Sunday, November 22, 2009

Morgan Heritage 'The Journey Thus Far' Review

The journey began for Morgan Heritage with their first performance in Jamaica in 1992 on the opening night of Reggae Sunsplash. Their precocious musicianship and assured stage presence generated such excitement, they were invited to perform on Sunsplash's Saturday night finale. The years that followed were truly remarkable. Morgan Heritage has firmly stamped their place in the Reggae World, with numerous hit singles and several top shelf albums to their credit.

Their latest release 'The Journey Thus Far' showcases the finely honed modern roots identity that has made Morgan Heritage one of reggae's most enduringly successful acts. It's a compilation of the group's finest recordings to date, plus two previously unreleased tracks.
The journey begins with 5 tracks produced by the legendary Bobby 'Digital' Dixon for Digital-B Productions. Protect Us Jah, a bended- knee supplication to the most high, and Let's Make Up, a bubbling, lover's rock ballad featuring Gramps and Una in tandem, appear from 1997's 'Protect Us Jah' album, followed by 3 tunes from 1999's 'Don't Haffi Dread' including the anthemic title track, Reggae Bring Back Love, and New Time, New Sign.
Next comes the empowering Liberation on the self-produced Mt. Zion riddim from the album 'Morgan Heritage Family and Friends Volume 1. The classic, Dean Fraser produced, Down By the River, followed by the self -produced Jah Seed and Meskal Square come next via their 4th album, 2001's 'More Teachings'.
2003's 'Three In One' is showcased next with the lovers track She's Still Loving Me and two more Digital B tunes. A Man is Still a Man is a rocking tune with a timeless message and Jump Around(Remix) will definitely make you want to do just that, although the original version would have suited this collection better than the remix. 'Three In One' is probably their best effort to date and honestly could almost stand alone as a greatest hits album. So, needless to say, there could have easily been 10 other tracks from the album included in The Journey Thus Far. Tunes like A Who Dem, The Truth, Everything is Still Everything, Judge Not, Works To Do, Nice Up U Medi, and Falling Race, to name a few.
The journey continues with 3 boom tunes from 2006's 'Full Circle'. The Donovan Bennett -produced Tell Me How Come is a wicked denunciation of the injustices that continue to plague Jamaica and the world, while Your Best Friend, on Bennett's iconic 'Drop Leaf' riddim, earned cheers from women everywhere. Nestled between these gems is the Robert Livingston- produced I'm Coming Home. Gramps takes the lead in testifying about the loneliness that accompanies life on the road.
2008's 'Mission In Progress' is represented with the tunes Brooklyn and Jamaica, produced by Shane Brown, Love You Right with production handled well by fellow artist Singing Melody, and the classic boom shot produced by Kemar McGregor, Nothing to Smile About. Again, there are at least a few other tunes that could have been included such as Yute Dem Share, Faithful, and Youths Today.
The set closes with two previously unreleased tracks. Kurt Riley produces a nice, one drop, love song on Here To Stay and Frenchie, of the U.K.'s Maximum Sound, lends his support on Guards Up, another hard-hitting commentary about the violence in Jamaica.
Overall, 'The Journey Thus Far' is a solid representation of Morgan Heritage's body of work. True, there are a few question marks regarding selection here, however, let's blame that on the fact that there was just too much quality work from Morgan Heritage over the years for VP records to choose from and that's definitely not a bad thing. 'The Journey Thus Far' is a great album and will make a nice addition to any collection. If you're left wanting more than their 2003 release 'Three In One' is highly recommended!!
Track Listing:
1. Protect Us Jah
2. Let's Make Up
3. Don't Haffi Dread
4. Reggae Bring Back Love
5. New Time, New Sign
6. Liberation
7. Down By The River
8. Jah Seed
9. Meskal Square
10. She's Still Loving Me
11. A Man Is Still A Man
12. Jump Around (Remix)
13. Tell Me How Come
14. I'm Coming Home
15. Your Best Friend (With L.M.S.)
16. Brooklyn And Jamaica
17. Love You Right
18. Nothing To Smile About
19. Here To Stay
20. Guards Up

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Essential Reggae Albums: Buju Banton 'Til Shiloh'

1993's Voice of Jamaica was a stellar set, an aural collage of the island, with its swirl of diverse styles, sounds and themes. Bringing dancehall to the wider world, that album was a revelation, and to attempt to better it would have been futile. And so, Buju Banton didn't try, instead he moved in a new direction. After the completion of Voice of Jamaica, two of the Banton's friends were killed; their murders prompting him to re-evaluate his own life, leading to his conversion to Rastafarianism, and bringing to an end his glorification of the gun. These life-changing events are reflected throughout much of 'Til Shiloh, which proves a much more introspective set than anything heard from Banton before. This is most evident on the haunting sufferer's song "Untold Stories," as Banton reflects on the world around him, beautifully accompanied by a gentle rhythm and Glen Browne's evocative acoustic guitar. But Jah now sustains him, prompting the artist to open the album with the brief a cappella psalm, "Shiloh," then launching into "Til I'm Laid to Rest," which revisits the sufferer's theme, but intertwines it with an homage to Africa and his faith in the promised land. Still, Banton has not yet found peace, and his inner turmoil is at its rawest on "Murderer." Written in the aftermath of the aforementioned killings, Banton struggles with his grief and fierce desire for vengeance; all else pales before this most emotionally powerful of songs. It's "Not an Easy Road," as Banton vividly relates on that song, and he has been left vulnerable. Still, he opens his soul on "Wanna Be Loved," and exposes his loneliness on "What Ya Gonna Do" joined by Wayne Wonder. "Complaint" has Banton toasting over this fabulous Garnett Silk number, praising Jah and scattering the heathens before him. "Chuck It So" takes a similar stance, as Banton takes on a Big Man, with the 2 Friends Crew sweetening his ferocious assault. It's a heavy-hitting album, with only "Hush Baby Hush," a jubilant version of the 1960 classic "Stay," adding a lighter note to the proceedings. Musically, however, this is a gentler album than its predecessor, although still very much in a dancehall style. Another masterpiece.

Friday, November 06, 2009

1980 Reggae Movie ‘Rockers’ Still Has Cult Following

Reggae and a 30-year-old movie about its Jamaican culture has become popular with a new generation.

Inner Circle includes founding members Ian and Roger Lewis, who both appeared in the 1978 film “Rockers.”

“We didn’t know the reggae sounds was so popular there now, but the movie has become like an underground cult movie in Asia,” Ian Lewis told Lake Tahoe Action after arriving in the United States from the Far East last week. “Remember that ‘Rocky Horror (Picture) Show?’ It became like a cult. ‘Rockers’ movie is like that now in Vietnam and Singapore because younger kids, they like that culture.”

The movie, filmed in six weeks in 1977 at the Kingston ghetto Trenchtown and two weeks in Ocho Rios, is an authentic representation of the Jamaican culture during that era because all the characters portrayed themselves. The loosely written and improvised storyline is a reggae version of Robin Hood.

“When we made that movie everybody was laughing because nobody was no actor,” Lewis said. “It offered up our true vibe because everybody was playing ourselves. They wasn’t trying to be no actor. So that’s the best kind of acting, just be yourself.”

Zephyr Cove real-estate agent Richard Bolen was a “post-production producer” for “Rockers.” Bolen negotiated performance rights, located 26 master recordings and raised $350,000 to finish putting the film together. He also made all the domestic and international film and record distribution deals.

“We knew what we had was good,” Bolen said. “We didn’t know we were catching the roots reggae culture at its epitome.”

While there was extreme poverty, it was also seminal period for Jamaica, which influenced cultures throughout the world.

“It was tantamount to the ’60s generation,” Bolen said. “They thought they were changing the world for a better way.”

Just a few years after “Rockers” was filmed some of reggae’s pioneers were gone. Inner Circle’s Jacob Miller was killed in a 1980 car accident, Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981 and Peter Tosh was murdered in 1987.

“Bob Marley was a living god with them,” Bolen said. “He was significant here but so much more palpable in the Caribbean and Africa and Europe. He was a genuine world spokesman of human spirit and hope, and he knew it.”

Marley did not appear in “Rockers,” but his peers did. And while Bolen was in Jamaica dealing with people who claimed to be in the movie and demanded to be paid, Peter Tosh was on tour with the Rolling Stones, often appearing onstage with a “Rockers” T-shirt.

Although Bolen was surrounded by desperate and dirt-poor Kingston residents during a three-year period, he had two guides and never felt he was in danger.
“They were guides to how the ghetto worked,” Bolen said. “They did protect me but it was more of a vibratory thing. The general consensus was we were there doing Jah works.”

Lewis understands why a new generation appreciates “Rockers.”

“They see it’s real,” he said. “It’s natural. Some of the older folks might see the weed smoking and they’re not used to that. But what they see is a real culture, and the kids like that.

“It made me happy to see something that was done 20, 30 years ago has come full circle to fruition, that people appreciate it for what it is.”
- By Tim Parsons, Lake Tahoe Action

Rockers’ (1980)
Writer-director: Ted Bafaloukos
Producer: Patrick Hulsey
Cast: (Each member portrays himself) Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall, Gregory “Jah Tooth” Isaacs, Jacob “Jakes” Miller, Robbie “Robbie” Shakespeare, Frank “Kiddus I” Dowding, Winston “Burning Spear” Rodney, Manley “Big Youth” Buchanan, Lester “Dillinger” Bullocks
Plot: Horsemouth is a drummer who lives in a Kingston ghetto. He sells and delivers records from his motorcycle, which is stolen by gangsters. The movie begins as a loose interpretation of Vittorio de Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” and turns into a reggae interpretation of the story of Robin Hood.

"Rockers" soundtrack: (Side one)
1. “We ‘A’ Rockers,” Inner Circle
2. “Money Worries,” the Maytones
3. “Police and Thieves,” Junior Murvin
4. “Books of Rules,” The Heptones
5. “Stepping Razor,” Peter Tosh
6. “Tenement Yard,” Jacob Miller (Inner Circle)
7. “Fade Away,” Junior Byles
(Side two)1. “Rockers,” Bunny Wailer
2. “Slave Master,” Gregory Isaacs
3. “Man in the Street,” Rockers All Stars
4. “Graduation in Zion,” Kiddus I
5. “Jah No Dead,” Burning Spear (Winston Rodney)
6. “Satta Massagana,” Third World
7. “Natty Take Over,” Justin Hines & the Dominoes

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shabba Ranks Tours Europe with Ruff Kut

It's been over ten years since dancehall's original Grammy Kid, Shabba Ranks, performed in Europe and from all accounts, his following there has not diminished significantly.
Shabba Ranks
Staying true to the genre, Shabba called for none other than the experienced band Ruff Kut - Beenie Man's band - to accompany him on tour, and quite sensibly, Ruff Kut packed their bags and caught a flight. That's probably not the prescription the Doctor, Beenie Man, would have ordered, but this has been a rough season for bands; they have been feeling the pinch of the recession as artistes have increasingly been forced to accept gigs that stipulate them working with tracks.
On Friday, Shabba played at the O2 Academy Brixton, to a sold-out venue, but even before that, the legendary status of the Ranks became apparent.
"People were lined up outside the rehearsal venue on Thursday evening waiting to get a glimpse of Shabba," a member of his touring party reported. "And at the concert itself, it was just 'maaad'. From Telephone Love with JC Lodge, who accompanied him on stage, to Housecall with with Maxi Priest, it was nothing short of electrifying."
But this is not surprising since Shabba, as a trailblazer, carved out his own destiny - with the ingenuity of his Specs Shang team - and took dancehall to places it had never been before and has not been since.
As one Shabba Ranks fan recalled, "Shabba during his heydays couldn't walk in peace through any airport, any part of the world, as he would be hounded by fans wanting autographs. Which of these dancehall acts with them whole heap of hype can say this?"
And Shabba, unlike many of the current crop of ghetto superstar artistes, knows how to show humility and respect for the elders. In an interview after the Ice Cream Summerfest in the US, in July this year, Shabba said whatever he achieved was made possible through the hard work of artistes like Yellow Man, Josey Wales, Brigadier Jerry, General Echo and Major Worries. "That's five people who would have already worked in order for me to update certain things", he said.
He gave the reason for his hiatus as his desire to focus on his family life. "Make good money... and then me chill out to make sure that the educational development of mi sons dem well potent," he said.
When asked about his legacy, Shabba noted, "Mi legacy a di youths dem who a come up right now and a do the music... Buju, Shaggy Bounty, Mavado and Vybz Kartel. Me mek a million dollars, the next man come up and mek 10 million and the next one mek a hundred million, and so on."
Declaring that this year is his time to shine, Shabba announced: "Me deh yah!"

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Essential Reggae Albums: The Wailers 'Catch A Fire: The Original Jamaican Versions'

Catch a Fire was the major label debut for Bob Marley and the Wailers, and it was an international success upon its release in 1973. Although Bob Marley may have been the main voice, every member of the Wailers made valuable contributions and they were never more united in their vision and sound. All the songs were originals, and the instrumentation was minimalistic in order to bring out the passionate, often politically charged lyrics. Much of the appeal of the album lies in its sincerity and sense of purpose — these are streetwise yet disarmingly idealistic young men who look around themselves and believe they might help change the world through music. Marley sings about the current state of urban poverty ("Concrete Jungle") and connects the present to past injustices ("Slave Driver"), but he is a not a one-trick pony. He is a versatile songwriter who also excels at singing love songs such as his classic "Stir It Up." Peter Tosh sings the lead vocal on two of his own compositions — his powerful presence and immense talent hint that he would eventually leave for his own successful solo career. More than anything else, however, this marks the emergence of Bob Marley and the international debut of reggae music. Marley would continue to achieve great critical and commercial success during the 1970s, but Catch a Fire is one of the finest reggae albums ever. This album is essential for any music collection.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Peter Tosh Revival: New Album for 2010

Newly appointed manager of the Peter Tosh estate, Jam Inc, plans to resurrect the late reggae legend's slumping royalties via a marketing campaign involving albums, apparel, internet, film, TV and video game exposure.
Jam Inc will release a Tosh album next year and is currently focussing on building an official website and creating pages on Facebook, Myspace and other social networking sites. It will also align Tosh's image and philosophy with human rights organisations in an effort to raise publicity. Jam Inc said it is acquiring the services of seven different marketing companies including US-based Rocket Science to increase the presence of Tosh in various media.
"Next year 2010 is the 50th anniversary of Reggae and actually we are working with Sony to do a couple of things surrounding the albums Legalise It and Equal Rights," said Jeff Jampol head of Jam Inc.
Asked if Tosh's image would be aligned to ganja legalisation lobbies, he stated: "Stay tuned...We want to work with charities that were important to Peter such as anti-apartheid and anti-slavery."
The late Peter Tosh, is arguably the most important reggae star after the late Bob Marley, but while Marley dominates the charts and has an incomparable online popularity, this eludes Tosh.
Jam Inc said it received the rights to manage the Tosh estate last year on behalf of Tosh's children, the estate's owners. Jam Inc a nine-year-old company also manages the estates of rock icons such as the Doors and Janis Joplin.
Currently the Tosh brand is "moribund" due to lack of prior management said Jampol in an Observer interview.
"There is a little bit of Peter Tosh lying all over the place and nobody is really doing anything," said Jampol. "There has never been a united front or management."
He explained that Tosh's masters are with some five labels and releasing albums requires co-operation.
"The problem is we have to figure out where all the Peter Tosh masters are. There are different publishing companies and different record companies so what we have to do is gather them all together and get them to either do it themselves or partner up with us," he added.
Jampol blamed poor marketing for Tosh's apparent waning of influence, especially amongst teenagers.
"Peter Tosh's message is completely relevant today, if not more so...So for this generation a 13-year-old kid has never heard of Peter Tosh, but it can be completely relevant to them, you just have to introduce them to Peter Tosh," he said.
Dancehall stars Vybz Kartel and Mavado have since April this year usurped Tosh in terms of Internet searches - a measure of popularity. In previous years it was the reverse. The Sunday Observer utilised Google Trends which compared as a ratio, the search activity for each artiste over time. Currently, for every 100 searches for Vybz Kartel there were 63 for Tosh.
Mavado has an advantage over Tosh of two more searches per 100. These two deejays are the latest to usurp Tosh following Sizzla, Shaggy, Sean Paul or Damian Marley. Conversely, Bob Marley is so popular online that for every 100 searches for Marley there are 26 for Sean Paul and three for Tosh.
Despite the fall in dominance Tosh is still comparatively very popular and towers over most other reggae and dancehall stars. He is three searches more popular than Beenie Man per 100 and is three times more popular online than Bounty Killer, Dennis Brown and Beres Hammond. Hammond however is more popular in New York.
By Steven Jackson, Jamaica Observer writer
Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Marley Heirs Wage Global War on Trademark Pirates

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Coming to a store near you: Bob Marley video games, shoes ... snowboards?
Heirs of the Jamaican reggae legend are plunging into the global trademark wars, seeking to enforce their exclusive rights to an image that has grown steadily in scope and appeal since the Jamaican superstar died of brain cancer in 1981 at age 36.
The Marley name, look and sound are estimated to generate an estimated $600 million a year in sales of unlicensed wares. Legal sales are much smaller — just $4 million for his descendants in 2007, according to Forbes magazine. The Marleys refuse to give a figure.
Now the family has hired Toronto-based Hilco Consumer Capital to protect their rights to the brand. Hilco CEO Jamie Salter believes Marley products could be a $1 billion business in a few years.
"The family managed all the rights before Hilco was brought on board," said Marley's fourth son, Rohan. "We didn't have a real good grasp on the international scope prior to Hilco, nor the proper management."
The turn to big business has stirred some grousing from die-hard fans in Internet chat rooms, who say it goes against the grain of a singer who preached nonmaterialism and popularized the Rastafarian credo of oneness with nature and marijuana consumption as a sacrament.
But Lorna Wainwright, who manages a Kingston studio and music shop called Tuff Gong, Marley's nickname during his slum boyhood in a nearby slum, backed the move, saying "the world needs the Bob Marley police."
"It's a free-for-all out there with all the fakes, all the piracy," she said. "It's important to continue getting his real message out like when he was alive because the world is in a crisis and Bob Marley's lyrics provide a solution."
A representative of the Bobo Ashanti order, a Rastafarian group, also expressed support.
"Bob Marley was and still is a stepping stone for many around the world who seek Rastafari roots and culture," said the Rasta rep who identified himself as the Honorable Prophet Moambeh Acosta in an e-mail. "We can only hope and pray for the (family's) success ... as the task seems insurmountable due to the years of piracy and counterfeiting."
Rather than focusing on street vendors, who hawk everything from Bob Marley T-shirts to beach towels, the partnership is creating a new line of products dubbed "House of Marley" and will police the trademark vigilantly.
"You're never going to stop the guys in the streets, flea markets ... but you try as much as you can," said Salter.
Snowboards and tropical Jamaica may seem an odd pairing, but they're among a wide variety of planned merchandise featuring the dreadlocked musician's image, name or message — backpacks, stationery, headphones, musical instruments, restaurants.
Items are expected to hit the market in mid-2010.
Marley "would be amused to know that his face is being used to brand a wide range of products and services, some of which he himself might never have thought of using," said Professor Carolyn Cooper, former coordinator of the reggae studies unit at Jamaica's University of the West Indies.
But Cooper added in an interview that the Marley family is absolutely right to emulate the estates of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and other pop heroes in protecting the trademark. Presley's estate brought in nearly $55 million in revenue last year.
Marley's lyrics promoting social justice made him an icon. His acceptance by mainstream America was sealed when the Budweiser frogs grooved to his song "Jamming" in a 1999 beer ad. His "One Love" anthem woos tourists to Jamaica on TV spots featuring white-sand beaches and swaying palms.
Mark Roesler, whose marketing and talent agency, CMG Worldwide, has a client list that includes the estates of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, says protecting a famous name is a long-term task.
"If a celebrity has not had the focus and the attention that a personality like James Dean has had over the years, it is much more difficult to just suddenly get started and 'clean up the market,'" said Roesler, who is not involved with the Marley effort.
Most of Marley's heirs are also musicians, including his widow, Rita, and son Ziggy, who won four Grammys with the Melody Makers, a band that included another son, Stephen, and daughters Sharon and Cedella. Son Damian has won three Grammys.
The family says it cares less about moving merchandise than about preserving the patriarch's legacy in such efforts as the Marley organic coffee farm, whose product is dried, roasted and packaged in bags emblazoned with Marley song titles such as "One Love" and "Mystic Morning."
"People need to know what they're getting is from the Marley movement, a movement of sustainability," said son Rohan as he showed The Associated Press around the farm, a teeth-rattling drive over rutted roads from Kingston, the capital.
The former University of Miami star linebacker, who resembles his father, said an undisclosed share of Marley Coffee proceeds will go toward youth soccer programs in Jamaica, an island as crime-ridden and poor as it is alluringly beautiful.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved