by: Jarret Lovell
Reggae, dancehall and dub music has always been a blend of old and new. Built on a foundation of mento which itself is a “creolized fusion” of European- and African-derived music, the early sound of reggae also borrowed heavily from American R&B. Indeed, some of Kingston’s early sound system selectors (i.e., mobile deejays) would return from trips to the United States with much sought out 45 records, hoping to have an exclusive on the song. They would blast the 45s on their sound system so that the powerfully deep bass lines would attract crowds to their street parties. Eventually, Jamaican producers such as Studio One’s Clement Dodd would hire studio house bands to tweak the rhythms of these 45s. Next, he added vocal trios to the mix, only lyrics about love and happiness were often replaced with stories of hardship in the trench towns or hope through Rastafarianism. The result was the creation of early reggae.
Of course, Kingston being in the throes of poverty, the cost of producing new music was prohibitive for even the top studio producers. So they got wise (or greedy) and recycled previous rhythms (“riddims”) with new vocalists. Moreover, through an accident in the acetate pressing process, they also created the dub version – a stripped down version of previously released songs with vocals and some instrumentation missing from the final mix. When these dub versions became more popular than the original releases, producers such King Tubby and Scientist became among the world’s first re-mixers, adding sound effects, reverb and forever influencing remix culture around the world. Finally, these vocal-free mixes afforded producers even more bang for the buck, as they could be sold to the sound system selectors who would use a microphone to brag about being the best deejay and having the “champion sound” in synch with these mixed instrumentals. East coast versus west coast rappers? Who cares – it all started in the dancehalls of Jamaica with a vocal styling called “toasting.” Today, dancehall is a hybrid of all aforementioned genres, incorporating classic reggae riddims, dubbed out sounds, and rap-like vocals.
When looking at the highlights of KUCI’s reggae programming over the past year, one clearly sees this tradition of blending the old with the new represented on our airwaves. Interviews, “most played” cuts, and picks for best of year reflect a merging of old-school and new sounds. So here is KUCI’s reggae recap of the best of 2011. Enjoy!
Once again, KUCI was well represented at 2011’s Raggamuffins Festival in Long Beach, where deejays Sister Rue (Positive Vibrations) and Jarret Lovell (The Dread Zone) interviewed such legendary performers Don Carlos, Cornell Campbell, and Israel Vibration, as well as relative newcomers Etana, Richie Spice, and Gentleman. But why stop there? KUCI was all but an obligatory stop for all artists touring in Southern California. Perhaps most notable has been deejay Yogi’s (Roots n’ Riddims) conversations with Tony Chin and Fully Fullwood of the legendary Soul Syndicate. Other 2011 interviewees include the Mad Professor, Ras Michael, Ziggy Marley, Ky-Mani Marley, Steel Pulse, and Mista Majah P.
MOST PLAYED SONGS/ARTISTS
Sister Rue (Positive Vibrations) – “Johnny Osbourne, because there are so many good songs.” Her most played? “Nah Skin Up” from Osbourne’s classic Truth and Rights (1979) which was recently reissued with special features.
Deejay Yogi (Roots ‘n Riddims) - “Without question, Alborosie’s ‘Raggamuffin’ (from his 2 Times Revolution) was my most played new song.
Jarret Lovell (The Dread Zone) – “My most played artist was the incomparable Barrington Levy, probably because he has one foot firmly planted in classic dancehall, and he continues to keep one foot forward in the new school of reggae sounds.”
FAVORITE NEW RELEASE
Deejay Yogi (Roots ‘n Riddims) - “I gave this one a lot of thought, and it was very hard to come up with a best of the year. As much as I like Alborosie’s new release, I must go with [the reissue] Culture at Joe Gibbs. I play roots reggae. Joseph Hill and Culture have that classic sound that will not fade away.”
Sister Rue (Positive Vibrations) – “Don Carlos’ Changes. Okay, so it came out in 2010, but I really gave it a listen this past year. Don Carlos not only maintains and rootsy and downbeat quality on his new album, he also continues to ‘keep it real’ and make it edgy with remixes. A successful evolution of reggae music.”
Jarret Lovell (The Dread Zone) – “Musically, the album Jahbulon by super group Method of Defiance combines every possible sound under the sun – from Bill Laswell’s heavy bass to Bernie Worrell’s funky keyboard to the spitfire vocals of Hawk and Dr. Israel. And the electronics and percussion sound downright industrial at times! Thematically, Mista Majah P’s album Tolerance is the first of its kind – a Jamaican dancehall album speaking out against homophobia and calling for full recognition of rights for the island nation’s LGBT community. Peace, love and tolerance is what reggae should be about!
Information on the history of reggae music is from Wake the Town and Tell the People: Dancehall Culture in Jamaica (2004) by Norman C. Stolzoff – a former Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations at UC Irvine.