Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Full Up of History: Bunny "Striker" Lee

Pressure Sounds, England's foremost vintage reggae reissue label, issues their latest collection, Full Up, highlighting the career of the prolific Bunny "Striker" Lee.

These "early reggae productions" harken from a time when Jamaican music was still transitioning from genteel and soulful rocksteady sounds into faster, more insistent uptempo reggae.

The slower "one-drop" reggae beat was still a few years off, but tracks like Stranger Cole's "When I Get My Freedom" convey a roots-era conviction. In contrast, other tracks simply play on the television and movie interests of the day ("Payton Place," Death Rides A Horse.")

The Independent newspaper recently ran an excellent profile of the producer. This excerpt, chock-full of facts, give you a taste:

He created the “flying cymbal”, or “flyers”, the stripped-down crash of a high hat, first played by drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis on Johnny Clarke’s 1974 hit “None Shall Escape the Judgement”. “Flyers”, one of reggae’s most distinctive sounds, was inspired by Lee’s love of fried chicken wings. The famous one-drop snare drum stroke made famous by Bob Marley’s 1979 cry “Feel it in the one drop” was invented much earlier, claims Bunny. It exists on Bunny’s late-Sixties hit for Max Romeo, “People Get Ready”.

And some words from the the Pressure Sounds press release:
Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee ‘Mrs Pottinger used to call me “the ghost that haunts the studio”. Man would say “how come you have so many baby mothers? Where you get the time?” Because I was always in the studio.’

It is July 2006 and I am working on a recording session for Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee for the first time. Bunny has arranged for 5 different singers to come round to my tiny bedroom studio in Dalston to voice some tunes, and as he is running late we have started without him. The first singer up is struggling to nail the tune after five or six takes, when Bunny and his entourage arrive in a flurry of laughter and multiple ringtones. Immediately the level of energy and excitement in the studio is ramped up. Bunny shouts a few words of encouragement and the singer nails his performance in the next take. From then on the session moves quickly, with Striker offering gentle guidance, the occasional suggestion for lyrics, and frequent cries of support: ‘G’wan, you great!’ 

After 3 hours all the tunes and a version are recorded and mixed, and two weeks later the songs are out in the shops on seven inch vinyl. It has been an archetypal Bunny Lee session, quick and spontaneous, getting the best out of all involved. No one leaves with money in their pockets, but some have been given rhythm tracks for their own productions, and all are walking just a bit taller than when they came in.

Rewinding to February 1968, a slim and dapper young Jamaican touched down for the first time in an icy, snowbound Britain. Bunny Lee had achieved instant success at home with his first releases the year before, but did not have the funds to compete for airtime with the established Jamaican producers. He had now come to London to do business with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, and immediately saw that the rewards from the English market would be key to his success in Jamaica. By building business relationships abroad, Bunny could gain a competitive edge over his rivals that made up for his lack of finances. And so began an intricate process of international networking that continues to this day.

Errol Dunkley ‘Bunny Lee come from England with that word “reggae”. Him say the record companies in England would like the beat to be a little faster.’

Full Up is available now as a digital or vinyl release.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dub Store Profiled & New Riddims

Check out an excerpt from my article on Tokyo's Dub Store Records below, and read the full piece over at Bandcamp.

Dub Store has really changed the game for collectors and Jamaican music enthusiasts alike by forging deals with institutions like Federal Recording Company, home to the Kentone, Federal and Merritone imprints, which delivered countless hits in the ska and rocksteady era. Then there’s Dub Store’s collection of hard-to-find titles on King Tubby’s Firehouse label, deep cuts from Bunny Wailer’s Solomonic label, sublime roots by Kiddus I and Glen Brown, and the list goes on.

So how did this obsession with releasing rare reggae music from respected Jamaican imprints like Studio One, Merritone, and Redman International arise? We chatted via email with a very busy Mr. Ienaga on Dub Store’s origins and motivations, and their experiences in Jamaica unearthing the island’s finest recordings. [Read more here...]
Speaking of Bandcamp, Kabaka Pyramid associate Koro Fyah is offering a free track on the site. More excellent roots revival reggae, with the same flavor as Chronixx, Dre Island or Protoje. Download it here.

Keep an eye out for a few big new releases for November: Silly Walks Discotheque Presents Clock Tower Riddim and sing-jay Cali P's latest album Healing of the Nation (Hemp Higher Productions). Clock Tower features production from Jr Blender, who's currently co-producing the upcoming Major Lazer album. Featured artists on the riddim set include Gentleman, Queen Ifrica, Esco LeviMorgan Heritage and more.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Red Bull Culture Clash SF: Dubs Get Dirty

Red Bull's latest Culture Clash event in San Fran was an unqualified success. Despite some issues with muddy sound quality, the night delivered on the promise of exclusive live appearances (from Too $hort, Mr. Vegas and more) and heated dubplate-laden battles between four supremely talented DJ crews. (More on the four crew's in Magnetic's preview). 

Each of the four crews performed 15 minute sets. After each complete round in which the various crews DJ'd, the crowd was asked to asked to cheer for their favorite and the noise level was recorded by a decibel meter. The loudest crowd response would determine the winner.

Here's an abbreviated recap of the four rounds. Any gaps in coverage are due to yours truly taking time to snap photos and enjoy the proceedings. 

Dub Mission

Round 1: Temperature's Rising
After doors opened at 9 p.m., crowds are still filling the venue at 10. Tormenta Tropical (DJ Oro11, Bersa Discos, DJ Theory) and Dirtybird (Claude Von Stroke, Justin Martin) have done their opening sets.

Triple Threat (DJ Apollo, Shortkut, Fran Boogie) play a batch of sing-a-long hip-hop anthems and get the first real crowd reaction, as the DMC-champ DJs flex some of their patented scratch prowess.

Dub Mission (DJ Sep, Maneesh The Twister, Kush Arora, J-Boogie) bring out live horns (trumpet, sax, trombone) to play over Dawn Penn's "No No No" instrumental. MC Zulu is the hosting the stage along with emcee Deuce Eclipse. DJ Sep spins the opening set. They get a strong reaction from their supporters.

Pretty standard sets from the other competitors: Tropical bass from Tormenta Tropical, and house and club beats from Dirtybird.

Round 2: The Selector
Dirtybird brings out DJ Craze (video) from Miami, the first big guest of the evening. They end their set with full-sized costumed bird mascots on stage dancing to a dubplate of house classic "Beat That Bitch" changed to "Beat That Bird (With A Bat)."

Triple Threat start their set with a selection of all-Bay Area hip-hop, then they bring on Lyrics Born who sings "Calling Out" live. Then Zumbi from Zion-I performs live, and the climax is a appearance by the entire Souls of Mischief. (video) They deliver their hit "That's When You Lost" live. The song's lyrics are, of course, directed as a diss at the other sound competitors.

Dub Mission's Maneesh The Twister hypes the crowd with his reggae-remix and drum & bass blends (Barrington Levy "Murderer") and then drops a different dubplate version of "Beat That Bird (With A  Bat)". The Dub Mission crew proceed to pantomime beating down one of the bird mascots on their stage.

Los Rakas
Tormenta Tropical start round two with a dancehall set, then they bring out Bay Area bilingual hip-hop/reggarton crew Los Rakas live. (video)

At this stage of competition, Triple Threat is the running favorite, with Dirtybird second, Dub Mission third.

Round 3: Sleeping With The Enemy
Each crew takes on another's style of music. 

Triple Threat play reggae against Dub Mission dropping Major Lazer,  J-Boog and Junior Gong dub plates. Then they announce they're going after all the crews and cleverly drop some tropical bass and house dubplates.

Dub Mission's J-Boogie (Om Records) plays hip-hop/ reggae remixes against Triple Threat. According to sources, Dub Mission's Kush Arora made a bunch of exclusive hip-hop dancehall mashups blending DJ Mustard instrumentals with dancehall vocals.  

Dirtybird bring out Diplo from Major Lazer to a very noticeable crowd reaction.

It is announced that Tormenta Tropical wins Round 3. Crowd is booing. 

Round 4: The Decider
Dub MIssion opens with J-Boog "Nice To Know You" dub plate. They bring Mega Banton on stage for "Never Heard A Sound" hip-hop remix, then bring out Timex Social Club's Michael Marshall live to sing hook of "I Got Five on It" (the Luniz hit), and also his own hit "Rumors." (video

Tormenta Tropical follow with heated dancehall and tropical bangers, then up the ante by bringing out Jamaican performer Mr. Vegas, who sings "Heads High" and "I Am Blessed."

Dirtybird open their set with two robot-clad figures dressed like Daft Punk (unconfirmed) behind the decks. 

They they amp the crowd up considerably by bringing up Pharoahe Monch who performs "Simon Says," immediately followed by Bay Area legend Too $hort.  It looks like game-over at this point.

Triple Threat open with more dubplates but play back a Cutty Ranks dub that Dub Mission had already spun. *(Almost every crew re-played something another crew had previously spun, a major foul in traditional dancehall sound clash rules.

Triple Threat playa Snoop Dogg dub plate, then bring out house singer Crystal Waters who performs "Gypsy Woman (Homeless)". 

The final voting:
The clash was decided by which crew received the loudest crowd-noise reading on the decibel meter. After each round, each crew's name was announced and a decibel reading was taken. No winner was announced for Round 1. Round Two was won by Triple Threat,  and Round 3 was won by Tormenta Tropical (under protest by Dirtybird's supporters). 

After the final round of crowd cheering, it was determined there was a tie between Dirtybird and Triple Threat. Equal amounts of the crowd began chanting in unison for their preferred crew, either Dir-ty-bird" or "Tri-ple Threat."

The judges announced that another crowd vote would be taken to break the tie. After the crowd cheer was recorded on the Db meter, Triple Threat was announced as winner. However, it seemed the crowd consensus that after all the big guests that Dirtybird had brought up, they deserved the win. But Triple Threat impressed with quality mixing throughout, big guests in the second and fourth rounds and original dubplates. Each of the crews deserve credit for the countless hours of practice, phone calls and organizing it took to get their special sets together.

Selected tweets:
"No matter the victor, this is the craziest thing I've ever been to."

"Jamaica's best performer of this generation @MrVegasMusic just showed San Fran how it's done #redbullcultureclash"

D-Sharp @djDSharp "This #redbullcultureclash event in SF is probably the best show I've been to in a minute!! #hellafresh"

Tormenta stage with emcee, dancers and diss signs

Mega Banton (left) and Timex Social Club's Michael Marshall

Apollo & Shortkut of Triple Threat

Lights and crowds at Red Bull Culture Clash SF

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chronixx "Capture Land" Video

Check out the video for Chronixx's "Capture Land," the latest feature track from his Billboard-topping album Dread & Terrible.

Large Up has a nice review and profile of the video shoot, mentioning that the video was shot by Jerome D of Top Dawg Entertainment, the same director responsible for Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" video.

Overall, Chronixx's auspicious rise reminds ForwardEver of 80/90s roots singer, Ini Kamoze, who, like Chronixx broke through via his Sly & Robbie-produced mini-album. Kamoze's "World A Music" was later sampled for Damian Marley's smash "Welcome To Jamrock." Chronixx's looks to have the same poise, songcraft and message-driven lyrics as Kamoze at his peak.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Riddim Reviews

ForwardEver recently published some new riddim compilation reviews over at United Reggae site.

Jump For Joy riddim review
Maxfield Avenue riddim review

Both collections feature excellent line-ups and production. Read a little more below or follow the links for a full report!

Jump For Joy riddim
As if we didn’t need more evidence that reggae from the Virgin Islands is every bit as accomplished and well-produced as its Jamaican equivalent, Splatterhouse Productions brings for Jump For Joy, a 15-tracks riddim excursion of the highest caliber.

With an experienced Jamaican music team on board, including master drummer Sly Dunbar, keys-man Donald Dennis and guitar legend Earl “Chinna” Smith, this project already had an advantage. They conjure a honeyed mid-tempo one-drop rhythm that has all the vital elements: tasteful guitar accents, bright and colorful keys and piano, and Dunbar’s heavyweight thump.

Producer J. Carrington and mixing engineer Dean Pond didn’t skimp on talent, bringing in VI talents Pressure, Ras Batch, Danny I and Army, American singer Notch, as well as Jamaican greats Junior Reid, Sizzla and Lutan Fyah. For most riddim juggling fans that would seal it. But the surprise on this set are the strong performances from the newer talent.

On “Smile” crooner Maurice’s voice has a touch of Da’Ville’s delicate, soulful delivery. Paired with some delicious backing singers and overdubs, it’s a solid lovers rock track. Likewise, Rema impresses with her crisp and present singing, while singjay Mada Nile has the confidence and strength of an artist like Queen Ifrica on the message-imbued “Bended Knees.”

Overall, Jump For Joy is another solid and sweet set from the Vis, proving that the wider Caribbean holds much promise for the reggae’s future. 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Duane Stephenson Channels Bunny Wailer [Video]

Duane Stephenson previews his new album Dangerously Roots (out Sept 23 on VP Records) with a cover of Bunny Wailer's anthemic number "Cool Runnings."

The song was on Wailer's 1981 album Rock and Groove, and was an important bridge between the Bob Marley-roots era of the '70s into the early dancehall and run-a-dub era of the early '80s.

Stephenson, who has two highly regarded previous albums (From August Town and Black Gold), does a fantastic job with the tune, and shows his reverence for times "when music was nice," in Jamaica. Watch a video for the track below and look out for his new album.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gussie Clarke's 'Right Tracks' In The Spotlight

Gussie Clarke: A man and his hits
Leroy Sibles, Augustus Pablo, The Mighty Diamonds and Jacob Miller. Some of the biggest names in foundation reggae music passed through his studio, and graced his hits. Pioneering producer Augustus "Gussie" Clarke, founder of Music Works studio, is being honored with several new digital and vinyl reissues this summer. 

Clarke had been recording since the 1970s–including Big Youth's seminal album Screaming Target–when, in 1988, the song "Rumors" by Gregory Isaacs, and the subsequent versions by JC Lodge ("Telephone Love") and Shabba Ranks ("Telephone Love Deh Pon Mi Mind") took the world by storm. 

His success following was nearly unparalleled in reggae at the time, charting with Shabba, Cocoa Tea, Deborahe Glasgow ("Champion Lover"), Home T ("Pirates") Lady G, Maxi Priest and Brian & Tony Gold. He even recorded one of the few duet albums by Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown (No Contest). Wikipedia lists his exhaustive discography, but for collectors and fans of '70s and '80s reggae, some new reissues should reveal more about Clarke's early work, much of which is totally out of print on vinyl or unavailable digitally.

During his peak in the late-80s and early-90s, Clarke's crisp, digital reggae sound was cleaner and more modern sounding than even dancehall pioneer King Jammy's output at the time. It was also the era of hitmakers like Donovan Germain at Penthouse Studio, and Bobby Digital at Digital B, but Clarke's Music Works songs stood out for their rich, melodic production and fresh, talented singers. To this day, Music Works studio is an in-demand facility for both Jamaican and international acts.

Gussie Clarke Presents The Right Tracks, a compilation album from 1976, will be reissued digitally, on LA and in a 7" single box set format in coming months. The set features rare productions with melodica master Augustus Pablo, crooners Horace Andy and Heptones' Leroy Sibles, plus classic DJs I-Roy and Trinity. The double CD set drops July 22, while the vinyl box set hits the streets in August.

Best of all, an album of rare August Pablo dubs produced by Clarke  (titled Born To Dub You) is slated for an August 25 release. If that weren't enough, a collection of Music Works hits from the late-80s and '90s are slated for issue this fall.

Gussie Presenting The Right Sevens (out August 5)

Disc 1
A. Leroy Smart – Pride And Ambition
B. Old Boys Inc. – Pride Version

Disc 2
A. Leroy Sibbles – No, No, No
B. The Society Squad – The Killer Version

Disc 3
A. Roman Stewart – Try Me
B. Simplicity People featuring Big Youth

Disc 4
A. Leroy Sibbles – Guiding Star
B. Augustus Pablo – Classical Illusion

Disc 5
A. Gregory Isaacs – Oh No I Can’t Believe
B. Augustus Pablo – Believe A Dub

Disc 6
A. The Mighty Diamonds – Danger In Your Eyes
B. Tommy McCook – Danger In Your Dub

Disc 7
A. Mikey Dread – Proud To Be Black
B. Augustus ‘Gussie’ Clarke – Black Foundation

New Dre Island: Natural & Dubby

The new single from Dre Island, produced by JA's Natural High Productions, lives up to the promise that this singer has shown to date.

Dre has been featured on the Militancy and Rough Road riddims, and alongside artists Kabaka Pyramid and Chronixx. He definitely deserves to be in that company, with a confident flow and clear vocal timber, Dre comes across with the fire of a Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley or Protoje.

Preview the new track below and look out for more from this rising youth whose already been featured on a slew of mixtapes.

Best part about the new track "Live Forever" ? The serious, serious, dub version! It's a true dub fan's treat. Make sure you grab the track at all digital retail outlets.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Roots Music on the Radar

New roots reggae music is coming by the bushel and the pound as summer kicks in. And it's a global effort, with great productions coming out of the Jamaica, UK, Africa, Virgin Islands, Hawaii and elsewhere. As Ini Kamoze sang, "World of reggae music on yah!"

We'll discus a few releases in detail below, but start – look out for the following new titles soon in your record stores and digital retailers... New release albums: JUNE 3: Mungo's Hi-Fi Serious Time, JUNE 10: Popcaan Where We Come From, Hollie Cook Twice, Maxi Priest Easy To Love, Rebelution Count Me In, JUNE 17: DJ Vadim Dubcatcher, Mato Homework: Dub, JUNE 24: Tessanne Chin Count On My Love, Specialist Presents: Alborosie & Friends,  also also soon: Bob Marley Legend: 30th Anniversary Edition and new albums from Jah Sun and Earl 16. Also out now

Ethiopian musicians (now based in Tel Aviv, Israel), Zvuloon Dub System don't have a date yet announced for their next album Anbessa Dub. But ForwardEver has heard previews, and it's their most solid effort yet. The band plays horn-infused roots reggae that sounds like the UKs Misty In Roots or Jamaica's Twinkle Brothers. Yet Ethiopian chords, rhythms and influences are also prominent, making this an authentic blend of reggae and dub inspired by Jamaica but grounded in Africa. Highlights include solid reggae tracks like "Tenesh Kelbe Lay" and "Sab Sam," while "Yene Almaz" is a traditional Ethiopian melody. Fans of Augustus Pablo take note, and look for this one to be out summer or fall via VP Records. The band tour across the US this summer.

Sizzla has released a flurry of albums in recent months, including the XTM-produced Radical and the JohnJohn (King Jammy$ son) released Nuh Worry Unu Self.  Next up is the Mr Savona creation Born A King (Muti Music), which features solid reggae one-drop arrangements and some innovative global beats, dancehall and hip-hop backing tracks. Savona, an Australian studio whiz, utilized a 10 piece band for the 15-song album.  Guests on the album include Errol Dubnkley, Turbulence and even the dear missed rocksteady legend Alton Ellis. Listen to the entire album on Muti's Soundcloud page. Or check the player below.

We first reported on UK soulstress Hollie Cook in 2011 – and that post has become one of ForwardEver's most read! Ms. Cook is back in a big way with her new album Twice, out June 10 on Mr. Bongo Records. (Listen) With backing again by the supremely talented Prince Fatty, the album features odes to the Slits' Ari Up, and balances mature roots productions with fantastic throw-back UK lovers rock style tunes. Fans of Carol Thompson, Sandra Cross or Janet Kaye will adore this album. Seriously lush, dynamic tracks like "99" and first single "Looking For Real Love" [Watch official video] showcase Cook's smooth and relaxed yet fully realized R&B reggae delivery. She's a true gem.

On his latest album The Sound, Pressure Bus Pipe extolls his birthplace on the song"Virgin Islands Nice," but doesn't shy from fiery political and social topics throughout the rest of the album, as on "Stand Firm," Run Away," and "Cry For Humanity." Produced by Zion I Kings (Zion I, Lustre Kings and I-Grade) the album features great guest stints from Volcano, Lutan Fyah, Midnite, Ras Batch and more.  Grab the excellent official Digital Ancient remix of "Run Away" right here. It's a dubbed-out and dub-stepped up blast that suits the original's vibes well. Pressure is definitely a leader of the modern roots army, and The Sound is a worthy example of his powerful vocals and conscious messages.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Video: Protoje's "Who Knows" + Interview

Watch rising roots reggae artist Protoje's new video for the track "Who Knows" (now up to 200K views!) Then watch him discus the track and his career with On Stage's Winford Williams.

Video: Protoje "Who Knows (ft. Chronixx)"

Video Interview: Protoje: On Stage