It’s always great to see African artists from across the world collaborating. Music is one of the most dynamic and organic of human expressions, and it’s through music that we can usually feel and see the commonalities which exist between black people around the world. When we go to a club, we’re so used to dancing to African sounds from across the diaspora that it is wholly unremarkable to us. Music traverses all of the borders and divisions that we have put up between us. And it’s a beautiful thing!
https://www.facebook.com/AfricansArise – Was blessed to catch the mighty Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 live at the Open East Festival. This is a performance of one of one of the many classics done by his father, the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Make sure you listen to his words right at the end.
Chronixx is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in reggae music for years. 19 year old Chronixx (born Jamar McNaughton) is building quite a reputation with his silky smooth effortless vocals and conscious lyrics covering a wide range of subjects. One song among many form him on heavy rotation in my Ipod is Odd Ras (Buss What?), where Chronixx takes aim at much of the craziness going on in dancehall today, including the skin bleeching and tatooting epidemic. As you can see from this selection, Chronixx is equally comfortable with dancehall and one drop riddims. And the interview at the bottom demonstrates that he is humble and serious young man who respects the deep history and lineage of reggae music and is looking to follow in the footsteps of the great pioneers.
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Chronixx – Odd Ras (Buss What?)
Chronixx – Ain’t No Giving In
Now I no longer eat animals in any shape or form, I can enjoy this song withouth feeling offended!
Vybz Kartel is a dancehall artist who is known for super-slack explicit lyrics and for bleaching his skin. He is currently incacerated facing murder charges. Many of us will stop at that basic, simple overview of Vybz Kartel and move on.
I am one of those Reggae/Dancehall fans who craves for a return to the days when conscious messages abounded. There is no doubt in my mind that music has a dialectical relationship with society – with ‘reality’. Too many Dancehall songs have lyrics focusing on slackness and vulgarity (as well as violence, intoxication, etc) partly because these are the things which pre-occupy the attetion of many young people in the ghettos of Jamaica, the US, UK, etc. But the cultural and political awareness and collective organisation among Africans in the diaspora was much more intense in the 1970s and 1980s. And this was reflected in the Reggae and Dancehall of that era which lots of progressive lyrics and imagery.
The influence also works in the other direction. In other words, the messages in the music also have an impact on society. The regressive lyrics encourage people to think regressive thoughts and do regressive actions. Many young people were alterted to a PanAfrican, Black Nationalist, Rastafarian (etc.) worldview through the Reggae and Dancehall. I personally owe a massive debt to the likes of The Wailers, Dennis Brown, Steel Pulse, Buju Banton, Capleton, Anthony B, Sizzla and Luciano for inspiring me to be proud of my African identity and history, our militant global struggle against White Supremacy, Colonialism, Neo-Colonialism. It was in the song Revolution by Hip Hop group Arrested Development that I first heard about Kwame Nkrumah – who is now one of my key ideological influences. Sadly, I don’t see many artists who are consistently putting out these kinds of revolutionary, conscious messages in Dancehall (or Hip Hop) today.
So, I share much of the ambivalence toward Vybz Kartel. But there is another side to him than just the slackness, violence and cake soap. In fact, he is more than capable of using his undoubted intellect and music prowess to make uplfiting songs, and to give cutting social commentary. A great example is his Poor People Land (aka Mr Babylon) on a one drop riddim by Don Corleone. The lyrics are militantly pro-Black and pro-Poor, and like Anthony B’s Fire Pon Rome, he calls out big time Capitalist exploiters by name. Another example is Good Father, a tender homage to all fathers who look after and provide for their children. These songs aren’t exaclty ground-breaking, but the fact that it’s Kartel making them is significant. It means that millions of people will hear them who are maybe not paying much attention to similar songs by, say, Tarrus Riley, Lutan Fiyah or Pressure.
Interestingly, last year, Palmer complained that his conscious output is ignored by the Media. He said “Di media nah gimme nuh credit fi di reality, social conscious songs me do. Dem jus highlight the negative. Me do Mr Babylon addressing the squatter land issue in Trelawny, dem nah play it. Me do From Me Born Me Been Sufferin, dem nah play it. Me do Fallen Angel, dem nah play it. Me do Yeah Though I, dem na play it.” This is a story we have heard over and over again from artists, that when they look to cover topics other than the usual slackness and violence, the Media is not interested. Wise Intelligent (of the 90s Hip Hop group Poor Righteous Teachers) delivered a classic address at a Nation of Islam conference a few years ago where he suggested that the Music Industry deliberately dumbed-down musical output in order to curtail its revolutionary potential:
So, the fact that the vast majority of songs we hear from Vybz Kartel (and other Dancehall artists) are “niggerish” in content is partly because the Industry won’t promote their conscious material.
There is clearly more to Vybz Kartel/Adidja Palmer. This year he released a book called “The Voice of The Jamaican Ghetto”. The front cover has Palmer copying a famous Malcolm X pose. I haven’t read the book yet, but this radio programme below suggests it’s worth a read. Apparently, Palmer gives some penetrating analysis of a range of issues pertaining to the social, econimic and cultural climate in Jamaica. Check out the show here and if you read the book, let me know what you think. Peace out.
The UK Garage Years: 10 Classic Songs from a Golden Age
There was a time in the mid to late 1990s when the word “urban” was still wet behind the ears and David Guetta was still just another obscure French house dude. In those days, Britain was rocking to the UKG sound. The genealogy of UK Garage should be well known, but I’m gonna give you an overview before introducing 10 classic songs that defined the era.
In 1993-1994, Jungle had re-introduced RnB, Hip Hop and Ragga heads to electronic music. But by 1995, it had all gone a bit dark and aggressive (as would happen with Garage). At around the same time, more and more heads started frequenting clubs and bars playing house music and gradually a distinctive UK sound emerged. While the earlier songs still stuck to the basic 4/4 “four to the floor”, they introduced more vocals and melodic elements. There was an annoying but thankfully short-lived period when big basslines took over, before 2 Step emerged.
Instead of the normal 4 to the floor, producers skipped the 2nd and 4th beats to usher in the 2 Step sound. This is the sound that would explode onto the national scene and make stars out of people like Craig David in 1998 to about 2000. Then, as we know, the mainstream got bored of UKG and on the grassroots level, the ‘yout ‘dem pioneered what would become Grime.
Here are 10 songs that I think nicely sum up the UK Garage years. The good news is that UK Garage never really went away and has remained popular on the radio waves in London. And in the last few years, a revival has kicked in with new tracks bringing back those golden years. Enjoy!
1. Smoking Beats – Dreams
Such a simple track but so powerful. A perfect example of 4/4 UKG.
2. CJ Bolland – Sugar is Sweeter [aka Sugar Daddy Yo!) – Armand Van Helden mix
Guaranteed floor filler to this day. Probably the first UK Garage track to cross over in to the RnB clubs and get away with it. Armand was hot property after this one. See also his remixes of Nuyorican Soul – Runaway and Tori Amos Professional Widow.
3. Danny J Lewis – Spend the Night (H-Man mix)
There are at least 3 mixes of this song that I could have chosen. I opted for this one because it’s a good example of the transition from 4/4 to 2 Step. The live bass gives it a disco kinda feel too.
4. Goldie – Believe (MJ Cole Mix)
MJ Cole’s productions were the classier side of UKG. This mix is classic MJ, with the horn stabs, bumpy bass line and switches from 2 Step to 4/4… and back.
5. Roy Davis Jr Ft Peven Everett – Gabriel
This was produced by US producer Roy Davis Junior and featured singer Peven Everett. The chilled out soundscape and uplifting, spiritual lyrics make this an absolute classic. Never fails to get the crowd moving:
6. Ramsey and Fen – Lovebug
This might be track that really got 2 Step going. A little known fact about this song is that MJ Cole was the engineer for it.
7. Brandy & Monica –Boy is Mine (Garage mix)
For some reason, Brandy’s voice seemed to suit garage remixes. The bass lick was also used for “I Wanna Know” by Restless Natives (aka Y-Tribe). Wish I could include that here also.
8. Sound of One – As I Am (Todd Edwards Mix)
The fact that this guy is called “Todd the God” by UKG aficionados says it all really. Had to get one from him in there.
9. Wookie – Scrappy
There was no other producer like Wookie, though many tried. His remix of Sia’s Little Man and his various remixes all displayed his militant drum patterns and bass addiction.
10. Zinc – 138 Trek
UKG always maintained a darker, edgier side which would eventually blossom into Grime. This is probably the archetypal example of this.
I’m ashamed about all the songs I’ve had to leave out, so please also check out this Youtube Playlist for more:
What is a prophet?
If you’re like me, when you think of a “prophet” you conjure up an image of an austere bearded man in the Middle East somewhere several centuries ago, shouting at passers-by in a market square. This chap is very angry and spends his time warning anyone who will listen about the impending catastrophe that is about to befall them from God, unless they change their ways.
A prophet is usually seen as one who predicts the future, hence the term “prophetic.” And according to the Bible and other texts, this is indeed a big part of the prophet job spec.
But a prophet doesn’t necessarily tell the future. He or she (despite its generally patriarchal and somewhat misogynistic outlook, the Bible does affirm that women could be prophets) is also someone who speaks about and critiques present day realities. I think of people like Martin Luther King and Omowale Malcolm X as great African prophets of the past century. Their words were like flaming arrows, telling America and the world, just how unjust and ugly it really is.
It might seem a bit outlandish, but I believe that we have a prophet in our midst, right here in north London. I’ve seen Akala (aka Kingslee James Daley) perform live a few times and I’ve also seen several of his talks and lectures and I’m always impressed by his clarity and by how deep he thinks about a range of subjects. For me, he shares the same sprit as MLK and Malcolm, the ability to speak uncompromising truth in a manner that is engaging and inspiring. He has recently released his latest album, Knowledge is Power Vol.1. More details on his website www.akalamusic.com.
I’m sharing two examples of his vision and clarity. They are two completely different audiences but in both cases, he commands the audience’s full attention.
The first is a rhyme he delivered at a school in 2011 (I think). I especially love this because of the way the young students are all hanging on his every word, even though he’s going for nearly 10 minutes… with no beat.
The second vid is a TED talk that he did on the connections between Hip Hop and Shakespeare.
Thus sayeth I and I, don’t sleep on this brother. www.akalamusic.com
Naija music has been blowing up for a little while now. Whatever they are putting in the water in Nigeria is resulting in a constant stream of excellent tunes from the likes of D’Banj, Flavour N’abania and of course P Square. All of these are featured in this mix, along with one or two offerings from Ugandan, Ghanaian and Congolese artists. Enjoy!