VP Records has announced the release of Strictly the Best Vol. 60. The set includes current and breaking hits from some of the top artists in roots reggae and dancehall. The album is scheduled for release on November 22, 2019. For this latest release, the label will produce a live show to be broadcast Tuesday, November 19 from the BRIC production facility in Brooklyn, New York.
STB 60 includes an illustration by Japanese artist Murasaki, inspired by the scenery of the VP Records 40th Anniversary Concert held at Summer Stage in Central Park, New York in August.
STB 60 contains two discs of hits in one package. Disc 1 consists of reggae and lovers rock tracks. Highlights include “General” by Christopher Martin and “Together we Stand” by Richie Spice. Exclusives on the album include a remake of Lorna Bennet’s “Breakfast in Bed” by former Voice winner Tessanne Chin and “Lost My Heart” by emerging solo reggae artist, Kumar Bent.
Disc 2 features dancehall tracks. High spots include “One Way” by Vybz Kartel and “Glow” by Romain Virgo and Christopher Martin. The music video for “Glow” has recently accumulated over 628K views on YouTube. Another exclusive to STB 60 is “No Stress” by Noah Powa who has been attracting attention in New York City and beyond with recent interviews on Breakfast Club, Lip Service and an appearance on Angela Yee Day.
“As our 40th anniversary year winds down, we are happy to release Strictly The Best 60,” said Richard Lue, Director of Business Development and Project Manager for VP Records. “Everything from the tracks, to the cover of the album by Murasaki, to the event coming up in Brooklyn, is aligned perfectly to celebrate the 60th edition of one of VP’s staple compilations,” he concluded.
STRICTLY THE BEST VOL. 60 Tracklisting
* Denotes Exclusive Track
Disc 1 – Singers
1. Play That Song (remix) – (feat. Agent Sasco) – Duane
The boxed set Down In Jamaica: 40 Years Of VP Records is scheduled to be released October 25, 2019. The reggae and dancehall anthology includes 94-tracks. It is a multi-format limited edition (2,000 run) box with a 24-page booklet and art cards detailing the hits, the rarities, and the history of the world’s largest reggae label.
Down In Jamaica: 40 Years Of VP Records features 101 different artists. It tells the story in detail through a chronological survey of the key recordings that helped define the company, from early singles on obscure sublabels (Roots From The Yard, Jah Guidance, and Love) to the well-known VP Records brand that brought Beenie Man, Sean Paul, Wayne Wonder, and others into the international mainstream.
Compiled by DJ, writer, and VP Records Director of Catalog Development Carter Van Pelt, the set contains four 7-inch singles, four 12-inch singles, and four CDs, the first configuration of its kind for a box set package. The CDs include the chronology of hit songs, and the vinyl pieces bring back rare titles long out of print. The initial release is in the physical format only, with a digital release of the CD portion of the set on all streaming platforms in late November.
The singles format was the dominant vehicle for Jamaican music from its inception, and the collection tells the company’s story almost entirely from singles, taking its name from Red Fox and Naturalee’s 1989 hit.
“The goal is to tell the story of a continually owned and operated family business at the heart of the global growth of reggae, dancehall, and Caribbean music” said Van Pelt. “As a distributor and manufacturer, the company has brought some of reggae and dancehall’s most recognizable hits to the public over 40 years. This set ties that story together with some lost treasures in the form of vinyl rarities.”
Founded by Vincent and Patricia Chin as the US distribution arm of Randy’s Records from Kingston, Jamaica, Randy’s had been at the center of the Jamaican music industry since its inception. The VP chapter began in New York as reggae was on the verge of a major transition from Bob Marley’s era to the dancehall era of Yellowman, Chaka Demus, Shabba Ranks, Ninja Man, Beenie Man, and Bounty Killer.
Highlights from the set include Sean Paul & Sasha’s “I’m Still In Love With You,” Wayne Wonder’s “No Letting Go,” Beenie Man’s “Who Am I” and classics from Yellowman, Barrington Levy, Gregory Isaacs, and Dennis Brown and dozens of others. The vinyl selections include rare sides by Echo Minott, Freddie McKay, Junior Reid, Tenor Saw, and others, most available for the first time since their original pressings.
“We’re excited about the box set and the re-telling of our story,” said Randy Chin, President of VP Records, “It’s a great way to complete our 40th anniversary celebrations.”
Back in the closing years of the 20th century, when the Buena Vista Social Club ruled the international roost, Cuban music was all the rage. Now, two decades on, an Australian musician/producer is not only following the footsteps of the great American facilitator Ry Cooder, who guided that collective’s high-selling Havana-recorded album, award-winning documentary and sell-out overseas tour, but he’s also taking an extra bound by blending son, salsa and rumba with reggae, dancehall and dub from Cuba’s Caribbean island neighbour, Jamaica.
In what is a mighty musical and logistical achievement that he’s claiming as a world-first, Melburnian Jake “Mista” Savona has amassed a star-studded cast that includes both lauded Buena Vista players and reggae royalty. His Havana Meets Kingston concept has already yielded an album and several world tours.
Surprisingly, Savona says no master plan is involved, and he insists it is all the better for that. “To be honest, the whole project hasn’t been quite as pre-meditated as it may seem from the outside … and I believe this is actually what makes it so special. It evolved step-by-step over many years. The seeds were planted well before I had even envisioned the possibility of bringing together Jamaican and Cuban musicians in Havana.”
The project had its genesis back in 2004 when Savona made his inaugural visit to Jamaica to record Melbourne Meets Kingston, the first album-length collaboration between Australian musicians and Jamaican vocalists. That led to a series of return trips between 2004 and 2013 for further recordings.
He says the turning point came after a friend returned from a 2014 trip to Havana with some persuasive photos, and he realised a visit to Cuba was well overdue. “When I looked at the map I couldn’t believe how close the two islands are — literally only a few hundred miles apart. I was heading to Jamaica in April that year for a quick promotional trip, so I decided to visit Cuba for ten days or so.”
Savona fell in love with the people, music and culture. “Towards the end of the trip, I was sitting in a cafe in Havana, a great place called Chanchurello. They were playing a CD of traditional Cuban rumba, mainly percussion based. I was daydreaming and imagining how the sounds of Nyabinghi drums from Jamaica would sound mixed with the rumba. I realized it would be very special to mix the two styles, and wondered if it had ever been done before.”
After returning to Kingston a few days later, he bumped into the veteran Jamaican percussionist Bongo Herman, who convinced him to setup a recording session that night at Tuff Gong, Bob Marley’s studio in Kingston. Drummer Sly Dunbar was there, of the world-famous rhythm section, Sly & Robbie. They ended up recording until sunrise. “He loved my piano playing, and I, of course, was amazed by his musicianship.”
Following some research on his return to Australia, Savona realised there had never been a project bringing Jamaican musicians into Cuba or vice versa. “I started to think how it could be done. I called Sly and he loved the idea, and he gave me Robbie’s phone number in Miami.” He also called Bongo Herman and Winston ‘Bopee’ Bowen, one of his favourite Jamaican guitarists. “Everyone was saying ‘yes’ without hesitation, and it just felt like a project that wanted and needed to happen.” So Savona started to look at how it might be organised.
A year later — in June 2015 — the
producer flew seven Jamaican musicians into Havana. They had 10 days booked at
the famous Egrem Studios, where the Buena Vista Social Club recorded their
“It was an incredible 10 days,” he recalls. “I hoped to record one or two tracks a day to complete a fifteen-track album, but we actually recorded enough material in that time for almost three albums. The energy and inspiration was incredible. I had prepared sketches for all the songs, and these master musicians took the arrangements into hyperspace.”
Havana Meets Kingston has continued to exceed Savona’s expectations. “This project is so much bigger now than just my initial vision. It’s a joyful celebration of Caribbean music and culture that’s opening new doors for everyone involved. With our introductory music video going viral earlier this year, it’s also inspiring a lot of new tourism to the Caribbean.”
Looking back at the logistics of the exercise, Savona says the knowledge he gained from previous trips to survey Kingston’s music scene gave him the confidence to organize the Jamaican side of things. With his Cuban experience limited, he enlisted the help of Melbourne percussionist Javier Fredes, a master conga player, who, having lived in Cuba, had a deep knowledge of the musical landscape there.
“I couldn’t have organized the sessions in Havana without his help,” Savona admits. “The biggest unknown for me was Cuban immigration, which is somewhat of a mystery. Did we have the right visas for the Jamaican musicians? Would Cuban customs mind that we were bringing so much musical and studio equipment into Havana? Thankfully, this side of things went smoothly, and once we had everyone safely in Havana, I knew we were good to go.”
The only real issue that Savona encountered in the studio was that the Jamaicans didn’t speak Spanish, and the Cubans had very little English. However, once the musicians were sitting with their instruments, he says the language barrier simply melted away.
When the Jamaican musicians returned to Kingston, there were more sessions in both Havana, Santiago de Cuba and later on in Kingston to complete the recording. Savona also later travel led to London to record with one of his favorite reggae artists, singer Randy Valentine.
The project leader spent close to a year on the arrangements and mix downs, utilizing this time to also find the right record labels for his album. “Although at times I realized I was working quite slowly, I didn’t want to rush anything. Now, I have no regrets because we needed this time to actually fit all the right pieces of the puzzle together.”
All up just over 60 musicians were used on Havana Meets Kingston. “Famous older legendary musicians are playing alongside young new talent, some of who had never been in a recording studio before,” he points out.
“I had no idea in the beginning that I would be able to work with such legends as [Jamaican guitarist] Ernest Ranglin, or Barbarito Torres of Buena Vista fame. Recording at Egrem Studios, he says, gave his album some of the same unique, “warm woody-room sound” that helped the eponymous Buena Vista Social Club release to become a huge seller around the world in the late 1990s.
Savona strongly refutes any notion that
revamping songs such as ‘Chan Chan’, ‘El Cuarto de Tula’ and ‘Candela’from the revered Buena Vista album with
beats, raps and manifestations of reggae amounts to any disrespect.
“That album is incredible; it was recorded over twenty years ago but stands the test of time. However, roam the streets of Old Havana today and all you’ll hear are Cuban bands in the bars and hotels mostly rehashing the ‘same old’ classics. Although this is what many tourists want to hear, it’s not great for the evolution of Cuban music. Music will lose its relevance and passion if it’s frozen in time. We made the Havana Meets Kingston album with so much respect for the roots music of both islands, involving many of the same legends that play on these old classic recordings.”
In order to blend together rhythms as
diverse as Jamaican reggae/dancehall and Cuban son/rumba, Savona prepared
sketches of all the songs, focusing on what he describes as interesting chord
changes and strong funky riffs.
“I left them quite open, rather than preparing overly complicated charts. This, in hindsight, is the best thing I could have done, because it meant the musicians could really get inside these songs and breathe, rather then being glued to the written music. It also meant they could easily imbue the music with their own style and touch.” As a result, he says, the songs evolved quickly and came alive in unexpected and exciting ways.
One goal was to bring the sounds of Jamaican soundsystem culture together with the virtuosic Afro-Cuban jazz traditions. “Robbie Shakespeare’s incredible rolling bass lines made this possible,” says Savona. “His playing mixed with the Cuban percussion of Yaroldy Abreu, Oliver Valdés and Changuito to really bring the sounds of the Kingston and Havana streets together in a way never heard before.”
Savona reports that both Sly and Robbie were fantastic to work with: “They’re very relaxed and confident in the studio. They were happy to take my musical direction, and at the same time bring their own style and sound to my arrangements. They’re an integral part of the album for so many reasons — no one plays like them.”
The first Havana Meets Kingston album, which comprises predominantly fresh original compositions, presents a bona fide mix of musical cultures that’s relatively free of studio artifice. As Savona says: “It’s all about the performances, and less about the post-production, which I’ve kept as simple and natural as possible. You could argue that contemporary music is becoming increasingly sterile, with the focus in pretty much all genres now on post-production and auto-tuned, synthesised vocal performances, which I believe actually stifle and repress deeper human expression. For me music should be about uplifting people, not brainwashing them.”
What Aussie festivalgoers saw on stage
at WOMADelaide and elsewhere on the 2018 tour was the core band that played on
the initial Havana sessions. Besides key vocalists, English-Jamaican Randy
Valentine and Cuban Francisco ‘Solis’ Robert and Brenda Navarette, one of
Cuba’s rising singers, the 15-piece line-up in Adelaide included Sly &
Robbie, Jamaican guitarist Bopee, the legendary Cuban percussionists Yaroldy
Abreu and Oliver Valdés and the great trumpeter Julito Padrón. Laud player Barbarito
Torres and virtuoso pianist Rolando Luna of Buena Vista fame were other world-renowned
Cuban musicians in the line-up.
Savona is justifiably proud of the fact that it was his stewardship that facilitated Jamaican musicians flying into Cuba to record and collaborate with Cuban musicians for the first time. He says a combination of political, social, economic and linguistic reasons conspired to prevent that in the past. “Additionally, both islands have such potent and unique music scenes that they’re really captivated by their own music to a large degree. Until two years ago, there were no exchange programs between the islands. Jamaica’s music industry is its biggest export, and yet the government still doesn’t invest in it properly. There’s not even a museum in Jamaica dedicated to their incredible contributions to the world’s music.”
The financing of such an expensive and ambitious project as Havana Meets Kingston was problematic: “As a full-time musician, with a variable income to say the least, there was no way I could have financed this on my own,” he concedes. “But, I was very fortunate to have so much assistance along the way to bring this dream to life.” Savona managed to submit what turned out to be a successful application for an Australia Council ‘International Pathways’ grant in the nick of time. That, he indicates was pivotal. A Kickstarter campaign raised funds to take a film and photographic crew to document the project in Havana. “A few generous friends of mine were also happy to lend me money to help with the final mixing and mastering stages later on.”
Savona concedes there are still some outstanding debts from Havana Meets Kingston, but he’s confident in time that his project will become fully self-sufficient. He plans to tour the live show elsewhere around the world, including free outdoor concerts in Jamaica and Cuba. The second volume of the album is on the drawing board, along with a documentary, and a third installment of the record is expected to follow at a later date.
“What amazes me about this project,” says Savona “are the synchronicities that kept happening, again and again. Looking back, I can see these countless little miracles that happened along the way that made it all possible. It just felt like an idea that wanted to happen, a project that wanted to be born. And all these great musicians loved the idea of the project. That’s what made it all possible.”
While there’s understandable pride in local music circles that an Australian is behind a project as bold as Havana Meets Kingston, Jake Savona stresses that it’s first and foremost an international collaboration. “This is an album by Jamaican and Cuban musicians, and it is an album for the people of Jamaica and Cuba, first and foremost. This is the real strength of the project.”
• The above interview first appeared in Rhythms, Australia’s only dedicated roots music magazine.
Blue Mountain Acoustic is the fifth album by Sadiki, a popular Jamaican vocalist, songwriter and producer. Although he’s been involved with various forms of reggae, Blue Mountain Acoustic leans much closer to romantic pop. It’s a fine acoustic performance with a combination of lover’s rock, American soul, pop and a little reggae that has great commercial appeal.
Queen Ifrica, born Ventrice Morgan on March 25, 1975 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, began her career in 1995 after attracting attention at a local talent contest in her hometown of Montego Bay. This eye-opening experience eventually led to major stage performances in her country including the famed Reggae Sumfest as well as a union with Tony Rebel’s Flames Crew in 1998.
With roots firmly grounded in the Rastafarian faith, she blossomed as one of the top cultural artists in reggae, appearing frequently on radio with hits like “Randy”, “Jus my Brethren”, “Below the Waist” and “Daddy” and performing at major festivals and shows around the world (Summer Jam in Germany, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Bob Marley Festival, Reggae on the River in California and Reggae Sundance Festival in Holland).
Despite her busyc schedule, Ifrica is involved in several youth outreach programs in Jamaica’s inner-city, counseling abuse victims and other disadvantaged individuals. She also performs at various charity events shows where proceeds are donated to the cause.
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.