007 I thought that dubstep might be what I wanted UK dub to turn into. It seemed to share several production features but push them further; it had space and weight, deep bass and unexpected percussion. It worked well with Richie Spice’s Burning too, although I didn’t feel that any of the numerous subsequent reggae refixes really matched this. A few years later I’m not following dubstep with the same intensity but some tunes are always cropping up in my UK dub mixes. Here's just one example: Over It by RSD (i.e. Rob Smith of Smith and Mighty), on Tectonic, one of dubstep's most consistently interesting labels.

10. And one for 2010. This year I’m sure that the soca / bashment / UK funky nexus is going to be huge. London's Heatwave crew and Montreal's Ghislain Poirier are right on top of this stuff. Here's one of the more recent things I got: AO by MJ Cole and Serocee. Brap!

Thursday, 7 January 2010


In the absence of various articles and interviews that are still in preparation, here’s a short mix, concentrating on music from Martinique and Guadeloupe, with a few things from other places thrown in. There’s already been some mention of the Antilles round these parts: the music featured here is later than the pieces on the Tumbélé comp, and generally more percussive. Much of it is based around, or influenced by, the rhythms of gwo ka and chouval bwa. For instant education on the history and meaning of gwo ka, turn to Duke Etienne’s article in the current issue of Shook Magazine (Vol. 1, No. 7) or check out the online companion piece here. The following notes are just a brief introduction to the mix, which at some point I hope to expand.

My first meeting with Antillean music was a chance encounter with a Gratien Midonet record, his extraordinary Ven en lévé, the LP from which the track ‘Mari Rhont...’ is taken. Midonet is usually described as a poet, composer and singer. I know of four albums by him: Ven en lévé (1979), Bourg la folie (1984), Linité (undated) and Potlach (2003). Bourg la folie is apparently the music from a film of the same name, based on a novel by Roland Brival.

Midonet’s music is a fusion. Some of the other tracks in this mix are far more stripped down, especially those by Esnard Boisdur, Eugene Mona and the Akiyo ensemble. Mona, singer and flute player, died in 1991 and was commemorated in 2006 by a tribute album entitled Léritaj Mona. Dédé Saint-Prix, also a flute player, can be heard here veering towards a sort of raw zouk.

These rhythms go back to Africa. Without trying to draw any specific parallels, here are also three tracks from, or derived from, Nigeria, to counterpoint the Caribbean pieces. Agbe De O, by the Sound Millionaires, is a bit of juju-influenced funk, or funk-influenced juju, depending on how you look at it. Jeka Jose is by the percussionist Gaspar Lawal, who was active as a session musician in London in the 1960s and 70s. Shacalao, meanwhile, is a storming version of Fela Kuti’s Shakara, rerouted via Colombia.

At some point I hope to expand this sketch with a more considered account of these tracks and their context. But in the meantime, here’s the music. Tambou means drums: read about them here.

Esnard Boisdur : En Moué O
Gaspar Lawal : Jeka Jose
Sound Millionaires : Agbe De O
Gratien Midonet : Mari Rhont Ouve La Pot
Fabriano Fuzion : Sé Kon Sa
Akiyo : Akiyo La O La Kale Kon Sa
Dédé Saint-Prix : Soldat Papillon
Lizandro Meza Y Su Conjunto : Shacalao
Eugene Mona : Guerie Guerriez
Fabriano Fuzion : Kaladja Vivilo 1
Gratien Midonet : Kannaval Sakré Pou Tout’ Z’Heb’ Poussé

Download here...

(Thanks to Frank and Paulo.)