Upbeat (Summer 1994)

Reggae, dub, binghi, soca, calypso: new cassettes and CDs

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Buju Banton (Mercury Records)

Having subdued the territory, Buju Banton has the right to claim to be the “voice of Jamaica” as this CD claims. No other dj in recent memory has had the same kind of success, particularly in Jamaica where Buju is the toast of the town. The Boom Bye Bye controversy has lost him some ground internationally, but “back a yard” and regionally, Buju is the man.

He is a versatile writer with a range of topical interests common to the dance hall, including of course women and beautiful bodies. But he is an acute commentator too. Listen to how he chronicles the predicament of the Deportees; and Willy Don’t Be Silly is as good an AIDS song as any. This is an international release, so there are crossover tunes too, like Commitment, If Loving Was A Crime and Make My Day, with singers like Wayne Wonder and Brian and Tony Gold as sweeteners. Beres Hammond and Buju collaborate on Little More Time, and Buju meets rapper Busta Rhymes halfway on Wicked Act. The production draws on the current hit combinations, Sly Dunbar and Steelie and Cleevie. Dave Kelly’s work is also in there, with the usual gifted touch.


Sanchez (Greensleeves)

The title of Sanchez’s album is misleading, since it is not about homophobia. It’s a collection of good songs delivered by one of the finest voices in the dancehall. To be sure, some dancehall formulas are followed by including djs Flourgon and Shaka Samba for some combinations, especially the unique gospel/dancehall Rise to Meet Jah. Notwithstanding the dj presence, the duet with Marcia Griffiths on Don’t Stay Away stands on its own. Several cover tunes are transposed into Jamaican idiom; among them Dylan’s classic I Shall Be Released is easily the best, proving that a good song can survive any kind of treatment.


Cocoa Tea (Greensleeves)

The unmistakable tone of Cocoa Tea rings true on this one, a welcome dose of conscious lyrics by the rastaman — something of an overshadowed commodity in Jamaica these days with the rise of the dancehall. However, not all the songs sustain the same level of interest. In some cases Cocoa has borrowed known melodies, but Africa Here I Come is repatriation with militance, and Rastaman Chant is used on two tracks, as is Tony Rebel’s Nazarene Vow, with a guest appearance by Rebel himself on Grow Your Locks. Beware, a powerful caution for Nelson Mandela by Mutabaruka, is the strongest track.


Beres Hammond (VP Records)

Since Beres Hammond has been recording more of his own songs, with a raspy tone reminiscent of American soul and R&B singers, he has risen to the top of the Jamaican scene and has a strong female following. He is unquestionably one of the better writers around and has written all 12 songs in this collection, but he too has moments when lyrical interest is not sustained and melodies develop a sameness. But he is into a winning streak, and such niceties will be of little concern to the fans.


General Grant and others (Kisskidee label, from Caribbean Sound Basin, Trinidad)

General Grant hit the American dub charts last year with his dub-influenced Binghi music, which relies heavily on artists talking over rhythms and represents a new generation of Trinidadian music heavily influenced by Jamaica. Grant and a host of Binghi/rapso artists are featured here with their 1994 Carnival releases. Rapso, which allows more music behind the rapping or talking, is represented by upcoming young artists like Yard Fowl Crew, Kindred, Home Front and Supa Chile. Grant himself sings a remixed version of Chunkalunks and his Carnival offering Soca Make You Ram Ram. Yard Fowl Crew offers a remix of the 1993 summer hit Dan It Up. Supa Chile has a selection called Soca Rumba with a dub-oriented, rumba swing, while Kindred sings rapso hits Blow Way — a tribute in rhythm to the first real rapso man Lancelot Layne- and Freedom Jam, a celebration of life and a call for justice and equality. Home Front, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s newest rapso bands, offers Boom Generation, tracing a line of development from Shadow to rapso, and Rollin’, about a music truck breaking down for Carnival and masqueraders pushing it to the Savannah.


Denyse Plummer (Arden Productions)

This is one of Denyse Plummer’s strongest albums to date. The former Calypso Queen, second only to Calypso Rose in the number of times she captured the title, offers a variety of tracks here, including one of the season’s strongest social commentaries, a traditional calypso called The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. On a lighter note, there is Soca Music and Hands In The Air, a ragga soca written by Plummer and musician/arranger Kenny Phillips, who is also the producer and contributor of another track, Punta Come From Belize.


Various artists (Kisskidee)

A selection of uptempo, dance/party songs from Trinidad and Tobago’s 1994 Camival, including many presented in the Caribbean Sound Basin studio’s Kaiso Karavan. Anselm Douglas sings his two Road March contenders Wine Down and Ragga Poom Poom, and Alan Welch sings Leggo The Bam Bam. A se- lection from the Trinidad brass band Sound Revolution features Denyse Belfon singing Wag Your Tail, and chutney singer Marsha Ali provides an introduction to the soca-influenced Indian music that has found popularity in Trinidad. Kenny Phillips and Leston Paul contribute a variety of arrangements. Producer is Robin Imamshah.


Lord Kitchener (Coral Studios)

The 1994 album from Trinidad and Tobago’s all-time Road March King features Earthquake, which set the crowds rocking when arranged for steel orchestra at Panorama. An uptempo version of No Wuk For Carnival is a tongue-in-cheek look at basic Trinidad philosophy — ask me to work any day except Carnival Monday and Tuesday. That Bed Too Cold For Me is a reminder that Kitch is still a master of humour. Wayne Bruno is featured on guitar and Leston Paul on synthesiser and piano, with arrangements by Boyie Mitchell.


The Baron (J. W. Productions)

Timothy Watkins, The Baron, is one of the sweetest voices in calypso. Selections on this album include Divorce Lady, Sugar Dumplin, Mother Earth Cryin’ (written by calypsonian Delamo) and Get Some Lovin’ Lady (by one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most successful songwriters, Merchant). Baron, a finalist in this year’s Calypso Monarch competition, is a perennial crowd pleaser best known for his social commentaries and sexy love songs which showcase his powerful voice. Arrangements here are by Leston Paul.


Eddy Grant (Ice Records)

Caribbean superstar Eddy Grant, who made waves with his blend of Caribbean pop in the sixties and seventies, offers his interpretation of soca hits from some of Trinidad and Tobago’s biggest soca and calypso stars. Included are remakes of SuperBlue’s 1980 Road March hit Soca Baptist; David Rudder’s 1986 Road March Bahia Girl; and party songs like Ra Ti Ray and Get Up And Dance. Grant sings calypso and soca classics like Kitchener’s Sugar Bum Bum and Miss Tourist, Sparrow’s Ten To One Is Murder, and Roaring Lion’s Ugly Woman. Also included are Georgetown Girl, Umnayao and Tobago Gal. Barbados calypso is represented by the Mighty Gabby’s Gisela From Panama. Recorded at Blue Wave Studio in Barbados, the album features the legendary Trinidadian guitarist Fitzroy Coleman.


SuperBlue (Ice Records)

Ten selections from the highly successful Trinidad and Tobago Road March singer, who lost his title this year to Preacher. Included are his 1994 contender Flag Party and several new selections: Jab Molassie, The Party Breakaway, Dinosaur, Blow Something. SuperBlue blends the best of traditional jab-jab rhythms and lavway. He also offers soca remakes of Eddy Grant’s hit Do You Feel My Love, the Beatles’ Yesterday and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and the Elvis Presley classic Can’t Help Falling In Love With You. Produced by SuperBlue and Eddy Grant, with arrangements by Pelham Goddard.


Iwer George

The unofficially crowned king of the party scene explores new territory in his 1994 Carnival release. There’s a rare glimpse of his serious side in a social commentary called Plant The Land; on the party side, there’s Do The Iwer, a dance he named after himself, and a ragga-influenced song called Soca Butterfly. Iwer teamed up for Carnival 1994 with the legendary arranger Pelham Goddard.


Clive Alexander, Annise Hadeed, Gayap Music Workshop (Delos DE 4019)

In the spirit of Trinidad and Tobago’s Pan Jazz Festival, which fosters dialogue between steelband and jazz musicians, this CD in the Caribbean Carnival Series features musical dialogue mainly between Caribbean jazz pianist Clive Alexander, alias Zanda, and virtuoso pannist Annise Hadeed. The music evolved from a series of genuine improvisations and, conversations, rooted in Zanda’s calypso-jazz idiom. One interesting innovation is the use of fingers instead of sticks to play the pans on some tracks, producing a haunting effect a bit like an African thumb piano. There are some fine backup musicians involved, including guitar virtuoso Fitzroy Coleman, percussionist Mervyn de Gannes and bassist Gerald Charles. Mungal Patasar and Jody Doodnath supply some exciting exchanges between pan, sitar and tabla.