A comprehensive coverage of European based Roots Reggae bands and the Sound System movement in Germany, Italy & Spain - Part One
Over the past 30 years, Reggae music has slowly but consistently penetrated Western Europe through various factors with some intertwining connections to the Rasta livity. Some attribute the growth in popularity of Reggae to the message in the music; others to the dreadlocks hairstyle, some to the freedom aspired to through the Rasta music and better still, the likeness of Ganja smoking. Currently, many young Europeans in the sub-cultural and alternative scenery think owning the latest Reggae CD, DVD or browsing the quickest website to download the latest Dubs, MP3 and singles or a 7 inch collection is trendy. This accession equally applies to huge monies spent by localized Sound Systems to lay their hands on an exclusive Dub-plate or hook up artists to record a live Dub-plate session.
Okay! Let’s trek starting off from Germany. Well, Germany happens to host the biggest global Reggae festival every summer in Europe for some 25 years now: ‘Summer Jam’ in Cologne. Operational since 1986 during which the festival presented artists like Dennis Brown (blessed memories), The Wailers, Black Uhuru, Manu Diabango etc.; this well-structured cultural event strictly portrays everything about Rasta philosophy and craftsmanship on an open platform. The second attractive festival in Germany is the Chiemsee Reggae Festival which has operated over ten years in the lakeside of the Bayern countryside. Another event that has also exposed Reggae music in Deutschland is the Würzburg African Festival. It’s no wonder that Germany is on record as being the world’s third largest buyers of Reggae music after the USA and Japan. This exposure has significantly influenced the way Reggae music is developing in Germany.
Prior to the establishment of the above-mentioned Festivals, numerous Reggae bands had long imparted skills on the flow of Reggae vibes in the stressed German system. Although very slow in terms of awareness creation but steadily, Reggae music is on the rise amongst the German youth. Historically and ironically, bands that started playing Reggae in Germany were not of Jamaican origin - Vitamin X, Roots Annabu and King George Darko from Ghana are the pioneer players of Roots Reggae from the source as Africans. They have since recorded albums in subsequent years as Rasta bands. Then came the likes of Jamaican Papa Kelvin, Makwehru, Ekowmania, Umoya and Ras Donavan. In real terms, the longest serving German Rasta artist is Hans Sollerner. Because of his Bayerish Reggae music and Rasta culture, he continues to be subjected to discrimination from the Munich Politics.
On the Germany Reggae scene over the past ten years, live music has shifted from African Roots scenery to the ‘outtanational’ dimensions. Now a new breed of German musical youths is playing strictly Jamaican styled Roots Reggae. Some bands are experimenting with fusing Bashment, Rocksteady and cultural Roots elements together. Top ranking Germany Reggae bands playing all elements of Reggae include Seeed, Head Corner Stone, Crow Chester Crew/Soul Food International, The Far East, Sam Ragga, Roots Rockers, Les Babacool, Stone Rock, Senior All Star, Sixth Revelation Jam, Exodus, King Banana, Dubious Neighbourhood and many more. Other youths are performing crossovers between Roots & Bashment styles which, has been more adoptive by the Sing-jay artists. This category includes Jah Meek, Dr Ring Ding, Nosliw, Natty Flo, Absolute Beginner, Nikitaman, Ganjaman, Mono, Gunjah Deluxe, Lazy Youth, Lillian Gold, Jamaram, D-Flame, Mellow Mark, Patrice, Conscious Fiyah, Rebel De Recaller (Gam), Black Kappa (Jam), Mystic Dan and lots of up-and-coming artists.
On the Sound System scenery, the elite is undisputedly Pow Pow Sound crew and Silly Walks Sounds. Others doing some international work includes Roots Commandments (Hamburg), Rainbow Warrior, More Fire Crew, Fire Ball (Cologne), G-Force, Ischen Rockers (Augsburg), Children of The Most High (Munich), Dan De Lion (Bavaria), Sentinel & Lucky Punch (Stuttgart), Small Axe (Köln) Shake A leg, Jah Fire Outtanational (Tübingen), Do-Fire (Dortmund), Running Irie and King David (Berlin). Apart from the above highly operational Sound Systems, there's almost in any Germany small town, some form of Sound which keeps Reggae, Dub and Bashment going.
Italy is another European country with a high Reggae following. This is due to the Rototom Reggae festival, the Italian version of Reggae Sunsplash. The king of all Reggae bands in Italy is the constructive African Unite (Pinerolo) with artists like Bunna and Madaski as the brain behind the successful story of the band recording over ten albums since 1981. Africa Unite has helped spread Roots Reggae music even to Iraq where they played at the famous Festival Di Babylonia. The Reggae National Ticket band is very successful with their series of MTV Reggae clips making them the most popular outfit in and around the Mediterranean Sea area. Other promising Roots bands in Italy include the 16 year old group Pitura Freska, Risin Family (Piemont), Faraway Babylon (Triest), Triat Union (Turin), BooBoo Vibration (Bologna) and BR Stylers (Pondenone). From Toscana, the good old general has revamped on a new Roots vision with a new name Jahcalone, Jahmento and the One Drop Band. Interestingly, the Raggamuffin band Ruff Selector from Florence is a household name in that part of Italia.
From Rome hails the evergreen youth band Radici Nel Cemento and have, since 1993, being working with two records labels, Gridalo Records and Satta Records. This band has released over ten albums onto the global music industry. As a side project, Radici Nel Cemeto has experimented with Roots Reggae carving out, what they term, a Centri Sociali musical project. On the Dub scene, the Romanic Band, Neurologici possess the Melodic and Roots magical feel producing tracks and albums that can be freely downloaded. From Neapel, recites the Raggamuffin 99 Posse band fusing elements of Ragga vibes and old school Roots in a spiritual deliverance style. Another important Reggae group worth noticing in Italia is the Orange Dub band Umbrien playing deep noted hypnotical Roots and Dub music.
Finally, from the east coast of Italy, in the region of Apulien and a place called Salento popularly referred as the Jamaica of Italy harbours the troupe Sud Sound System, formed between 1986 & 87. These musicians have localised the Jamaican native Patois language, text for text. Sud Sound System is a talented band that has an adoptive crossover style from Raggamuffin Ensemble, Bashment and some real Roots stuff recording over seven albums on their Indie label, Ritmo Vitale. Concluding our Italian Reggae sourcing is the delightful band Chop Chop from the area of Barlette. In 1996, at London’s One Love Festival, this band was the winners of the budding artist award with tracks like Dread Inna Babylon, Animal Solare and Hard Core Music. On the Sound System corner in Italy, the two most prolific Roots Sounds are Soul Roots and One Love Hi Pawa. Other recommendable DJs in Reggae include Diegods, Roby Dread, Henry the Combatant, Vito War and Jakalone.
Incredibly, the love for revolutional Roots music has found a massive following amongst the children of the Bastia homeland in the North of Spain. This is where people yearn for freedom and self-identity through the afflictions and the positive powers of the Rasta’s music. Bands promoting Roots music in Espania include the Lone Ark with the Dreaded Roberto Sanchez from Santander structuring Reggae in its recordings. Another Militant Reggae group, big and wicked in the Bastia area is the BDF- Bask Dub Foundation doing lots of collobarational recordings with some exclusive Reggae stars. Other Spanish Reggae Sing-jays include Mr Rango, El Hermano Large L, Camacho Chulite, und Morodo the Mahout!
On the Sound System avenue, many Spaniards are more Bashment and party oriented. This has forced the good works of the deep rooted Sounds to gain maximum respect in most of Spain’s Rootz dances. One credible institutional contributor to Reggae’s consolidation in Spain is the Granada Reggae Explosion Festival where the Roots & Culture music is deep and well appreciated for the cause of Pan-Africanism. One such Roots musical ghetto is the Progressive Studio in Londres. Other productive Sounds include Bena from Malaga, the African Sound from Senegal, the Black Angels Movement who, are in a musical royal class artistically blending deep Roots lyrics and instrumentations from Mbalax and Soukous musical flow. Likkle Pepe of Malaga is a force for the future of Reggae in Spain. Black Up Sound is also doing tremenderous works through their hot steppers musical dissemination. From Madrid, the Yo Fresh Sound Bwoy is servicing the city with conscious vibes. The Natty Dreaded philosophical Sound, Rebel Madiaq and Bass Sound are famous for nicing up most after-dance parties when Yardie bands tour Spain. Nabu and DJ Kaderas are two Rootical Sound Bwoys with big international appeal.
Reggae music has found some work to do even on the island of Ibiza. Through the powers of the Rasta vibrations, the music has reached the biggest party destination of the Babylonian system. What a challenge for Reggae music! The brain behind ‘La Reggaera Y Ibiza’ is the Third Ear Studio and the Mega Force Sound label. General Mann is a Gambian Reggae songwriter and singer who believes Reggae is healing and doing wondrous works in Ibiza by bringing the rich, the poor and even the tourist together. The Reggae dances have become the connecting point amongst all the social classes. That is the power of the Rasta’s Reggae music; doing positive works even in evilous places!
European based Roots Reggae Bands and Sounds Systems in Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, France and Sweden - Part Two
Our next Roots and Cultural musical research lands us in some important European territories where Reggae music is diversified appreciated by millions of people. Reggae business is institutionalised and very operational amongst genders, age groups and social class systems. Interestingly, we are meandering on a pure Roots and tradition Reggae trip through Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, France and Sweden.
Switzerland is very fertile ground for the growth of Root Reggae doctrines. Reggae is natty and big in this territory. The dances are consciously structured, co-ordinated and well jammed. There are fundamental reasons why Reggae is so big in Switzerland. Foremost, the youth spend huge amounts of cash on Reggae material; both old and fresh recordings. Promoters have first hand resources to publicise Roots music in a free society where the people in the grassroots control the Reggae business both commercial and artistically. In fact, the Swiss are privileged to get lots of world class contact to Reggae, Rocksteady and Ska bands since the early ‘70s where, tours were organised for the money and the freedom enjoyed, especially when it came to the country’s tolerant Ganja weed policy. The impact of acquiring Swiss money in the Reggae business has a tremendous global effect, constantly attracting the best players and singers of Rasta music. Also, Reggae appreciation is very much on the high because most Rasta and deep Reggae lovers uphold the livity enshrined in the principles of Roots music. Although Switzerland is geographically small, its monetary Reggae influence can be equated to the global financial impact of the Swiss banks.
Many big names in Reggae music resides in Switzerland. Man like the mystical Roots legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry who, over the past decade, has adopted this Alp lining country as his home and has some influence on the trend of Reggae music in the Swiss. Prince Alla, the Jamaican sunshine singer, is a regular legal musical visitor. Meeting Alla, I did encounter Geneva based Asher Selecta, the dreaded king of Swiss Reggae. Asher Selecta is the pioneer of Reggae schoolage in Switzerland particularly on the Sound System scene. Other important Reggae singers from this ‘Babylon money’ land comprise the current Roots sensation Cali P of Da Lyrical Faya fame; Andrew Robinson, a ‘Roots Pon Soul’ artist; Pelkay Mosquito; Kido Man and Mary C, the female Rocksteady & Roots artist bridging the gender gap in the industry. Famara is the actual Swiss Reggae ambassador pushing nuff African lyrics and inspirations. Moonraisers band is the most exposed whilst other Swiss based bands worth mentioning include Ideal Vibes, Jahlottes, Mighty Roots, Scrucialists, Inna Crises, The Transformers, Natural Session, Backlashers, Vital Roots, Zion Power, Herbalist, White Belly Rats and Madlighters.
Switzerland’s Sound System scene has evolved from mere spinners of records to institutional producers and recording units. These sort of operational Sound Systems are termed as ‘Projects’, enjoying some incredible positive and fanatic youth following. Active Sound Systems in the Swiss has Asher and his Positive Airlines, Roots & Culture Sound, the enterprising Culture Warrior executing the famous UK Rootsical style. Bless Him Selectors are a harmonious Sound Crew doing everything Reggae and its associating hybrids. Other Roots, Bashment, Ragamuffin and Project Sounds entails Ganja Massive, Heartical Inity, Gideon Soldiers, Jah Roots Hi-fi, King Size, Natural Sounds, Roots Rock Tribes, Swiss Almighty Dub Crew, Sensi Crew, Goldrush and Kya Bamba Sound.
Manoeuvring into the heartlands of Holland and Belgium, Reggae music in both countries is freely discharged and lacks State or institutional control. Thus the deeds of Reggae Sounds is heard, practised and blared out on street level without any impunity. There is a factual belief that a Sound System carries the mantle as the true Reggae diplomat spreading Roots music across Europe and to the rest of the world. From Amsterdam hail Original King Shiloh Sound - artistically and productive wise, it has conquered all other Reggae bands and Sounds in Holland and Belgium. Building their own electronic sound devices and customised giant size boxes, King Shiloh dishes out blasting dynamic Roots and wicked Cultural sessions that is their trade mark of mind buzzing ‘Bass Culture’ sounds. Other interesting bands in Holland constitute the dreaded Ras Benji and the Dub Creators, Awareness, Elijah and his Roots team, Nicky Trinity, Natural Nation, King Sativa, Rough Steppin’ with its Yardie singer Ablas Solo and De Exile Vibration. Kongo`s Katanga Afrikan Roots band is also making good strides in the right environs. Surinam’s Ken Dread & the Revivals is a solid Global Roots band and the youth icon band, New Born Creation from Eindhoven is striving rough and wild with tons of impressions on the Reggae scene. The sensational Roots band, Poor Man’s Friend is a thriller to catch a glimpse of in a Rasta dance. Nice Time band is also very active and getting some strong recognition in Holland. People, with some amount of curiosity, seek out the Dutch band Roots Redemption, an interesting Reggae colour blind band.
Belgian Reggae is dominated by an impressive female Roots band leader Mika who, over the years, has used her consistency and strong conscious Rasta mindset to standardise Belgian Reggae to meet international Roots appeal and expectations. Touching on the array of Belgium Reggae bands, Nayanonki plays authentic Jamaican Rocksteady fused with other elements of Reggae vibrations. Jah Amos is Roots ‘A’ Dub band; Join Star 8 is also respected, intellectual Jazzy Roots Reggae bands from the French influenced territory of Belgium. Moon Invaders are skilful in producing all forms of Reggae instrumentations. Significantly, Mighty Pirates is a dangerous band with some delightful flare as dreadlocks men playing Reggae for a constructive purpose. The band keeps attracting great political and social attention annually. The original seven piece band, the Sun Scrapers from St. Niklass has good attitude towards Reggae dispensation, likewise Univibes is upheld as the Belgian Reggae royals. Other bands worth mentioning includes Proyecto Secreto and Jamain, both are radical using Reggae vibes in the music extensively.
On the Sound System platform in Holland and Belgium, prominent Sounds consist of Love International featuring Lyrical Benji, Shashamane Sound from Amsterdam, Jamaica Juke Box (Eindhoven), Ras Bas from Groningen, Sensie Soundz from Leeuwarden, Togetha Brotha (Utrecht), Selah Sound from Rotterdam, Ovadose Movement from Helmond & Eindhoven. Belgium parades a cream of Sound System with some vigorous Rasta culture. Noticeably, in Belgium is the Industrious Raggamuffin White Man Sound System. Massagana from Brussels operates as the only Pan African Roots pon turntables. The crowd pulling Sound from Antwerp, Mighty Nyan with over twelve years active experience, has toured globally. Shine Irie is the Reggae rocking conscious Belgian sisters doing some famous professional dances with many renowned singers from Jamaica and the UK. Up Hill Sound from Belgium draws the curtain down on our Holland and Belgium Roots compilations.
French Reggae can be equated to the challenges earmarked on the UK Reggae scene as many artists, due to colonial influences, migrated either through Paris or London to seek greener pastures in Europe. Significantly, the French introduction to Reggae music did not come from the Caribbean islands rather they benefited immensely from the French singing exploits of Ivorian Reggae legend, Alpha Blondy after his musical graduation from The Wailers in the early ‘80s. Blondy is the first man to officially sing recognisable Reggae in French. He continues to release albums from France, Africa and Jamaica making him still the Don Dada of French Roots Reggae.
As a living ‘legacy’, Blondy has opened the floodgates for Reggae music to be structured by Black people from Africa and the French colonialised Caribbean islands. Current top ranking Afro-Franco Reggae stars like Tiken Jah Fakoly, Les Nubian (a prominent female Roots group), K2R band, Precubaba (an Afro-Cubana Roots machinery) have all employed their native artistic talents fusing deep traditional Mento rhymes, Kwasakwasa of rhythmic styles and some Rub-A-Dub sounds. Their medium of vocal vibrations are very diversifying spanning from Jamaican Patios through some rough Pidgin English and some street level French medium of reality expression. Other Reggae groups important to mention includes 8*6 Crew, Ya Watcha Clan, a rational band correcting the mistakes of French colonial past by redirecting the cause of present day history through orchestrating solid Groundational Reggae. Gnawa Diffusion is a North African Roots band with members from Morocco, Algeria and few French nationals who have the flair and the tendency to blend Rai music to unadulterated Reggae music.
South African singer, Ras Dumisani has adopted the French capital as one of his European musical home pushing good Zulu Roots productions outta-nationally. The Faya Dub band is an Afro-centric Diasporic. This group has tremendous Roots singers with international calibre like Queen Sheeba, Kali Kanga, Jason Wilson, Jornick Joe-Lick, Sena Casita, Don Hartley and Ras Smalia. Some African oriented Reggae groups in France that need to be highlighted includes Tata Pound, Niomika Bi, Dub Incorporation, Kali Live Dub, La Razzia, Sous Lieutenant Aswad, Tryo and Frequenes Ephemeres.
Concluding, from Sweden is the great Nazarenes band from the horn of African, Eritrea and Ethiopia believing as brothers, playing spiritual Roots Reggae for Jah worship is what has kept and blessed them together as the most exposed Rasta band operating in the chilly Swedish capital of Gothenburg and reaching out to the rest of the world with their kind of Holy Silky and traditional African Roots music.