Reggae’s Most Successful Advocate
It must be said that the ‘Shaggs Man’ is all that and then some. Topping the music charts is, to most artists, the ultimate achievement in their career - that the general public is actually feeling your music is the greatest satisfaction of all. But to consistently do it globally (with multiple albums and singles) especially in the genre of Reggae is a little bit more than special. It kinda blows the fishes out of the water! The Grammy award-winning Reggae superstar has continually built bridges between the Pop and Reggae world. And to date, he has sold in excess of 20 million records globally.
His debonair career had taken flight in 1993 with the release of ‘Pure Pleasure’, his debut album. It featured a sensational version of the Folkes Brothers’ 1960s classic Oh Carolina (Jamaica’s first ever ‘Reggae’ song) which, became one of the biggest hit singles in UK’s Pop history and went on to top the charts in no fewer than nine other countries. And on his debut world tour that year, Shaggy left audiences weak especially in Europe. Along with the release of the landmark album ‘Boombastic’ in 1995, Shaggy became a household name connecting with US audiences in a big way. Hits from as far back as then and others along the way (It Wasn’t Me, Angel, Church Heathen, Bad Man Don’t Cry, etc.) had firmly engraved his signature on the notepads of record history. The Reggae world would have look as far back as the days of Bob Marley & The Wailers for similar exploits. Renowned as a genius, there’s clearly no stopping the musical don. He remains a master of many styles - from Pop and R&B to Reggae and Dancehall - appealing to every kind of music fan.
Although he has lived his entire adult life in the USA, Shaggy’s roots are grounded in Kingston, Jamaica where he was born Orville Richard Burrell on 22 October 1968. As a child, his friends nicknamed him ‘Shaggy’ after the comic cartoon character ‘Scooby Doo’. Music was always his passion, even as a boy growing up on the island. “Reggae hasn’t got a radio format in Jamaica, they just play what they want so, my influences range from Ska, Dancehall and Rocksteady to Soca and R&B”. Over the years, Shaggy has worked with some of the heaviest producers the industry has to offer such as Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Robert Livingston, Dave Kelly and others. He writes most of his material himself so expect him to come with fresh new licks every time and his distinctive, totally unique sing-jay vocal style adds the ‘cherry on top’.
In the entertainment world, the ‘Shaggs Man’ can do no wrong as alongside his exceptional albums and singles; he gets busy contributing songs to notable film soundtracks. Plus he runs various Charity events to help the children of Jamaica namely, his annual ‘Shaggy & Friends’ concerts. “All I want to do is make classic records. You don’t have to come on board from day one just as long as somewhere along the line, you do. Come to a Shaggy concert and I guarantee that when you leave, you’ll be a Shaggy fan”, states the confidently feisty and very affluent maestro.
The Cosmopolitan Virtuoso
With an image and persona that appeal to all races, creed and colour; a genre of music that’s truly universal; a style that’s easily accessible, it’s a no-brainer that this was a good recipe for success - well, that’s exactly what it was… no, it was in fact ‘something like a phenomenon’ (to quote a line from Hip-hop ace LL Cool J)! Reggae music wise and in the dancehalls, the start of the new millennium belonged to one artist. Young, Old, Black, White, Gentile, Jew - were all singing, dancing and purchasing his albums to the tune of six million copies! Into 2011 and nothing much has changed. Sean Paul, the Jamaican Deejay that could do no wrong when he released the set ‘Dutty Rock’ back in 2002, is still mashing things up wherever he goes… but, I guess you all knew that already! So, with baited breath, we eagerly await his return to the top of the charts when Signor Henriques starts to ‘light things up’ again.
Raw, uncut Jamaican Reggae was once considered ‘underground’ music but these days, cosmopolitan ‘street wise’ kids living in Suburbia will tell you that Reggae’s the ‘in ting on road’ and it’s ‘proper cool’. And to be honest, it’s hard to remember a time when Hip-hop stars weren’t rocking Rasta colours and R&B idols weren’t jumping on Reggae beats. But that’s the way the world turns and evidently we need to move with the times or get left behind! The landmark ‘Dutty Rock’ album had done changed the game. “We flip the switch and the game just change, Dutty Cup music drive them insane”, Sean da Paul once rhymed. And now it’s time for him to ‘change the game’ all over again. The music scene just hasn’t been the same since Kingston, Jamaica-born Sean Paul Henriques blazed a firestorm of hit tunes - from ‘Gimme The Light’ to ‘Like Glue’ to ‘I’m Still In Love With You’ (with Sasha) to ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’ - that went straight from the hardcore dancehall audience to the international market with no remix required. No doubt, Sean has kept the flame burning bright and swelled the ranks of believers by carrying on the works of dance hall superstars like Yellowman, Shabba Ranks, Super Cat, Buju Banton and Beenie Man. The infectious sounds of the Kingston streets crossing over to a wider audience meant that authentic Jamaican Reggae was being embraced as ‘Popular’ music on a global scale.
Prestigious accolades like the Grammys, International Reggae and World Music Awards swiftly found a home in Sean Paul’s trophy cabinet as he represented his Jamaican heritage to the fullest. The first Reggae artist to appear on the cover of Vibe magazine dressed in the national Jamaican colours, to boot. He had taken his explosive live show on the road, rocking stadium-sized venues from Vegas to Ethiopia and celebrated by visiting the pyramids of Egypt. And then he marvelled, “Almost six million records sold? That’s crazy! Years ago that was just a dream. Well, it’s time to make it happen again”. You heard…??
Reggae’s Royals Uplift & Brings Back Unity To The Genre
When Morgan Heritage burst on to the Reggae scene in 1995, it was always going to be interesting to see what the perspective of time would have on this unique group. Rootsical harmonising groups used to be a staple of the Reggae landscape (Culture, Mighty Diamonds, Israel Vibration etc.) but throughout the 1990s, the influence of the deejay or solo artist has been predominant. Despite this Morgan Heritage have stacked up albums, hits and hype and have forged a single-minded path headed towards more unity and creativity. We sat down with them to discover what the motivating forces were that inspire and drive this invigorating family of musicians.
There is one topic that keeps rising to the surface when speaking to this group and that is ‘the family’. As Una explains, “Unity is definitely our greatest achievement along with the togetherness that we have achieved over the years. It is the love of God that keeps us so close. When inspiration comes to Mojo, Peter or myself we come together and collaborate on it”. Gramps elaborates further on the beauty of being a family band member. “Everyone carries a different portfolio – Una controls the business aspect; Peter spearheads the lyrical composing; Mojo and Peter handles the production/drum programming while I play the keyboards; Lukes is good with figures and so does the accounts. So although it sounds like a lot of things, we split it up amongst ourselves and together we have unity”.
Morgan Heritage has realised that the collection of their diverse talents and personalities can also be used in other areas of life. Like many of Reggae’s more organised artists, they have established their own labels; have taken control of their own publishing and are heavily involved in the production of other artists. To date, they have produced such artists as Bushman, Ras Shiloh, Jah Cure and were the team behind Capleton’s awesome ‘Jah Jah City’. Peter explains,
“We have two labels – 71 Records is based in the USA and HMG (Heritage Music Group) Records is based in Jamaica. Our publishing is controlled as Denroy Music Incorporated. We spend a lot of time in the studio working on our own productions but we have to then balance it between working in the studio, rehearsing, producing and writing for other artists and so on”.
The refreshing factor about Morgan Heritage is that they are clearly not in the business for a quick return on their products. The music is paramount while the mechanisms and follies of the industry are not. Lukes explains, “To stay focussed, you first have to know yourself and from that you see a lot of things”. This self-searching is explained further by Gramps, “Naturally we strive for righteousness and try to be our strongest critics. Yuh haffi try to do good because the road of the righteous is narrow”.
Stimulation and ideas is one thing that the Heritage will have in abundance right into the next millennium. “When you look at what’s really happening in the world today, you can never run out of ideas. Morgan Heritage is not about platinum discs. We want our music to become like medicine for those who are weary and who can maybe draw for a Heritage album and feel comforted”.
Reggae’s Hall Of Fame Bobo Ashanti Ras
Miguel Collins aka Sizzla Kalonji grew up in the August Town community of St. Andrew, once the capital of Jamaica, the home of authentic Reggae music. Being disciplined in the Rastafarian way of life, gave way for spiritual guidance hence the majority of his songs have Rasta or religious overtones. With the release of excess amount of albums, his name was elevated to super stardom status and he stands as one of the strongest ingredients in the universal concoction of contemporary Reggae music.
The Bobo Ashanti Ras continually causes intense excitement wherever he performs thus has swiftly established his position as one of the leaders of modern Reggae. The Kalonji’s true uniqueness lies in his understated ‘sing-jay’ style and this uniqueness sets him apart as an artist from his peers. His catalogue of releases has surged to titanic proportions as every producer everywhere wants a piece of him! While his momentum and capability for generating excitement continues to escalate; his strong musical flow exudes maturity and there is a natural competitive edge that he maintains throughout. Along with his contemporaries, he has convened a novel concept in Reggae music; a whole new lifestyle, street culture and dance trend that is the fashionable lick amongst young people from all corners of the globe.
The Radical Youth
The one Jah Cure had inspired and awakened the world to the reality of sweet Reggae music and the essence of a message in song. His poetic vision, unique vocal ability and rhythmic delivery brilliantly conveyed the spiritual side of the human condition and the cultural potential of his environment. He has undoubtedly captured both the universal appeal and the mystic feel that is ingrained within Reggae music and that quality is often hard to find. The Cure’s message and work proved both timely and timeless.
Born Siccature Alcock on 11 October 1978 in Cascade in the western region of Jamaica known as Hanover, Jah Cure was always singing as a youth. Music provided his only escape and his fame as an artist began while he was a teenager. Blessed by renowned Reggae stalwart Capleton with the name ‘Jah Cure’, he has had a very dramatic past. However, whilst incarcerated, his musical career flourished beyond recognition. Amidst the most unlikely of scenario, he released albums and singles that topped global charts. And, into 2011, his uniquely powerful voice and lyrical deftness continues to amaze and inspire.
The Lioness Has Risen
She treats the Stage like a battlefield and has the most ferocious female performance Reggae has ever seen... “Our music is to remind listeners because I strongly believe that women can be the ones to make the change. Man is there as the head already and the provider but, when the man leaves because of whatever pressures, the woman is there with the twenty children raising them by any means necessary. So that force she has is a force that feeds off the nine months of carrying a youth, you don’t know, you don’t see but, you just know seh your responsibility is to make sure that life comes to earth. It is just an extra feed we get. They come here and we cannot abandon them. Jah put us on earth to keep earth together so we have to do it.
We have to give thanks and know seh I and I as younger generation weh ah carry on the work, we have a job to do and we are carrying it out to the best of our ability. We have many women around the world but, we represent that ultimate force that is coming out of the earth, of Ethiopia, the middle of the land, the middle of the world. It is all about embracing what we are here to do and that is respecting ourselves and doing the job we are here to do. Babylon have a strategy weh dem use and dem abuse the female because the female is the one that has the influence on the man. The female, no matter how mighty and terrible and dreadful the man, he always has a woman whispering in his ear every now and again. So Babylon created the system to keep the woman vulnerable and keep them half-naked so the men are always distracted from the work they are supposed to do. So women [must] come forward in themselves and respect their queenly-ness. It does not mean you have to put on locks and long clothes, just embrace the woman in you. Embrace the femininity in you and what you came here to do”.
The Philosophical Prophet
To mainstream observers of Black music he is known as the ‘Fire Man’ – to aficionados of Jamaica’s Reggae music, he is The Prophet. And since Clifton Bailey III introduced himself to his audience as Capleton – in tribute to the Advocacy Lawyer who established a reputation as St. Mary’s answer to Johnny Cochran – the incendiary MC has carved a niche for himself as a key figure in modern Jamaican popular culture. Capleton is one of the acts who provide the bridge between classical Reggae and her controversial grandchild, Dancehall or Bashment. The erstwhile Prophet’s accomplishments in his chosen field have progenitored a stature within wider Jamaican society that is only paralleled in the cult of celebrity status that is prevalent within the USA and Britain.
Hardly a week goes by without some mention of the latest comings and goings of the ‘More Fire’ man within the Jamaican press; whether through his ongoing underwriting of the debts incurred by the Municipal Hospital in his birth parish of St. Mary. Or his various contributions to a plethora of schools across Jamaica or due to a prolific output which amounts to the release of approximately two singles per week or the breathtaking round of sell-out concert tours across the Isle of Springs, across the Caribbean, across the USA and across England. We could go on but, here at G MaG, we don’t work for fame or fortune or career – we work for the people and strive to give the people what they want. Which is, apparently, More Prophet.
The Conscious Reggae Ambassador
Omar Riley aka Tarrus Riley, son of one of Reggae’s legendary singers, Jimmy Riley, has a vibe and a sound that’s uniquely his own. He sets a trend as he continues to defend the path of conscious, Lovers Rock and Roots music and is acclaimed as one of Jamaica’s most captivating new ‘Heartists’. The future is more than promising for this hardworking and devoted artist. In the midst of all his musical commitments, Riley finds the time to give back to his community by organizing free concerts at Leithall, St. Thomas where, he invites other artists to come and do guest appearances free to the public along with Soundwave Sound System. Some of the artists who have given Riley support in this endeavour are I-Wayne, Lenin, Ras Shiloh, Sugar Roy, Conrad Crystal and Fantan Mojah.
Riley has also launched a clothes line called the ‘Black Soil Designs’, a Roots vibe style of clothing wear and accessories. “We give thanks to Mr. Dean Fraser, our musical arranger and the Black Soil band with musicians like Glen Browne on bass, Winter on keyboards, Monty on guitar, my harmony singers Sherita, Shereda and Connie. You know, it is a collective effort, I give them vibes and they give me vibes. We nah brag but, we know that we are making good music because we worked at it like when you are studying for a test and you say, yes! I am prepared. We pressure ourselves in getting it good; not by forcing anything but by practicing. And especially working with Dean, he is truly the ‘dean of music’. It has to be right, when you are working, it is a serious thing; afterwards you can go outside and laugh and talk, it is as simple as that”.
The Young & Gifted
Romain Virgo is a son of Stepney District in the parish of St Ann, Jamaica which is about 1km from Nine Miles, the birth place of Reggae legend, Bob Marley. Virgo started singing in church at a very young age. He realized his vocal talents when he was just nine years old as he participated in his church concerts and did very well. At age eleven, he was awarded a place at Aabuthnot Gallimore High School where, he continued his singing career. He later competed in several cultural events winning several gold medals. His first taste of stardom came in 2006 when he led his school’s choir to second place in the popular local television programme, ‘All Together Sing’. In 2007, he entered and won the Digicel Rising Star competition. He was later endorsed by the Pepsi Cola company and his picture was displayed on the Pepsi drink bottle making him the first Jamaican to achieve such an endorsement. With that experience, an unyielding desire to touch as many hearts as possible through song was borne.
Virgo is so committed to his craft that he’s currently pursuing a degree at the Edna Manley School of the Performing Arts. He describes his singing personality as an ‘old soul’ as he loves the timeless melodies and compositions that many have regarded as ‘oldies’. He tries to find the right song that fits not only his personality but also his voice. His chart busting song ‘Mi Caan Sleep’, received massive air play globally and was recorded for veteran producer Donavon Germaine on the Penthouse label. The song ‘Wanna Go Home’, recorded on the Vikings label for producer Darwin Brown, also enjoyed massive air play. So, there is a lot of success in store for this new Reggae sensation who, is managed by Vikings Production. If Romain Virgo can remain grounded and keep his focus then we will certainly hear a lot of hit songs from this gifted artist.
Reggae’s First Lady
Marcia Griffiths stands as the greatest female Reggae vocalist ever to emerge from the home and nerve centre of Reggae music, the land of Jamaica. The word icon, legendary, renowned etc. is sometimes hurled around inappropriately but not in this case, for Marcia has more than earned the right to that tag. From the very start of her career back in 1968, her early days at Studio One, her return to Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd’s studios in 1996 and her recent stuff with other legends like Beres Hammond, Marcia has set impeccable standards in Reggae music that other female artists can only but emulate. As leader of the I-Three with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt, she garnered critical acclaim around the world for providing those memorable backing vocals to the late Bob Marley (1974-1981).
And, after over 40 years of relentlessly churning out the hits, Marcia continues to deliver in 2009. Ardent fans will remember classic cuts like ‘Feel Like Jumping’, ‘Truly’, ‘Hurting Inside’, ‘Medley Life’ and ‘Mark My Word’ from her Studio One collections but, if you look at the current charts, Marcia’s right up there alongside today’s artists, a mark of a true living legend. Watch out folks for no doubt, over the next 40 years and beyond, the then generation will be jumping around to the wonderful sounds of Marcia Griffiths – ‘Queen Majesty’.
Music Is Life
At one time in Jamaica he was known as the Soulful singer, the vocalist that wooed female audiences. But before long he became one of the world’s foremost balladeer, adding his whiskey-grained voice to authentic Reggae rhythms. The man who, brings out the Soul in Reggae music, makes Lovers Rock loveable and, in fact, many couples mave love to his music. Such is the influence of the man and his music.
Hugh Beresford Hammond was born in Annotto Bay, St. Mary, Jamaica. To say that his songs were only about love would be a gross understatement as his lyrical content covers a variety of topics touching the width of Roots Consciouness as it glides along the bounds of Dancehall sensibilities. If there was any one Jamaican artist that hits among the old and young generation alike, Beres has proven himself to be that artist who can readily move with the times. His songwriting skills are beyond compare, the very best there is as he stands head and shoulders above other singer/songwriters of this time. With a musical career spanning nearly forty years, his accomplishments to date can be characterised as nothing less than phenomenal.
Reggae Music’s ‘Cool Ruler’ [R.I.P.]
The UK’s Reggae fraternity may have coined the phrase ‘Lovers Rock’ (a significant sub genre) but long, long before that the likes of Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, Dennis Brown and the one Gregory Isaacs were delivering those smooth, sensuous love songs to the masses whilst the British contingents were literally just babies! Isaacs was one of the most enduring of Reggae’s legendary vocal artists. He began his career, like his friends, around 1968; the year Reggae music was born. Since then, he has churned out untold amounts of albums, singles; has toured the world over and his music can still be heard in the dances, clubs and on the airwaves. In fact, in 2010, Gregory was nominated for a Reggae Grammy with the album 'Brand New Me' (Tads Records). Of course, vintage classics like ‘Mr Isaacs’ and the definitive ‘Cool Ruler’ have never left Sound System’s turntables since they were first recorded!
Lyrically, Isaacs had been potently versatile as he conveyed his personal brand of love songs, African consciousness and topical interests, naturally. His African Museum label, co-founded with Errol Dunkley in the early ‘70s, was just as active as the ‘Cool Ruler’ was a Reggae soldier!
The legendary Freddie McGregor is without doubt, a true Reggae icon, a consummate vocalist who requires no real introduction. People of all ages, from across the board have been treated to some truly awesome performances and excellent songs during his illustrious forty plus year reign at the top of Reggae music.
As an exponent of Lover’s Rock and Roots & Cultural music, McGregor’s appeal goes beyond his unique brand of Reggae music as he is a fine producer with his own Studios where he has developed the talents of many artists. His extensive album catalogue dates back to the early ‘70s and includes classics like ‘Bobby Babylon’, ‘Big Ship’ and ‘Rumours’. Being ever the entertainer, whenever and wherever McGregor appears in concert; his songs like ‘Let Him Try’, ‘I’m A Revolutionist’ and ‘Big Ship’ sound vibrantly fresh and are totally inspiring. Truly deserving of the ‘Order of Distinction’ (OD) awarded by the Jamaican government, Freddie McGregor has accumulated numerous accolades over the years. So for quality Reggae music delivered with an abundance of energy, one needs to look no further.