Category Archives: reggae

Ruff Luxury In The World Of Sound

From Jamaica to the Uk, Toronto to New York and even Boston–the eighties of reggae, digital dancehall in the world of sound

tracklist

Watch Your Approach – Chris Wayne

Sound Boy – Little Kirk

Don Sound – Danovan Champion

Crowd A Come Back – Sleepy Wonder

Roughneck Fashion – Tenor Fly

Don In A Town – Ninjaman

Price Gone Up – Cobra

Long Mouth Special -Gazan

Raggamuffin – Hopeton Junior

Time So Hard – Al Campbell

Serious Times – Errol Strength

She Turns Me On - Courtney Melody

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People Reality: An Interview with Kenny Knots

Some will undoubtedly have heard of Kenny Knots through his work with a wide range of UK and European producers from Mungo’s Hi Fi to ManassehCultural Warriors to Jah Warrior.  Others may know him as the one-time singjay on northeast London’s Unity Hi Fi where he recorded digi dancehall hits like “Run Come Call Me” “Watch How The People Dem Dancing” and “Ring Up My Number“.  I met Kenny Knots in June of 2008 at his studio in Leyton, Northeast London, where we talked for an hour or so about his music, London sound systems, sound-tapes and videos, and a range of other topics.  Joining me on the bus ride to Leyton was Pras who is responsible for taking these photos.  There is some talk online of a solo album coming soon on Scotch Bonnet records, so keep an eye out for that along with any other Kenny Knots releases and please do enjoy the interview.

How did you get your start in music?

I spent some time back in the day in the first studio producing Unity music which was Must Dance International–which is Jah Bunny, Ruddy Ranks, Redeye, Elroy from Black Slate.  You know all these kinda people around so I got a pretty early insight to wha gwan inside the studio environment, so it was always kinda good on that behalf.  And I always had ideas, I could go to a dance and not, like–you have some singers and some deejays they rehearse very hard even to go to a dancehall, you know.  But I be the kinda man that don’t do much rehearsing, like on that department.  You know, just go in a dance, hear something ina your head, you know and say bwoy a dat me a go with and you just spit off a thing–like you just sing a thing or you deejay a thing, because I do a bit of both, you know, inside of the music industry I sing, I singjay, I do a bit of deejay, I do a bit of this, do a bit of that.  I try to fill my life with the music still, no matter how it a come from, you know, even a guy give me a link the other day who does dubstep and stuff like that and some minimal kind of beats.  And, you know, to be a artist would you only paint houses, or would you only paint cars, you know or would you only do drawings and never do paintings–so I look at it in that perspective.  For me, music is an all around thing, when I first started working inside of this place here and doing my little thing its like, people were sent to me that done r&b and stuff like that.  I could have turned them away and said I’m a roots purist, or try and learn from the experience and I chose to deal with the experience and find out what comes from it.  And it was fun I done about seven months of recording, like trying to create beats in a different style–which is nothing to do with where like perhaps I eat my bread from, but it was all very good and I cherish them moments. So, a so it go .

Who were the big sound systems in your area and what artists were you influenced by?

Well, influenced by, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, D Brown, you know.  The one that really give me the kickstart was I heard Nitty Gritty, and I never heard any kind of singing like that in my life!  I said bwoy me haffi try that style deh–and I tried it, and I went down to the Must Dance studio, I kept singing this song over and over and over: watch how the people them dancing, watch how the dance crowd dancing and the man say you know something, mek we voice a tune. And, my first time really in front of a microphone, you know like, in a studio with headphones on it was new, different to like just singing outside–there was a few people in the studio at the time and there was words coming–put in that word there and put in that word there. You know, and we put them in and Redeye and Ruddy, who really kinda arranged the music for Must Dance, they say alright then boom–sing that piece twice, sing that piece once, come back with that piece deh thats a nice likkle phrase  try that one deh again. And it was about maybe five, six hours, seven hours and the tune was voiced up, it was sounding good.  I struggled badly on harmonies, didn’t know anything about harmonies and stuff like that, but they said come on, you can do it.  So thats how “Watch How The People Dem Dancing” was created, and I felt more confident in myself as an artist coming along, you know, young fresh and green.  Obviously at the time it wasn’t very much like–you know you had like Johnny Osbourne and them and Tony Tuff and they was releasing their music like conscious ites, but you also had the other side which was like, very dancehall–light, about girls and stuff like that, you know.  And I went ahead with that like “Ring Up My Number” and stuff like that and, you know, same thing, just moving up the fire every single time.  And even around here–because that was kinda Hackney, Stoke Newington side–like this side, Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow, there was a few little sounds from round this side deh.  As a youth I had a sound called Boss Intruder, with a brethren called Beefy, you know and so forth, it was a lovely time.  We never had many speakers, we never had many amps, and we used to play like in house parties–them times it was alright to have a house party and like, you jam for the whole night.  Now you’ll get in trouble straight away with the police and rae rae.  So even at that time deh, buying a preamp, we got a guy called Reese to build us a preamp, and it was silver and it looked like a bomb, it was sloping like that.  When we was on the bus with the preamp someone said to me, like, what is that thing you’ve got in your hand and me say bwoy its a thing to play music.  Ohh its a thing to play music okay, so what’s this button do? And at the time I didn’t really know what the button done yet cause we just picked it up I was bringing it home to go and play it, so I was like I dunno that ones the bass, that ones the treble.  You know, long time inside of the sound system thing.

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Ruff Luxury 12: Midnight Ina El Salvador

Once again I welcome you to listen to another installment of the Ruff Luxury mixtape series.  This time we have a selection for the dub and reggae massive featuring some nice new finds and one or two old favorites.  At one of the local record shops around these parts a great collection of reggae stuff came in that had been soaking wet, so the record store guys salvaged what they could and left the sleeves out in the sun to dry.  It was sad to see so many painfully rare titles in such a state, but the upside is I was able to pick up a few things on the cheap that would have been  otherwise out of my price range.  The first four cuts on this mix are all taken from dub Lps that were in the wet collection Black Unity, Zion DubDubbing in the UK, and Don’t Underestimate the Force, The Force Is Within You.  “You Capture My Heart” is taken from Cornel Campbell’s 1979 Lp The Inspector General on the Toronto based Imperial label.  Cornel Campbell is really one of my all time favorite foundation singers, with so many great recordings spanning decades and an inimitable style that is immediately recognizable.  Prince Jazzbo and Leroy Stewart connect on “Step Forward” which came out originally in 1974 on a Count 123 forty-five (my copy is from a Prince Jazzbo comp).  I recently picked up this Heptones album A Place Called Love on Moving Target, not knowing anything about it, and was happy to find that it had some nice tunes, mainly just this one though, “An African Child”.  Continuing in the Boston reggae investigation, Zion Initation makes an appearance with “Society” from their Jah Light release.  And finally, “Midnight Ina El Salvador” from one of my most highly rated dub Lps ever: Junior Dan’s KTW Dub That pretty much concludes the rundown, I hope you enjoy the mix–tune in for more madness  in the weeks ahead.

[DOWNLOAD]

tracklist

Militant Salute – Bobby Ellis & The Revelutioneers Meets The Professionals

Dub For Joy – Carl Campbell

Southampton Dub – Desi All Stars

Revelation 8:11 – Sly & The Revolutionaries

You Capture My Heart – Cornel Campbell

Step Forward – Leroy Stewart

An African Child – The Heptones

Society – Zion Initation

Midnight Ina El Salvador – Junior Dan

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Photographic Graphic: Gladdy Wax

I stumbled across this picture today and thought it would be a nice one to share here.  Prasanna Balasundaram, my good friend and at that time neighbor, took this shot of the Gladdy Wax crew in action at Clissold Park in the Stoke Newington area of London.  An elder statesman of the North London reggae scene, Gladdy Wax ran a record shop in Stoke Newington for many years, and has operated his beloved sound system for over three decades.  Before establishing himself in London, Gladdy cut his chops in Birmingham on the infamous Quaker City sound (more info here).

P also took the photo that is on the header graphic of this blog, along with many others documenting revival sound system events around London in the spring and summer months of 2008.  I will continue to post some of my favorites of these images in an ongoing series here, so–maximum respect to Prasanna Balasundaram out of Toronto, Canada.  Don’t stop shooting my friend!

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The Ethiopian Dread

Another great LP from the Boston area was lent to me last week (thanks Joe).  Ethiopian Dread is producer and vocalist on the 1983 album “Rasta Liberty”, singing both in English and Amharic over some heavy original riddims provided by the Zion Initation crew.  Ras Ipa (Ipa Fenton) and Danny Tucker both lend a hand on the recording as guitarist and background vocalist respectively, alongside Iraka Reid and Ifuse Silcott holding down the rhythm section.  Recordings were completed at Downtown Studios in Boston and then sent to Kingston for mixing at Harry J Studio by Barrington Murray.  The label is ZUFAN SOUND with no street address but a PO Box that bears a local zip code.

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard another reggae album containing lyrics sung in Amharic (by an Amharic speaker that is… the Abyssinians don’t count) but am curious as to how this type of thing was received at the time both by reggae stalwarts and Ethiopian expatriates living in the area.  Roots reggae has not traditionally lent itself well to fusion or experimental genre-bending, indeed the very notion that many hold of ‘roots’ music is by definition incongruous with any form of mutation or dilution.  On the other hand, given the space occupied by Ethiopian/Amharic traditions within Rastafari discourse and the cosmos of reggae–this hybrid is potentially less (or at least distinctly) dissonant than, say, “London Calling” by The Clash.

Two of my favorite cuts both feature on the A side–Ethiopia and Help Jah People exemplify the deep-roots vibe that rides through the entirety of the disk.  Click on the song names to take a slice and be sure not to sleep on this Boston reggae gem if you come across it in the bins.

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Zion Initation

Just a few days after posting my latest thoughts on the wild world of Boston-related reggae records I came across another piece to add to the list–this one being Zion Initation’s ‘Jah Light’ LP.  The album was released in 1985 on the Zion Lion label based out of Evans Street in Dorchester–Ras Ipa and Danny Tucker are credited with the vocals and the recording was done at Downtown Recording Studio in Boston with the help of Joe the engineer. Iphus Silcott and Iraka Reid are credited on drums and bass respectively, Abdul Baki on keyboard, Abbi Ike on percussion and Ras Ipa again on the rhythm and lead guitar.  Mixdown was done at none other than Harry J Studio in Kingston with Sylvan Morris at the controls.  From what the internet tells me this was the group’s second full length disc, after putting out ‘Showcase’ on Armagedon in the late seventies.  The record is dubby, mellowed-out roots with a fantastic unpolished sound, reminiscent of some Wackies output and recordings from Jerry Brown’s Summer Sound Studio during the seventies and eighties–a kind of more drawn out, less finished style than much of what was being made in Jamaica.

Another small piece of the puzzle fins its place.  I am certainly no expert on reggae music’s past or present place in Boston’s cultural landscape, but I think the task of putting these records out there is a relevant one.  There are no compilations on this subject, no books or lengthly articles to my knowledge that really focus on reggae recordings produced and released in the area.  If you have some knowledge to share please leave a comment or an email (ruffluxury (at) gmail.com)–I would love to hear from you.

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more thoughts on boston reggae

SInce the last post on Boston area reggae I regretfully haven’t answered many questions about the labels and artists that were brought up.  I have, on the other hand, continued to run into interesting releases on the likes on Mastermind and MJH Records, as well as the pieces pictured above.

Clockwise from the left we have a Waynie Ranks 12″ on Taurus records with a Courtney Morris cut Extacy on the flipside. The only address/phone number listed is the VP distribution info in Queens, but I’m pretty sure its a Boston production given that all of the artists and producers feature elsewhere on local releases of the time.  Taurus also likely has a connection to the mainstay Blue Hill Avenue record shop bearing the same name which is sadly the last of the Jamaican/Caribbean record shops that is still open today.  Record shops catering to the city’s West Indian population were for some time a thriving cottage industry in the area–they were certainly still a common feature of the landscape still while I was growing up in Dorchester during the nineties.  The next disc is another Leroy Webb and Twin Dread production from 1991–‘Gwan Skylarking’ featuring rhythms by Mikey White and a host of local vocalists like Major Jackson, Errol Strength, Lady Lee and Ras Coley. The record was mixed by Junior Rodigan and Michael McDonald at Phillip Smart’s famed HC&F Studio in Freeport, Long Island. Taurus II records lists an address on River St. not far from the aforementioned record shop.

The I-Tones were a pretty successful reggae act in the Cambridge area for a time and put out a number of records including an LP called ‘Something We Share’ in 1987.  This song apparently had a video that you can see here.  Another of their bigger tunes was a nice rendition of Love is a Pleasure by Freddie Kay that came out on a 45.  Healin of the Nations’ ‘Love is the Answer’ LP is the final label scan, coming out on the HUB Records imprint.  This album received a lot of praise from the Boston Globe at the time of its release (1982) and is one of the more solid boston released full length that I have heard yet.  Danny Tucker shows up in the credits as a background vocalist on 400 Years–making this an even more interesting find and reminding me of how I really need to track down that Take Us Home 45.

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