Reggae & Dancehall #39: SOJA, Dre Island, Ghetto Youths

Your final dose for 2014…

Reshma B’s latest update from the world she knows so expertly…

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The Nominees for the 57th Grammy Awards were announced this month, with six in the running for Best Reggae Album honours: perennial favourite Ziggy Marley for ‘Fly Rasta’, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry for ‘Back On The Controls’, Sean Paul for ‘Full Frequency’, Shaggy for ‘Out Of Many, One Music’, Sly & Robbie & Spicy Chocolate for ‘The Reggae Power’, and SOJA for ‘Amid The Noise And Haste’. The winner won’t be known until the awards ceremony on February 8th, but first-time nominees SOJA (pictured) are enjoying the buzz of being the only US-based group to get the nod this year, and the first since Matisyahu was nominated for ‘Youth’ in 2009.

“I grew up watching the Grammys, and it is a huge deal,” said SOJA frontman Jacob Hemphill. “My music is about believing in yourself and making a change within your lifetime, changing the world. My idol is Bob Marley and that's what he did: change things. So I've never been afraid to try, or to bring about change. It's the most exciting part of life. I couldn't be happier right now.”

Attorneys representing Grammy-winning reggae star Buju Banton filed a motion late last month for the artist, born Mark Myrie, seeking early release for his 2011 drug trafficking conviction. Buju, who’s scheduled to be freed in 2019, is asking to be deported to his native Jamaica.

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Popcaan drops a new video for ‘Love Yuh Bad’ from his debut album, ‘Where We Come From’. Shot in Jamaica, this is not one of his hard-hitting street songs. Instead, Papi finds himself somewhere in the country spending some fun quality time with a special someone – it’s always about the girls, right?

Gully Bop has been a name that has been moving through the Island like a heat wave. This month he has a new tune called ‘Dem Nuh Bad Like Me’ produced by Claims Records, where Guly (aka Country Man) beats his chest and throws some tough words at a certain DJ – eventually calling Alkaline’s name in one line.

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If you own a copy of the Ghetto Youths crew compilation ‘Set Up Shop Vol 1’ then you’ll be pleased to know that they’ve announced volume two is on its way. Hot off the heels of Damian’s sold-out Reggae Cruise, this one should be subtitled ‘Put In The Hard Work’. Scheduled for release in early 2015, ‘Set Up Shop Vol. 2’ boasts tracks produced by both Stephen and Damian Marley and features Jr. Gong’s ‘Gunman World’ along with new tracks from Julian Marley, Wayne Marshall, Black Am I, Jo Mersa and Christopher Ellis. Word is that Cham, the man responsible for the huge hit ‘Ghetto Story’, may be making an appearance on the album as well.

Check out Damian talking about his influences in the game and why he rates Bounty Killer so highly:

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Honorable mention goes out to the ‘Empire Riddim’, a classic roots reggae one-drop track featuring Lutan Fyah & Turbulence, Anthony B and Exco Levi. But the hottest juggling in rotation at the moment has got to be Anju Blaxx’s ‘Ebola Riddim’, featuring Agent Sasco, I-Octane, Wasp, Tommy Lee and Mavado.

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UB40 will perform at the Indigo at the O2, London, on December 20th. Whether brothers Ali and Robin Campbell have worked out their differences by that time is another matter, but Astro will definitely be there to chat pon the mic.

The annual Boxing Day stage show Sting is always the highlight of the dancehall holiday calendar, but this year there’s plenty of competition in Kingston, including Ghetto Splash on December 16th in Waterhouse, and of course the big Major Lazer / Skrillex dance on December 19th and the Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid and Nomaddz show a day later. But Supreme Productions usually pulls it out of the bag, so you can count on this year’s Sting to keep everybody chatting about who ran up on who.

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Something is happening in the reggae scene. Change is in the air. Some people call it a “roots revival”. Some say it’s a conscious movement. Ask a reggae artist who’s part of making this movement happen and chances are that they’ll tell you reggae has always been there, carrying on whether people have it on their iPod playlists or not.

It sure does feel like a major roots movement is grabbing the world’s attention. We’ve seen Chronixx and Protoje drawing big crowds while passing through the UK, and this month Dre Island came to do his thing. Following his recent supporting role on Chronixx’s ‘Dread And Terrible’ European tour, Dre Island’s already touched the stage in some parts of Europe, including Germany and Holland. November saw him play Bristol and, for his final stop, London town where he performed at Camden’s Forge. Despite the cold or the “fridge” effect, as most Island peeps would say, Dre warmed things up with a bongo solo just before kicking off his performance.

“Don't be offended when I say this right here is Babylon,” he told the crowd. “This country is not for the poor. You have tax for everything. Walking tax, you even have tax to smile!” He won over the crowd as he reminded everyone what it takes to be a UK resident. Though he's obviously got a knack for performance, Dre Island got his start in the music business behind the scenes, nurturing his love of music from piano lessons to working as a producer before he transitioned to a Rasta lifestyle and dropped his debut mixtape, appropriately named ‘Rastafari Way’.

Equal rights and justice has always been the message in reggae from the beginning: it’s why so many people around the world relate to the music. As Dre flung down lyrics like “Respect yourself and the life that you live,” the crowd began to resonate with him as he strutted through the rest of his performance, spitting deejay verses that sounded uncannily reminiscent of Jr. Gong (who actually graduated from the same high school as Dre). While he’s out of the fridge and back on the Island, he leaves us with a hot new tune, recorded with Anju Black of UIM records – as he says, it’s “way up”.

Check out Dre Island talking about how he got in the game and why he chose his name:

See ya next month!

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Words: Reshma B (Online / on Twitter)

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