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    Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, partners in the group the Wailers and later solo superstars, were the imperial lions of reggae. Along with bandmate Bunny Wailer, they brought the music of Jamaica to a wider audience, establishing reggae as a genre of global reach and lasting import. Today you can hear their influence in the music of the hip-hop group the Fugees, the ska-rock band Sublime and even the Rolling Stones (Stones guitarist Keith Richards has a low-key Rastafarian drum-and-chant album out called Wingless Angels). Marley's career (he died in 1981) was rightly celebrated several years ago by the spectacular four-CD boxed set Songs of Freedom (Island). Now Tosh, who was murdered in 1987, gets the box treatment in the just released three-CD set Honorary Citizen (Legacy). With respect properly paid to the past, it's a good time to ask, Who are the new reggae lions?

    A rush of recent albums by young performers provides part of the answer. There's pop singer Diana King with her new release, Think Like a Girl (Work Group); the hip-hop-charged star Capleton with his album I-Testament (Def Jam); and trip-hop-tinged newcomer Finley Quaye with his debut CD Maverick a Strike (550 Music). A much more established star, South African traditionalist Lucky Dube, also has a new CD out, Taxman (Shanachie). The fact that reggae, like a nation secure enough to welcome new immigrants, is able to nurture such a varied group of up-and-comers is a sign of the genre's vitality. Certainly none of these young lions can yet claim to head the pride. But a roar is building.

    Of the newcomers, King has had the most mainstream success. Her clubland cover of I Say a Little Prayer was featured on the sound track to the Julia Roberts film My Best Friend's Wedding and made its way into the Top 40 on the pop charts. The song also appears on King's new album, an effusive collection of upbeat, danceable reggae. The best song here, the aggressively catchy L-L-Lies, works because the accusatory tone of the lyrics allows King to show some verve and edge. Some of the other songs on the album are a bit too sugary and overproduced. King has a vibrant vocal presence and doesn't need adornment. She's best when she goes down like black coffee--strong, sharp and hot. She's one to watch.

    Capleton's I-Testament comes on forcefully from the start. On the Jamaican-born singer's previous CD, Prophecy, he performed alongside rapper Method Man of the American hardcore hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. I-Testament also boasts street-wise, street-tough swagger. Capleton's vocals are a mix of slurred rap, chanting and Jamaican patois, supported by R.-and-B. backup singers. His songs are often built around samples; Original Man draws liberally from the bass groove of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side. Capleton's talent lies in his ability to fuse gangsta-rap energy with socially conscious lyrics: the album's premier track, It Hurts My Heart, explodes with vitality and purpose.

    Finley Quaye's inventive, off-kilter debut, Maverick a Strike, is also bursting with freshness and new life. His music has a sinuous reggae groove twisting through it, but it is laced with folky acoustic guitars and trip-hop electronic doodles and flourishes (he's an uncle of trip-hop maverick Tricky). It's easy for music this arty to forget about heart, but not here; on the song Even After All, Quaye turns in a tender, haunting ballad.

    But despite the innovations and stylish additions of new acts like Quaye, traditional reggae still survives. On Lucky Dube's Taxman, a big-hearted, socially conscious work in the tradition of Marley and Tosh, the title track is an attack on taxation of all sorts. Tosh himself can be heard in most of his glory on Honorary Citizen. This boxed set, despite its 44-track heft, is far from definitive--a few of Tosh's best songs, including I Am That I Am, have been left off. But the album is nonetheless an essential primer; many of the songs here, including Get Up Stand Up and African, rank among the finest pop songs ever written. Reggae has a promising present, but when Tosh sings, on Equal Rights, "Everyone is crying out for peace/ None is crying out for justice..." he sweeps us willingly and joyfully into the past.

    Posted by: WebCrew
WebCrew's picture
on November 19, 1997

 

Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, partners in the group the Wailers and later solo superstars, were the imperial lions of reggae. Along with bandmate Bunny Wailer, they brought the music of Jamaica to a wider audience, establishing reggae as a genre of global reach and lasting import. Today you can hear their influence in the music of the hip-hop group the Fugees, the ska-rock band Sublime and even the Rolling Stones (Stones guitarist Keith Richards has a low-key Rastafarian drum-and-chant album out called Wingless Angels). Marley's career (he died in 1981) was rightly celebrated several years ago by the spectacular four-CD boxed set Songs of Freedom (Island). Now Tosh, who was murdered in 1987, gets the box treatment in the just released three-CD set Honorary Citizen (Legacy). With respect properly paid to the past, it's a good time to ask, Who are the new reggae lions?

A rush of recent albums by young performers provides part of the answer. There's pop singer Diana King with her new release, Think Like a Girl (Work Group); the hip-hop-charged star Capleton with his album I-Testament (Def Jam); and trip-hop-tinged newcomer Finley Quaye with his debut CD Maverick a Strike (550 Music). A much more established star, South African traditionalist Lucky Dube, also has a new CD out, Taxman (Shanachie). The fact that reggae, like a nation secure enough to welcome new immigrants, is able to nurture such a varied group of up-and-comers is a sign of the genre's vitality. Certainly none of these young lions can yet claim to head the pride. But a roar is building.

Of the newcomers, King has had the most mainstream success. Her clubland cover of I Say a Little Prayer was featured on the sound track to the Julia Roberts film My Best Friend's Wedding and made its way into the Top 40 on the pop charts. The song also appears on King's new album, an effusive collection of upbeat, danceable reggae. The best song here, the aggressively catchy L-L-Lies, works because the accusatory tone of the lyrics allows King to show some verve and edge. Some of the other songs on the album are a bit too sugary and overproduced. King has a vibrant vocal presence and doesn't need adornment. She's best when she goes down like black coffee--strong, sharp and hot. She's one to watch.

Capleton's I-Testament comes on forcefully from the start. On the Jamaican-born singer's previous CD, Prophecy, he performed alongside rapper Method Man of the American hardcore hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. I-Testament also boasts street-wise, street-tough swagger. Capleton's vocals are a mix of slurred rap, chanting and Jamaican patois, supported by R.-and-B. backup singers. His songs are often built around samples; Original Man draws liberally from the bass groove of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side. Capleton's talent lies in his ability to fuse gangsta-rap energy with socially conscious lyrics: the album's premier track, It Hurts My Heart, explodes with vitality and purpose.

Finley Quaye's inventive, off-kilter debut, Maverick a Strike, is also bursting with freshness and new life. His music has a sinuous reggae groove twisting through it, but it is laced with folky acoustic guitars and trip-hop electronic doodles and flourishes (he's an uncle of trip-hop maverick Tricky). It's easy for music this arty to forget about heart, but not here; on the song Even After All, Quaye turns in a tender, haunting ballad.

But despite the innovations and stylish additions of new acts like Quaye, traditional reggae still survives. On Lucky Dube's Taxman, a big-hearted, socially conscious work in the tradition of Marley and Tosh, the title track is an attack on taxation of all sorts. Tosh himself can be heard in most of his glory on Honorary Citizen. This boxed set, despite its 44-track heft, is far from definitive--a few of Tosh's best songs, including I Am That I Am, have been left off. But the album is nonetheless an essential primer; many of the songs here, including Get Up Stand Up and African, rank among the finest pop songs ever written. Reggae has a promising present, but when Tosh sings, on Equal Rights, "Everyone is crying out for peace/ None is crying out for justice..." he sweeps us willingly and joyfully into the past.

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