RGR TIMES WITH HOWARD CAMPBELL

The legend of Dandy Livingstone  

 

When singer Dandy Livingstone began recording sessions for a comeback album last year, he just wanted to make "good reggae music". If a hit song came from it, that would be a bonus. 

"They Call us Legends" is the title of his first album in over 40 years. Released in July by his Par Three Music label, it contains the title song which is an homage to reggae's pioneers. 

Livingstone, who lived in the United Kingdom for over 20 years before returning to Jamaica in 1983, leads a quiet life in Kingston. On "They Call us Legends", he worked with musician/producer Paul "Computer Paul" Henton and veteran toaster U Roy who appears on two songs. 

He also puts a new stamp on "Rudy, A  Message to You", a hit for him in the UK in 1967. That song has been covered by popular British pop acts which has benefited 76 year-old Livingstone. 

"I guess I’m lucky. Maybe I did something good for fans young and old gravitating to my music, especially in Europe and beyond," he said. "When The Specials covered 'Rudy, A Message To You' in 1979 I was elated, albeit I had never heard of them. And the late Amy Winehouse took a liking to it also, and made it a part of her repertoire." 

Livingstone's biggest hit is "Suzanne Beware of the Devil" which entered the British national chart in 1972. He produced fellow Jamaican Tony Tribe's 1969 version of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine" which inspired UB40's massive cover in 1983. 

"They Call us Legends" has also been released on vinyl in the United Kingdom.

Written By Howard Campbell

Reasoning with Jahi  

 

Though he has been linked to firebrand rap group Public Enemy for 30 years, American rapper Jahi considers himself a Rastaman. On October 12, his 17th album, "Reasonings", was released through Tuff Gong International. 

The 10-song set offers more of the hip hop-reggae blend he is known for. "No More", its lead single, is a pointed jab at police brutality against black people in the United States. 

"Reasonings was recorded in Oakland, California. Having the opportunity to release something on Tuff Gong, I overstand the level of legacy this is, especially in Jamaica," said Jahi. "I am a Rasta, but my medium of expression is through hip hop. I'm a MC, or in Jamaican culture I DJ over tracks, and play with a live band.  I have always been on a conscious level in my music because of Rasta, so that is ever evident on this project as I speak truth to the people." 

Jahi was born in Cleveland, Ohio but for the past 20 years, has lived in Oakland, one of hip hop's focal points. Since 2008, he has been a member of PE 2.0, an offshoot of Public Enemy designated to introduce the legendary group's legacy to a new generation of hip hop fans. 

His ties to Jamaican pop culture go back to 1989 when he and his father attended Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay. Through regular visits to Jamaica, Jahi went to dances, clubs and held audience with Rastafarians. 

On "Reasonings", he carries on the social message of his heroes who include Bob Marley, James Brown and Fela Kuti. 

"The current affairs of the world, of black people uniting all over the globe, our safety, security, our right to be left alone, to be treated with respect, to increase our capacity to love, live, inspire, and empower is what was on my mind when I wrote every song," stressed Jahi.  The 'politricks' of the day come and go. I want to push through my music for the encouragement of our people all over the world to build something of our own. Just like Marcus Garvey told us many years ago."

Written By Howard Campbell

Bertie Dan clears the Battlefield  

 

Roots singer Bertie Dan remembers when going to a dance in Jamaica was for the the fun-loving or artists trying to expose their songs. Now, these events are prone to violence. 

Bertie Dan longs for the good old days on his song, "Battlefield", which is produced by Kion Smith for Shashamane77 Records. 

The single is inspired by an incident at a dance he recently attended in Rockfort, east Kingston. 

"Gunshot jus' start lick an' people start drop over one another. Battlefield reminding people dat, when yuh go dance yuh go to have fun," said Bertie Dan. 

The veteran artist has been to his share of dances, going back to the 1980s when he performed on sound systems like Volcano, King Tubby's and Stur Gav. Things were different then. 

"Dem days dance did nice! Yuh coulda walk go home. Can't do dat again," he said. 

Bertie Dan also began recording over 30 years ago. His first song, "Mr. Cocaine Man", was produced by Anthony "Gilly" Gilbert, former chef for Bob Marley; his best known song is "Money Money", a collaboration with Cutty Ranks produced by Fifth Avenue Records. 

He has toured North America and Europe with Mystic Revealers and Nardo Ranks, respectively.

Written By Howard Campbell

Kashief Lindo's heart beats for love  

 

With all the global turmoil in 2020, Kashief Lindo felt it was his responsibility to vent his anger at racial and social injustice on songs like "Till dem bun Down di House" and "Human Life". But for his latest song, "Love is Just A Heartbeat Away", he strikes a more romantic tone. 

Like its predecessors, "Love is Just A Heartbeat Away" is produced by Willie Lindo, Kashief's father, and released by the family's Heavy Beat Records. 

"Sometimes the melody of a song dictates the beat, so to keep things in context this is what we did. But the bottomline is, the message in the music and the lyrics in this song is no different from the previous ones. That is why we have to use every possible means for people to hear and see the lyrics, that is our mission," said Kashief. 

His soothing vocal on "Love is Just A Heartbeat Away" is complemented by a fuzz tone guitar feel courtesy of his father. That sound has helped take quite a few songs on pop charts. 

Though "Till dem bun Down di House" and "Human Life" made charts in South Florida and New York, Lindo said for most of his career, it's been about recording good music and not making charts. 

"It is always good to get a hit, the feeling that you get knowing that one song can reach so many minds from all walks of life is indescribable, but if I touch one person and make a positive difference in their life that is equally a joyous feeling. A win-win," he stated. 

Kashief Lindo knows a thing or two about win-win situations. He has been recording since the mid-1990s and had sizable hits with "First Cut" and "No Can Do" which were also produced by Heavy Beat Records.

Written By Howard Campbell

Var Hillsman spreads Jah Love  

 

"Jah Love" is the title of a six-song EP by singer/songwriter Var Hillsman. It will be independently released in November. 

Var Hillsman is former lead singer of Pentateuch, a band that formed at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica. 

In addition to writing all the songs, he produced four of them. Most of the tracks have a strong acoustic guitar flavor, featuring Var Hillsman. He said going unplugged was deliberate. 

"Because I am a songwriter and I write music with the guitar, so it boils down to using what I have to make music as long as it have a feel and vibration to it and the message is clear, especially now when we are all facing this time of world crisis," he explained. 

The other songs on "Jah Love" are produced by German singer/producer Patrice Bart Williams. 

Var Hillsman is from Portland, a parish in eastern Jamaica. He moved to Kingston in his late teens to attend music school.

Some of his schoolmates played on Jah Love. They include bassist Jason Welch (of Notis Heavweight Rockaz) and his cousin, Shaquir McQueen, guitarist for Kabaka Pyramid's band.

Written By Howard Campbell

Niney remembers Gregory  

 

As a producer, Winston "Niney" Holness has worked with some of reggae's greatest singers. He rates Gregory Isaacs among the best. 

Holness produced "Slavemaster" and "Ba Da", two popular songs by the singer who died October 25, 2010, 10 years ago. 

"Gregory was a good Bwoy! A sample man...there was no man like Gregory, him was one of a kind," said Holness. 

The Montego Bay-born Holness said he first met Isaacs in the early 1960s, long before both launched their vocal and production careers. A decade later, Holness produced "Rock On", the first song he produced by Isaacs. 

In 1974, they teamed again on "Ba Da" followed four years later by "Slavemaster" which both featured the Soul Syndicate Band. 

Holness said he was with Isaacs in London during the last days of his life, visiting him regularly at the home he was staying. Isaacs died there from cancer at age 60. 

At the time they first collaborated, Holness and Isaacs were establishing themselves as producer and artist. Holness had a hit song as an artist with "Blood And Fire" in 1971, but made his name two years later by producing songs like "Cassandra" and "Westbound Train" by Dennis Brown and "Silver Words" by Ken Boothe.

Isaacs had hits with "Lonely Soldier" and "Love is Overdue". 

According to Holness, Isaacs' jocular nature was responsible for many of his songs. 

"When Gregory come studio a pure argument an' card a draw. Whole heap a dem drama an' card dey him write song from dem," he said.

Written By Howard Campbell

The return of Mega Banton  

 

Veteran deejay Mega Banton has been busy in the recording studio in recent months. As Christmas beckons, he has several new songs ready for the market. 

They include "No Way Out", "Hall of Fame" and "Puppet" which were done for different producers. Best known for the 1993 anthem, "Sound Boy Killing", Mega Banton is looking to 'bus' them the old-fashioned way. 

"Mi nuh really program radio. Mi like di underground 'cause most of my music aggressive...is raw dancehall," he said. 

Because of the Coronavirus, Mega Banton's recording and concert schedule was put on hold. He has done one concert in 2020; that was a gig in Baltimore, Maryland in February. 

He got his big break 27 years ago while still in high school with "Sound Boy Killing" which was driven by his gruff, Buju Banton-like vocals. 

"Sound Boy Killing" was produced by Morris "Jack Scorpio" Johnson who gave the song power-play on his sound. The song initially took the Jamaican dance circuit by storm before making the rounds in New York City where it was also embraced by hip hop fans. 

Mega Banton, who is in his mid-40s, describes his latest songs as a blend of One Drop reggae and his signature hardcore dancehall style.

Written By Howard Campbell

Blondie is high on Toots  

 

Toots Hibbert had a number of high-profile admirers --- Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow were some of them. 

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of rock band Blondie are also longtime fans of the legendary singer who died in Kingston, Jamaica on September 11 at age 77. 

In an interview with Vulture magazine, both spoke of their admiration for the man who did songs like "Monkey Man", "54-46" and "Bam Bam". 

"I can’t remember specifically when Toots first came into my life, but I was immediately really turned on by the music. I’m a huge fan of Toots to this day. In the ’70s, we had a gig down in Texas and we saw Bob Marley play a show. I was so excited by the response and the reception the music was getting. I’ve been watching this fabulous Bob Marley documentary series on TV, and there’s several interview clips with Toots. I love his whole ambiance and facade. There was a sweetness to him, and in a way, it reminded me of Flavor Flav," said Harry. 

According to Stein, "Toots was great, man. He really deserved more of a boost in his lifetime," and he later added, "I was always a really huge fan, and those guys [Toots and the Maytals] should have been in the (Rock and Roll) Hall of Fame years ago. I don’t know if he’ll get in posthumously, but it’s way overdue. They were hugely influential." 

A petition, initiated by reggae historian Roger Steffens, was launched recently to get Toots in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If successful, he would be the third Jamaican after Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff to be inducted. 

Blondie successfully dabbled with reggae in 1980 when they covered "The Tide is High", originally done in 1967 by rock steady trio, The Paragons. Their version went number one in the United States.

Written By Howard Campbell 

 

Keeling Beckford soldiers on  

 

The Coronavirus put a major dent in the entertainment industry, the reggae sector being no exception. But it hasn't stopped veteran Jamaican singer Keeling Beckford from churning out new and old releases. 

His latest project is "Ska Time", the remix to a song he recorded six months ago with the Loud City Band from Oregon.  

"Is a fresh flavor that fans in Europe and the States will love. I go with what my fans love and that's one of the things that keep me going," said Beckford. 

"Ska Time" was released in late September. It was preceded by other new Beckford singles such as "Living in America", "My Love" and "This Year". 

Last November, the Keeling Reggae label he started shortly after settling in New York 43 years ago, released the retrospective album, "Try Me: Keeling Beckford The Rock Steady Years".  

That set has 13 songs produced by Enid "Dell" Barnett for her Del Tone label in the 1960s. 

Barnett produced "Combination", the song that announced a teenaged Beckford to Jamaican and British fans in 1968. 

In October, Keeling Reggae makes its foray into the streaming business with the in-concert "Dennis Brown: The Legend Continues", an event that took place in Kingston, Jamaica  during the 1980s. 

That event was among many the astute Beckford filmed and packaged for the VHS market, especially in the tri-state area which has a massive Jamaican population. 

"Reggae Heroes" and "The Skatalites in New York", concerts he filmed in the Big Apple, will also be available on streaming by Christmas.

Written By Howard Campbell

Katteye hails African Kings And Queens  

 

When producer DeLeon "Jubba" White recruited singer Katteye to contribute a song for an album based on The Abyssinians' 1972 hit song, "Declaration of Rights", he recalled his youth in Jamaica for inspiration. 

"Hanging around Rastas and listening to Rasta artists, I quickly learned and understood that all black people around the world were from Africa. Nuh Sunday school neva teach me dat," said a defiant Katteye. 

His song on the White-produced "Freedom: (The Declaration of Rights)" EP is "African Kings And Queens". The eight-song project was released in June by Tuff Gong International. 

Like White, Katteye lives in Portland. He credits Bob Marley's song "Buffalo Soldier" and the teachings of Marcus Garvey for increasing his knowledge of the black experience. 

Katteye has been recording since the 1980s when he was known as Delroy Katt. Some of his early songs, like "Kill Me With No" and "Rum Nuh Wrap Up", were produced by Phillip"Fatis" Burrell. 

Katteye also did a stint with the Live Wyya Band, singing lead on "Spread The Love", their 2011 album. 

For almost 20 years, he has lived in the Pacific Northwest. Portland has a infectious reggae vibe which makes him feel at home. 

"The reggae scene has been strong in Portland. Oregon borders California and Washington, and the west coast has the strongest roots-reggae vibe in America," said Katteye. "Artists touring the west coast would work the circuit, from California through Oregon up to Washington. The west coast has the largest reggae festivals during the summers. However, due to COVID, things have really slowed down." 

Written By Howard Campbell