Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

I-Wayne: Philosopher King of the Reggae Ballad

Fans of roots reggae might have wondered what happened to I-Wayne, who burst on the scene back in 2005 with the hit Can’t Satisfy Her, from his album Lava Ground. He hasn’t been idle. At a revealing private performance for media late last month, he revealed that one way he gets inspiration for songs is to take a walk on Port Henderson Hill in his native Portmore, Jamaica, an area packed with history: the eras of Sir Francis Drake, the holocaust of the slave trade, the struggle for Jamaican independence and then of the Rastas have been interwoven over the centuries there. It’s fertile territory for deep thinking, which is what I-Wayne offers on his long-awaited new album Life Teachings. This guy is a serious artist – relevant without being preachy, romantic without being saccharine, he combines the confrontational, politically-charged fire of, say, an Anthony B with the easygoing spirituality and charm of Luciano. If those artists go back a few years, so does the vibe on the album: it’s real roots reggae, with a band, and real bass and drums, recorded in the same clean, efficient style as a Dr. Dread production from around the turn of the century. It’s out now on VP, the folks behind the Strictly the Best compilations for what seems about a century.

At the concert, a popular New York reggae dj marveled at how she thought that the first track, Burn Down Soddom (an original) meant that the album was going to be “all Rasta”- but then she was completely taken in by the ballads, “something nice and romantic, that a guy can sing to his girl,” she explained. No doubt she also liked I-Wayne’s soaring falsetto – he goes way, way up, further than Dennis Brown sometimes, into Al Green or Philip Bailey territory. As much as those songs, like Real and Clean – a plea to keep things down-to-earth – or Empress Divine, or Pure As the Nile work a catchy boudoir angle, the real gems here are the more in-your-face tracks.

It takes awhile for these to make an appearance here. Burn Down Soddom has to be the most laid-back incitation to arson ever recorded, with a woozy, lengthy dub passage. Herb Fi Legalize is the obligatory weed smoker’s anthem, a peaceful tribute to the healing herb that contrasts with The Fire Song, a no-nonsense, straightforward dancehall duet with Assasin to “get rid of dem thoroughly, burn burn dem no apology.” But Drugs and Rum Vibes is a surprisingly plaintive stoners-vs.-drunks narrative, cynically referencing the the CIA’s role in the illegal drug trade while alcohol-fueled violence kills thousands more.

Wise and Fearless is a message to the youth to understand how a cycle of violence can keep an evil, illegitimatepower structure in place. After all, di wicked aren’t about to Change Them Ways, as I-Wayne makes clear on the next track, an unselfconsciously gorgeous tune that contrasts with its grim lyrics. The title track is a casually amusing polemic in support of a vegan lifestyle (with plenty of ganja). The album ends on a surprisingly brooding but potent note with Do the Good, a seize-the-day meditation since there may be no tomorrow, and “plastic man dem fake like dem love ya…but dem blood ya.”

November 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mykal Rose Plays Downtown Brooklyn

Former Black Uhuru frontman Mykal Rose’s career spans both the roots and the dancehall era of reggae: seeing him outdoors under the trees this afternoon was a little like being at Sunsplash back in the 90s, for part of roots night and a little of dancehall night too. New York is just like MoBay in the summer now, hot and full of tourists – but you can’t smoke “marijuana, the healing of the nation,” as Rose put it, on the street like you could before Rudy Mussolini and his thugs took office. So it was nice to hear Rose kick off his show, the last one of this year’s Thursday noontime BAM concerts at Metrotech Park, with Sinsemilla. They played part of that one again at the end of the show, by request: “You know us Jamaicans, we don’t take no for an answer,” Rose laughed. In between he and his tremendously good four-piece band and two backup singers mixed the classics that the surprisingly energetic massive had come out for along with some more dancehall-oriented fare, including a couple of tracks from his new album Kingston 11.

The early stuff was a trip back in time: this could have been 1980. The band was strictly roots, the keyboardist sticking to electric piano on the verses and sometimes organ on the swells of the choruses, the bassist holding down the fat riddim along with the excellent drummer, who kept it simple and smart while the guitarist would throw in the occasional dub flourish. The cautionary tale Shine Eyed Girl, General Penitentiary with its catchy bass pulse, the watch-your-back anthem Plastic Smile, the bouncy What Is Life with its vibrant harmonies and even the anti-choice number Abortion got the crowd waving their hands and swaying. Then Rose snarled, “Get up, motherfuckers,” and launched into the “new segment,” as he put it, and suddenly we were back in 2010 again. As cheesy as the synthesizer lines were, at least his dancehall stuff is conscious. The first of these was the best, Run From Police, which as Rose explained had topped the reggae charts all over Europe (28 weeks in the UK, he said): “When you gonna make it number one in New York, motherfuckers?” he wanted to know. He big-upped Super Cat and Shabba Ranks, did a relatively rapidfire sufferah’s number, the bitter, synthy ballad Feeling So Lonely (“for the ladies”) and then it was back to the oing-boing-boing toasting and the classics. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner segued into Happiness and then into a new dancehall song, followed by Party in Session, Ganja Bonanza (one of his solo hits, a pleasant surprise), a little Sinsemilla again and finally closed over an hour and a half’s worth of music with the politically charged pop-reggae smash Solidarity. Rose’s voice has deepened and taken on a rasp in the decades since Black Uhuru ruled the charts, but he still rose to the level of the topnotch group behind him, pretty impressive considering how many thousand times he’s sung this material.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Steel Pulse at Rockefeller Park, NYC 7/16/08

[Editor’s note: the author of this review was still seething over how disrespectfully police and security had treated an all-black crowd at an O’Jays concert in Crown Heights, Brooklyn the previous night, therefore the the angry tone and occasional profanity here.]

 

There is no need for overwhelming security at outdoor concerts in New York. End of story.

 

The Steel Pulse concert at Rockefeller Park tonight and the O’Jays show in Crown Heights Monday night were a study in contrasts. To any racist who would insinuate something to the effect of “the reason why we need ironclad security at Wingate Field is because it’s a bad neighborhood:” FUCK YOU. The crowd at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City tonight was a quintessentially New York, beautifully multi-racial and multi-generational mix, probably about half-black. And just as at Wingate Field, there were no fights. There was a lot more weed-smoking tonight, and half the crowd was drinking – OMIGOD, THERE WERE PEOPLE DRINKING ALCOHOL, DECLARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY AND CALL OUT THE NATIONAL GUARD!!! But unlike at Wingate Field, this park is on the water, with innumerable exits available: if necessary the crowd could have dispersed in thirty seconds flat, rather than being forced to leave single-file through one single barbwire fence exit. Emphatic verdict: New Yorkers do not go to concerts to cause trouble. Repeat: THERE IS NO NEED FOR OVERWHELMING SECURITY AT ANY CONCERT ANYWHERE IN NEW YORK, EVER. EVER. EVER.

 

Sure, it never hurts to have a couple of big guys on hand to usher out the occasional drunk who’s had enough and can’t stop hitting on the women or otherwise causing trouble. But the all-black crowd Monday night in the middle of the ghetto in Crown Heights was just as lethargic and overwhelmed by the heat as the crowd at Steel Pulse tonight in the middle of yuppieville.

 

If you don’t already know them, Steel Pulse were the best of the many excellent British reggae bands of the 70s. Contemporaries of the Clash and Bob Marley, they distinguished themselves with their remarkable tunefulness as well as their penchant for relevant, spot-on social commentary. Their songwriting was remarkably complex, utilizing a lot of jazz chords, a far cry from the typically gnomic Rasta “reasoning” set to interminable two-chord jams that dominated a lot of classic-era reggae (although, if you’re, um, in the mood, all that can be great fun). Despite the fact that the band hit the stage at about 7:40 PM, most of the windows in the luxury highrises above were dark: the yuppies who live there are obviously all working overtime and unable to enjoy treats such as this. Their loss.

 

Steel Pulse are celebrating thirty years on the road and despite that managed to turn in a passionate, powerful set, even though most of it simply amounted to running through a lot of hits. They went on to a sarcastic intro of the Star Spangled Banner before launching into their own flag ballad, Rally Round (“Rally round the red, black, gold and green,” i.e. the colors of Africa). On the next tune, frontman David Hinds stopped it short, a typical move roots reggae bands use to energize the crowd: “Mi na waan stop-and-start, but,” he looked around,” Black holocaust still here.” If only he could have been in Crown Heights Monday night. Then he and the band launched back into No More Weapons, an anti-chemical warfare song echoing the Peter Tosh classic No Nuclear War. The sound system had been acting up, resulting in Hinds’ vocals being inaudible for the first half of Bodyguard, a ruthlessly deadly rejoinder to anyone who would safeguard the life of a fascist.

 

Reaffirming the band’s continuing relevance, they continued with a new song, the propulsive Door of No Return, about a visit to the infamous Ghanian prison where slaves were thrown in chains into slave ships. They closed the set with the big Rasta hit Stepping Out, but returned for a long encore that basically served as a second set. A medley of their classic hits came first: the fiery Soldiers, the defiant Taxi Driver (about how hard it is for a black man to catch a cab in New York City), and Blues Dance Raid, about getting an illegal concert shut down by the police. They kept the crowd bouncing with a remarkably raw, heartfelt version of Earth Crisis and then a tongue-in-cheek new cautionary tale, Global Warning, followed by the wry Babylon Makes the Rules. Steel Pulse are known for marathon sets, but at this point they played one final number and called it a night. It dread in dis year Babylon, but Jah (and Steel Pulse) give to I and I spiritual nourishment. And no guns. And no security.

 

Think about that for a minute. Remember – in a police state, everyone is a criminal.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments