Soul Beats Records

Broussaï ‘Kingston Town’ (Soul Beats) 3/5

U-Roy ‘Pray fi di people’ (Soul Beats) 4/5

Professor ‘Throw down your arms’ (Soul Beats) 4/5 CD + Separate DVD

During the 1990s the reggae scene in France mushroomed as both a regular concert circuit and independent labels devoted to the cause emerged. Parisian-based Makasound was one of the pioneers of the latter and now a new French label, based in the south-west, has surfaced and is similarly promoting both classic Jamaican artists and new and emerging talent within the French scene. In fact several Jamaican roots stars have either recorded in France, or in the case of Winton McAnuff made it their new home, much in the same way black American jazzmen resided in Paris during the 1950s and 1960s.

Broussaï are a French collective who recorded this album at Harry J’s studios in Kingston in February of this year aided by veteran producer Sam Clayton who has, among others, taken care of production chores for Toots and the Maytals. Essentially the sound is a roots one with the odd nod to pop music as on the opener ‘Contrastes et couleurs’. The album works best on the rootsier material such as the title track with a guest appearance by Dubtonic Kru, the musical description of the Kingston scene on ‘Rebel music’ (not the Bob Marley song) with the participation of Ishmel McAnuff and an uptempo duet with members of Steel Pulse on ‘Live up’. Vocals are soulful and the laid back groove of ‘Avant de partir’ is particularly impressive. The group have already recorded three previous albums in the last decade with a live DVD available also.

Daddy U-Roy is one of the legends of Jamaican reggae and has recorded under the most prestigious of producers ranging from Duke Reid to Lee Perry, Joe Gibbs and not forgetting the dub master himself, King Tubby. Thus when he decided to record and album with vocal duets, the list of contenders was always going to be of the highest calibre. A strong social message of helping the poor and needy underpins ‘Love questions’ with no less than Marcia Griffiths producing some of her trademark soulful vocals. Arguably the mantle of message-laden roots reggae that Bob Marley laid down so skilfully has been most poignantly taken on, not necessarily by any Jamaican artist, but by a singer from West Africa, the Ivory Coast to be precise, and his name is Tiken Jah Fakoly. Here he delivers a hard roots riddim in ‘Three the hard way’, which is proof that a French-English language alliance is eminently achievable and can create something of lasting value. Of the younger singers Tarrus Riley is a new talent and son of Winston Riley and here reworks ‘Pumps and pride’, a classic Toots number while UK’s very own Bitty McLean surfaces on another social tale of thieving on ‘Power of love’. The uplifting ‘Reason with Jah’ features Horace Andy, sweet soulful vocals from Ernest Wilson are to the fore on ‘Cheating girl’ and the title track itself is a bouncy rockers riddim with heavy percussion. Several potential 45s could result from this well balanced and all round strong album.

If the US group Grounation is not yet a household name among fans of classic-style new roots reggae, then it deserves to be and the lead vocalist of the group, Harrison Stafford, aka Professor, has released a live recording under his own name which will only enhance his reputation. The songs recorded on this CD featured largely on the ‘Madness’ studio album and Professor has assembled some top name Jamaican musicians, notably drummer Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, guitarist Dalton Browne and keyboardist Lloyd ‘Obeah’ Denton. A selection of classic riddims is the order of the day with for openers a horn and dub echo infused ‘Rockfort Rock’, this being one of the most sampled Studio One instrumental numbers. However, the majority are vocal and this affords the listener the opportunity to sample Professor’s soulful voice which is heard to best effect on a reprise of Bunny Wailer’s seminal ‘Armegideon’ (Bunny was especially popular among American roots fans when reggae started to become more popular during the mid-late 1980s) and on ‘Madness’. There is some political messagery on the minor themed ‘Intifada’ and on ‘East Jerusalem’ while there is a funk-tinged number in ‘Right on’. Arguably the finest vocal performance is reserved for ‘Jah sending out’ while, on the title track, Professor sounds very much aking to Burning Spear with a simple catchy chorus and some fine horn work. Excellent sound quality makes the live recording lose none of the instrumental intensity that bedeviled too many roots acts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Tim Stenhouse