Caribbean Playlist (March/April 2014)

New tunes to get your feet tapping, from dancehall to jazz

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Tru Colours  Wayne Marshall

Jamaican dancehall artist Wayne Marshall, best known for his hip-hop–influenced reggae tracks, returns with his first full-length album in ten years. This is the first release from the record label Ghetto Youths International, formed by Damian “Jr Gong” Marley, who not only performs on the album but also wrote and produced many of the tracks. Marshall enlists some of Jamaica’s top talent on his songs, including Bounty Killer, Assassin, and Vybz Kartel (on the massive hit “Go Hard”). For the hip-hop club banger “Go Harder”, Marshall brings in Cham, Waka Flocka, and Ace Hood.

The songs tackle a variety of topics: living the high life in “Stupid Money”, exposing fake friends in the title track, even taking aim at politicians in the first single, “I Know”: “Mr Minister and Senator, if I was you I wouldn’t make any talk / Because I know something you don’t know, me and your gal friend spend your dough . . .” My personal favourite, “On the Corner” (borrowing its hook from R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”), focuses on the choices one makes in life. Tessanne Chin, recent winner of the US TV series The Voice and Marshall’s sister-in-law, also contributes lyrics on the album’s final track, “In the End”. Overall, a solid album worth the wait.

 

Imbizo Moyenne  Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne

The Trinidadian musician Chantal Esdelle and her band Moyenne have been creating and performing their unique brand of Caribbean jazz for over a decade. This experience shows in their new live album Imbizo Moyenne, recorded live at a 2010 concert. There’s always a risk when recording a live album, especially a jazz album — the microphones can capture even the slightest flaw. But Esdelle bought in some of the top audio engineers from the famed EGREM record label in Cuba to ensure the quality of the sound.

The tracks — incorporating the sounds of the Spanish Caribbean, as well as calypso, blues, and African rhythms — are all original compositions, performed by a line-up including Esdelle (voice, keyboard), Glenford “Kevin” Sobers (steel pan), Donald Noel (percussion), Darren Sheppard (drums), and Douglas Redon (bass). The standout is Sobers, who shines on the compositions “Final Farewell” and “Out of Thin Air”, the finale. Put this together with the very tight rhythm section and a great interplay with the audience, and it makes for a superb treat for jazz lovers.

 

Slumber Party  Jason Chase

Hailing from Barbados, Jason Chase brings us something Caribbean music has missed for a long time: an ethereal sound, slightly reminiscent of 1980s pop. Chase, a self-professed fan of electronic and experimental musicians like Bjork, Tears for Fears, and Stereolab, channels these influences in his sublime new album Slumber Party, named for first song he ever wrote. It was the response to this song by friends, says Chase, that gave him the confidence to pursue songwriting more passionately than he previously imagined he could. “Scaredy Cats”, with its haunting piano melody, is one of my favourites on the album. It’s hard to put this music into a specific category (and the best kind of music is genre-bending), but Chase gives a hint when he explains the connection between his family name and the mysterious and supposedly haunted Chase Vault at Barbados’s Christ Church parish church. “I feel it is the perfect statement about my music,” he says, “a dreamy, haunting, and otherworldly blend of acoustic guitar and electronic.”

 

Single Spotlight

Bezwen Mennaj  Wanito

Considered a phenomenon in Haiti, his home country, Wanito — born Louis Pascal Juanito Beaubrun in Jérémie, “The City of Poets” — has raised high expectations for the pending release of his sophomore album, after his first CD sold an impressive five thousand copies in one day. Wanito loved music from an early age, and his passion and energy show on his latest track, “Bezwen Mennaj”. The title translates to Wanito saying he “needs a girlfriend,” and the beat of the song matches that playfulness. His debut album touched on many hot topics, including politics, and much of it was hard-hitting spoken word poetry put to music. Does the single foretell a lighter touch on the new album, or will Wanito mix in the social and political commentary that’s earned him the title “the Voice of Haiti”? Either way, he’s sure to impress.