Wingless Angels II (Mindless Records, 2010)
In Jamaica there is a form of African rooted music that is comprised of drums and chanting known as Nyabinghi, which is one of the roots of ska and reggae. In the early 1970s, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was introduced to musicians who performed this kind of music on Jamaica’s northern shore. On the beach near Steer Town, Richards struck up a friendship with Justin Hinds, an essential figure in ska and reggae history.
“In Jamaica, especially at that time, I was just one of the crowd,” Keith Richards told reggae archivist and author Roger Steffens. “The Rasta thing was really popping, and there were a lot of young dreads around, so I started to drift up to the villages, up in the hills. They had no idea who the Rolling Stones were. They didn’t even give a shit. I guess we were just taken at face value, and the fact that we all got to know each other—I mean, my kids would be up in Steer Town for weeks at a time – no problem.”
For two decades Richards met with the musicians and recorded sessions. Hinds was joined by friends, neighbors, and relatives, most of whom were local fishermen and divers who shared his musical and spiritual vision. The Rastafarian musicians brought their sacred drums to Richards’ home and later into the studio. They encouraged Richards to jam with them even though instrumental accompaniment was normally prohibited for religious reasons.
“As I listened to what they were playing, I thought, ‘This is something else,’” Richards remembers. “Justin would never put himself forward because he was so humble, so it took me a couple of years to learn who he was, but I could see that sometimes he was playing the bass drum, and that’s what sets the whole thing up. He gave me the nod to start strumming an acoustic, and because he said it was okay, I think the rest of them had to accept it—otherwise I was still just a listener, you know?”
Eventually a first album came out titled Wingless Angels, which was originally released in October of 1997 on Richards’ Mindless record label. Wingless Angels featured Nyabinghi musicians Justin Hinds on vocals and drums; fisherman ‘Bongo’ Locksley Whitlock; drummer and diver Vincent Ellis (aka ‘Bongo Jackie’); drummer and vocalist Winston Thomas (aka ‘Blackskull’); vocalist Maureen Freemantle; drummer Milton Beckerd (aka ‘Bongo Neville’); and vocalist Warrin Williamson; along with Richards and several other musicians who added a bluesy touch to the Afro-Jamaican sounds.
“I think Nyabinghi music gets as pure a spirit going as you can imagine,” Richards explains. “It’s about uplifting moments where you forget all of the sorrows and cares of the world.”
Richards was not through with the idea and decided to work on a second volume. Wingless Angels II is a tribute to the late Justin Hinds. It is collection of new Rasta roots pieces featuring Hinds’ last sessions before his passing and a special re-release of the much-sought-after original Wingless Angels album, long out of print.
The line-up on Wingless Angels II includes Justin Hinds on vocals and rasta drums; Locksley Whitlock on vocals and rasta drums; Maureen Fremantle on vocals; Warrin Williamson on vocals and rasta drums; and Milton Beckerd on vocals and rasta drums. They are joined by producer Brian Jobson on bass guitar; Lee Jaffe on harmonica; Bernard Fowler on vocals; Lili Haydn on electric violin; Lisa Fischer on vocals; Steve Jordan on vocals; and Keith Richards on guitar, bass and vocals.
“We jammed for a couple nights before we went in,” Jobson recalls, “so there was a continuity going. We just miked up all of the drums, then Justin was to one side with a mic on his voice alone, and he was playing a drum as well. It was very organic, yunno? Justin would just say, ‘Okay, let’s take up a beat,’ and he would start chanting, with the drums going. We’d start in the afternoon and go ’til 11 or 12 o’clock at night.”
Wingless Angels II is a fascinating introduction to Nyabinghi Rastafarian music and a worthy tribute to the musicians who kept and are keeping alive the ancient African-rooted traditions of Jamaica.
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Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.