Beginning his singing career before most guys start shaving on a daily basis isn’t the most notable aspect of Barrington Levy’s time in music. By the time he was sixteen, the singer had released at least five albums—and that’s not including singles and one-off dub plates. Part of Levy’s early success was the result of working with producer Junjo Lawes, engineer Scientist and the backing group Roots Radics Band. But all these remarkable musicians in one room wouldn’t have mattered much if Levy’s voice weren’t one of the most unique in Jamaican music. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Liberto Peiro
For bandleader Bruno Garcia (who is better known as Sergent Garcia—a nickname taken from Zorro’s clueless foe), music is one of the few mediums that has the power of erasing national borders. Through his career, the French-born guitarist has collaborated with musicians from Cuba, Jamaica and other countries that have influenced his sound. Read the rest of this entry »
The modern dancehall genre seems mostly comprised of overtly sexist nonsense, songs about getting wasted and depicting various vagaries related to living a lifestyle based on the present moment. Oddly, though, it’s dancehall out of all the various Jamaican strains which made the most distinctive impact on American charts with the likes of Bounty Killer and Buju Banton attaining relative acclaim. Sister Nancy, though, stands as a paragon of virtue among her peers, going so far as to pen a tune detailing the Swana School and its assistance in granting students a forum for learning in a safe and nurturing environment. Her songs address the same crop of miscreants Desmond Dekker spoke to—they just use radically different musical backing.
Regardless of dancehall being a nascent form of rap, the appearance of a woman discussing topical subjects and doing it as well as any male counterpart must have been a tremendous shock to attendees of various sound system parties during the seventies. In the States, folks just waited around for Roxanne Shanté. Seven years her senior, Sister Nancy factored into the dancehall’s codification by chanting overtop what would simply become known as the “Bam Bam” riddim. The musical backing has served too many toasters to quantify and remains one of the most recognizable songs springing from the fertile JA scene of the seventies and eighties. If listeners were to relegate Sister Nancy to one-hit-wonder status, it’d be reductive. The album “Bam Bam” appears on, 1982’s “One, Two,” sports only nine other cuts, but could likely pass for a greatest-hits retrospective. It’s to this MC’s credit that she possesses the vocal talent and cerebral clout to craft such unique offerings in a genre predicated on recycling hits. (Dave Cantor)
May 6 at the Shrine, 2109 South Wabash, (312)753-5700. 9pm. $10.
Dancehall, the bastard child of reggae and the forgotten father of hip-hop, has been plagued with ambivalence from American audiences. Sean Paul scored extraordinary success with Dutty Rock and now The Trinity, but his dancehall is of bubblegum variety when compared to compatriots like Beenie Man and Vybz Kartel, whose music has proven too odd, indecipherable or homophobic for our taste. Jamaica’s other current trend, a roots reggae revival led by the romantic crooner Richie Spice, has failed to cross Caribbean waters. Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley has managed to transcend these barriers, and not solely thanks to his family name. Last year’s “Welcome to Jamrock” blends hip-hop, reggae and dancehall, and rather than diluting any single element, invents an infectious and unapologetically modern reggae sound. Without trying to replicate his father’s music, Damian shares a lyrical focus on personal and social redemption. The song “Move” brilliantly samples the elder Marley’s “Exodus,” while Damian spits swift rhymes about struggle and survival, giving the reggae of his father’s time a twenty-first-century update. Read the rest of this entry »