Upbeat (Autumn 1995)

New Caribbean music - reggae, calypso, soca, and pan

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Genesis
SuperBlue (Ice Records)
Thematically speaking, this is the best album to come so far from SuperBlue, who regained the Road March crown in Trinidad this year. It’s a gospel/Motown/soca mixture, featuring live performances from his New York-based Love Band. Saxophonist Gerard Rampersad’s Indian/jazz contribution is reminiscent of the early soca days when Ras Shorty I blended Indian and African sounds; his electronic saxophone adds some unusual colour to the music. There’s a serenity about this album that suggests that SuperBlue is comfortable with his present sound. Remakes include Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry, Eddy Grant’s Walking On Sunshine, and the old pop hit Sylvia’s Mother – a superb interpretation, in which SuperBlue transforms the original whining narrator into something much firmer, kinder and more loving. This is an album that recalls SuperBlue’s early days as Blue Boy, when the emphasis was on melody and strong narrative lyrics rather than musical and lyrical hooklines strung together at the expense of musical structure.

Enchanted
Shadow (Crossroads)
Shadow has broken with tradition to produce his own album – this is the first issue from his new Crossroads label. Shadow is determined to show how powerful, well-constructed music can be built on strong, rhythmic bass lines, popping percussion and offbeat narrative lyrics. Dancing, the fastest track on this collection, doesn’t come within miles of the blistering pace of most 1995 soca, but it‘s an undeniably powerful number, a deceptively simple tribute to music and movement built on the hookline “Free Some Energy.” Gossiping is a humorous rapso (rap lyrics over soca) that seems to follow on from Poverty Is Hell: a gossipy woman leaves her pot on the fire to bad-talk everyone in sight, even her neighbour’s dog, while the music offers bubbly, percolating rhythms. Something Sweet is a slow-grooving, sentimental soca, while in The Crown Shadow continues his struggle with calypso judges who persist in ignoring him. One of the best tracks is Donkey Cart, a Shadow-style rapso with riveting rhythms that conjures up the good old days in Tobago. Other successful tracks include a jazzed-up version of the Shadow classic My Beliefs, a celebration of music and life and individuality, and Tangle Up, a boy-meets-girl story that derives its magic from Shadow’s wonderfully zany sense of humour – the heavy percussion suggests someone fighting their way out of a tangled mess. This a strong, enchanting music that stands on its own merits.

Tribute To Ray Holman
Various orchestras (Delos 4025)
For many years, the steel pan (or steel drum) was an instrument without a music of its own: it could play calypso, pop music, even classics, but lacked music written specially for it, music suited to its own range and potential and constraints. Ray Holman was one of the first to start composing music for pan, and his Pan On The Move in 1972, greeted with hostility by many traditionalists for whom Panorama music meant calypso arrangements and nothing else, served notice that original compositions were now on the agenda. Since then, Holman has produced a long series of pan compositions, has worked as an arranger with several top bands (notably Starlift and Phase II), and has seen original composition become a central and accepted part of Panorama and the steelband movement. He has been influential as an arranger as well – much of the conventional structure of Panorama arrangements and the long-established technique of strumming the rhythm derives from Holman’s work (the album notes include a breakdown of a typical Panorama structure, itself a welcome innovation). As recording engineer Simeon Sandiford notes in a useful foreword, “Ray Holman is a quietly persuasive innovator”. This multi-artist tribute is a welcome and touching project. The contributors, all playing Holman’s music, include Exodus (Ray’s Medley, Pan Woman), Carib Tokyo (My Band, Special Brew, Carnival Is For Woman), Humming Birds Pan Groove (Steelband Paradise) and Phase II Pan Groove (Panic). Holman deserves every minute of this fine tribute.

Sacred 78s
The Roaring Lion (Ice Records 941402)
Here’s a tribute to calypso’s oldest living performer, The Roaring Lion. Digitally remastered from original recordings, it’s the product of years of painstaking work by Caribbean singer and producer Eddy Grant to identify, procure, catalogue and clean up classic 78 recordings of calypso made in the 1930s, when Lion had already made a reputation for himself with his strong voice, confident style and witty lyrics. This new album presents a full picture of the artist in his heyday, through a wide variety of songs, 25 in all. They range from political commentary (Advantage Mussolini) to risqué humour (I Ain’t Gonna Do It No More), via such classics as Ugly Woman (one of several Lion songs that featured in Hollywood movies) and Netty Netty. J’Ouvert Barrio, his classic interpretation of a traditional Martiniquan melody, is a reminder that Lion’s career stretches back into the days of calypso in French patois. To remember how calypso has always blended with other music, check out Rhumba Dance and Cheek To Cheek; for a reminder of how important bravado has always been to calypso, listen again to I Can Make More Love Than Romeo.

Positively Reggae
Shabba Ranks, Patra, Shaggy, Tony Rebel and others (Sony LK 64430)
This CD is for a worthy cause: Leaf Of Life, a fund for critically ill children throughout the Caribbean, and the Fund for children affected by HIV/AIDS, which is based in Jamaica. Billed as an “all-family musical celebration”, all its tracks carry a heavy social message. Some of the contributors have been less than inspiring on previous labels, but here they all try to inspire their young audience with a sense of community, respect for education, and a distaste for crime and violence. Shabba Ranks opens with a call to parents to “come together . . . for better education for the youngsters.” It is not a theme which offers much latitude for innovation. Born Jamericans, Shaggy, Patra, Tony Rebel, Bounti Killa and Stitchie make the most of their moments, even when the rhythms fall into monotony.

Live It Up
Third World (24×7 Records TECX-23860)
This is Third World’s 13th album, and their first as independent artists. It’s not one of their strongest: none of the songs really jump out at you. The single release, Conversation by Benji Myaz, a new songwriter, is pleasant, but the remix is not dynamic enough to raise the energy level. Stephen Coore’s Spare Me The Blues Tonight and Getting On Fire are the best of the original songs; of the “cover” songs, Magnet & Steel comes off best, while Papa Was A Rolling Stone has an interesting call-and-response between the lead vocal and the harmony, but the use of a DJ clutters the song. Having decided to take full creative control of their music, Third World have to come again, stronger.

Talking To You
Bunny Rugs (Shanchie 45022)The first solo album by Third World’s lead singer. And where Third World didn’t quite pull it off, Rugs does. He is a commanding singer with a strong R&B tone and a voice that needs only a good song to work with. Here, he’s handpicked his material, with songs like Now That We Found Love (one of Third World’s biggest hits); Desmond Dekker’s Shanty Town, a classic Jamaican “rude boy” tune; and Alton Ellis’s If I Follow My Heart, which is beautifully handled. The singer is upbeat and confident, though he does give in to the trend of having two DJs guesting, which seldom enhances the songs. The best DJ/singer combination is House Call with Maxi Priest and Shabba Ranks, which juxtaposes a growling DJ and a smooth sweet-voiced singer. Bunny Rugs is also a fair writer with some tasty originals like Hearts On Fire and Gloria.

 

Natural Mystic
Bob Marley (Tuff Gong)

From the opening Wailers riff on Natural Mystic, this collection, released to coincide with Bob Marley’s 50th birthday, brims with urgency and freshness – it sounds as if it could have been recorded last week rather than 11 years ago, as is the case with some of the songs. The remix reveals more of the musical values – Family Man’s bass lines, Bennett’s crisp cymbals. As a prelude to the album, Keep On Moving was released as a single, entered the UK charts at number 17 and seemed set to climb higher. A Curtis Mayfield song, Keep On Moving was recorded in London during the summer of 1977, produced by Lee Perry and Bob Marley, with a pick-up band which included members of Third World and Aswad. Additional production has added the I’Three’s backing vocals and a horn section, taking the tune to a new level of excitement. Feel the groove as Marley comes fresh again. As we try to understand why Marley continues to loom larger than life, writer Chris Salewicz’s liner note has its finger on the pulse: “Bob Marley’s story is that of an archetype, which is why it continues to have such a powerful and ever-growing resonance.”

The Best Of Irakere
Irakere (Columbia Jazz 57719)
Irakere, the legendary Cuban jazz band led by Chucho Valdés, included in its line-up today’s world-renowned stars Arturo Sandoval (who played at Pigeon Island in this year’s St Lucia Jazz Festival) and Paquito D’Rivera. It was as important a force in Cuba as in jazz: the band was the first Castro-era group to record and tour abroad. How they pulled that off is a story in itself – the players, all formally trained in jazz, were also Cuban nationalists in the purest sense, and simply refused to relegate Afro-Cuban musical forms to a merely percussive or background function. Irakere insisted that Cuban music was an equal partner, and so became both a Cuban-jazz band and a Cuban (no hyphen) jazz band. The CD version of The Best of Irakere is part of the high-quality Columbia Jazz Contemporary Masters series, and contains 75 minutes of the band’s best work, digitally remastered. The mixture of live and studio recordings includes Gira Gira, the 17-minute Misa Negra and the magical Adagio On A Mozart Theme, in which the band brings its Cuban-jazz perspective to Mozart. The CD is worth buying just to hear Carlos Averhoff introducing the band on Ilya. “Somebody have to do it,” he says, “and in this case I have to do it”, just as Irakere had to do it.