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"World a reggae music on yah..."
on 24 July 2011
Trojan's latest dancehall reggae collection fully embraces the era's sound in all of it's hypnotic, throbbing glory; and successfully represents certain stylistic traits whilst blatantly ignoring others (not a single rub-a-dub deejay track?!).
The focus here is on the more 'commercial' elements of dancehall - the brightest and breeziest rhythms, soulful vocal melodies and "cheesy" love and relationship themed lyrics - thus strengthening the theory that with dancehall, reggae music completely cast aside all of the hardship, drama and tribulation of the 'roots' period for cheerier and more flippant concerns: namely dancing, girls and material wealth. Of course, such assumptions never tell the full story - spiritual and cultural themes did prevail throughout the era, and producers like Don Mais and Henry 'Junjo' Lawes produced deep and heavy rhythms with not an iota of commercial motivation.
Though first impressions suggest that this set is completely focussed lyrically on trivial 'boy-girl' affairs, there are actually a fair amount of more 'serious' topics covered also - Black Uhuru's "SENSIMELIA", Israel Vibration's "WHY YOU SO CRAVEN", Anthony Johnson's "GUN SHOT" and Triston Palmer's "PEACE AND LOVE IN THE GHETTO" are the most striking cultural commentaries here; though the absence of Rastafarian themes is felt strongly and the overall balance is still in favour of the love songs.
Another bias is revealed in the tracklisting with the glut of Sly & Robbie productions featured. Through the new link established with Island Records, Trojan have access to more of these recordings than ever before, and almost half of the 40 tracks here are Sly & Robbie productions - lush, multi-layered arrangements which, driven by Sly Dunbar's passion for technology, are filled with synthesized nuances: copious bleeps, bloops, whistles and hand-claps. However, the sheer amount of this material in comparison with the production work of others (only 3 by 'Junjo'?!) results in a rather narrow and singular representation of the era.
Despite my cynical misgivings this IS an impressive collection full of uniformly excellent music that showcases the early 'dancehall' sound (ie. pre-digital) perfectly - tracks built upon mesmerizing and cavernously deep bass lines and slow, metronomic drum beats; recorded in glossy, crystal-clear audio quality that makes every musical splash and crash ring out profoundly. The list of artists featured reads like an all-star cast and the sublime vocal styles range from The Tamlins' and Third World's blissful group harmonies to Madoo and Triston Palmer's gritty and unique "singjay" chanting. The track listing avoids too many obvious choices and the inclusion of the rarely heard "BLOOD STAIN" by Peter Broggs is a real treat; as are the 2 extended tracks from Ini Kamoze's classic debut LP, including "WORLD A MUSIC" - which was famously heard sampled in recent times on Damian Marley's "Welcome To Jamrock".
"Trojan Presents Dancehall" works very well as an entry-level introduction to the era, and should be seen as just that rather than any kind of definitive retrospective. Dancehall reggae is a many branched thing, and once this collection has whet your appetite check Greensleeves records' impressive roster and the production work of Junjo Lawes and Linval Thompson for further insight into its rich musical tapestry. Jah bless.