The 10th album of Morgan Heritage – also known as the Royal Family of Reggae – has been released independent of VP Records, on the new family owned record label CTBC Music Group. Despite the album title, the quintet (Peetah, Gramps, Una, Mr. Mojo and Lukes) actually mixes various genres into their 13-track album. Like all Morgan Heritage albums, Strictly Roots is characterized by excellent instrumentation and vocals.
Featuring artists Chronixx, Jemere Morgan, J Boog, J Mersa Marley and Shaggy make a fair contribution to the diversified album. Songs like Strictly Roots, Rise and Fall and Wanna Be Loved are typical Morgan Heritage standards, elaborating on their signature style of playing roots reggae, a genre that’s – to their disappointment – drowned out by dancehall. One of the songs that turned out very well is Child of JAH, a collaboration with Chronixx. It has a very smooth off-beat vocal flow that’s lifting up the song right after the intro.
The rest of the album follows three paths. Light It Up picks up a deep electronic beat and moves into the direction of hip-hop and dancehall, a bit like Damian Marley would do. Then there is the mellow and R&B tinted single material such as Perform and Done and Why Dem Come Around, songs appreciated by the public. Finally, perhaps in an attempt to attract a wider audience, the album is completed by no less than 4 cheesy pop songs: So Amazing, Put It On Me, Sunday Morning and Celebrate Life. I’m wondering how many people argue this to be an enrichment of the record.
The honorable mister Dean Fraser underlined 10 years of Tarrus Riley‘s musical history at the beginning of the concert in a lyrical way: “…when this singer started to sing he had many Challenges. And then these Challenges became Parables. And these Parables soon became very Contagious…”.
After an out of place acoustic album, the Jamaican reggae singer made a good comeback with his fifth album in February of this year: Love Situation. The album is a throwback to classic Jamaican rocksteady and currently being promoted in Europe.
The show was opened by female singer Alaine. Although not my taste of music, she managed to set the atmosphere before Tarrus Riley made his entrance. I have to admit I was afraid of an R&B-ish concert, but the Black Soil Band didn’t bring any of that. Dean Fraser’s musicians play very tight while visibly making fun on stage at the same time.
With decent (roots) reggae concerts becoming rare events these days, this was one of the most versatile shows that I’ve seen in a long time. Although using a lot of existing rhythms – both old and new – Tarrus Riley´s remarkable voice easily adapts the songs to be his own. On top of that, there is a lot of interaction with the audience.
Peaks in the concert where a Buju Banton tribute over Special Occassion, the hit song Gimme Likkle One Drop, the medley Let’s Do It Again / Protect The People / Karma and older songs such as Lion Paw and Good Girl Gone Bad.
Last night Linton Kwesi Johnson has opened my ears for poetry. It is true that there are a lot of similarities between writing a poem and writing lyrics.
For over 30 years, Linton Kwesi Johnson has been working on both the´words of music´ and ´the music of words’, as he liked to call it. In the context of being an African-Caribbean in Britain, it was politics that brought him into poetry, he proclaimed. Influenced by the sound systems and artists like U-roy in Jamaica in the late seventies, he has found his own style and voice in dub poetry. As a poetry writer LKJ has recited poems alongside Allen Ginsberg and Michael Horovitz. As a reggae singer, he has been singing alongside numerous artists, including Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff and Toots & the Maytals.
The night was a (personal) history class, speaking about the displacement of Jamaicans to the UK, the abuse of the Vagrancy Act (Sonny’s Lettah), the dead of his father (Reggae Fi Dada), protests provoked by Swamp 81 actions (Di Great Insohreckshan) and more recent works reflecting on the end of the Cold War (New World Order) and the achievements of his generation (More Time). All these poems are also recorded on CD and well-known reggae songs, but it is hard to deny that the words have more impact when purely spoken.
If you are more into music than poetry, do watch his Live In Paris concert (2003), and acknowledge the music of his words.
For a roots reggae lover, coming across good new songs can be a rare matter these days. While the last heroes of the founding generation have passed away or seemed to have gone into retirement unnoticed, it is good to have an artist like Busy Signal, who can be innovative and reinventing through music at the same time.
One of his latest songs features the promising voice of Exco Levi. There are several of his lines directly connecting to the heydays of Black Uhuru. The occasional melodica completes this regenerating reference to the reggae of the 70’s.
The going home riddim also worked on the dance floor last night!