Do the Reggay

The bounty of music that has come out in the past several weeks has me feelin’ like Celie in The Color Purple, when she found all those letters Nettie had written her…. “What is I’s gon’ do? There’s so many of ’em“… So much good stuff, a man with a regular job can’t get to it all like I want to, so I’ve been breaking them up into themes; coming up in the next post will be some odds ‘n ends that didn’t make it into these last four posts.

In this post, I’m taking a spin on some recent new Reggae and African sounds, starting with the final album from Toots & the Maytals, followed by a couple of releases from Reggae’s first family, from Ziggy Marley, then new music from his nephew Skip Marley, then checking out the latest from Burna Boy, a new project from Tarrus Riley, and finally, new music from Protoje.

This post is titled after the name of one of the Maytals’ most famous songs, the one that is (arguably) credited with giving the Reggae genre its’ name; here’s the audio for “Do The Reggay“…

Respect is due to Toots Hibbert, of Toots & the Maytals, who passed away on 9/11 at the age of 77, allegedly due to complications from COVID-19; considered one of the pioneers of Reggae, he enjoyed a career spanning six decades, all the way back to the Ska days. Just two weeks before his passing, they released a new album called Got To Be Tough; it’s ten new tracks, and was considered to be their comeback album, as they hadn’t released new music in several years.

The album features a mixture of styles, from Ska, which they use to remake Marley’s “Three Little Birds“, a track on which Toots is joined by Ziggy Marley, and the rollicking, joyous “Having A Party“, to funky Soul like on “Just Brutal” and the closing track “Struggle“. There are more gritty, Reggae roots tracks like the title track and the set opener “Drop Off Head“, and the shuffling Reggae of “Freedom Train“. On most tracks, Toots’ voice sounds as strong and soulful as ever, though on a couple of tracks, he sounds a little shaky; that’s not completely unexpected – after all, he was in his late 70’s, and depending on when he recorded the track, may have been ill.

Toots & Maytals leave behind a wealth of music for us to enjoy, and this album is an enjoyable final statement from them; Toots’ soulful voice will be missed. Rock on in heaven with the other Reggae legends already there, Toots… Here is a video for the title track…

Back in 2009, Ziggy Marley released a children’s album called Family Time, which included collaborations from his mom Rita, sister Cedella, Toots Hibbert, Willie Nelson, and Paul Simon, among others. Revisiting the concept, he’s released the new children’s album More Family Time; this follows up his excellent 2018 album Rebellion Rises.

As with the first album, this one features collaborations with an array of artists across the musical spectrum, from Sheryl Crow on the Ska-Pop of “Everywhere You Go“, Ben Harper on the rockin’ Ska of “Play With Sky“, Angelique Kidjo on the Ska sung in Swahili track “Jambo“, Tom Morello and Busta Rhymes on the busy “Move Your Body“, Alanis Morrisette on the instructional Reggae Pop of “Please Excuse Me Thank You“, and Lisa Loeb with the funky Reggae Pop of “Music Is In Everything“. Of course, his kids from his current marriage appear on a couple of tracks : the closing track “Wonderful People” features three of his four kids (is this maybe a preview of the next gen Melody Makers?), and the other one appears on the track with Busta. Brother Stephen features on “Garden Song of Miracles“, and the remaining two tracks are Ziggy by himself (“Goo Goo Ga Ga” and “My Dog Romeo“).

This isn’t an album I’d consider to be a serious Reggae album, but one that is playful and joyous music in a time where we need some joy in our lives. This is music to sing along with the kiddos, songs you wouldn’t mind them singing over and over; that’s what I’m gonna do with my kids – teach them these, so they aren’t tempted to pick up “W.A.P.” or something else stupid like that. Here’s the video for “Jambo” featuring Angelique Kidjo…

The new EP from Ziggy’s nephew Skip Marley is mainly a collection of his singles; the 24 year-old singer was born in Kingston, JA but raised in Miami, and is the son of Bob’s daughter Cedella.

His first full dip into the waters of this musical dynasty is very much informed by R&B and Hip-hop culture. He first came into my view about three years ago, when he collaborated with Katy Perry on “Chained to the Rhythm“; among the seven tracks here, we get the single “Slow Down“, his nice collabo with H.E.R., the latest single “Make Me Feel“, which features Rick Ross and Ari Lennox, his uncle Damian “Jr. Gong” spits a verse on “That’s Not True“, and even Grandpa has a spoken-word sample cameo on the title track. Lyrically, he falls in line with the family ethos of uplifting the listener through positive vibes, so he gets it honestly, as if there were any other way.

This brief, 22 minute salvo delivered by Skip satisfies, and he is poised to represent the third generation of the Marley family, keeping the name alive for future generations; as with some other Reggae albums of this generation, it’s a fusion of different styles, with Reggae as its’ base. “Slow Down” has been viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube since it was released back in January, so I’m choosing to feature the newest video from the EP – here’s “Make Me Feel“…

In my household, there’s a big interest lately in Nigerian cinema, an industry popularly known as “Nollywood” (did you know their industry is top three in the world, along with our Hollywood, and India’s Bollywood?)… so much so that my wife tries to watch several of those movies a week on Netflix, and is currently binging on the law drama Castle & Castle. She even has a crush on an actor from the show, so, in my mock jealousy, I’ve created the fake Nigerian twin characters Oboke and Okobe to vie for her attention (don’t laugh, I may use one of those as my artist or DJ name!)… On the music side, 29 year old Damini Ogulu, known as Burna Boy, is perhaps the most well-known musical export from there since Fela Kuti and his son Femi; highly prolific, his new album is Twice As Tall, his fifth full-length album in seven years.

Now I reviewed his African Giant album from last year, and despite the positive, even glowing reviews for it, I didn’t really care for it; I may have to go back and listen to it again, since I’m finding this one to my liking. The last album’s tracks sounded too samey to me, but this one seems to have a little more variety. It won me over immediately when I heard “Monsters You Made“, a revolutionary track addressing the marginalization of Nigerians in particular, and Africans worldwide in general; it features an interpolation of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” and vocals from Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who sounds like Sting circa second album Police (especially “Walking On the Moon“) – Burna Boy goes HARD on that one. On the first single”Wonderful“, he sings of the effects of his music on people as he toured the world; this one has a nice video, too. The opening and de-facto title track “Level Up (Twice As Tall“) features Youssou N’Dour, and contains the boastful lyric “And to anybody wey dey doubts me / I swear to make sure you never forget about me / If you think it’s over, then you must be drowsy / I’m a motherf***ing legend and I say it proudly…”, while “Way Too Big” is also boastful of his success… “Because I’m way too big / Way too big to be f***ing with you“. He manages to dig up Naughty By Nature to collabo on a track called….. “Naughty By Nature“, and “Time Flies” which features Kenyan group Sauti Sol, tries to sneak the rhythm pattern to Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo” past me, but it’s a nice track.

Burna Boy manages to capture the essence of current events and speak on them, as well as to celebrate himself… I caution him on that, though, for success can be fleeting and short-lived. The sound gets a little diversity, and is therefore more interesting over the course of the entire project. I’m diggin’ it… and Oboke and Okobe are, too… Here’s the video for “Monsters You Made“… I will caution it’s rather graphic in language and its’ depiction of violence, and some may find it offensive…

The latest album from conscious Reggae artist Tarrus Riley is called Healing, and is his first album in six years, since Love Situation from 2014. He’s the son of one of my favorite old school Reggae crooners, Jimmy Riley… he recorded some sublime sides with Sly ‘n Robbie for their Taxi label back in the early 80’s – the long version of his single “Love & Devotion” will change your life… Tarrus is best known for his 2006 track “She’s Royal“, which was a monumental hit in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean.

One criticism that’s always been levied against Reggae is that it’s one-dimensional (those people are just hearing “boom chicka boom”); many artists are now diversifying the sound to include elements of other styles. Tarrus mixes it up with a piano-driven love ballad called T.I.M.E (Together In Moments Everlasting)“, the very soulful “My Fire“, which he collabos with Dexta Daps, the Blues-infused closing track “Blessings“, and then there is the shockingly brief single “Lighter” which features Shenseea, and is radio-friendly Pop/Reggae, and whose video has already been viewed more than 15 million times since it hit YouTube a little over a month ago. For my ears, the title track and “Great Equalizer” are the strongest tracks; in particular, “Healing” is both a pandemic anthem, and a call for sociopolitical reconciliation. “Family” talks about the importance of kin, and “Remember Me” is plea to Jah not to pass him by.

These days, the best Reggae albums will feature a fusion of other sounds, in addition to its’ base; in my opinion, the 2017 Chronixx album Chronology will go down as a landmark album, for it is the benchmark to which contemporary Reggae albums strive to attain. This album doesn’t quite get there, but it’s a very strong album nonetheless, and one of the best Reggae albums I’ve heard recently – at least a couple of these tracks will find themselves on repeat with me… Here’s the video for one of those tracks, the title track…

The latest release from 39 year old Oje Ken Ollivierre, known by his artist name Protoje, is the Roots/Dancehall meets Hip-hop fusion In Search of Lost Time; it is his sixth studio album, first since 2018’s A Matter of Time. He also has four so-called “mixtapes”.

There is something of a revival of the Reggae roots sound, and I’m so happy for that. Some current artists are mixing that classic Reggae sound with other elements, often Hip-hop; the formula actually works very well, as both (at their best) are mid-tempo and bouncy styles, creating that headnodda effect that is so intoxicating. Contributions on this album come courtesy of female Reggae MC Koffee on the album opener “Switch It Up“, then Wiz Khalifa joins him on “A Vibe“, a song celebrating the effects of the herb. On “In Bloom“, he is joined by vocalist Lila Ike, who’s part of his In.Digg.Nation collective of artists – this is a smoldering, dubwise track with sexy vocals by Ike providing the counterpoint to Protoje’s verse, and one of the album’s highlights. For me, the main highlight is the song “Like Royalty“, which features Popcaan, and describes how he’ll treat the people who’ve been loyal to him… “If I ever mek it inna life / Yuh aguh be living like royalty …” Elsewhere, on “Deliverance“, he seeks divine coverage… “I hold my order, give my praises / Oh Jah, deliver me through these days“…, and on “Still I Wonder“, he interpolates his shortcomings with a lover with a plea for grace to be given to him by the higher power… “Seems like I’ve been asking for too much from you / Paying no attention to the things you do / Thinking of myself, not what I put you through / It’s unfair to ask you for a chance, so true / But still I wonder…”

Over the ten tracks of this album, there isn’t a weak moment among them; this is, like Tarrus’ album, one of the best Reggae albums I’ve heard so far this year… check it out… Here is the video for “Like Royalty“…

By maestrotjd

I'm a music head. A classically trained violinist/violist literate from chant to Chopin to Copland, Soul man, aging Punk, Classic rocker, Alt rocker, Church choir man, House head, Techno, Industrial guy, almost Rasta, Ska & Rock Steady baby, Junglist, Dubstep to Two-step to Chicago old school steppin', Lounge & Exotica, World Fusion, Latin & Bossa Nova dude, Jazz man from Swing to Bebop to Acid, Trip hop and Hip hop, ya don't stop, a lil bit Country, Gospel, and everything in between. These are my musings (or ramblings).

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