Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reggie Summers

I’ve been waiting to do a big reggae and dub post for a while now, hoping that the weather will improve sufficiently for me to write about my favourite summer music. Since I’ve had this post on the boil, the heavens have opened and half the country is flooded, but it looks like the weather might finally be turning the corner this week. I guess it doesn’t really matter if the sun is shining or not - in fact reggae (lazily used here as an umbrella term for reggae, dub, roots, ska and dancehall) has the power to make me feel all sunny inside regardless, but I do associate it with summer vibes. It inspires warm memories of living in Camberwell, sitting in the back garden of my garden flat, slurping on Carib beers with lime poked in the top of the bottle and listening to the dubbed-out thump drifting from the sound system of the man who lived three doors down. I was always under the impression that the guy had a party every Sunday afternoon, as he didn’t just play the music, he chatted over it in a traditional sound system style, leading me to imagine a room crowded with friends and family, enjoying his hospitality. However, it was only once he’d moved out and I got chatting to his next-door neighbour, that I found out he lived there on his own, and the Sunday jams were his way of combating his homesickness. I wish I’d known, as I would have loved to have gone round and checked out what I imagine would be an unrivalled collection of reggae and dub tunes.

I don’t have a vast collection of reggae music or claim to possess any in-depth knowledge of the genre. It’s just music I enjoy, which makes a nice change, as I don’t feel any of the pressure to collect or urgent need to know the musical history inside-out like I do with other genres. In fact, 90% of the reggae music I own is contained on a handful of compilation albums from the phenomenal Soul Jazz Records stable. After eulogizing Morgan Khan’s Street Sounds series in my last post, I would have to add that Soul Jazz have done what Khan did for electro for reggae, by doing the hard work for the listener and releasing one quality compilation after another, all packed with the finest reggae songs around. I (natty) dread to think how much it would cost to buy all of these songs individually, so hats off to Soul Jazz for making affordable, quality comps bursting with top tunes! In particular I recommend the ‘Dynamite!’ series (now up to volume 6), and any of the Studio One comps (though ‘Studio One Rockers’ is my favourite). Studio One is the most revered record label in the history of Jamaican music, and home to the peerless producer Clement "Coxsone" Dodd (pictured above). To follow are a few of my favourite tracks from some of the compilations, so enjoy and make the most of the sunshine.

Wayne Smith - Under Mi Sleng Teng

‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’ by Wayne Smith was the song that kicked off digital reggae or ragga, as it was the first ever song to utilize to a fully computerized riddim. Created on a Casio Music Box, the riddim was discovered by Smith and either the session musician Tony Asher or the keyboardist Noel Davies, depending on which story you believe. The riddim was based on the riff from Eddie Cochran’s ‘Something Else’ and following its discovery, was slowed down and rebuilt by Asher in Prince Jammy’s studio. Jammy also produced the track, and released it on his own imprint, Jammy’s Records in 1985. It’s a corker of a tune, and the riddim became a phenomenon and was used over 180 times, by artists including Tenor Saw, Cocoa Tea, Johnny Osbourne and Sugar Minnott. I have to hold my hands up and say the first time I encountered it was as a sample on SL2’s raggamuffin-rave anthem ‘On A Ragga Tip’ in 1992. I eventually heard the original when I picked up the ‘300% Dynamite’ compilation. Lyrically, it must be about about smoking weed, though it’s impossible to find out the original definition of ‘sleng teng’ as the phrase is now synonymous with the riddim.

Everything you need to know about the origins of the Sleng Teng riddim can be found here
Wayne Smith at My Space

Sister Nancy - Bam Bam

Another one from ‘300% Dynamite’, as Sister Nancy rides the Stalag riddim created by Winston Riley, who also produced the track. Sister Nancy was one of 15 siblings, who included brother Robert aka Brigadier Jerry, reputed to be the number one cultural DJ in Jamaica. ‘Bam Bam’ was Sister Nancy’s biggest hit, and in a world dominated by male artists, her unique, spiky flow gave her an edge. I love the dubbed out echoes on her vocal and the snares, plus the awesome bassline. A classic.

Sister Nancy at My Space

The Cimarons - We Are Not The Same

This track is an absolute belter, it’s like the Jackson 5 doing a reggae song with fabulous widescreen production and a sensational lead vocal from Winston (Reid) Reedy, sounding like a ringer for a young Jacko. It’s a hugely uplifting song and I love the use of strings and brass. Originally Jamaican natives and session musicians who worked with artists like Jimmy Cliff, the Cimarons immigrated to the UK in 1967, where they hooked up with Reedy. ‘We Are Not the Same’ originally appeared as the b-side to the Trojan 7” ‘Over the Rainbow’, released in 1974. It features on the ‘400% Dynamite’ compilation. Pointless piece of trivia - Reedy was in the video for Macca and Stevie Wonders’ ‘Ebony and Ivory’!

The Cimarons are playing at the Jazz Café in London on Monday 20th August 2007. Tickets are available here
Winston Reedy at My Space

Brentford All-Stars - Greedy G

‘Greedy G’ is an absolute peach (mmmm, peaches) of a track from the Brentford All-Stars; a proper dance floor groover from the Jamaican outfit who recorded for Coxsone Dodd during the 1970s. The song has enjoyed various lives since its original incarnation, particularly on the rare groove circuit during the 1980s where it became a bit of an anthem. It was sampled by the likes of Boogie Down Productions (‘Jack of Spades’), Brit hip hopper Derek B, (‘Good Groove’ - which is where I first encountered it), and also found favour with Coldcut, who lifted it for ‘That Greedy Beat’. It was also re-released by Greensleeves Records in 1987, with an extended remix featuring a rap from T-Ski Valley, which wasn’t as good as it could have been. I’m off the point a bit – the original, as in most cases, is definitely the best and features on the ‘Studio One Rockers’ compilation. The rhythm track is all JB’s funky drums and groovy bass, subtly dubbed out in the trademark Coxsone style. A cheeky twanging guitar break and Booker T-style organ fades in and out and inspires big ole smiles and plenty of jigging about.

Horace Andy - Skylarking

Another song from the ‘Studio One Rockers’ album, this time from Horace Andy, one of Jamaica’s best-loved vocalists, with his distinctive falsetto style. ‘Skylarking’ is taken from his 1969 album of the same name, once again produced by the mighty Coxsone and released on the Studio One label. The man has tonsils made of gold and must gargle with honey as his voice is soooo sweet. I love the slight warble that gives his delivery a real purity. You should also check his breathtaking cover version of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, which features on the Soul Jazz comp, ‘Studio One Soul 2’. Horace touched a whole new generation after working with Massive Attack, singing on the seminal ‘Blue Lines’, as well as the follow-up ‘Protection’, and 1999’s ‘Mezzanine’ album. Most recently he appeared on ‘Radiodread’, a reggae reinterpretation of Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ by the Easy Star All-Stars, where he sang ‘Airbag’.

Horace Andy at My Space

Soul Jazz Records website, where most of the catalogue is now available to purchase as mp3s
Full Soul Jazz album discography and shop here
Online tribute to Coxsone Dodd and the Studio One label here