Friday, November 23, 2007


As we round up 2007, one certainty is times are changing for reggae and dancehall. Vinyl production in Jamaica is at a virtual standstill, the apparently unstoppable flow of riddim albums on international labels such as VP and Greensleeves has now come to an end, Jah Cure can no longer make records about being in jail, and some of the best roots music of the year has been made by white people. It leaves me at a bit of a loss for anything definitive to say, really. But while the industry faces an uncertain future as it adapts to the realities of digital music formats, piracy, and file-sharing, plenty of great songs have been written, awesome stage shows have taken place, and sound systems have continued to clash all over the world.
Specialist radio shows, including Robbo Ranx's Dancehall Splurt on BBC 1Xtra, are still playing groundbreaking music, dances remain rammed, kids on my bus today armed with antisocially loud cellphones were playing and singing along to songs that have yet to see the light of day as retail product, websites are buzzing, and the inspiring Woofah magazine-- a wilfully anachronistic and obsessive do-it-yourself paper-based zine specially made in East London by enthusiasts for enthusiasts-- has proven to be an unqualified success. Add all these things together and they prove that there's still a huge audience for reggae. As long as that enthusiasm and love is there, it's hard to be anything but hopeful for 2008.

While there may have been less music compared to the torrential release schedule of previous years, the quality of the songs that have been released has been almost universally high. Just flick through Greensleeves' recent Biggest Reggae One Drop Anthems 2007 compilation, for example. Although it's half as long as usual at only 20 tracks, killer tunes including Ray Darwin's "People's Choice" and Tarrus Riley's "Protect Yuh Neck" are as good as anything we've heard so far this decade. Clear winner on this album with "King Selassie", and the best artist of the year for my money, is Alborosie. A little while ago and few had even heard of this guy. Even less had any idea that he was, in fact, not Jamaican at all, but a pale-faced Sicilian dude with even less Yard credentials than Collie Buddz or Gentleman (both of whom have been doing well lately). Say what you want about white reggae-- you'll only need to hear him once to eat your words, especially the fantastic summertime hit "Kingston Town".

Despite having listened to less dancehall than ever before, it's been imposibble not to get a serious kick out of old favourites including Buju Banton, Mr. Vegas, and Sean Paul all on firing form, and my favourite party-starter by grade-school deejay QQ. With a wealth of revivals and re-released albums commemorating various anniversaries, notably Greensleeves' 30th birthday, and exhibitions of Tony McDermott's seminal sleeve art for the company occurring in both London and Manchester, there's been a lot to be happy about amongst all the gloom.

As ever this round-up is a collaborative affair and adding their vews on the high points of the past 12 months are friends and collaborators Masta G and Gabriel from London sound The Heatwave and don selector and writer John Eden. You'll see a fair amount of crossover between our charts and a lot of agreement of the state of the game, but there are also plenty of points where we differ. From John's inclusion of dancehall-inspired grime tracks to the Heatwave's set of bashment bombs, there's enough versatility and fire in this music to meet even the toughest challenge. Far from being dead in the water, reggae will keep making a splash for a little while yet.

The Pitchfork Year in Reggae/Dancehall Top 10
1. Alborosie: "Kingston Town" [Forward]
2. QQ: "Tek It to Dem" [Greensleeves]
3. Buju Banton: "Crazy Talk" [Black Shadow]
4. Sean Paul: "Pick It Up and Drop It" [Birchill]
5. Alicia Keys [ft. Jr. Reid]: "No One (Remix)" [J Records]
6. Ray Darwin: "People's Choice" [Tads International]
7. Various Artists: Summer Records Anthology [Light in the Attic]
8. I Wayne: "Book of Life" [VP]
9. Maxi Priest & Richie Stephens: "My Girl Dis" [Joe Frazier]
10. Capleton & Jah Mali: "Mama Love" [Kickin]


Bashment Top 10 from London sound The Heatwave
1. Natasja & Enur: "Calabria 2007"
2. Mr Vegas: "Tek Way U Self"
3. Shaggy: "Heathen"
4. QQ: "Tek It To Dem (Rum Ram)"
5. Macka Diamond: "Hula Hoop"
6. Damian Marley: "One Loaf of Bread"
7. Sean Paul: "Pick It Up and Drop It"
8. Busy Signal [ft. Mavado]: Badman Place"
9. T.O.K.: "Masculine Gender"
10. Beenie Man: "Reverse Di Ting"

2007 may well be remembered as the year that the long and glorious tradition of the Jamaican 7" single, loved by reggae collectors the world over, entered its death throes. It's an eloquent comment on the changing face of the music industry that this iconic format is falling out of use. Some of the riddims that have run the dancehalls throughout the second half of the year (e.g. Tremor and Rae) are still only available as mp3/CD promos, and QQ's massive dance tune "Tek It to Dem" is only out on vinyl as a Greensleeves 12" single. Veteran selector David Rodigan now announces ironically on his radio show that certain tunes are available on vinyl, commenting "That's a Jamaican 45, remember those?" Still, that's not to say there wasn't a lot of great dancehall music being made on the island and around the world this year.

Despite (or because of?) the various controversies surrounding his private life, Beenie Man continues to defy the rules of the novelty-obsessed dancehall fraternity and churned out yet another 12 months' worth of big tunes. Mr Vegas staged a return to form, with hits like Hot Wuk and Tek Way U Self, while artists like Sizzla, T.O.K., Shaggy, and Sean Paul have been as dependable as ever. Young talents like Mavado and Busy Signal have developed and brought their fresh. distinctive vocal styles to the scene. Outernationally, Bermudan Collie Buddz and Sicilian Alborosie have both had big years but it's Denmark's Natasja who takes our number one spot for 2007 with her wicked bashment vocal on the funky house anthem Calabria. Sadly, Natasja died in a car accident in the summer, a great loss both to her friends and family and the world of music.


John Eden, proprietor of the Uncarved blog and editor of Woofah magazine

1. Bitty McLean: "Lately" [Silent River/Taxi 7"]
Bitty's return to reggae a few years back was warmly embraced by "big people" everywhere, not least because of the slew of tunes he released over original Treasure Isle riddims. From then on he's continued to amaze people. This single features his soaring vocals singing Stevie Wonder's classic over Sly and Robbie's "Unmetred Taxi" riddim, with added Saxon soundsystem "bloop" sound effects. His forthcoming "No Love" single looks to be just as good. Perfect.

2. Alborosie: "Kingston Town" [Forward 7"]
Last year's "Herbalist" was a classic out of nowhere and we've since discovered that Alborosie is a white Italian who rocked up in JA to record some songs that are so great, that the debate about his "authenticity" has had to take a back seat. This features some nice "biddley bong" scatting with growling vocals about the harsh realities of his new home over a hard 21st century roots backing. If you were to buy any Alborosie single on sight you would be happy, and I can't think of anyone else you could say that about this year. In 2008 this guy is going to be massive.

3. The Bug [ft. Killa P and Flowdan]: "Skeng" [Hyperdub 12"]
For me, 2007 is the first year for ages when I didn't buy any JA bashment. Compensating for this with tunes from nearer home has proved ridiculously easy, with a vast quantity of grime mixtapes. This landmark release sees Roll Deep MCs Killa and Flowdan ramp up the bleak yardie bizzness over Kevin Martin's 22nd century grimy ragga. So scary you'll be chuckling maniacally.

4. Levi riddim [Roots Garden 2x7"]
A lovely bit of laid back digital roots which brings to mind some of the early Unity Sound productions from the 80s, but with those little deft touches that Manasseh are famous for. Three excellent conscious vocal cuts by Jah Mali, Luciano & Ras Zacharri and Ava Leigh (who continues the "white people making jaw-droppingly high quality reggae in 2007" meme). Plus a dub that you want to go on forever.

5. Tippa Irie: Talk the Truth [Lockdown Productions CD]
Finally the UK foundation MC gets an album that does him justice, probably because it's on his own label. An embarrassment of riches here, not least because of the high quality productions from people like Curtis "Necessary Mayhem" Lynch, Peckings, Pow Pow, and more. Collaborations include Frankie Paul and Elephant Man, and Tippa walks a steady path between revisiting his classic lyrical slammers and newer material. I have to admit I was sceptical about this album, but it's been on rotation since the first time I heard it.

6. 007/Shanty Town riddim [Big Yard 4x7"]
Shaggy's label revisits the Desmond Dekker classic which came to prominence on the "Harder They Come" soundtrack. Rayvon's conscious "Arm of the Wicked" rubs up against Screechy Dan's "Panty Town" but any lyrical contradictions get lost in the sheer exuberance of the party vibe here. Shaggy's cut is of course essential and anyone who raises their eyebrows at this needs to get beyond their hipster inverted snobbery about "pop" reggae.

7. Alicia Keys: "No One (Curtis Lynch Reggae Remix)" [J Records]
Our boy done good! From knocking out wicked sevens in south London to remixing Alicia in New York, Curtis is definitely going places. 2007 has been a really good year for pop remixes and mash ups: and this one is the cream of the crop. Which all bodes very well if you ask me.

8. Ashtech: Walkin' Target [Interchill CD]
Shockingly good electronica/reggae crossover which brings to mind the cinematic remixes of Primal Scream by Andy Weatherall and Adrian Sherwood. Yes, the production really is that good on here. The album features vocals from MC Cheshire Cat who has previously worked with Leftfield, who would be another reference point. This is just great: a proper varied 13 tracker from an unknown which makes you wonder how much other great stuff you've missed out on. Investigate!

9. Continuation riddim [Penthouse 7"s]
Is it reggae, one drop, roots? Call it what you like, but there is some amazing music coming out of Jamaica during the death throes of vinyl. Donovan Germain comes up with a lilting rootical riddim on which everything has its own place. The Beres Hammond & Buju Banton vocal cut is one of the highlights of Greensleeves' essential "The Biggest Reggae One Drop Anthems 2007" compilation. Meanwhile Queen Ifrica's "Put on Yu Thong" is a bittersweet romantic reality lyric worthy of your attention.

10. Rihanna: "Umbrella" remixes [Black Chiney 7" and mystery mp3]
Everyone's soundtrack to a torrential summer, a couple of refixes of this showed up when the original was beginning to get on your tits. The first is in a pounding bashment style from Black Chiney featuring Vybz Kartel, whilst the other is an unreleased mp3 on a one-drop tip featuring Collie Buddz.

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