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Archives: Reggae’s Finest Hours

MHQ: Ist das die beste Reggae-Compilation?

Michael: Es ist eine verdammt gute Zusammenstellung,  sicher der Verkaufsschlager Nr. 1  von Soul Jazz Records, was ihre Ausgrabungen angeht aus den Archiven von – er war ein harter Bursche, aber er wurde gern so genannt – Sir Clemens Coxsone Dodd; tolle Kompilationen, die gibt es in berrächtlicher Menge, nicht nur bei Soul Jazz, auch die „Trojan Box Sets“ fallen mir da ein. „The Harder They Come“ von Jimmy Cliff war ja im Grunde die erste grosse Zusammenstellung, und mit ihr landete der Reggae im Bewusstsein der Westländer.

MHQ: Wie hast du „100 % Dynamite“ entdeckt?

Michael: Ein Bekannter eines Bekannten galt als Roots Reggae-Spezialist, und er brachte an einem Nachmittag ins  Waldhäuschen meines Kumpels einen Stapel alter Schallplatten mit, teilweise Originalpressungen aus Kingston. Und was ich da hörte, machte mich baff. Da waren sicher auch Leute dabei, die auf „100%“ versammelt sind: Ken Boothe, Horace Andy (der apäter auf grossartigen Massive Attack-Platten auftauchte), Lee Perry, Sound Dimension, solche Kaliber!

MHQ: Also eine Einstiegsdroge.

Michael: Auch eine Partydroge. Daniel Lanois, um den es so still geworden ist zuletzt, hat mir mal erzählt von einer Waldparty mit U2, und dass sie alle total auf „100 %  Dynamite“ abgefahren sind. Er erzählte auch, wie faszinierend er eine Musiksprache fände, in den Zeiten, wo sie noch auf der Suche sei, nicht perfekt formuliert, und, hier etwa, der Calypso und ältere Sachen noch ein wenig  im Hintergrund mitschwingen.

MHQ: Kannst du ein Lieblingsstück benennen aus dieser Sammlung?

Michael: Hmm. Jaaa, aber nur deshalb, weil dieses Album im letzten Jahr neu rausgebracht wurde, eine Art Jubiläumsausgabe mit Extratracks. Vinyl und CD. Da habe ich sie wieder gehört. Es gibt ja etliche grandiose Platten aus diesem „Studio 1“, Soul Jazz hat das ganze Arbeit geleistet. Also, das Tolle an solchen Sammlungen ist ja, nebenbei, die Erkenntnis: was für begnadete Sänger ballen sich da in der Urzeit des Reggae. „Scenius instead of Genius“, würde Brian Eno sagen. Eine völlig absurdistische Mythologie um den zwielichtigen Haile Selassie als Heilsbringer, aber unfassbar reichhaltige Musik. Wer da zum Rastafari wird, hat zuviel Ganja geraucht. Ah, ich schweife ab. Kürze bitte mein Geschwafel aus dem Diktafon! (Nö; Anm. des Herausgebers) Also, kurz und grossartig: ein „Killertune“ fällt mir sofort ein: „Drum Song“ von „Sound Dimension“, mit Jackie Mittoo an den Tasten! Laut hören, im Dunkeln hören! Natürlich die volle Dröhnung!

1) Dadawah: Peace and Love

2) Bob Marley and the Wailers: Catch A Fire

3) Congos: Heart of the Congos

4) Lee Perry: Super Ape

5) Cedric Im Brook: The King of Saba

6) Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey & Garvey’s Ghost

7) Linton Kwesi Johnson: Bass Culture

8) Mabrak: Drum Talk

9) Culture: Two Seventh Clash

10) Bim Sherman: Across The Red Sea

11) Count Ossie and The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari: Tales of Mozambique

12) Rhythm & Sound w/ Tikiman: Showcase

13) The Abyssinians: Satta Massagana

14) Bob Marley: Exodus

15) Joe Higgs: Life of Contradiction

16) Bobby Kalphat: Zion Hill

17) Jimmy Cliff: The Harder They Come 

18) V.A.: Trojan Nyabhingi Box Set

19) V.A.: 100 % Dynamite (Studio One) 

20) Peter Tosh: Mama Africa (or Equal Rights) 


One of the masterpieces of the roots era, no album better defines its time and place than Two Sevens Clash, which encompasses both the religious fervor of its day and the rich sounds of contemporary Jamaica. Avowed Rastafarians, Culture had formed in 1976, and cut two singles before beginning work on their debut album with producers the Mighty Two (aka Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson). Their second single, „Two Sevens Clash,“ would title the album and provide its focal point.

The song swept across the island like a wildfire, its power fed by the apocalyptic fever that held the island in its clutches throughout late 1976 and into 1977. (Rastafarians believed the apocalypse would begin when the two sevens clashed, with July 7, 1977, when the four sevens clashed, the most fearsome date of concern.)

However, the song itself was fearless, celebrating the impending apocalypse, while simultaneously reminding listeners of a series of prophesies by Marcus Garvey and twinning them to the island’s current state. For those of true faith, the end of the world did not spell doom, but release from the misery of life into the eternal and heavenly arms of Jah.

Thus, Clash is filled with a sense of joy mixed with deep spirituality, and a belief that historical injustice was soon to be righted. The music, provided by the Revolutionaries, perfectly complements the lyrics‘ ultimate optimism, and is quite distinct from most dread albums of the period.

Although definitely rootsy, Culture had a lighter sound than most of their contemporaries. Not for them the radical anger of Black Uhuru, the fire of Burning Spear (although Hill’s singsong delivery was obviously influenced by Winston Rodney), nor even the hymnal devotion of the Abyssinians. In fact, Clash is one of the most eclectic albums of the day, a wondrous blend of styles and sounds.

Often the vocal trio works in a totally different style from the band, as on „Calling Rasta Far I,“ where the close harmonies, dread-based but African-tinged, entwine around a straight reggae backing. Several of the songs are rocksteady-esque with a rootsy rhythm, most notably the infectious „See Them Come“; others are performed in a rockers style, with „I’m Alone in the Wilderness“ an exquisite blend of guitar and vocal harmonies.

One of the best tracks, „Get Ready to Ride the Lion to Zion,“ is a superb hybrid of roots, rocksteady, and burbling electro wizardry; its roaring lion (created who knows how) is a brilliant piece of musical theater.

„Natty Dread Take Over“ twines together roots rhythms, close harmonies, and big-band swing, while even funk and hints of calypso put in appearances elsewhere on the album. Inevitably, the roots genre was defined by its minor-key melodies, filled with a sense of melancholy, and emphasized by most groups‘ lyrics.

But for a brief moment, roots possibilities were endless. Sadly, no other group followed Culture’s lead, and even the trio itself did not take advantage of it, especially after parting ways with Gibbs. When Culture re-emerged in the mid-’80s, they swiftly moved into a reggae lite/world music mode a world apart from where they started. Thus, Clash remains forever in a class all its own.


  • written by Jo-Ann Green for allmusic (and what an excellent review this is, you feel that all these descriptions come from inside, she doesn’t even need poetry! And, me oh my,  this is a fantastic record. Was für Brian Eno Gospel ist, ist für mich  Reggae. I surrender. -m.e.) 

Leroy Mattis’ first drum was a plastic butter container. ‘My mother wouldn’t buy me a drum because back then the situation in Jamaica was very tense… In 1960 Jamaica was still an English colony, and the drum is a roots instrument.’ Tommy McCook was living two doors down; during the first years of The Skatalites, Mattis would practise there. In 1970 he was National Junior Drumming Champion, with Count Ossie winning overall; four years later his ensemble battled in the Senior finals with the drummers of the Light Of Saba.


„Our group was initially called Genesis, it was a 7-piece drum group, but I changed the name to Mabrak, which means Thunder in Amharic. We knew that we were coming with a heavy sound.“




Experiments in percussion, in the middle of the night at Harry J’s. Funky versions of rhythms like Curly Locks and Too Late To Turn Back Now, led by talking drums. Blaxploitation is in the air… the Staples… even a blast of Barry White. Beautifully mixed by King Tubby, who couldn’t believe his ears.

Originally released in 1976, in paper inners only. Smartly sleeved in quintessential Dug Out style this time around — with an insert, including a recent interview with Mabrak.

Some of you might hear from Mabrak for the first time now. Be careful: once tuned in, it might easily turn into addictive listening.  The talking drum as a lead instrument was a kind of „deeply rootded novelty sound“ – the ascetic outfit of the band must have been a dream come true for King Tubby’s mixing desk. Or is this whole story just made up? Fooling you into a short chapter of the  long history of great unmade albums?

In terms of smoked-out midnight vibes, Drum Talk is about as close as you’ll come to the deeply cherished reissue of the Dadawah album in Dug Out’s catalogue but, it’s also more danceable, if your body knows enough twists for skanking such minimalism!


(most parts based on the Honest Jon’s Reggae Department, „Dug Out“)

Michael: I discovered this album very late. And when it was reissued, I read a lot about this man’s history. He really was a very influential figure in reggae’s history …


Angus Taylor (BBC): Yes. Joe Higgs’ name is inextricably linked to that of Bob Marley. It was Higgs who taught the teenaged Wailers to sing and harmonise at his Trench Town home and was the first in a series of surrogate father figures who helped create and refine the Bob we know today. But Joe was also a respected singer and composer in his own right. He’d been present at key moments in the development of ska (as part of the duo Higgs and Wilson), rocksteady (with Lyn Tait) and reggae (touring and recording with Jimmy Cliff) before releasing Life Of Contradiction in 1975.


Michael: I heared that the European management withdrew the release of the album, it’s far away from being classical, groovy reggae for a mass market … 


Angus: It’s an outsider’s album from a complete insider. Recorded three years earlier but held back due to the all-too-familiar rights issues, Contradiction saw him teamed with the formidable and versatile Now Generation band. The result was a highly conceptual, deeply personal record by one of reggae’s true masters that deserves to cross over into popular music’s wider canon. Of the three Wailers, Higgs’ deep, rich voice sounds closest to that of Peter Tosh, but is a more mournful, weary instrument, the sound of one who has suffered great hardships with a shrug and a smile. From the battle-worn but hopeful Come On Home, to the poignant There’s A Reward, through to the clattering hand-drums and sad solo trombone of bonus instru-dub Freedom Journey, each song draws on universal themes of love, redemption and pain, while each note played by the band shadows Joe’s every ambiguous mood.


Michael: The music is low-key in every possible way. Everything is understated here, even the sound and the origin. Joe  Higgs really cared for his vision of that music coming from the poorest neighbourhoods, from the ghetto, and without big hymns. It’s music  with a „braveheart“ attitude – you really don’t get it in the first place that it’s a real reggae record :) 


Angus: The level of songwriting and the breadth of influences on display will impress the casual or non- reggae fan. Glimpses of Dylan and the Band, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens and Otis Redding bubble to the surface in this melting pot of jazz, country, roots, rock and soul. Unjustly ignored on first release, Life Of Contradiction is a work of astonishing depths and bruised, aching humanity. Give this album some time and you’ll get your just reward.


Across The Red Sea is the work – intentionally or otherwise – of a mystic. It’s only Bim Sherman’s 3rd or 4th LP (it depends how you count these things, and tbh I can’t be bothered with chronology anyway – it’s just as arbitrary a way of ordering things as by weight, dimensions or colour. Fuck chronology. Everyone should organise their record collections by spine colour from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo to violet, then the black and white ones should be used to transmit a message, like this:


01101001 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01110010 01100101 01100111 01100111 01100001 01100101


of course some spines may be multicoloured, in which case the exercise is void, taxonomy is void, the idea of genre itself a crock.)

If you live on an island, you’re aware of things that mainlanders maybe aren’t quite so aware of. Seagulls are bastards. The lunar pull is stronger when water surrounds you. And the actuating spirit works its way in from the sea: the font of all life, the place where the first strand of mitochondrial DNA – ever – came into being. Can you hear the mermaids singing?

Across The Red Sea – well, let’s not get into music critic mode here. It’s just a beautiful record, one that has fascinated me for a long, long time. The production is lush – detailed, engineered with space in all the right places like a fine Swiss cheese. The mood of the album seems to go between contemplative and quietly devotional. Some of the songs deal with heavy themes but the trick here is to survey a broken fucked up landscape/cityscape but not do an impotent protest singer routine.

Creatively, Across The Red Sea is a triumph. All killer, no filler. Irie.

Ich habe mit Gregor nie über Reggae gesprochen, und mit Schrecken stelle ich fest, dass in seinem Jukeboxlager wohl keine einzige Reggae-Single auftaucht. Oder habe ich den Song mit den „Israelites“ übersehen? Egal, vielleicht  bin ich ja der einzige Manafonist, der eine spezielle Beziehung zu dieser jamaikanischen Musikform hat – aber es wäre schön, wenn neben Ian (dem ich ja offensichtlich „Bass Culture“ weggeschnappt habe), noch  der eine oder andere eine heissgeliebte Platte aus Kingston, Jamaica, mit einer kleinen Geschichte zum Besten geben könnte.

Die „Geschichte“ kann auch erfunden sein (Psychorealismus – s.u. – ist nicht gefordert), oder eine kleine Besprechung. Nur, bei 20 Highlights, gilt es, eine Spielregel zu beachten – ein Künstler darf nur einmal auftauchen, und Bob ist nunmehr auch schon „vergeben“. Gerne würde ich Thomas Weber vom Kammerflimmer Kollektief bitten, mir seine liebste Reggaeplatte via Mail zu liefern, mit einer kleinen Story aus seinem Bewusstseinsstrom – er ist tatsächlich der einzige Reggae-Obsessive, den ich kenne.

Oder einer unserer Leser bietet in den Kommentaren hier eine Story an zu seinem Favoriten, ein Reggae-Opus, das er oder  sie  noch heute liebend gerne hören, nichts, was bloss Erinnerungsseligkeit versprüht und an das Patchouli einer verflossenen Liebe erinnert  – und ich   maile dann zurück. Ach, eine weitere Platte ist bereits vergeben, sie wird – in diesem gnadenlosen Countdown unangefochtener Meilensteine – die Nr. 3 sein: The Congos, und „Heart of The Congos“. (M.E.) 


Auf geht’s:


Die „Mutter aller Begegnungen“ führt, wie so oft, in die Adoleszenz, und in diesem Fall, nach J a m a i k a … : In Harry J´s Kingston Studio an einem heissen Nachmittag Ende September 1972 hereinzuspazieren, an dem Abend, als The Wailers “Slave Driver” aufnahmen, bedeutete gleichsam, ein neues musikalisches Universum zu betreten. Ich war noch grün hinter den Ohren, und hatte über meine erste Freundin, die 15 Jahre älter war als ich sowie Hard Core-Verfechterin von Patchouli und Haschisch, ein Flugticket bekommen, das mich nach einem langen Trip voller aufregender erster Eindrücke, in einem zerbeulten Taxi in 10, Roosevelt Avenue, Kingston, Jamaica, ablieferte.

Meine Jeans waren voller Staub, die Wasservorräte gingen zur Neige, Jane war natürlich schon vor Ort, und stellte mich dem englischen Journalisten Richard Williams vor, eine Legende schon damals (wie ich später erfuhr). Ich ahnte ja nicht, dass ich hier einem Stück Musikgeschichte beiwohnen sollte, der Produktion der Urfassung jenes Albums, das Bob Marley & The Wailers in Windeseile zu einem der ersten “Third World-Helden” der Rockhistorie machte. “Catch a Fire” wurde bald in einem Atemzug genannt mit Stevie Wonders “Talking Book” oder Marvin Gayes “What´s Going On”.

Bis dahin hatten sich die meisten meiner bewusstseinsverändernden Erfahrungen auf einem ramponierten Plattenspieler von Dual abgespielt, und meine kurzen England-Trips, auf denen ich Atomic Rooster, Fleetwood Mac und Steamhammer (letztere im Londoner Marquee Club, verraucht, laut, unfassbar) erlebte, hielten sich in Grenzen. Aber ich zehrte natürlich davon, und Jane hielt mich mit meinen 17 Lenzen für einen Teenager mit Potential.

Ganz legal war weder unsere Beziehung noch der Drogenvorrat, den sie später in einem Spezialfach durch sämtliche Flughafenkontrollen schmuggelte. Dank Bunny Livingston (der spielte Congas und Bongos bei den Wailers) wurde ich mit einer ganzen Sammlung der jamaikanischen Ganja-Kultur vertraut gemacht, und ich erlebte Songs wie “Stir It Up” durch einen fein gesponnenen Nebelschleier, an dessen Ränder die seltsamsten Farbeffekte aufblitzten. Wieso ich damals noch nicht den Entschluss fasste, Musikjournalist zu werden, wird mir immer ein Rätsel bleiben.

Wenn man so will, habe ich die ersten Interviews meines Lebens mit Peter Tosh und Aston Barrett gemacht, aber natürlich lief kein Bandgerät mit, und ich habe auch nicht viele Fragen gestellt, sondern bloß endlos bedeutsame Ausrufe von mir gegeben wie “fantastic!!” oder “so groovy!!”. Ich war ziemlich stoned. Später zweifelten meine Studentenkumpels in Würzburg massiv am Wahrheitsgehalt dieser Geschichte (“wann kommt Jane denn Tarzan besuchen” war einer der Sprüche, die mir um die Ohren flogen).

Egal. Ich habe ja manchmal selber meine Zweifel, wenn ich die Musik auflege: Island Records brachte “Catch A Fire” 2002 in einer Deluxe-Edition raus, mit der lang vergriffenen Urfassung und der in den frühen 70ern in England erschienenen Ausgabe für den internationalen Markt. Ich habe mich nie an diesem Album sattgehört. Wenn Bob Marley wie in einem Mantra “400 Years, 400 Years …“ singt, verschwinde ich mitunter in der kleinen heruntergekommenen Küche in Harry J´s Kingston Studio, in dem Jane ein paar Spiegeleier brät und die Gänsehaut einfach nicht verschwinden will.

This album is a stone cold classic of Reggae’s history. Almost everything about it is just right. Dennis Bovell’s band is tight yet melodic throughout. The production is spare, giving the rhythms and vocals space in which to reverb and resonate in a typical pared down late 70s dub-style. Even the artwork, with its monochrome precision and clear allusions to the original ska period, helps capture the mood of a lost time when music really mattered. And, of course, LKJ is simply magnificent. His dub poetry is delivered with swagger, soul and elegance. He is deftly sensitive to, but never dominated by, the pulsating rhythms of his band. His abiding mood is one of cold, considered fury at the injustice he sees around him. His lyrics are rich, impassioned and often elegiac, simultaneously articulating a profound rootedness in „Bass Culture“ (the sub-cultures of reggae, radicalism and poetry) and a pained sense of alienation. It is a testament to his supreme skills that „Street 66“ stills sounds as fresh, radical and dangerous as ever. By the way, he didn’t buy the whole Rastafarian mythology. An independant spirit – and a welcome guest on P.J. Harvey’s disturbing new album.

Being at the Niagara Falls, must be quite an immersive experience. Even with the cultural baggage of movie flashbacks. And the American way of colouring. It’s not so far away from the experience of old, beloved Reggae records: stone-cold classics, full of heat, love, and surrender. Being blown away in front of a famous waterfall, or on a „Jah-Maican“ time travel experience, nevermind!

So every Manafonista might leave his or her marks by adding to this mini-series of „20 reggae underground classics“ (if possible, let us not too often mention the usual suspects) – treasures that should never end in desolate areas of  record collections. The first record must be a killer, and it is. For the first time I heard this album at the end of the last century, during a party of Reggae- and Dub-fanatics in Düsseldorf. I’m talking about Dadawah‘s brooding, strung-out masterpiece of nyabinghi (Rastafarian spiritual music), „Peace And Love“! You don’t know it? Do yourself a favour! Originally released in 1974 on „Wild Flower“, it was repressed in ’75 by Trojan with different artwork. The two Reggae afficionados Ainley and Ernestus have had the tracks remastered at Abbey Road for the Dug Out edition, the vinyl housed in “old-school, hand-assembled sleeves” with original cover art restored. I’ll let Honest Jon’s explain the unique appeal of the record:


„Led by Ras Michael over four extended excursions, the music is organic, sublime and expansive, grounation-drums and bass heavy (with no rhythm guitar, rather Willie Lindo brilliantly improvising a kind of dazed, harmolodic blues). Lloyd Charmers and Federal engineer George Raymond stayed up all night after the session, to mix the recording, opening out the enraptured mood into echoing space, adding sparse, startling effects to the keyboards. At no cost to its deep spirituality, this is the closest reggae comes to psychedelia.“

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