Peter Dalton looks at how 1999 is shaping up for reggae as the millenium approaches.

The year kicked off in fine style with with producer Dave Kelly's Jamaican take on the UK jungle style. The amazing Backyard rhythm on his own Mad House label provided hits for Alias (AKA Dave Kelly himself), Wayne Wonder & Bounty Killer, Baby Cham and Frisco Kid. Surprisingly however other Jamaican producers have yet to step in with their own variations on this London based dance form so Dave Kelly has proved the only radical departure in reggae so far this year.

Jamaican producers have instead been content to develop further the two styles that have mattered most in reggae for the last few years. Namely, hardcore ragga, increasingly influenced by US hip-hop culture, and the return of a new generation of roots performers to the musical and thematic territory of two decades back.


Many see reggae music as dividing sharply into hardcore ragga and roots revivalism. Yet leading Bobo-dread chanter Sizzla has shown how perhaps they are not wholly exclusive of each other. Check how he intones his declarations of righteousness over both drum-driven ragga rhythms and reworkings of classic Studio One rhythms. Three quality new albums in six months - Good Ways for Bobby Digital and Kalonji and The Royal Son Of Ethiopia for Fatis Burrell- suggest that Sizzla's supply of fresh material is inexhaustible and confirm his position in the forefront of young Jamaican performers concerned with truth & rights.

Despite Sizzla's impact, Beenie Man and his old rival Bounty Killer have maintained their dominance in the deejay arena. The former has enjoyed the greater number of best-selling tunes, from Always Be My Baby (Q45), through tunes like Let Him Go (Juvenile) and Ni Nuh Walla (King Jammys), to his most recent hits, Battery Dolly (Studio 2000) and Has The World Gone Mad (Call Me Shams).

But Bounty Killer's return to favour has also proved something of a phenomenon. Anytime (Xtra Large), on the same Bruk Out rhythm as last year's Cant Believe My Eye, spent over three months at the top of the UK reggae chart. Mr Pryce's Psycho Med was also a major hit in the reggae world, while his combination disc with Pinchers, Dem A Ray Ray (Stone Love) fully deserved to be.

The most exciting new deejay name so far this year is Sean Paul. Report To We on the how yu fi sey dat? label, on a radical new variation of the Sleng Teng rhythm, and the Chris Goldfinger produced Dis Me Family (Golden Cartel) are particular stand outs.

Ward 2 are a deejay crew - or perhaps rappers is the more appropriate term - who also produce their own rhythms and have successfully incorporated hip-hop elements into music that remains distinctively Jamaican. Haters will be a strong contender for the record of the year, appearing on Jammy$' Bada Bada rhythm which also gave massive dancehall hits for Bounty Killer, Mr Vegas, Zebra and Beenie Man.

Zebra clearly comes from the same part of the dee jay rain forest as the unfortunate Tiger who seems unlikely now to make a comeback after the motorbike accident that nearly cost his life a few years back. However Zebra has added enough of his own style to make a considerable impact both in Jamaica and abroad. A recording career stretching back to Prince Jazzbo's Ujama label prepared no-one for the extent of his recent success, with Red (Fat Eyes) and Selassie Warning (King Jammys) both showing him at his very best.

But perhaps Capleton has come closest to challenging the popularity of Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. Capleton's first hits at the beginning of the decade, were initially notorious for their slack lyrics, although once established, he turned to topics of a largely conscious nature, his last album showing him in the turban of the currently influential Bobo dreads. The trailer-load of first-class tunes from Capleton this year include Final Assassin (Studio 2000) on Steely & Clevie's infectious Street Sweeper rhythm, More Dem Try (Kickin), Big Animosity (X-Con) and the ferocious In Or Out (Fat Eyes).

Buju Banton is another deejay whose lyrics once offended liberal sensibilities. But his homophobic Boom Bye Bye was seven years ago and followed by the strictly conscious Til Shiloh album. After that undisputed masterpiece his work has seemed somewhat unfocused, particularly the material for his own labels. Yet this year's combination with Beres Hammond on the popular Things & Time rhythm was a stunning return to form. Pull It Up (Penthouse) reminds us that he is a better deejay than singer, for all the brilliance of Untold Stories, who perhaps should please the dancehall first rather than a nebulous crossover audience.

Shabba Ranks has already returned to his original audience, Bun Dem (Cali Bud) and his old X-Rated placed over the Street Sweeper rhythm both showing his gruffer-than-gruff tones can still rock any dancehall.

Fellow ragga veteran Spragga Benz reminded everyone what an original stylist he is with Peace (Hi Profile). Often underrated, this dee jay only needs the right rhythm to score a massive reggae hit, as shown with Baddis (on which Vegas also scored with Jacket). Much the same can be said of Cobra, whose Gangster Born(Top Nail) was arguably the most striking of the many Bruk Bottle versions to register in the UK reggae chart.

Finally, after last year's successful Heavy Metal rhythm, producer Danny Browne flexed his rock & roll guitar licks once more with the All Purpose rhythm (Main Street). The most arresting version was perhaps Buccaneer & Mr Vegas' combination effort Weh Dem Woulda Do. Should this appeal, check the always inventive General Degree's Fun Thing plus further cuts from Hawkeye, Red Rat and Goofy.

Beres Hammond has had a quiet time so far with new releases. In his place, similarly-voiced Glen Washington has been the only Jamaican vocal talent to sound equally at home either with a lovers or a cultural tune. No youthman, Glen Washington enjoyed a major hit back in the mid-1970s with Rockers Nu Crackers for Errol Thompson. He then kept his hand in as a drummer, before returning last year as a vocalist with the masterful Brother To Brother set for Studio One. Strong singles this year on the Hi Power, Weapon Of Peace, and Stingray labels - as well as albums for the New York-based Jah Life, R Zee Jackson and Philip Smart - have maintained his profile.

Luciano, now no longer with Island, has continued to be the most popular of those singers bringing Rastafari to the modern dancehall. His Fatis Burrell -produced Sweep Over My Soul album made up for the slightly lacklustre The Messenger, and easily stands comparison with his classic Where There Is Life. This might, however, be his last album for Fatis, since over the past few months he has followed the usual Jamaican practice of freelancing for different producers. The result has been an interesting variety of 45s, the best being Moving Outta Babylon (Ffrench), Mr Minister with Tristan Palmer and Anthony B, and Which Man (both on Jazzy Creation), Love His Majesty (Flash) and Punchline (Henfield).

On the other hand, not a great deal was heard from fellow rootsman Jah Mali who, like Beres Hammond, works with Donovan Germain, and seems uninterested in recording for other producers. Following his superb El Shaddai album from last year, Jah Mali's only large hit so far into 1999 has been No Water from the CD variation of that set. This began the fashion for new versions of the Wailing Souls Back Out/Things & Time rhythm and Germain's cut of the rhythm also scored with offerings from Beres Hammond, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Tony Rebel, and ARP (aka A Raw Perspective).

While several of the new wave of Jamaican roots singers - notably Peter Morgan of Morgan Heritage and Ras Shiloh - continue to show the enduring influence of the late Garnett Silk, the approach of the up-and-coming Bushman has seemed nearer to Luciano's. The man born Dwight Duncan confirmed the promise he's been showing for a couple of years now with the aptly-named Total Commitment set for King Jammy - a very worthwhile follow-up to his stunning debut album for Steely & Clevie. Singles for other imprints - most notably I Burn (Cali Bud) - further demonstrated his place among the most serious of the new generation of cultural singers.

Another Bobo dread and a comparable talent is Jah Cure. While showing strongly on a series of powerful modern roots 45s (notably, Never Die Like Fool (Flash) and Guide Us Jah (321 Strong) he has yet to have an album released. Certainly a name to watch for the future, as is the UK- based Prince Malachi, who has been recording in Jamaica. His Prophet, Priest & King album for Philip Fatis Burrell is excellent, and a convenient way of catching up with his 45s that have appeared on Xterminator. Still on a roots tip, Morgan Heritage impressed with the self-produced Liberation (HMG), even if their second album for King Jammy was a little disappointing.

May saw another great album out of Studio One when Mr Dodd dusted off his vintage rhythms and invited Jamaican jazz trumpeter Roy Bubbles Burrowes to extemporise over them. Keeping Burrowes company on Reggae au go Jazz were US tenor sax players Clifford Jordan and Charles Davis and the entire set amounted to one of the most interesting projects to emerge out of Studio One in recent years, part of a lineage stretching back to those classic 1970s instrumental sets from Cedric Im Brooks and Roland Alphonso.

Excellent tunes continue to be made here in England despite the much talked-about slump in the UK reggae market, as shown by the current inactivity of Fashion Records, . These cover all facets of the music, with fine ragga and lovers records and roots outings with the same feel those as anything coming out of Kingston. Saxon, the label that grew out of the top London sound system, released a truly exceptional double set in January, from the very accomplished singer Lloyd Brown, which was split between lovers and thoughtful cultural tracks. From this came the popular single Lessons followed into the UK reggae charts by Sweet Meditation, an equally conscious deejay cut from Chukki Starr, who impressed last year with his Ghetto Youths set for the Mad Professor.

Peter Dalton, July 1999


All Purpose (Main Street)
Bada Bada (King Jammy$/Shocking Vibes)
Backyard (Mad House)
Baddis (Hi Profile)
Bruk Bottle (Q45)
Bruk Out (Xtra Large)
Coochie (Fat Eyes)
Crass Cyaat (Call Me Shams)
Now Thing (how yu fi sey dat?)
Pot Cover (Size 8)
Street Sweeper (Studio 2000)
Things & Time (Penthouse/Hi Power/King Jammy$/Techniques)