Damian Marley is the son of reggae icon Bob Marley and Jamaica’s 1977 Miss World, Cindy Breakspeare. He is the offspring of a union between two distinctive and disparate worlds.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica on July 21, 1978, Damian Robert Nesta Marley (a.k.a. ‘Junior Gong’), Bob’s youngest son, began performing as a child as the vocalist for a group called The Shepherds. Comprised of other well-known reggae artists’ children, including Shiah Coore (son of Third World guitarist Cat Coore) and Yashema Beth McGregor, the daughter of Freddie McGregor and Judy Mowatt, The Shepherds performed at several shows in Jamaica including the Reggae Sunsplash music festival in 1992.
After The Shepherds’ demise, Damian turned his vocal talents to deejaying (the Jamaican equivalent of rapping). In 1993 Damian’s debut single Deejay Degree was released on Tuff Gong Records (the label founded by Bob Marley) and the following year he released Sexy Girls On My Mind for the Main Street label.
Damian’s next release, 1995’s School Controversy, was featured on the Epic/Sony Wonder compilation, Positively Reggae with all sales proceeds going to Jamaica’s Leaf of Life Foundation, an organization which assists children who are HIV positive.
Although he was still a teenager, Damian was selected as the Positively Reggae spokesperson, a role that introduced him to the international press and record buying public. That same yea, Damian performed at select dates on the Shabba Ranks World Unity tour and with his brother Julian performed at Jamaica’s Reggae Sunfest and Sunsplash festivals.
Damian was a high school student when he began recording Mr. Marley at the Marley Music 48 track-recording studio. Produced by Stephen Marley (head of the Marley Boyz production team), Mr. Marley delivered a fusion of contemporary reggae grooves and infectious dancehall rhythms alongside tough edged hip-hop beats, an ideal complement for Damian’s versatile deejay-rap style.
The album included several updates of Bob Marley classics as well as the single ‘Me Name Junior Gong’ which went to the number one in Hawaii and held that position for several weeks. ‘When we went to Hawaii in 1997,’ Damian recalls, ‘we had three songs on the charts there: ‘Me Name Junior Gong,’ ‘One Cup of Coffee’ and ‘Now You Know,’ a tune from Julian’s debut album.’
Damian and Julian’s burgeoning popularity earned them featured appearances on the 1997 traveling alternative rock festival Lollapalooza which provided invaluable exposure among a new sector of music fans.
Five years after the release of Mr. Marley, Damian had matured as a performer, songwriter, recording artist and Rastafarian, his unwavering convictions reflected throughout his new album, Halfway Tree.
Stephen Marley produced Halfway Tree for Marley Boyz productions. Stephen’s innovative approach to Halfway Tree incorporates spoken word introductions and dramatic vignettes as song interludes, creating a conceptual cohesiveness lacking from most Jamaican albums. Stephen also adapts traditional reggae elements (forceful drum and bass lines, committed social commentary) to 21st century hip hop’s synthesized beats and sometimes defiant stances while utilizing the talents of Jamaican singers, deejays and musicians alongside American rappers, each underscoring Damian’s impassioned delivery.
Damian called the album Halfway Tree because ‘my father is from the country and the ghetto and my mother is from uptown so I come like a half way tree, like a bridge because I can relate to both sides.’
The anthology Strictly the Best Vol. 55 (VP Records) includes this year’s most popular dancehall reggae songs played at clubs and on Caribbean radio. Artists featured include Vershon, Alkaline, Vybz Kartel, Mr. Vegas, Spice, Chi Ching Ching, Masicka and Dexta Daps.
Vol. 55 contains a bonus disc with famous duets from significant deejays paired with reggae singers. Songs include “Twice Mt Age” by Shabba Ranks ft. Krystal, “Bonafide Love” by Wayne Wonder ft. Buju Banton and “Hot Gal Today” by Mr. Vegas & Sean Paul.
The reggae compilation Strictly the Best Vol. 54 (VP Records) features some of the best-known roots and lover’s rock singers. The set, scheduled for release in November, includes Ikaya, Tarrus Riley, Romain Virgo, MAGIC ft. Sean Paul. Alborosie feat. Protoje, Sizzla Ft. Jah Cure, Raging Fyah and Jah9.
Vol. 54 includes a bonus disc of classics from Jamaica’s celebrated vocal groups, including The Wailing Souls, The Heptones, The Mighty Diamonds, T.O.K, Morgan Heritage & others.
I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.
There is no proof that music can influence the actors of a political economy. There are a certain amount of musicalnoblesse that asks of us to respect musicians who attempt to guide minds towards social peace and progress, often while advocating for social unrest, but though dissenters sing along to political songs in droves, it’s important to ask one’s self if dissenters pay attention to the actual ‘message.’
Max Romeo and many of his fellow Reggae artists seem to not care about proof if their music can influence and go for it. In order to achieve the effect that religious songs often have on the faithful, but also to spread revolutionary gospel through mass media, Rastafari Romeo released the album War Ina Babylon in 1976.
Max Romeo is producing radio friendly songs here, though on the longer side of radio friendly so at five minutes; he must balance religious, revolution, and radio. He is producing his songs with The Upsetters, and he chooses to feature them richly, though not at a point where band members will improvise. The band focuses on aesthetics – on rhythm, on harmony, and melody, as he focuses on lyrical chant and some narrative like singing. We hear the coming together of expertise, not of ideology; sometimes melodies don’t convey chant. His chanting and exploring, along with a choir, political slogan on all 9 songs, and some scatting like ‘na na na na’ on “One Step Forward”, shapes these songs. We listeners listen to these slogans, over and again, as if the main attraction of these songs, dragged through the song contemplating a slogan like ‘war ina babylon’ on “War Ina Babylon.”
The songs are tight and don’t allow for much interpretation of the melodies, harmonies, or rhythms. Instead, the repetition of these slogans as chants drags along the songs’ melodies brilliantly, and do the same to the rhythms. Re-listening to these songs, one will realize that there are layers of beauty that one pushes aside as what accompanies the song’s lyrics. The instrumental beauty we hear almost signifies beautiful fight and it’s the case because of his repetition of the chants.
This album’s are essentially great at crafting and conveying slogans to the pathos of their time. They take the side and sing to labor and not to capital, articulating misery to those living complexity miserably. We are attending a beautiful rally here, a both perfect and religious rally as no political rallies really are.
Though there is no proof about music can led to concrete social change, it’s almost impossible to negate music’s importance. Even the theorist Friedrich Engels, during the later part of his life, in his late letters on historical materialism, did write about a a “reciprocal interaction” between the infrastructure of a society, its economy, and the superstructure, which includes music. Romeo belongs to a those who believe that ‘spring’ in a beloved society can come about with a new consciousness. He attempts to educate with slogan, through the reasonable length allowed by his time, to his time of human beings living in a very complex society.
Multifaceted Jamaican vocalist, songwriter and producer Randy Valentine is set to perform on June 19 at Africa Oyé 2016 music festival. Africa Oyé will take place on June 18-19 in Liverpool’s Sefton Park, from 12:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. both days. Admission is free.
Randy Valentine is a rising reggae talent. His R-V-Lution Summer Tour 2013 was one of the biggest ever tours for a debut reggae artist, seeing him perform over 20 shows in more than 10 different European countries. His second EP Still Pushing was released in 2015, and went straight to the top of the iTunes reggae charts.
Roots reggae band Raging Fyah will be touring the United States in July 2016. The group will be promoting its new album Everlasting.
Raging Fyah’s live shows capture their recordings, but also bring a new energy to each performance. “Our sets on this tour will feature songs from Everlasting mixed with some of our classics,” says lead vocalist Kumar Bent. “Every night feels special because we feed off the energy from the crowd to create unique elements for each show.”
U.S. Tour Dates:
Jul 11 in Washington, DC at Jammin Java
Jul 12 in Boston, MA at Brighton Music Hall
Jul 13 in Brooklyn, NY at Brooklyn Bowl
Jul 14 in Wakefield, RI at Ocean Mist
Jul 15 in Philadelphia, PA at Coda
Jul 17 in Cleveland, OH at Beachland Tavern
Jul 18 in Chicago, IL at Reggie’s Rock Club
Jul 19 in Omaha, NE at Waiting Room
Jul 20 in Minneapolis, MN at 7th St. Entry
Jul 22 in Bellevue, CO at Mishiwaka Amphitheatre, with Protoje
Jul 23 in Boulder, CO at Fox Theatre, with Protoje
Jul 24 in Taos, NM at Taos Brewery, with Protoje
Jul 26 in Phoenix, AZ at Crescent, with Protoje
Jul 28 in Santa Monica, CA at The Pier, with Protoje
Jul 29 in Los Angeles, CA at The Regent, with Protoje
Jul 30 in Las Vegas, NV at Brooklyn Bowl, with Protoje
Jul 31 in Santa Barbara, CA at Velvet Jones, with Protoje
Aug 2 in Santa Cruz, CA at The Catalyst, with Protoje
Aug 3 in Petaluma, CA at Mystic Theatre, with Protoje
Jamaican roots reggae band Raging Fyah has a new studio album titled Everlasting (Dub Rockers). The five-piece Kingston collective recently toured the United States with Stick Figure.
Raging Fyah is performing at the 7th annual California Roots Music & Arts Festival on Sunday, May 29 before heading out for their European tour. Later, Raging Fyah will return to the United States in July with twenty dates throughout the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast with key headlining shows and a supporting slot with Jamaican roots revivalist Protoje on select dates.
Most of Raging Fyah’s musicians met at Edna Manley College of Visual & Performing Arts in Kingston before officially forming in 2006. The band includes Kumar Bent on lead vocals, Courtland White on guitar, Anthony Watson on drums, Demar Gayle on keyboards, and Delroy “Pele” Hamilton on bass.
With an incredible true-life story that rivals Jimmy Cliff’s fictional tale of Kingston gangsters in the classic reggae film Harder They Come, Abdel Wright has survived an upbringing in foster homes and five years in a Jamaican prison to create an entire album full of hope and redemption.
Wright’s own story is astonishing: put into government custody at the age of nine months, and moved from one orphanage to another until he ended up at the SOS Children’s Village in Montego Bay. The facility was founded by an Austrian soldier and funded in part by the legendary Johnny Cash, who owned a home nearby. Cash provided an early influence on the young Wright when he performed at a benefit concert at Rose Hall every Christmas for the students.
"All the kids, especially the musical ones, like me, were drawn to him. He played two mouth harps at once, which amazed me," Wright says of Cash.
At 12, Wright was given a guitar as a Christmas gift after a school superintendent spotted him eyeing it in the school’s office. He went on to teach himself the instrument-as well as piano and flute-by stealing in order to afford the instruction books. At the age of 18, he began to write songs.
Kicked out of the Village, Wright began committing crimes to support himself. Caught with a firearm, he was sentenced to eight years in jail. A policeman on the scene saved Wright’s life by refusing to allow the arresting officer to shoot him after discovering the gun. When the same cop ran into Wright years later after seeing him perform on TV, he told Wright it was the right decision: ‘"Now I know why I gave you a chance. You are here for a purpose,’ he told me."
"I was really involved with some bad company back then," says Wright. "Thinking that my gun was the only way to make a living."
In his cell, he wrote several songs, including "Quicksand" and "Ruffest Times," the latter a prayer of thanks for being allowed to survive his ordeal ("Jan will never give you more than you can bear"). It begins with the sound of fingers plucking guitar strings, recalling "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman, admittedly one of his favorites.
Wright made the most of his prison stay ("It can be heaven or hell-it’s up to you," he says) by giving music lessons to the other inmates and leading the prison band. He earned enough trust to be allowed to teach and play music every day. While jailed, Wright also learned sign language and taught it to fellow prisoners, giving him a skill to put to use when he was ultimately released after serving a reduced sentence of five years.
Emerging from behind bars, Wright played tirelessly on the island’s club scene, doing countless karaoke shows while also performing his own songs and developing a following. "I was turned down for a recording contract by every leading producer in Jamaica," he says, supplementing his meager earnings by teaching guitar to aspiring musicians for $150 per hour, Jamaican (The equivalent of $2 U.S.).
With just $200 Jamaican in his pocket and practically homeless, Wright had a chance meeting with producer Brian Jobson, which led to Eurythmics founder Dave Stewart agreeing to executive-produce the album. Stewart then turned his buddy Bono on to Wright’s music, and the two invited Wright to perform with them at the 46664 Event, the Nelson Mandela AIDS concert, held in November 2003, in Cape Town, South Africa.
The all-star benefit, which also featured Beyonce, Peter Gabriel, The Corrs, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bob Geldof, the Eurythmics, Johnny Clegg and Queen, was hosted by Nelson Mandela (and named after the number he wore in prison) to raise global awareness in the fight against AIDS. Wright performed an emotional "Loose We Now," which had many of the more than 40,000 fans holding their lighters aloft in tribute. Wright also was brought on-stage by Bono, joining The Edge, Dave Stewart and Youssou N’Dour to add a solo toast to "Long Walk to Freedom," the last song written by the Clash’s Joe Strummer before he died. The song appears on the soundtrack and DVD of the event and a studio version was recorded for an upcoming album project.
"When I first met Bono, I said, ‘Nice to meet you, big man,’" says Wright. "And he answered me, ‘No, you’re the big man. An angel brought you here to me.’ Growing up with all these rock stars, then meeting, playing and singing with them, was unbelievable, a dream come true."
After the Mandela AIDS benefit, Wright returned to Jamaica and entered an Ocho Rios studio to finish recording his debut album with Jobson, which Stewart and Bono then played for Interscope chief Jimmy Lovine, who immediately agreed to release the record.
With an acoustic guitar and a song-based approach, Wright flies in the face of reggae’s current dancehall fascination and hip-hop obsession with sex, drugs and materialism. In politically-charged songs like "Quicksand," "Human Behavior," "Loose We Now" and "Dust Under Carpet," Wright sings about relevant global issues: government oppression, the high cost of health care, the lack of suitable housing and education, poverty and the hypocrisy of the political and religious establishments.
"Quicksand," with its checklist of society’s ills, "Human Behavior," featuring a twangy pedal steel guitar and harp, and the Dylan-styled protest anthem "Loose We Now" are steeped in Jamaica’s traditional political unrest, though the themes are broad enough to provide a global message. "Paul Bogle" tells of an actual 19th century historical martyr who is a Jamaican national hero, hanged by the British for his outspoken criticism of the government. Wright invokes a soaring falsetto and a poignant violin while Babylon bums in "Dust Under Carpet," aiming his ire at hypocritical politicians who are "clean on the outside… dirty on the inside."
"The themes are worldwide, even though it all starts with Jamaican culture," explains Wright. "But it applies everywhere there are police forces using violence to keep society in shackles. There are people with an inability to pay the rent, living in the gutter, every where… even in America, one of the richest countries in the world."
In addition to its political charge, Wright’s debut is also autobiographical. In "Issues," he sings about his troubled upbringing, noting his decision to spend the few dollars he had left at one point on strings for his guitar even though he was practically starving. "My Decision" is a playful tune about "searching the whole, wide world.. .for a good girl."
"I don’t care how much times I have to fly, but you have to maintain the roots," he says about commuting to America for his career. "Because it’s from those roots that the songs come… from my personal suffering, my experiences on the island. I want to keep as many roots as possible."
"People are tired of listening to priests, prime ministers and politicians," he says of the musician’s role in bringing attention to society’s ills. "Music can have a great effect. If we use our credibility and spread our message, it can be accepted by a lot of people. We can be the answer, which is why we need to make sure what we’re inputting to people can make a positive change."
"I want to play my music for people everywhere," he says. "Send me to Greenland with the Eskimos in their igloos, and I’ll play for them. I want to keep spreading the word until I drop dead."
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