Instigators – Living Gift (I-Sight Records ISR-101, 2005)
Urban Tribe – Who is the Enemy? (Adam Atterby Musikproduktion, 2006)
I continually marvel at the far-reaching influence of reggae, particularly how adeptly bands based nowhere near Jamaica, the Caribbean or reggae’s spiritual homeland of Africa have picked up on the authentic roots style. The two outfits here- hailing from the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Sweden respectively -don’t skimp on or try to water down that reggae sound known the world over. They may not get rich doing it, but they do right by their Jamaican predecessors and listeners who like it real.
According to my handy dictionary, to “instigate” is “to goad or urge forward.” And as a flourish of horns and a cry of “yes, this is a conscious time!” signal at the start of Living Gift, the latest CD by a band out of Portland called Instigators, there are urgent messages of love, unity, respect and environmental concerns to move towards.
The musical expertise with which the band addresses such messages is tight, catchy and heartfelt as chugging reggae tempos bolstered by funky keyboard, horn and guitar accents punctuate understated vocals singing uplifting lyrics. The sound is both fresh and familiar, and these Instigators fully succeed in capturing the forward-moving spirit that the best reggae has always been all about.
Sweden’s Urban Tribe are a dozen pieces strong on Who is the Enemy?, laying down reggae that initially seems all business on songs like “Change the World,” “Wake Up” and “Teach the Children.” Despite ongoing serious subject matter, it’s the grooves that get you moving as the lyrics deal with mankind’s need to overcome war and overall foolishness with faith, tenacity and good works.
The group’s unspoiled reggae attack benefits from guest shots by Steel Pulse’s David Hinds and Selwyn Brown as well as the unconventional but welcome sweetening of a string quartet on three tracks. Not only is this great-sounding reggae, but Urban Tribe do right by their message as well: Proceeds from their previous album Bob’s Bar (also recommended) helped in the rebuilding of a reggae-themed, tsunami-devastated nightspot in Thailand bearing the same name. With this latest release, Urban Tribe continue to create rhythmically, melodically and lyrically powerful message music that satisfies from start to finish.