Kenyatta “Culture” Hill
Pass the Torch (Tafari Records 1046, 2007)
The sudden 2006 death of Joseph Hill, leader of roots reggae harmony trio Culture, robbed the music of one of its most charismatic and visionary performers. Rather than cancel the remainder of the tour that the group was on at the time, they continued with Hill’s son Kenyatta, who’d been Culture’s live sound engineer, stepping in as front man.
Despite Kenyatta’s lack of experience at singing, his bloodline made him a natural for the gig and Culture’s many fans worldwide welcomed him. I’ve thus far only seen his live performance via online videos, but it appears that Kenyatta has a goodly measure of the vocal chops and onstage fervor necessary to carry on his father’s work.
This heartfelt and satisfying CD, which contains seven of the last tracks voiced by the elder Hill and an equal number that mark the first recordings of the younger, provides further proof. Kenyatta is no clone and doesn’t yet have the same effortlessly soaring vocal quality as the iconic Joseph, but there are striking similarities in his range, phrasing and knack for emphasis that thus far show his singing to wield a crucial combination of genetics and originality.
The Joseph Hill tracks on Pass the Torch include a few expertly reprised versions of past Culture tunes, though it’s the new songs, co-composed by Kenyatta and producer Lynford “Fatta” Marshall, that really grab hold. Kenyatta eloquently addresses his father’s legacy on “Daddy” and “The Message” (which borrows heavily from Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic”), lays into time-honored reggae subject matter via “Mariwanna” and sounds so much like the old man on “Same Situation” as to be beyond uncanny.
Time will tell if Kenyatta Hill is able to fully establish himself as an artist free from preconceived familial notions in the way that, say, Ziggy Marley, Andrew Tosh and Femi Kuti have achieved, but the strength and assuredness demonstrated here indicate he’s well underway.
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