Upbeat (Winter 1993)

New and recent albums from Caribbean artists, including Ziggy Marley, Chaka Demus and Pliers, SuperBlue and the Roaring Lion


Joy and Blues

Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers (Virgin Records)

Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, sons and daughters of reggae legends, have ten years of recording behind them now, two Grammys, several other big awards, chart success, and a fourth album to their credit. Joy and Blues is rootsier than its predecessor Jahmekya, whose title suggested the real thing; but its content, a mix of pop r&b and hip-hop, seemed to satisfy the desire of the label and Ziggy to reach wider markets, particularly Black American r&b. The album did in fact infiltrate that territory, but was criticised by purist reggae fans who felt the crossover had been too commercial. Joy and Blues is grounded (as Ziggy says, “I wanted to keep it simple”). Recorded at Tuff Gong in Kingston, the groove is under the heavy manners of the bubbling bassist Chris Meredith and the crisp Wilburn “Squidly” Cole on drums, and drum programming. The rest of the musicianship is subtle, allowing lyrics to come across more forcefully, as in the title track which speaks to balance and thoughtfulness in life, while Brothers and Sisters, also released as a single, calls for social harmony and X Marks the Spot is a tribute to Malcolm.

The songs are predominantly Ziggy’s compositions, and increasingly he is finding his own voice, leading us to believe that he is out of the long shadow of his father, at least for the moment. But as he looks and sounds so uncannily like Bob, the comparison is always going to be drawn. Two songs from Bob Marley’s early period, the lovely ballad There She Goes and Richie Haven’s African Indian Rope Man (retitled African Herbsman) are given fresh interpretations. Stephen Marley too is finding his own sound, one that fluctuates between his father’s tone (as in Mama) and the reggae/blues he gets on Rebel in Disguise, his own song, and African Herbsman. It would be good to hear the female voices, Cedella and Sharon, playing a greater role, beyond the tight harmonies they now provide; an occasional duet or lead vocals would give the group sound greater impact and solidify their role as UN Goodwill Ambassadors.

All she wrote

Chaka Demus and Pliers (Mango)

One of the hot trends in today’s pop comes from the blend of Jamaican pop and r&b first pioneered by Grace Jones and Gwen Guthrie in the early eighties, followed by the breakthrough in the nineties by Silent Assassin featuring Sly and Robbie and KRS One, and a hit for Shabba and Maxi Priest on House Call. Another key break came in 1992 when ace rhythm twins Sly and Robbie produced a single, Murder She Wrote, with Chaka Demus and Pliers. The tune topped the Jamaican charts and took off in Britain, hitting the dance charts, and received mainstream airplay. Its success in the United States was unprecedented; without being remixed for the American market, the tune reached No. 50 on the Billboard pop chart, No. 40 on its r&b chart, and entered every other Billboard chart except Latin, a first in the history of Jamaican pop music. Chaka Demus and Pliers, on a roll, have followed with All She Wrote, a carefully crafted album that seeks to balance the combination of a singer and DJ with specially chosen songs, and aimed at a variety of markets. It includes Murder She Wrote, their international hit, chronicling the promiscuity of a pretty girl called Marine and dedicated to “the gal dem with the angel face and de devil heart” The rest of the songs are by the DJs, of which I Wanna be Your Man and Tease Me are the best. There’s also George Clinton’s One Nation under a Groove, Curtis Mayfield’s She don’t Let Nobody, and Toots Hibbert’s Bam Bam. The album is a departure from most DJ releases which are relegated to one rhythm, and it sidesteps the recurring dance hall themes of homophobia, violence, gun-talk and raw sex. So the departure imposes a challenge: the producers have been successful with a musical synthesis that can penetrate the international market, but will they be able to establish a new trend, or are they running the risk of falling short of hardcore demand?

Bacchanal Time

SuperBlue (Ice Records: CD and cassette)

SuperBlue (Austin Lyons) is the reigning Road March king of Trinidad and Tobago; he has produced the most played song on Carnival Monday and Tuesday for three consecutive years. Bacchanal Time is a collection of old hits and new releases in soca, dub and reggae styling, and is his best production to date. It contains his current Road March trilogy, Get Something and Wave, Jab Jab and Bacchanal Time, along with vintage hits like Hello. It also includes a medley of Caribbean hits. This is SuperBlue’s first recording on the Ice Record Label at Eddy Grant’s Blue Wave Studio in Barbados. SuperBlue is one of a handful of artists invited to work in Grant’s exclusive studio at Bayley’s Plantation. Bacchanal Time reflects Grant’s tastes and pays special attention to backup vocals: SuperBlue’s voice is showcased like never before. Gerald Rampersad, leader of SuperBlue’s New York-based Love band, contributes jazzy saxophone lines; the arrangements are by all-time Road March arranger Pelham Goddard.

Roaring Loud, Standing Proud

The Roaring Lion (Ice Records: CD, cassette and LP)

Calypso’s oldest living recording artist, Raphael de Leon, the Roaring Lion, sings classic calypso hits like Mary Anne and Netty Netty on this Eddy Grant production. Grant targets young people with these new recordings of old hits which have been spiced up with a dub-related beat. Colourful chorus lines prevail. Barbados’s Gabby sings with Lion on Dorothy Went to Bathe, while David Rudder sings on Netty Netty and Grant joins Lion on Mary Anne. Each track presents a different mood. For social commentary, Ha’Penny Rice has a salsa flavour, while Six Feet Under, which argues racial unity, features a symphony effect. The album bridges the generations musically with the legendary Fitzroy Coleman playing guitar and jazz- influenced panman Len Boogsie Sharpe playing on Land of Calypso.

Adisa

Adisa Andwele (WIRL: cassette and album)

This is a delightfully different musical experience. Adisa Andwele is the first rapso singer to perform in a calypso tent – he performed in Bert Panta Browne’s tent during Cropover in Barbados. Light Uh Candle was first released as a cassette 45 with Conscious Again. The album contains rapso (rap or poetry to a soca beat) wrapped in a variety of musical experiences: r&b, reggae, dance hall, calypso, tuk and shango. Adisa also experiments with a soca/salsa fusion. He calls himself a rhythm poet; he’s a trained musician and plays trombone on this album, co- arranged with keyboardist/arranger Michael Springer. Adisa has been publishing poetry since 1979: he won Barbados’s Poet of the Year Award in 1991 and 1992 as well as the Author of the Year award in 1992. He played on Grynner and Gabby hits like Jack and Wind Force along with Spice’s Congo Line.

Kisskidee Jam

Kisskidee Records (cassette, album)

This hot release from the Caribbean Sound Basin is the latest in musical experimentation from Kisskidee Records. Sixteen artists identified in a post-Carnival talent search were recorded in the ultra-modern Trinidad studio; among them are Yard Fowl Crew, Raw Basic, Ghetorians, Kindred, Home Front and Step Two. The album includes the new Trinidadian dub- styled Binghi music, rapso (a combination of poetry rap and soca) and pure dub, Trinidad style. It’s a pot-pourri of Trinidadian non-soca music.

Stand Tall

General Grant (Kisskidee Records: cassette, album)

General Grant is the first Trinidad dub-style artist to hit the Billboard Charts with D Shot Call. Here he presents Binghi music, his own invention, basically dub phrasing with a Trinidad twist. The album emphasises Grant’s social concerns about guns and violence; there’s even love, dub style, with Chunkalunks. Stand Tall includes the chartbuster D Shot Call which shook up Carnival 93 when it was released in Trinidad; it climbed to number 17 on the Billboard rap charts. Also included are So Good, Call Me, Sound Boy. General Grant’s music tends to be milder and more melodic than its Jamaican counterparts, and often brings back memories of Percy Sledge, Al Green and other music from the 60s and 70s which influenced Grant.

Ajala

(Kisskidee Records: album, CD, cassette)

The high-jumping, charismatic, bluesy soul man presents his first full-fledged album, a 12-track collection called Ajala. Ajala was the dark horse in the Trinidad and Tobago Road March race last year when he placed second to SuperBlue with Jump Up and Get on Bad, included on this album in a new version arranged by Charlie’s Roots keyboardist Pelham Goddard, the 12-time Road March arranger. Other tracks include Jump and Wine Three Times, What You Come Here For and a slow, sensuous version of Never My Love. Ajala also sings Tourist Leggo, a blockbuster by Antiguan calypsonian Short Shirt which caused a stir in Trinidad Carnival in the mid 70s when its powerful ascent in the local music charts caused entries for the Road March race to be confined to tunes written by citizens.

Barbadian Short Stories: Alfred Pragnell reads Timothy Callender

(Rainbow WIRL: cassette)

Not everything in the Caribbean’s recording output is music: storytellers like Paul Keens-Douglas have been releasing albums of Caribbean stories and humour for many years. Alfred Prasnell is Barbados’s premier storyteller, and has been a familiar voice on Barbadian radio since 1958. This album of short stories by the Barbadian writer Timothy Callender shows off Pragnell’s extraordinary skills as a storyteller, above all the range of convincing voices he can bring to each tale. Callender’s stories gently probe traditional Barbadian life and values: they include Peace and Love, in which those noble qualities almost overtake two warring Bajan villages but are decisively wiped out again; The Boyfriends, in which Elmina unerringly chooses her short ugly poor boyfriend over her tall handsome rich (and scampish) one; I Done Attending Parties, in which the life and soul of Bajan partying meets his match; and the poignant A Surprise for Agnes. Also included is a 1962 recording of Pragnell ad-libbing wildly with the legendary Joe Tudor. It’s a funny and affectionate collection — for anyone who can cope with the rich Bajan accent.

Pan All Night: Steelbands of Trinidad and Tobago

Delos DE 4022

Delos’s Caribbean Carnival Series already includes some of the best recordings of calypso and pan music around. This latest album features seven leading steel orchestras, ranging from the 50-member Moods playing All Night to the 120-strong Phase II Pan Groove led by Boogsie Sharpe (playing Birthday Party), Vat 19 Fonclaire (All Night) and Amoco Renegades (Mystery Band). Exodus contributes a lively performance of Dus’ in dey Face, Cordettes offer Miss Supporter, and Courts Laventille Sound Specialists storm through Pan in yuh Pan. The recordings were made earlier this year on location in the bands’ own panyards, and the results are electric. The sleeve note provides useful background on the bands themselves and on the annual Panorama competition which is the pan festival par excellence — the latter contributed by the Trinidadian recording engineer Simeon Sandiford. This is an excellent memento of some of the Caribbean’s liveliest music.