The reality is that the beat has changed and it is now fused with different sounds and also different genres. I have never heard it before. It is boldly dynamic. Even the focus of the music has changed from been materialistic within the dancehall to what seems to be the process of becoming more spiritual, like the vibe found in traditional reggae. It’s a “new” vibe however with a touch of the “old” vibe so to speak thus it is easily gravitated towards, as it is familiar but yet different. I am seeing signs of it when I listen to upcoming recording and performing artists such as Protoje, Khago, Busy Signal, The Uprising Roots Band and Dubcore and when I listen to more established artists like Damian Marley, Stephen Marley and Tarrus Riley and when I listen to veterans such as Bob Marley, The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and Toots. There lyrical content and the mood and the mere complement of the instruments signal a spiritual, roots, and culturally inclined vibe with no boundaries.
If we take a look at upcoming reggae artiste Protoje, his music is “new”, fresh and unique. He classifies what he does as “dub style reggae” in an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner. I personally cannot say what it is as I hear so many fusions of sounds along with the reggae and dub that it only shows me that “dub stye reggae” is not the appropriate title for the sound as it involves so much more than that classification defines or signals to. In the interview with the Gleaner, Protoje states that “There’s a bit of dub in the music, there’s a rock guitarist in the band and my writing style represents the subtle hip-hop aspect so when all of them are fused you get a unique sound,” he said. His music also has a roots kind of vibe like that found in traditional reggae. The sound we are hearing today has many moods; it has a “hardcore” rock vibe, a “mellow” reggae vibe, a “relaxing” jazz and a host other influences. Take also for example Protoje’s new video “JA”, if you look at the vibe in that video it had a little bit of Punk Rock, Reggae, Rock and Roll, and just a bit of everything. It was something sounding fresh, new and vibrant.
In 2010, Damian Marley and Nas released an album entitled “Distant Relative” and this album is mainly speaking about Africa and all the topics that Reggae would normally cover but in a fused way. There is rap, there is rock, R n B, Jazz and some different flows to that of traditional Reggae and Dancehall but yet Reggae and Dancehall is identified within it. Dancehall’s main strength was the beat as most of the times you couldn’t even hear the lyrics but the infectious beat keeps you moving and wanting to hear more. But interestingly as well, dancehall artistes didn’t need a beat to get a crowd going as some of the times they would “toast” or, in other words, “deejay” in acapella, i.e., without a beat. This new sound that is developing presently however requires both the vocals and the instrumentals to complement each other, both are important to the delivery of the product, and the feeling is more relaxed whereas Dancehall is more up-tempo. The musicians are highlighted more in this type of music I find as well as they get solo points in a track where they are highlighted and no vocals are there and thus focus is shifted on them at a point during live performances. The artiste depends on the various instruments just as much as the instruments depend on the artiste to perform well and both the instruments and the artiste depend on the musicians to play well live as how it should be.
But where has this come from? What has inspired this fusion? I believe the recent troubles of dancehall artistes with United States (US) authorities, the banning of dancehall and reggae acts from performing certain countries, crime, poverty and all socio-economic and political problems has inspired this trend. Also complaints from music lovers at disappointment with their favorite artistes and the music being produced have influenced the “new” trend of music. It’s sort of a break away for the norm, which would be a more hip, dancehall vibe into a roots, dub, poetry, reggae, rock, jazzy, fused, kind of vibe.
Shows such as Italee, Quizz and Friends, Christopher’s Cafe, Re Unplugged and Jamnesia are a few examples of some live shows, which showcase live band fusions. There’s a place called Jamnesia that does live music on the beach in St Thomas, and Billy Mystic runs it. You can catch live band performances there every second Saturday with the likes of Protoje, Keida, Alex Marley, Italee and a host of other performers. Every Tuesday night at the Village Blues Bar in Barbican, Italee, Quizz & Friends redefine ‘Live’ and has seen performances from people like Tami Chynn, T.O.K, Ras Penco, Aidonia, Marcus I, and a lot more. Christopher’s is located inside the Quad Night Club on Trinidad Terrace and hosts live music events every Thursday. These shows are usually held at small venues such as Village Café for Italee and Weekendz for RE Unplugged. Thus we can say that the emergence of the “new” sound there has also come the emergence of smaller live band shows. This inevitably also affects everything as well as the artistes are now pushed to perform well as they now have to connect with smaller crowds and they have to make sure that they are communicating and interacting well with the crowd. It is different to a larger scale show where an artiste can sing 15 seconds of a song and receive a “forward” and then change to a different song. This small scale setting tests the stamina of an artiste to perform there songs right out to the end. In these types of settings, the crowd is more in a listening mood. Musicians and performers now have more space and venues to exercise their craft, and where music lovers can get a chance to see music in its truest and purest form.
Possibly we may start to hear more live albums being recorded as well. This would be a move from the “sound-effected” and “auto-tuned” dancehall trends back to a traditional trend to the days when we never had all these technological advancements and sound was kept simple and capture live all the time. Example of live albums are Yasus Afari with Kiss Mi Neck, Toots and the Maytals’ Toots In Memphis that was done in 1988 and Live in 1980, Luciano’s Live in 2000. In 1975, Bob Marley and The Wailers recorded Live. It was recorded over two days in July of that year at the Lyceum Theatre in London. The performance remains one of their most famous. An example of a recent live album is Stephen Marley’s Mind Control Acoustic.
One good thing about this is that it promotes unity on stage and during performances and encourages good relationships between the musicians and artistes. It promotes consciousness at a time where we need it with all that is happening in Jamaica as it relates to crime, corruption, state of emergence, poverty, etc. It promotes the “healing” of a battered society as Bob Marley once said, “When music hits you, you feel no pain”. It provides an avenue for cultural expression and one to exercise our freedom of speech. It brings something “new” and innovative to the table but yet with a touch of the “old” recognizable sounds within the mix. This new vibe and sound and trend highlights our creativity and truly shows that “we likkle but we tallawah”.
By: Dax Vernon
August 16, 2010