Saturday, December 03, 2005

King of the Dancehall

Here's a version of the piece I wrote for the Montreal Mirror this week. I'll try and work up a take with more info--I spoke to Beenie Man for a while, so I gots a lot more stuff, though some of it is somewhat confusing and bizarre.

Beenie Man, born Moses Davis, is one of the more controversial and confusing characters in the Jamaican music industry. Demonised internationally for his hateful homophobic attitudes, adored and hailed as a ghetto success story in Jamaica, and embraced by producers, performers, fans and the Grammy awards in America, the one-time “boy wonder” has apologised for his offensive lyrics, but he’s also craftily maintained his stance in yard. Though he’s tough to pin down—and whether a man who refers to himself as a “Grindacologist” can really take a moralistic stance à la Capleton is an open question—there’s no doubt that Beenie Man has cranked out some of the most entertaining and engaging dancehall tunes ever. And thankfully, those, as opposed to the few negative tunes, are what he’s known for. Want proof? Two words: zim zimma. The Mirror caught up with him at his recording studio where he was working on a new album.

M: For your new album are you going to stick with more of a serious dancehall feel like you did with Back To Basics?

BM: Yeah.

M: On Tropical Storm you worked with the Neptunes and Janet Jackson—it was very internationally focused. Do you think that the international audience is ready for dancehall?

BM: The problem is, you have to give it to dem until they ready fi it. Because dem never ready fi rap music either: gangsta rap or all of dem tings dem, until gangsta rap becomes the biggest music in America, seen? So it’s for us to feed dem the dancehall music until dem becomes familiar. It’s not like everyone in America speaking Spanish and look at it: reggaeton is big, yuh know? If dancehall make that music, then dancehall can make it.

M: You’ve been involved in reggae since you were a youth.

BM: Since five.

M: And you’re coming from Waterhouse, a famous area for music in Kingston. I was wondering if you could tell me what the influence of King Jammy’s and the Waterhouse sound was on you.

BM: I was before King Jammy’s. My uncle used to own a sound call “Master Blaster”. It when Jammy was engineer at King Tubby’s studio. Tullo T, Pompidou, John Wayne, all of these artists didn’t really have a chance. From that day now den Jammy’s, pick up di dancehall ting den. Him becomes an international dancehall sound. It was like a highlight of his influence towards the music, but there was good music before Jammy’s sound. Jammy’s give wi a chance to go out there so people can know the product of Waterhouse artists. Wi respect Jammy for that. He never give us no influence or nothing, we influence him fi build a sound. Him live in a government house and him have an 8-track machine, that before him become King Jammy.

M: So you’ve seen the music develop.

BM: Jamaican music start get recognized now, seen? Sean Paul sell five million, Shaggy sell, what, 30 million?

M: And now Damian Marley.

BM: Selling a lot, so you dun know, dancehall is there.

M: But a lot of people see dancehall as being all gal tunes, gun do you define dancehall?

BM: Dancehall music is the authenticness of Jamaicans and the militancy of Jamaicans. That’s what it is, because it represent the culture and nothing else, that’s what it is.

M: It allows people to talk about a lot of different things.

BM: Yes, it represent you. Everybody is not politician or writer for newspaper. You express yourself through the paper, I express myself through the music.

M: People have written about your lyrical battles with Bounty Killer and, more recently, your more literal battles with Capleton. Has this conflict been resolved?

BM: That was a long time ago, like three years ago. People still have grievance inna dem heart, but not mi. For mi it’s peace, that’s it.

M: Much like Capleton, you’ve received criticism for your lyrics. In fact, when I reviewed Back to Basics for the Montreal Mirror, I received criticism myself for having reviewed a record by someone who holds homophobic beliefs. How would you defend yourself?

BM: People just try to fight against the music, they’re not only just try to fight against mi, they’re try to fight against the music. I am the king of the dancehall. I am the one that can take the music to the level where it is, I am the one who can represent dancehall music like how Michael Jackson, him represent pop. Dem don’t want mi to reach that level. People ask mi this same question and I tell them that I am against man that have sex with little kids. I cannot be against man that have consensual sex. If two big man want to have sex, it’s their perogative, that’s my opinion. But if you try to get the likkle ghetto youth ‘cause dem nah have no money and dem come with the money and try to give to dem. That is what I am against. I tell that to di world.

M: So your problem is with pedophiles.

BM: Yes. My foundation is the Beenie Man Foundation for Troubled Youth. Some molested kids mi have inna mi foundation wi have fi deal with. We have fi fix dem mentally and physically, fi true.

M: And also, I know that here in Montreal and in Toronto, people are specifically worried about the violence in the music and how it affects young people.

BM: There’s no violence in di music man. Violence in people heart. That’s foolish, no violence in di music. Some write di baddest gun tune inna di world. Why? Because it in di imagination. People need to stop that, talking about violence and music. Music have no to do with violence.

M: Do you think that if people can talk about it in a song they won’t do it in real life?

BM: Simple. Violence is there; it’s a reality. Kids live what dem learn. Man is shot every day for nothing, police kill people, innocent people every day for nothing, That’s what they talk ‘bout.

M: What do you think is the solution?

BM: I do community development. Everywhere violence is going on, I try to create a football competition, I try to create a football field, I try to create some work or a clean-up campaign. I try to get dem look at a mirror to see the reality of these tings, because these youth dem a shoot their own friends. So that is what I do. Then every year I keep up a free show, it cost like 3.7 Jamaican dollars to do it, but these people nah make millions of dollars a year. I invite all the top stars in Jamaica and di people who cannot afford to go to the Sting or the SumFest or the SunSplash can just come and enjoy themselves right here.

M: So if you act as selector and were going to drop a few tunes, what would you play for the people? And you can’t choose yourself!

BM: Well it depends on the vibes and di people dem, yuh know? Say you go to a dance and dem play riddims and di vibe it is dead. You try to lift up di crowd by playing dem more popular tune and then go from there. But if you in a dance where di vibes is more conscious so you go with Jah Cure, see mi a say, you try to keep it at a level so you cyaan really pick a tune the way they’re played. It’s a selector ting. You say “if” I am a selector—I’ve never flopped a dance before.

M: Never?

BM: My vibes, I work for dem. Mi nah know what dem waan fi hear and mi just give dem it. A man den at di dance: him nah have no money, him nah drink a beer all night. You cyaan look pon him and feel unhappy. You only look at yourself and say, “I’m gwaan mash up di dance!”

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Long time no writing

I've been a neglectful blogger. That seems to be a bit of an ongoing theme here...I've been a titch busy. I will, however, be adding a few things in this space soon enough. There should (if all goes well) be a few new interviews. I spoke to Warrior King a couple of weeks ago and Damian Marley this past Wednesday. I've got a Beenie Man interview lined up, so, if all goes well, I'll provide some director's cuts for y'all to read.

Until then, you might want to take a look at my class blog. I teach West Indian Lit at Vanier college here in lovely Montreal, and I'm consistently impressed with my dear students. Although we call it CEGEP, it's really grade 12 and grade 13 + community college all thrown into the same building. It makes for some interesting classes and some vibrant discussions...

Check it out:
West Indian Lit

Friday, August 19, 2005

Saturday, July 09, 2005

How great is Tiombe Lockheart?

Ahh, how I like outdoor shows--bad sound be damned, I was just happy at Thursday's Platinum Pied Pipers Jazz Fest appearance to be standing around outdoors listing to great music, and by music I mean stuff I can dance to, and by stuff I can dance too, I mean stuff that sounds like this.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Nice up the Dance

I've been a bad bad blogger. Sorry for the incredible delay in updating, but I've been a titch busy planning a trip to Guyana. Me and a group of terrific folks (I like that word, D, so there!) from all over this here continent will be going to that continent to work on a Habitat for Humanity building project. I'm the team leader-no laughing! I'm a competent individual. Honest!

In more musically related news, I wrote this week's Montreal Mirror cover story on 80s dancehall...hope you like. I had a great time talking to Yellowman. I mentioned Wayne's work on the Mad Mad riddim (if you haven't heard his radio programme dealing with the migration of the Mad Mad do so here, then here, and finally here. I played it for one of my classes and they were super impressed) and he was quite pleased to learn of the longevity of his "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng" melody and insisted that his style has been used for more commercial uses: "Sounds and words can put together and make something good. Even as simple as, look at Mazda they use a little bit of sound: 'zoom zoom zoom hey zoomzoomzoom' just like that, you know?" Whaddya think, Mr. Marshall?

Anyhow, if you wanna read about the changes in the dance from the 80s till today as seen by Shinehead, Chakademus and Pliers, Sugar Minott and King Yellow, check here.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Yet another reason I need to plan a trip to London soon...

The last time I was in London was in late June of last year. Disclaimer-pardon the pretentious jet-setting mentioned in the next sentence. I was on my way to Ethiopia and I stopped in for a bit to see my pals Joel and Dave. In the first hour I was in London I proceeded to leave my passport, all my identification, my credit cards and about 75 bucks on the tube. I've been told I should thank His Imperial Majesty, because, after crying my eyes out to the lovely fellow at Hammersmith station for a good half hour, someone had located my bag at Northfields.

Anyhow, my point is that though I'm an idiot, there are most certainly some fine folks in London and some of them are throwing a special version of their already special regular party, Heatwave vs Mas Fuego. Along with the usual mish-mash of dancehall, reggaeton, r'n'b, soca, Latin hip hop, reggae and zouk courtesy of resident DJs Heatwave (Punchline Records), Lubi (Nascente Records) and MDK (Twice as Nice), we gots some women holding it down: Lady Chann (Suncycle - dancehall/bashment), Criola aka Gemini (Latin Clan - reggeaton/R'n'B), No Lay (Unorthodox - grime/garage) and DJ Lexy Lu (Rethink London).

C'mon, if Time Out says these folks are "exciting new luminaries", dontcha wanna be there? Just don't forget your shit on the tube on the way over to Whitechapel-I've got a feeling that Jah's probably tired of locating the personal effects of scatterbrained music fans.

Just in case you need directions:
Friday 20th May 2005 @ The Rhythm Factory
16-18 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1EW
Tube: Aldgate East / Whitechapel
Buses: 25, 205, 254, N25, N106, N205 & N254
9pm-4am > £5 before 11pm/NUS > £8 otherwise

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Blood and Fire turns double digits

Blood and Fire, really and truly the best reggae reissue label in the world, turns 10 years old this year. To commemorate this momentous and wonderfully happy occasion, they've issued this terrific, King Tubby-heavy collection of tunes. You can check my review in the Montreal Mirror, and, in commemoration of this event, I thought I might as well dig an interview I did with Steve Barrow-one of the nicest fellows around. He and his family make sure I'm fed well whenever I'm in London. Anyhow, this was a great conversation and it's so much longer than what I'm going to post here. If you want the rest, just ask and I'll take the time to edit it enough so it's presentable-there's lots more good stuff-Steve talking about kids who listen to loud car stereos, how to pick the best punanny version, and the fact that he's not the biggest fan of Lee Perry. I'm a little low on time at the moment. Oh, and if you're interested in the Tree of Satta we're talking about and you don't already own it, run, don't walk. Seriously. It's wicked.

Originally published in Under Pressure magazine, August 2005.

Something sensible in the dance

One of the founders of renowned reggae label Blood and Fire, Sterve Barrow’s been behind the reissue of masterpieces like the Lee Perry-produced Heart of the Congos. He’s also someone you feel you should sit back, shut up, and listen to. Though the spring release of Tree of Satta has met with criticism for including both old and new artists (god help him, modern dancehall artists) on the legendary Studio One Satta Massa Gana riddim, Barrow stands by the record. The man’s got his own opinions about pretty much everything, including the insistence on heralding the 1970s as the ‘golden age’ of reggae. Given his encyclopedic knowledge and real knack for telling it like it is, I thought Steve might be able to provide me with some good strong arguments I could use on the next person who tells me to get on the dub train and stop listening to “lame new roots reggae” and “oompah oompah fuck you fuck you” dancehall.

E: Do you think that today’s Jamaican music will last?
S: That’s a good question. Will people be playing Elephant Man in 20 years? Yeah, I think there will be a couple of tracks. There will be odd albums, tracks by Capleton, there will be the Black Woman and Child album from Sizzla, there will be the Real Revolutionary album from Anthony B—those albums are classic albums in any period and as good as anything from the 70s and better than a lot of the crap that was put out in the 70s that people don’t remember now. Will there be people collecting these records in 30 years time? I bet they fucking will. If people collect Smiths records, the worst deejay in Jamaica doesn’t have a problem.

There are classic records being made like Luciano, and Jah Mali, Jah Mason, all of these new guys have made their little classics. Like how everyone made their little classics back in the 70s. But they are that, little classics. There are no big classics in Jamaica. There’s no equivalent to a James Joyce’s Ulysses or Eisenstein’s October. But you aren’t looking for that. It’s as classic as an Andy Warhol print because it’s great mass-produced art.

E: A lot of the glorification of the 70s results from believing what was around back then was fantastic, but there’s been years to sift through it. We just need to give time for 80s and 90s reggae to sink in . . . we need to figure out how to listen to it. I’ve often thought that in order to appreciate this you need to appreciate the context. To understand the Sleng Teng, stand in front of a sound system playing it.
S: Yes. When you play it on a casio keyboard using some little preset, it’s sort of a take off of Eddie Cochrane more than anything else—some rock rhythm programmed. When you play it through a big sound like Jammy’s, it’s going to sound like a killer.

E: What led you to release Tree of Satta with the range of artists you chose?
S: I know that it’s a classic riddim. Having played the riddim track for the last 6 years—and I’ve had various people deejaying and singing on it—it’s an inspiring riddim. Everyone knows the song, it’s a standard. When Bernard Collins came to us with the project, he only had 14 cuts, so I said what about getting some new guys on it? Anthony B was my first choice and he’s someone that’s always impressed me out of the new artists. He’s better than a load of people from the 70s. Way better. It’s because he’s got more to say.

I had no idea he was going to record Natural Black and, sure he’s got a little bit of Buju in the deejay part, but he’s got a great hook on it. It was also good to get someone from the 80s like Tony Tuff. Bernard, I knew, would instinctively get good performances.

E: The Capleton track is absolutely incredible.
S: The Capleton is brilliant. “Dislocate” is real revolutionary lyrics except that what he’s offering as an alternative leadership is not, to me, going to take people very far on the road they need to go on, but then again, no form of idealism is going to take people very far these days. It’s going to be undermined and eroded by reality. If anything, Capleton corresponds to the zeitgeist. He’s a little more hysterical. And that reflects society. Society’s going hysterical. It’s just part of the craziness of the world.

E: And these musical forms enable people to discuss this stuff—to discuss society and other things that might not be possible otherwise. Shit like sexuality, politics, culture . . .
S: Exactly. That’s it. These artists raise an agenda that is totally excluded by modern social democracy. Modern social democracy says you can vote, you can have an opinion on these things once every four or five years, then the rest of the time, “Fuck off! We’re not interested. You want to protest, go ahead, we don’t give a fuck.”

E: If you are so convinced of the 70s as the best time in Jamaican music, it also means you are more interested in the music than the agenda that’s being raised—because if you are interested in what’s happening in a nation like Jamaica, then you’ve gotta be interested in stuff that people are saying now, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, any time since the 70s.
S: Yes. Some of the people I sell records to thought that by having Capleton on a Blood and Fire release it was a big betrayal. But if I want to put Capleton on a classic riddim via Bernard’s production ability, I’m going to do it, because I like Capleton. When I played “Dislocate” to Bunny Lee he said, ‘Steve, that one’s’s gonna kill people. You’ve done it again because you have the new on the old.’ Bunny Lee can see the mileage in that. He’s been doing it for years. That’s how it goes. People like Capleton and Anthony B and Sizzla have made their decision. They’re going to put out as much music as they can—10 a week if they can—because they’ve got things to say.
Most people have to punch a card in the West. They become a commuter, this that or the other. But they’ve all got a little ‘thing’ because that’s what keeps them sane. People do drastic things to establish their identity, stupid and silly things to get attention. People in the ex-colonial world get twice as little attention. They are doubly removed and women are trebly removed. It is all about a society that alienates and excludes, and that’s the society we live in. Music gives us a way of overcoming the alienation and saying I do mean something. I am somebody. If only for 2 and a half minutes. I don’t feel inclined to slag people off for jumping on a riddim track and saying some half-remembered Buju pattern or some Ninjaman business or whatever. If it gives them a reason to live, makes them be somebody, that’s what we need. We all need to be somebody. The problem is that the people who are somebodies really are nobodies.

E: And they don’t let anyone else take their turn.
S: Exactly. In a sense there is a certain therapeutic aspect to it. And that’s what music is anyway. I was watching a documentary on Egypt. On the Nile on TV. And a guy went across the river and when he got on the river another guy got on with him and started playing the kora. He had that music for the journey, and the music fitted the journey. It expressed certain things about the river just by its musicality—this was the music to take you across. And that’s what dancehall is in a way. The consumerism and the commercialism and the ebay-ism—that’s something that comes after. It’s added on.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Music you should hear

I've played this song for a couple of people and they've both quite liked it. I think it's got a little bit of a Magnetic Fields thang goin' on, and I'm partial to not only the lyrics, but the performer as well-after all, it is my dear runty brother. Comments are more than encouraged-they are demanded. They guy's gotta have some encouragement to play more outside of his bedroom.
There's more where this came from-if I can only figure out a better way to link mp3s to this page. At this point, you need to cut and paste the url-blogger won't allow for "deep linking". I don't even know what that means. Got suggestions? This computer illiterate is interested.
Third Look - Grant MacLeod

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Yay Arcade Fire

Doesn't Sarah look pretty? Photo by Kathryn

See, I like stuff that isn't just reggae...

This was an interview published in the L Magazine (Vol. 1, #19, October 13-26, 2004), a cute, little pocket-sized magazine that's available for free in a place they call Brooklyn, New York. I wouldn't know, I've never been there. Anyhow, given that the Arcade Fire are playing tonight, tomorrow, and Monday, and that they're sorta popular now (Time magazine anyone?), I thought it might be as good a time as any to post it here.

When Ataris Catch Fire (Oh, Jon, why this as the headline?)
The Arcade Fire with Erin MacLeod

Folks love the Arcade Fire. They really, really love them. Their debut album, Funeral, has been out for a month and critics seem to melt into puddles of maudlin blather after listening to the first track. “Anthemic momentum,” “acoustic majesty,” reads the Pitchfork review. “It takes a band like Arcade Fire to remind you that we are all custodians of our innocence and that we let it die at our peril,” writes some guy in the Globe and Mail. This is all a little much for a not-so-little band from Montreal. Win Butler, Win's little brother Will, Régine Chassagne, Richard Parry, Tim Kingsbury, and any number of other musicians make the music everyone’s fawning over. It’s getting overwhelming for sweet Régine, who took a deep breath and then spoke to me over coffee.

EM: Your Montreal CD launch was pretty nuts—a thousand indie rock fans packed into a church. How can other venues compare?
RC: It’s just about the people. The place can influence the overall feeling, but it’s just about being in front of people and singing your songs.

EM: Do you see it as more of a performance? There’s definitely a titch of theatricality.
RC: There’s two ways of seeing the word ‘theatrical’. The Broadway style that is put on; you invent something, you make it up. But this is not what we are trying to do, which is a little more scary. Because you’re not really pretending and so it can become really intense and weird.

EM: Most of your songs are pretty intense and don’t really build—they kinda start at a climax.
RC: I guess when we write songs it’s what comes out of me. And it definitely has something to do with what I’m living, my society.

EM: Have you read any of the reviews? Because they’re a little more than positive. How do you feel about the fact that people are writing about being moved spiritually by the Arcade Fire?
RC: (laughs) Depends on the day. I think to myself, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ But it’s all out of our control. I don’t do anything different from last month. And I don’t understand. Now it’s just a weird thing of something really personal being really public. When we write those songs we don’t think about all this.

EM: What do you think about the comparisons made between you an Broken Social Scene, Polyphonic Spree, Talking Heads, Debussy, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, I could go on...
RC: A lot of people say we’re like Broken Social Scene. I understand that people think that one of our songs sounds like [them]. It does sound like the beginning of one of their songs. Win wrote that song in 1998, 1997, when he was in high school. It’s like this game of trying to find, which is kind of annoying. I don’t want it. If you don’t like it, it’s fine, if you do like it, come hear it, that’s great.

EM: Some have said that you’re part of some new Canadian or Montreal scene...
RC: It’s a weird human thing to try to make sense of what you see by putting it in categories. It’s like a human reaction. But it’s not like we planned. We’re not like ‘Hey guys, hey Unicorns, hey Wolf Parade, we’re gonna start this thing.’ It’s more, ‘what are you talking about?’

EM: Do you see yourselves as a Canadian band?
RC: It doesn’t matter. I mean people look at me and try to categorize—oh she’s a woman, she has Haitian roots. But it’s really not important. It’s not about being Canadian or Quebeckers.

EM: You’ve got Texans, Vancouverites, Montrealers...Are you planning on keeping the line up the same, because it’s changed so many times.
RC: Oh yes. It’s just how life goes, sometime it changes things happen. It’s like do you wish to have eight boyfriends be fore you find the one you want? Eight breakups? No. But things happen.

EM: Last year you played CMJ and opened for the Wrens, this year you’re headlining the Merge records showcase. This must be a big change for you guys.

RC: Last year, it’s like how are you supposed to go and see a band you’ve never heard before? It wasn’t a big surprise that there weren’t too many people. Now it seems like people have heard of it so there probably will be people, but it’s not really different from last year.

EM: You are headlining though. That must be somewhat exciting, no?
RC: I am excited. I just hope we can live with out all the superfluousity of being in a band because there’s a lot of crap that surrounds the whole thing. I hate the word “industry’, it’s awful.

EM: What would be the ideal situation for you a year from now?
RC: After we tour, me and Win, we want to go work and do something that’s unrelated to music. Like in some town, some community centre, somewhere in the world. I don’t know what. I don’t really wanna get caught it the crazy, crazy lifestyle of rock bands.

EM: Aren’t you looking at being away from home for quite sometime right now?
RC: Yeah. No wonder some artists get all fucked up. We haven’t experienced anything. We’re just starting. Things are coming at us and we need to deal with all of this. Sometimes it’s just like ‘Oh my god, what is this? This is weird this is strange.’ A lot of people ask ‘How do you feel about all this?’ And I’m like, because our name, the band is out there, it doesn’t mean that I’m out there. I’m still here, I’m just going home, going to bed. And it’s weird to think that people are talking about you, it’s kind of freaky.

EM: But are you having fun when you are playing?
RC: Oh, yeah.

EM: Because in all your pictures you are so serious.
RC: (Big sigh) I know, but of course I’m having fun.

Friday, April 22, 2005

My house is a mess, but there are certain silly things I'll spend hours doing

For some insane reason, I thought it would be a good idea to archive all of my reviews. I figure it'll make a nice keepsake for the kids.
Reviews Galore

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Dem Come Fi Mash Up

For all who check this space and might not live in lovely Montreal, you still might be interested in my piece this week on soundsystems in Montreal. I've checked the message board a couple times today because I am convinced that I must have written something controversial (in someone's mind). Anyhow, I was fairly happy with the piece-though I wish it could've been longer so I would've had space for additional interviews. If you have any thoughts, I'd be thankful for any constructive criticism. And big thanks to Don Ignorance, Fatta, Mawga K , and Carolyn Cooper for their help. Also thanks to Jah Mikes, as always, for suggestions. Okay, before it sounds like I'm accepting an award (instead of introducing a silly article), enjoy.
Ring the Alarm
Oh, and for the British folks in the house, you might wanna check out the cover story on grime-ity grime grime.
Grime Time

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

A year or so ago, someone sent me a link to the Empire Isis website. Based on the photos, my first reaction was to think of this as the Simple Life, Rastafari style. The description on their website referred to themselves as Miriam "911 aka the emergency line" and Madeleine "the M.A.D. madam". The two dreaded blondies had relocated to Brooklyn from Montreal and Morocco, though they'd supposedly travelled through 25 countries "investigating the untold stories of the underground scenes from Argentina to Canada". Oh, and they insisted in the Montreal Mirror that they "represent Africa, Jamaica, and Bedstuy". Pardon me, but give me strength.

The duo have apperently split; Madeleine, the non-joint-puffing girl above (a particularly lovely photo by Rachel Granofsky) seems to be, well, out of the picture at this point. Perhaps she came to her senses. Suffice it to say, on the website, M.A.D. madam has been photoshopped out of the cover of Hot24Seven magazine and there's a video that showcases concert and interview footage, carefully edited so as to avoid any glimpse of the girl. Last year they claimed to "speak and cypher" in five languages: Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and Patois, but I suppose the split required Miriam to double up on language duty as this list has expanded to include Arabic and Swahili.

Now, I shouldn't make so much fun, but it's hard to hold back a chuckle when you read stuff like "Isis dedicate this to all those ina yard/ though we know you sufferin’ and times is hard /keep your family tight it could never break apart / build a righteous government and get a fresh start” especially when it's coming from girls who, although cute, are more like Paris and Nicole than Sizzla. Sure, their (now her) album, which is set to be released this spring, features appearances by Half Pint, Bushman, and Dean Fraser, but in an industry in which anyone can get a dubplate cut if they simply cough up enough cash, it's tough for me to see this as proof of the street cred Empire Isis so desperately wants.

Maybe I'm wrong. To me they sound like they are trying desperately hard to prove themselves hardcore and the so-called "documentary footage" included in the online video of various reggae artists as well as Sizzla's Judgement Yard and other images of Jamaica looks more like glorified tourist videos. Where non-Jamaican reggae is concerned, Ms. Isis is hardly Zema or Mighty Crown or Gentleman or even Snow. Don't get me started about her/their attempts at reggaeton either. Then again, Empire Isis (the solo artist) is up against Brick&Lace, Mr. Easy, Chuck Fender, and I Wayne for the Most Promising Entertainer Award at the 24th annual International Reggae and World Music Awards to be held this May. I say it is a travesty to put over-the-top attempts at patois against someone like I Wayne, who is one of the most exciting singers to come out of Jamaica in years, but Fader magazine thinks that Ms. Miriam-the "Empress Gangstress"-is hot enough to deserve coverage in the next issue-or so the internet chatter tells me.

I know I should show more support-the girl is from my city and she clearly does have some gumption, but there's a whole lot of identity issues going on here. And frankly, the music just doesn't cut it. Period.

Ms. Empire Isis, the solo artist (poor Madeleine was probably in the other half of the picture-can't say I'm not curious to know what happened!)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Other Music I Like

I was asked this evening if there's any music I like apart from reggae-specifically dancehall. As an attempt to prove that I don't have a one track mind, I figure there's probably no better time like the present to give a little list (off the top of my head, clearly; it's a titch late) of tunes I like right now.
In the Morning - Omar
Hold it Down - 4Hero
Truth - Dwele
Come and Get Your Love - Redbone
Booty La La - Bugz in the Attic
Haiti - Arcade Fire
Postal Service - Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
Feel Like Making Love - D' Angelo
Do You Dig You - Q-Tip
Can't Help It - Michael Jackson (Todd Terje Re-edit)
Kiss of Life - Sade
Freak Scene - Dinosaur Jr.
100,000 Fireflies - Magnetic Fields
Rosalinda's Eyes - Billy Joel
and oh yes...
Could I Be Your Girl - Jann Arden
This is, of course, not a complete or comprehensive list. It would probably be the CD I make right now, if that was in the cards.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Ahh, King Shango

Director's cut of interview published in Heads magazine, "Keeping the Fiya Hot!", Vol 5, no.3.

Capleton's powerful voice has made him one of the most popular deejays today. Rarely, if ever, at a loss for words-the man released about 50 singles within the first three months of 2005-and blessed with sharp reasoning skills, there’s a reason why Clifton Bailey III was dubbed Capleton, the name of a well known lawyer. Fiercely and controversially committed to his Rasta principles, the Prophet, as he's also known, has no plans on quenching or cooling his fire anytime soon. Capleton, or Uncle Shango (as I like to call him), was a whole lot calmer when I spoke to him after a recent show in Burlington, Vermont than when I saw him decked out in sparkly gold lame at Luciano's record launch party. His clever anti-Bush rants made me love him then, and though my personal thoughts on a few topics are probably miles away from his Bobo Ashanti views, he further endeared himself to me during this interview.

E: How do you find the concerts in the US different than concerts in Jamaica?
C: Jamaica is home, it’s where it started. So of course, in foreign it’s going to be totally different. But outside Jamaica you have white people, Chinese people, different kind of people, relating to the music. They don’t speak the language but they still sing the songs word for word. It’s good. It’s wonderful. There’s a good vibe, you know, there’s no limit to the music.
E: Given that dancehall has been getting more popular in the US, would you ever think about doing any more hip hop collaborations like you’ve done with Q-Tip and Method Man?
C: Nothing is wrong with a one or two crossover. But you still cannot stray from the roots, from the culture, from the tradition, you know what I’m saying? You cannot get to commercialized because it is a tradition. Me know. I’ve been there because I’ve been to BET, I’ve been to MTV, I was on DefJam. It’s not like a new thing. Capleton has been there and done that. But there is no limit to the music. The music is so expansive, we’re going to always have new experiments, so nothing is wrong with one or two crossover. Basically, music is a message. So whether it is soul, calypso, hip hop, whatever, as long as the message is good, it’s music.
E: What artists do you think are good now? Do you think it is a new day for conscious, cultural music in Jamaica?
C: Fanton Mojah, Bascom X, a whole heap of upcoming artists right now. I wouldn’t say a new day, nothing’s changed. There is no limit to the music and we always have upcoming artists. I know say most of the music spread through Capleton, from in the early days, even from when Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Ninjaman, it was Capleton until now. So it’s not new. Artists have new experiments, new vibes.
E:And the women?
C:Yeah, yeah. Macka Diamond. I’m grateful for her right now. She’s doing well. We have Lady G, one of the best cultural woman artists. Give thanks because this is not a man’s world and this is not a woman’s world. This is a man and a woman’s world, that’s how it’s supposed to be. We come into the earth through our mother and father. It’s 50/50 between man and woman, the king and the queen. The woman bring good vibes.
E: You’re from St. Mary, and every year you host a concert, “St. Mary Mi Come From”. Through that you’ve been able to raise money to give back to the community.
C: For real. Like hospitals and schools, cause you know that health and education is really the ultimate. You know what I mean? It is very important to give back because the youth they emulate and want to look up to you. The youth relate to us more than the government, you understand? So it is very important both to me and other artists. The attitude is also very uplifting for upcoming artists as well so they will give back to the community as well.
E: In your tune “Invasion”, you stalk about how “Babylon coral my place it look like dem wan overthrow me.” Sizzla’s Judgement Yard studio has reportedly also been targeted. Why do you think this is happening?
C: Invasion is a reality song. The police dem raid my place and jump over di gate and ting...But they will have attitude towards certain artists, certain artists who are involved in certain things. Every man have his own idea, his own opinion, sometimes people get involved in things that they’re not supposed to do and the system will have an eye on dem. On the next level again, you done know a Rastafari always have been terrorized by police. It’s a problem for the system. When you’re uplifting righteousness, and when you’re uplifting heritage and culture, and Selassie I, picking out in the system in terms of the injustice and the inequality, manipulation and exploitation. So therefore, when I and I chant the message and burn the fire, Babylon will terrorize us.
E: For a lot of people in North America there is little understanding of what Kingston or areas that artists talk about such as Hope Tavern or Papine or August Town are actually like.
C: Papine is a real ghetto. A real garrison area. There’s political violence. There’s where we fit in. We kind of protect the youth dem, help the youth dem. For I and I and certain other artists it’s real important to be amongst the youth dem. To keep them circumspect and keep them focused and keep them in awareness of Rastafari and righteousness.
E: You are a Bobo Ashanti rasta. What does this mean to you?
C: I wear a turban because the turban represents royalty. Bobo’s all about salvation, redemption, black international repatriation. But Rastafari is really one. So whether Bobo or Twelve Tribes or Nyabhingi, Rasta is all one, because everyone is saying death to black and white, equal rights and justice for all. Salvation, redemption, repatriation, restoration, Ethiopia, Africa, all should be honoured.
E: In terms of repatriation, do you have any plans to go to Ethiopia?
C: Most definitely. We go wherever Jah leads. Whatever the most high says should happen, we have to discover it and then carry out the works. Restoration and repatriation don’t literally mean, it’s not just on a physical term, you have to mentally repatriate before you make a physical choice. If you are not ready for it, then there is no benefit to go. But definitely I need to go sometime.
E: Marijuana is a sacrament for rastas. Do you have any thoughts on legalization?
C: All we need to do all over the world is tell the system that marijuana should be decriminalized. We know it is the healing of the nation. Have people smoke marijuana instead of coke and other hard drugs and the world would be a better place. That’s why they fight the weed because them know how spiritual the weed let the people get. They’ll stay away from crime and violence, be humble and maintain their humility and be tolerant instead of hurting themselves and the people. Them know the rastaman, his sacrement is weed, from which comes inspiration and belief. It’s an offering. It is a natural thing. If we decriminalize the weed, we have a better society, a better economy.
E: Recent controversy over your music has led to a lot of discussion about the violence in your lyrics.
C: When we burn a certain fire, it is not all about what they are saying. It is all about message. This is political. They know that the music aint promoting no violence or advocating no violence because Bob Marley said “I shot the sheriff” and he didn’t use a literal gun or a bullet, he used words, it’s metaphorical. So why is Capleton literal and not metaphorical? Babylon set up dem ting, and designed a method to fight the music. Bob Marley said “I feel like bombing a church.” It wasn’t a literal bomb, he is telling that the preacher is lying and when the church get bombed, it’s with words, power and song.
E: Many people separate your music from earlier reggae. Do you see a difference?
C: There is no difference. The fire never change. Burning Spear burn the fire, Bunny Wailer burn the fire, Bob Marley burn the fire, Toots burn the fire, name them. Dennis Brown, every man burn the fire, it’s the same thing. Bob Marley said death to Babylon, chant down Babylon, burn down Babylon; Bob Marley said kill, cramp and paralyze the wicked. Him never tell a man to literally go out there and kill a man. It’s with the words and the message and the music and the livity.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I really sholdn't be writing this...

Because I should be writing a paper that I'm presenting at a conference on Thursday. It's a wildly controversial piece that basically repeats my issues with what Sarah Bentley has aptly referred to as "bashment bashing". I'm convinced that I'm going to be yelled at...even though I think I've got a point. I just hope I express it in a coherent fashion. Oh, and if anyone is actually reading this, you really should make a plan to go out to your local record store next week and pick up Jah Cure's Freedom Blues. Lots of old stuff, but still so, so excellent.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Sanchez: Three Piece Suit and Ting

Give it a little time for the's on its way...until then, here's a director's cut of an interview with Sanchez on March 17, 2005.

Sanchez is a god-fearing family man who claims gospel as his top ranking style of music and showcases snapshots of his wife and kids on his website. But onstage, Sanchez is a buttery smooth voiced ladykiller. Known as much for his sugary covers of R&B hits like “I believe I can fly” and “Let me love you down” as for his own original—yet still as sweet—smash tunes, women just can’t resist Sanchez’s brand of lovers rock. I spoke to a slightly under-the-weather Sanchez bout sounds, suits, and songs.

E: When you first started, you were selecting on a soundsystem, and you still run your own sound, Sexylus. How important do you think the sound system is to Jamaican music?
S: It’s the most vital thing in the music right now. I think the sound system is what really puts an artist on the map because not all of that is stuff that being played on the air. And I’m sure that it’s always being played in the dancehall.
E: Do you think that sound system culture is as vibrant as its always been?
S: Any time the sound systems from Jamaica die out, I think the music will be no more.
E: You live in the US. Do you notice any change from living in Jamaica?
S: A whole lot. It’s somewhat more secure to me. It’s a place where I’m at right now for bringing up families, they’re all about kids. You know I’m a family man straight up. From get go, my family comes first.
E: Your wife is your manager, you’re very proud of your children. What is the role of family in your life?
S: Just to keep me going. For real. Them a greatest support. And I’ve got fans who support me over the years, day in day out, but a family is always there through thick and thin. Things that even my fans don’t know, my family they know about it and they just be there for me.
E: When you perform, you often sing the Jamaican national anthem.
S: That’s a thing for representing. Number one, it’s kinda shows, for me, who is in the crowd. to start off. Whenever you go on stage you say “Hands up all Jamaicans” point blank. You’re among your fellow citizens. It’s very nice because, even a boxer, a team go to play somewhere else, it’s good to hear your national anthem, it give you a boost, a sort of energy.
E:You’re know for not only your own music, but for taking other tunes and giving them a real Sanchez twist. What kind of songs do you look for and how do you think your songs differ from the originals?
S: When I’m choosing my songs I choose songs that has a good composition to it. Songs that can be played on air, a song that even kids would relate to. Something to do with love—I love to sing a song that has something to do with love, bringing people together and all of that stuff.
E: Along with your secular albums, you also have some gospel.
S: Gospel is my first choice of music. I grew up in a church, I grew up on these musics. Overall, without the father, what are we? Yeah, I look into that very deeply and I consider it a lot. You get up everyday and you eat and you visit your friends and it’s all good, but what about the man upstairs? That wakes you up. Do you think you can wake yourself up? Nobody does. So I think, at the end of the day, I’m just giving thanks to the father, man.
E: Are there any other artists that you respect?
S: I respect any artist in the field that is trying to get some positive vibes outta all of this. Not just to go out there to make money or to be famous but to truly go out there and preach on the highways and byways about more love and togetherness. And we need that.
E: You have terrific outfits that you wear on the stage that you and your wife design. How important is it for a performer to have a really strong stage presence?
S: It is number one! I think an artist could be well attired and just go on stage for the first 20 minutes and just take the show right there. Him don’t have to say nothing, just put on something nice and the right coordination.
E: And those who don’t take the time?
S: You will hear critics. You will hear people that are really true fans and they’re saying “man, did he have to come like that, he couldn’t put a suit on? he couldn’t tuck his shirt in?” For real! Some of these artists they don’t care. They think that what matters the most is just money and who is better than who. You have to remember attirement. Because a lot of artists out there could be very good, they could sing, they could write, but the state of appearance is just not there.
E: A lot of your fans are women. Why do you think your music communicates so well to women?
S: As I said before, I try to choose my songs that are really dealing with love, respect for ladies overall, just bringing people together. I love that thing about the music. I mean yes, you have the voice or the power to go out there and say something to the world, so make it positive.

Friday, March 18, 2005

A detail from Chagall's "America" windows at the Art Institute of Chicago

Thursday, March 17, 2005


I haven't been able to compose a first post here because I'm an idiot and I forgot my username. Anyhow, let's hope I don't forget it again. I'll post a director's cut of a recent interview I did with Capleton in the next coupla days...until then, I'm going to try and be less of a scatterhead.