Signs of life in reggae


Reggae Wrap
Various artists
Irie Negril
Hurricane Relief
Various artists
Vermont Reggae Festival
Lead With the Bass II and All the World in an Egg
Various artists
Universal Egg Records

Reviews by Norm Dixon

Any fan of political reggae will tell you that left-wing lyrics have been few and far between over the last 10 years. In their stead has been the apolitical commercialised sexist and nihilist party music known as dance hall or instrumental (more accurately electronic) reggae-meets-house music called jungle.

"Conscious" reggae has been little more than the reactionary and wacky elements of Rastafarian fundamentalism shorn of its revolutionary political interpretation, best represented by the music of the late Bob Marley, the late Peter Tosh and Burning Spear — who is, fortunately, still going strong.

Has reggae had its day as a rebel music? There remain radical artists — new and veterans — who are prepared to bring reggae to the service of new radicalisations, and it still appeals to radical young people. After Green Left Weekly put out a call through the internet for progressive reggae labels and artists to submit their work for review, the CDs that arrived soon after show that while political reggae may be down, it is not yet out.

One thing is sure: don't hold your breath waiting for the major labels to release progressive reggae. The most political reggae is being put out by small independent labels around the world.

Reggae Wrap brings together four new young talents from western Jamaica — Mr Peck, Inglish, Daddy V and Hii Fii — who perform singly and in various combinations. The subject matter ranges over poverty, black consciousness and Afrocentrism, civil rights, calls to remember and learn from Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley, opposition to war and perseverance in the face of racism and oppression.

While Wrap's reggae incorporates contemporary dance hall and hip hop rhythms, the overall feel takes one back to the lyricism of late '70s/early '80s reggae. Sadly, lyrics are not included in liner notes. (Send US$15 to Irie Productions, 1602 Sunset Ave, Utica, NY 13502, USA.)

Hurricane Relief is a 13-track featuring artists who have appeared at the Vermont Reggae Festival. For 11 years a bunch of reggae enthusiasts worked unselfishly to hold this annual free festival — the largest free reggae festival in the US — because they "still believe that raising people's consciousness through love and music are important commitments in a positive life".

In 1996, Hurricane Bertha visited Vermont the same day that Burning Spear, Israel Vibration, Roots Radics and many other reggae giants did. The storm made a big dent in the festival committee's coffers and did much damage to the venue. Funds from Hurricane Relief will help the festival survive.

Apart from the CD's inherent good, it is also a great collection of current progressive reggae, drawn from the labels such as RAS, Ariwa, Shanachie and Rhythm Safari.

Highlights include Macka B's classic manifesto, "Human Rights" and Sister Carol's patois black pride "Mother Culture". Other famous contributors include the Mad Professor, Israel Vibration and Culture. (Send US$15 to Hurricane Relief-Vermont Reggae Festival, PO Box 1558, Burlington, VT 05402, USA.)

The Universal Egg collective's Lead with the Bass II and All the World in an Egg bring together some of London's innovative underground dub/rave bands. Heavy reverb, drum and bass meet new age/world trance.

While this music is not in itself particularly political, it is the favoured music of many of Britain's radical youth who are very active in environmental campaigns, the anti-road movements, the McLibel case, campaigns against racism and for workers' rights.

Universal Egg is allied with a little magazine, the Wobbler ("Official organ of Zion Train, Universal Egg and the Wibbly Wobbly World of Music").

Within its pages are articles opposing the cutting of Amazon mahogany, against the introduction of CS gas by the British police and police moves to restrict the right to protest, news about gains by the anti-racism movement and calls for support for the Liverpool dockers and the Ogoni people in Nigeria. (Send £25 to Universal Egg, PO Box 10681, London N15 6TE or visit .)