STAND-OUT ARTISTS OF 2014

My pick of the Jamaican artists whose music brought a smile to my face in 2014 – Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah.

no-maddz-shotta-750x750Top of my list is NOMADDZ, a unique group of which there is no comparison or precedence. A mix of dub poets, performance artists and reggae singers whose music is a fusion of sounds and whose lyrics are always thought-provoking, each is talented in their own right. We haven’t heard from them in a while since they dropped “Breadfruit is The New Bread”, though we’ve been watching some excellent acting performances from Everaldo Creary and Sheldon Shepherd in the Jamaican movie “Betta Must Come”. Now NOMADDZ has teamed up with Sly & Robbie to produce a new album that displays their many versatile talents excellently and will probably earn lots of accolades in 2015.  “(Watch NOMADDZ – ‘Shotta’)  

IMG-20141222-03059stephen newlandROOTS UNDERGROUND and RAGING FIYA are reggae bands in the lineage of Third World and Steel Pulse that command a stage in their own right, not merely as backing artists to a major act. A recent double-bill in Kingston over Christmas confirmed the musical excellence of both bands that has seen them each booked for the major music festivals in 2014 and to come in 2015.  STEPHEN NEWLAND, lead singer of Roots Underground, is an electric performer who brings further dynamism to the group’s rootical music, while Raging Fiya – though only a few years old – show a cohesion and professionalism that makes their performances good to watch, listen and dance to.

kelissaKELISSA McDonald stands out from the upcoming female musical flowers that include JAH9, , HEMPRESS SATIVA, CEN’C LOVE and newcomer NEO-SULAN SMITH with a series of dynamic performances at home and abroad. A powerful solo show before Christmas gave insight that she holds her own as a performer on the recent international tour with Chronixx, and it is clear that her few single hits will surely increase in 2015. Often keeping her company is her brother KEZNAMDI, whose 2014 songs “Darkness” featuring Kabaka Pyramid and “Weekend” showed that he is a talent in his own right. (Watch ‘WINNA’ ft. Chronixx )

jesse royal
kabakaJESSE ROYAL, DRE ISLAND
and KABAKA PYRAMID all came to attention at the start of the ‘Reggae Revival’ movement, almost indistinguishable from each other. But each has carved out a space as a solo artist in 2014, distinguished by a hit that has given them greater visibility and enabled them to stand out from each other.  Each can be proud of their increased popularity and tour dates in 2014, following hard on the heels of CHRONIXX and PROTOJE, who still hold the top spots among the ‘Reggae Revival’ crowd.  WATCH 
DRE ISLAND – ‘Rastafari Way’: 

exile di brave

dexta malawiEXILE DI BRAVE and DEXTA MALAWI are a new breed of roots artists who have developed an identity while hosting music events that feature them and their group of artist friends. Exile Di Brave‘s ‘Vinyl Thursdays‘ revived interest in vinyl disc sessions and gave a few up-coming artists a weekly chance to dub live. Dexta Malawi launched his catchy hit song and video “Woke Up This Morning” with a Boxing Day 2013 party at popular Afrocentric restaurant Veggie Meals On Wheels that took the song on its global journey. Both artists have toured Europe in 2014 and are set to continue in 2015.  WATCH “Woke Up This Morning’ Dexta Malawi 

NRG

NEW REGGAE GENERATION – In late 2013 three friends ARSEENAL D’ARTILLARY, IYAH GIFT and MAKONNEN BLAKE-HANNA who have been working as solo artists on their own careers, united in a musical fraternity to perform as the N.R.G. – the NEW REGGAE GENERATION. The unusual trio who sing together, back each other up and mix it up in a combination of roots reggae, hip-hop and dub, received special attention for their performances at a growing number of 2014 events, including the popular ‘Kingston Dub Club’ Sunday night session, Bob Marley Museum’s ‘One Love Fridays’ and the ‘Pay Attention’ hip-hop sessions.

iyah gift albumRSEENAL ALBUMWhile accepting the growing recognition of N.R.G., each artist continues to work on his individual career with positive results that will increase in 2015. Solo albums were released by IYAH GIFT and RSEENAL in 2014, soon to be joined by MAKONNEN in 2015. IYAH GIFT brings a touch of his African parental roots to his music, (LISTEN HERE) while RSEENAL‘s album ‘A Luta Continua – Vitoria e Cierta” (LISTEN HERE:) reflects his position as a committed revolutionary, whose bullets are his rapid-fire lyrics.

rockers revolution coverMAKONNEN,  a ‘tech genius’ whose early musical years were spent as composer/producer of a number of artists and hits, took on the added musical role of artist in 2013 and came to attention with the popular airplay of his first single “Red Eye”.  Makonnen’s Soundcloud page (LISTEN HERE) features several tracks from his upcoming album ‘Rockers Revoution‘. Dermot Hussey, musicologist and host of “RIFFIN” online radio show, says of Makonnen: “What I like about Mak’s music, is the creative elements he produces. His work is very focused, and he makes use of a wider sonic choice, his beats underscore that as a young brother he marches to a larger sound. There is a lot of talent in Jamaica, but an equally repetitive factor, a kind of mono culture, the same thing over and over, or one thing at a time, but as a young man, he understands the generational shift, because he’s a part of it, and understands that it relates to a bigger picture.”

STARS OF 2015  – These are the Jamaican artists whose performances and music I will be looking out for in 2015. Wishing them all the BEST for the New Year.

Kelissa Live on Reggae Mountain

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IMG-20141213-02947The heavy rains all afternoon cooled the temperature at Reggae Mountain, that section of Jacks Hill overlooking the lights of Kingston that is home to the popular Sunday night Kingston Dub Club sessions, and was once home to Bob Marley and his family. It’s also home to the McDonald family, whose elders Errol and Kerida formed their signature group Chakula in 1955 while raising three children who have grown up to make their mark in the entertainment industry. Daughter Kamila is a TV celebrity married to reggae artist Jah Cure, and son Keznamdi is a solo artist.

Kamila with Nomaddz
Kamila with Nomaddz

But it was daughter Kelissa who packed the beautiful venue on Saturday December 13 to deliver a professional one-and-a-half-hour show that had the happy crowd, wrapped in warm sweaters and hoodies, hooting and hollering for her hit songs that were clearly well known by those who came to listen. Introduced by her sister Kamila, Kelissa welcomed the audience by telling them she had come to ‘teach’ and they were her ‘students’. Indeed she did just that, interspersing her music with comments about life, women, music and the art of survival for today’s revolutionary reggae warriors.

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Natural High Music

With the showcase already warmed up from early evening by the musicial selections of Natural High Music, and backed by her 5-piece band Ambessadors who showed a professionalism made even greater by their obvious youthfulness, Kelisssa took complete charge of the stage and the evening to give a taste of how she adds strength to reggae superstar Chronixx‘s show when she is on tour with him, as she often is.

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Kelissa, Kabaka Pyramid & Dre Island
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Samantha

Chronixx was away performing in Australia, but Kelissa was not without strong company as Jesse Royal, Dre Island, Kabaka Pyramid, Young J.R. and her brother Keznamdi were some of the artists present who came on stage to embellish her show and delight the audience with a short performance of their own. A unique feature of the show was the agile tap dancer Samantha who amazed the audience with steps and style to accompany the reggae rhythms – something new that added to the special-ness of the show.

IMG-20141213-02949Kelissa is an unusual artist, a talented guitarist and song-writer who rides the rhythms with confidence and style, blending easily with her well-drilled band and her backing singers to deliver a performance that deserves the admiration and attention she receives at home and abroad. Kelissa’s infectious smile, frequent laugh and commanding personality endeared her to all present, who greeted her hit songs “Babylon is Burning” and “Winna” with hoots and hollers, singing along all the way. She also performed new songs “Best Kept Secret” on a Natural High riddim, and closed the show with “Live for Today” produced by  Walshy Fire from Major Lazer.

Father Errol McDonald, watching from the sidelines, must surely have been proud to see the great talent his musical parenting has nurtured. The show venue he has built as part of their hillside home is a professional space under the stars and with such facilities at their disposal, the professional result is not surprising. As the night ended and patrons started hugging farewell, the McDonald patriarch can rest assured that the musical baton has been securely passed to the second generation and, from all indications, will be to the next. Reggae lives on!

Donisha      IMG-20141214-02974       Jesse Royal with Makonnen       IMG-20141214-02979IMG-20141214-02975

PHOTOS: Donisha Prendergast, Dexta Malawi, Makonnen & Jesse Royal, Keznamdi, Monique.

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah

GIMME LIKKLE BASS – The Dub & Rockers Revival

 

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Dub Club

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It is now easy to enjoy a musical night out every night of the week in Kingston. I don’t mean stage shows with reggae and dancehall stars, or high-priced performances at exclusive night clubs – they happen too infrequently, and at a cost not always within reach of music fans’ pockets.

I refer to the rising popularity of a new breed of free, open-air music events featuring sound systems playing Dub & Rockers – a genre of music with heavy emphasis on drum and bass that was popular in the late 60s and early 70s, when Jamaica’s reggae made the world get ‘irie’. Some of the featured artists of that era include Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Augustos Pablo, Jah Shaka, Bunny Brown, King Tubbys, Black Uhuru, Mikey Dread and many others whose music filled   the dance floors of that era one generation ago.

wednesdays       By the time the Monday Blues have worn off and the work desk has cleared somewhat by Tuesday, you can begin your musical nights on Wednesdays at DUBWISE, a session held at the popular Whitebones fish restaurant on Constant Spring Road, where plates of steamed fish and curried lobster are as much a part of the night’s fun as the steady pounding of Dub Music.

viinyl thursdays       On Thursday nights the adventurous venture into Tavern, a small community nestled on the banks of the Hope River just above Papine. There, popular artist and DJ Exile Di Brave hosts VINYL THURSDAYS, a session of exclusively vinyl platters dating back to reggae’s 70s and 80s. With the lights of the riverside community as a twinkling backdrop and a cool breeze blowing through the ackee trees, the event is a favourite stop for Rastas of all ages, both from the Tavern community and visitors, such as a Japanese group led by ISHI whose selection and Patois rap are pure Jamaican roots.

On Friday nights you can stop by veteran guitarist Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith’s INNA DI YARD, where the dub is live with any number of musicians and artists stopping by to lend their arts to the session.  On the same night DUB SCHOOL is in session at Veggie Meals On Wheels, the city’s leading Ital restaurant nestled in a corner of Regal Plaza, Cross Roads. VMOW has its own faithful group of supporters who regularly patronize the restaurant, so irie friends are always around to nice up the vibe.

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Rseenal, Jahson, Makonnen, Iyah-Gift
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Original Mikey General

Definitely spend Saturdays at ROCKERS REVALUTION, that takes place outside Kairo Soul Wholesale at Mary Browns Corner, Constant Spring Road. There reggae artist Rseenal D’Artillery and his partner Marianita Sakiya turn their shop into a music venue every Saturday with dub music and live performances by a roster of upcoming artists such as members of his performing group New Reggae Generation (N.R.G.) Makonnen and Iyah Gift. Producers Jordan Armond and Blaise Davis bring their original Natural High Music dubs to the night, while Supa Nova Sound provides the music backing for the performing artists, who have included Original Mikey Dread, JahsonDexta Malawi and Exile Di Brave. Kairo Soul Wholesale does a regular and brisk business inside the shop while patrons at the club and restaurant in the plaza sit outside and enjoy the evening’s music and performances.

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Gabre Selassie

The ‘Pappa’ of the nightly dub music sessions is Sunday night’s DUB CLUB, hosted by Ras Gabre Selassie at his beautifully decorated venue high up in the Jacks Hills overlooking the lights of Kingston spread out below. Every Sunday night the road is lined with parked cars and the venue packed with the beautiful and irie Kingston bright set, as well as visiting reggae fans from around the world. It’s at Dub Club that you will bump into the new popular young artists like Chronixx or Jesse Royal, relaxing from their summer tour dates with friends they knew before they became world famous.

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Chronixx & Kelissa

The return to Dub & Rockers music is a recent trend, that highlights one of the many evolutions Jamaican music has undergone since it’s beginning. Asked to explain the popularity of Dub & Rockers, none of the artists involved have an answer. “Just time,” said one. “It’s original and people always like the original,” said another. But another explains: “Rockers was part of the original sound system culture that helped to create and solidify the sound system culture of Jamaica. It was never gone, it never died in Europe. It’s just that the need for conscious music has grown stronger and conscious people want somewhere to go out at night too.”

IMG-20140620-01786IMG-20140712-02010       Meanwhile, patrons say they ‘love the vibe’ of the Dub & Rockers sessions that offer natural juices, ital food and soy ice-cream refreshments, hand-made craft items like the coconut shell jewelry by Trench Town Cultural Yard or the fashions by Zion Ites. It’s a welcome peaceful vibe, with the sound systems, artists and patrons supporting each other’s events. Pick your night to enjoy some Dub & Rockers, old school style.