Lucid Culture


Concert Review from the Archives: Israel Vibration at Irving Plaza, 8/23/96

[Editor’s note: since we’re on vacation, we’ve gone through the archives for some memorable NYC shows from the past several years. Back in the 80s and 90s, August was usually reggae month: here’s a prime example.]

A solid hour and a half of some of the best original roots reggae around. The Roots Radics, roots reggae icons Israel Vibration’s longtime backing band, opened with a 45-minute set of their own, vastly inferior material, surprising considering what a terrific band they are. Bassist Flabba Holt led them, showing off his signature pulse and smartly, unpredictably melodic riffs. Finally, after an instrumental medley of hits (including Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse), the vocal trio came up to the stage and delivered an excellent, stop-and-start, exhortative performance. “Yes I” became the phrase of the evening: they’d start a song, go as far as the first verse, then stop it and start over again as the audience predictably roared and screamed. Together Wiss, Skelly and Apple – who famously began the band in the bush after leaving the orphanage, all three of them having survived childhood battles with polio – have a nonchalant chemistry that transcends their limitations as singers (their harmonies are melodic but not particularly on-key). It’s their songs that stand out, for their consistently conscious lyricism and smart, often confrontational politics.  As much as their songs from the late 70s and 80s are the ones they made their mark with, their recent material has been just as good, particularly their recent album On the Rock, from which they did several numbers. They opened with Strength of My Life, title track to their new album, followed by the understated, politically charged Vulture. We also got to hear the youthman anthem Rudeboy Shuffling, the biting, catchy title track from On the Rock and the highlight of the night, a driven, powerful Jailhouse Rocking complete with incisive, chromatic minor-key guitar solo. The encore began with a brief version of their first big hit, the ecumenical togetherness anthem The Same Song, into some other tunes, finishing with a surprisingly blithe version of New Wave. Despite their crutches, nobody sat down, in fact one of their singers doing the splits Chuck Berry style and popping up with unexpected agility for a polio survivor.


August 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – Rise & Shine

Feel-good story of the year: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have emerged from the refugee camps there with a genuinely inspiring, indomitably high-spirited album that literally transcends the horror they’ve collectively experienced. Their cause is peace, unsurprisingly considering what they’ve been through. They’re a terrific roots reggae band, although this new cd intersperses the reggae tracks among a traditional peacemaking chant and a handful of circular, jangly afropop numbers sung in a vivid English patois along with several African languages including Mandingo and Mende. Recorded both in Sierra Leone and New Orleans, with the Bonerama Horns’ sly brass livening three tracks, the songs bring a striking global social awareness to the party: it’s good-time music, but it’s also rooted in the here and now. This isn’t just a good party album, it’s an important one.

The first of the reggae tracks, Global Threat has frequent lead singer Reuben M. Koroma smartly making the connection between global warming and global violence in a fervent rasp similar to Apple Gabriel of Israel Vibration, the band grooving behind him with a slinky, dark vintage Black Uhuru feel capped by an ominously careening trombone solo from Trombone Shorty. They follow that with a hypnotic traditional call-and-response chant over simple percussion. Translation: “Mr. Banker I do not know, do not know what you have done to someone but people hate you.” Living Stone follows, a defiant, triumphant, wickedly catchy upbeat reggae song with the feel of an Israel Vibration classic featuring some sweet soul guitar from Augusrine Kobina Valcarcel. “We are the Rolling Stones,” Koroma triumphantly declares: in their corner of the world, maybe they are.

Jah Mercy does double duty as hymn and sufferah’s litany of injustices; the fast reggae shuffle Jah Come Down aptly revisits the Burning Spear classic Slavery Days for the teens. The acoustic reggae number Bend Down the Corner is a come-on to a pretty woman; the afropop tune Goat Smoke Pipe, sung in Krio (a pidgin English variant) offers a savagely satirical look at food shortages, cows discovering cassava while the goat smokes his pipe to keep hunger at bay. With the trombones going full tilt, the upbeat GBRR Man (Trouble) sounds like Toots & the Maytals. The album closes with a slap at religious hypocrisy, Watching All Your Ways, an all-acoustic reggae song recorded outdoors while the band was sitting around a campfire in Canada. The album’s out on Cumbancha; Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars play the Highline Ballroom on April 14 at around ten (popular African hip-hop group Bajah and the Dry Eye Crew, featuring terrific baritone sax player Paula Henderson, open the show around 9), advance tickets very highly recommended since the show will sell out.

April 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment