Lucky Dube – The Other Side (Heartbeat 11661-7770-2, 2003)
Nasio – Living in the Positive (Higher Love Music, 2003)
Mounia Sahara – I’ve Got A Joy (Silver Globe Records SGRCD 001, 2003)
Various Artists – World Reggae (Putumayo PUT 221-2, 2004)
Reggae is about as “world” as music gets. The rhythm, style and ideology that infuse the classic Jamaican sound have influenced the work of reggae and non-reggae musicians across the globe. It’s a fact that bears no burden of proof on my part, so looking at these examples of reggae from beyond Jamaica can
simply serve as a reminder. Despite my deep love for African reggae, I haven’t been too fond of what South Africa’s Lucky
Dube has done in the last decade or so. After the promising spark of his
late ’80s/early ’90s albums Slave and Prisoner
(released in the U.S on Shanachie), he seemed to slip into a rut. His Peter Tosh-type voice remained strong but his lyrical sentiments felt overly familiar or indifferently expressed. Plus, many of his songs relied on an overworked formula of wispy keyboards, busy drum fills and bass lines that simply weren’t heavy enough.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much when The Other Side, his first disc for the Heartbeat label, arrived at my door. Well, to hell with my expectations, because The Other Side is easily the best album Dube’s done in a dozen
years and quite possibly his best ever. The songs are insightful, the arrangements and overall sound invigorating, and the spark Dube showed back in the day has returned. Peaks include the title track, which sagely compares life in Jamaica with life in Soweto, the better-than-the-name-sounds “Ding Ding Licky Licky Licky Bong,” which catches hold with some highlife touches, contrasting looks at human potential such as “Soldier” and “Hero” and the wistfully witty “Julie! Julie!” If this really is the other side of Lucky Dube, I hope he’s crossed over for good.
Nasio Fontaine is a boyish-faced Rastafarian from Dominica who’s been putting out great reggae for some time. Vocally, he bears more than a fleeting resemblance to Bob Marley and has been accused in some circles of being too derivative of the late great. But Nasio (he usually goes without the surname these days) is a talent in his own right and Living in the Positive burns strong and solid. It’s an exceptionally well-produced album, with bass, drums, guitars, keyboards, percussion, horns and vocals grooving on an even keel and Nasio’s relaxed but urgent voice stating his case throughout the sort of anthemic songs that give reggae its familiar empowering vibe- “African Spirit,” “Where We Belong,” “Rise Up,” etc. Playing to the conscious and spiritual strengths always and forever at the core of reggae music, Nasio proves himself a mighty force within it.
She was born in Morocco and is presently based in Canada, and Mounia Sahara’s I’ve Got A Joy delivers genuine-sounding contemporary roots reggae full of spirit and substance. It’s not groundbreaking and doesn’t need to be, because these songs of faith, love and perseverance are straight from the heart and sung with humble sincerity. Versions of the title song in three different languages
show just how much joy Sahara has got, though many of the songs are slow and meditative. An impressive disc that definitely merits the attention of reggae fans worldwide.
The prolific and popular Putumayo label has put out previous reggae compilations covering Jamaica and the rest of the planet, so why a release along the lines of their new World Reggae Simple- because they understand that reggae is one very deep and abundant well, and another trip to draw water from it ain’t a bad idea. Besides, the songs- by a mixture of reggae artists and others trying their hand at reggae -are great. Africans Alpha Blondy and Majek Fashek expertly display the groove influence of their Jamaican peers, Cape Verde’s Maria de Barros drops a distinct reggae feel into her Lusafrican gracefulness, Bernard Uedre gives a heartical pulse to the Kanak musical traditions of his native New Caledonia and India/U.K. artist Apache Indian grafts Hindu devotional chanting onto a drums-and-bass tug with truly mesmerizing results. And that’s not even the half of it. Samplings from Algeria, Cameroon, France, Brazil, Spain and French Guiana further enhance this deep and wide-ranging excursion, the best of its kind in a long time.
Author: Tom Orr
Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.