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Tag: roots reggae

Lurid, Lyrical, Lynchian Sounds From Eclectic New Mexican Kristy Hinds

Songwriter Kristy Hinds has played everything from 80s-inspired rock, to bossa nova and other tropical, often trippy sounds. Mentored as a gradeschooler by Bo Diddley – a fellow rancher in her native New Mexico – she began as a singer and percussionist, moved to guitar and most recently, ukulele. Lately she’s taken a surreal, absolutely Lynchian plunge into dub reggae. Just as auspiciously, she scored John Funkhouser – a rare triple threat on jazz piano, organ and bass – to join her on her latest short album Play Me Out, streaming at her music page.

“This is when the road divides, this is when I’ll break your heart, this is where the violence starts…play me out,” she teases luridly in the ep’s title track. “Rich men in the white coats, and the shark teeth” don’t hold up too well here.

On the second song, Feeling Good, Hinds rises out of murky mystery to stark, spare reggae with a sleek, slinky organ solo. Funkhouser’s creepy bass drone underneath is luscious. For the last song, Hinds reinvents Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman at just about doublespeed, as straight-up backbeat rock – and, it’s cool to be able to actually understand the song’s lyrics for once! Funkhouser winds it up with a crashing, crescendoing piano solo.

Hinds also has a ton of music up at her Soundcloud page, a mix of rock, jazz and latin styles. And she has a fearlessly populist sensibility: check out Images in a Box, her snarky anti-corporate media broadside. Her next gig is at 5 PM on July 18 at Corrales Bistro Brewery, 4908 Corrales Rd. in Corrales, New Mexico.

Some Takeaways and Tunes From Yesterday’s Defeat the Mandates Rally in LA

In early March 2020, if someone had told you that the crowd at a daylong outdoor concert in Los Angeles would have saved their wildest applause for the truckers, doctors and cops onstage, you would have figured that the music must have been pretty lame, right?

It wasn’t. But at yesterday’s Defeat the Mandates Rally at Grand Park in downtown LA, the rockstars were the dudes from the Freedom Convoy, the physicians from the Front Line Critical Care Coalition, and an energetic group of cops and firemen who’d been fired, or whose jobs were imperiled by Governor Gavin Newsom’s Covid shot orders.

What was most apparent was how much the crowd skewed female – and how mainstream, and LA-diverse they turned out to be as the Highwire‘s camera panned the park. Mama bear has been poked and she doesn’t want her kids in any genetic engineering experiment. One particular sign in the crowd spoke for everybody: “There’s a new variant spreading around the world, it’s called freedom and I hope you catch it.”

You may have heard about the ten bills currently on the table, in one place or another, in the California legislature. Word on the street is that they’ve been masterminded by State Senator Richard Pan, a shill for big pharma since he was first elected. He’s on the way out, so this last-gasp batch of Orwellian proposals runs the gamut from the codification and prosecution of thoughtcrime, to weaponizing law enforcement to carry out health department orders. The way that bill works, money earmarked for police gets diverted to the health gestapo if the cops stand down. Recipe for murder and mayhem? Hey, nobody’s taking the shot anymore, so Klaus the Louse and Bill Gates have to go to plan B.

And that’s not working either. The cracks in the oligarchs’ united front, which was never as united as many thought, are showing. And that’s in stark contrast to the energy and discipline of the left coast freedom movement. Amy Bohn, tireless leader of Parents For the Educational Rights of Kids, a.k.a. PERK, has been on the front lines of the fight and made an early appearance. Her group has all kinds of useful resources, including a concise guide to stopping this tarnish on the Golden State. “If you negotiate with tyranny, you’re not going to get anywhere,” she warned.

It was another tireless activist, bestselling author Naomi Wolf of Daily Clout, who drew the most thunderous roars of applause. If you’re open to the idea that these days, we may be getting some help in mysterious ways that we don’t quite yet understand, you should read her latest Substack – it will blow your mind. Expertly sussing out her audience, she spoke to the collective wrath of the mom contingent, relating how her crew are currently digging through the latest Pfizer document dump and have found all sorts of incriminating evidence of fraud.

Just as dynamic and perceptive a presence as Wolf was ten-year-old New York activist Jayla, who offered plenty of common sense in her moment in the spotlight: “How am I supposed to enjoy my childhood when I can’t go anywhere?” she asked. She thought it was equally implausible that kids shouldn’t be allowed to join the fight, considering that it’s their future which is most at stake. Echoing her later on were a very popular crew of LA-area high school kids who’d been booted from classrooms for random acts of self-preservation.

FLCCC doctors Richard Urso and Ryan Cole were the first to specifically call out the World Economic Forum, underscoring how what was widely considered conspiracy theory in 2020 is now accepted as gospel truth. Cole, always a sage presence, was especially amped: “I prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery,” he enthused. He also was the first on the program to acknowledge openly that what Sage Hana calls “OG Covid” has been extinct since 2020. Dr. Robert Malone seconded that without actually speaking the forbidden word.

Filmmaker Mikki Willis proudly announced that his 2020 documentary Plandemic has become the most-watched film in the history of the internet (Plandemic 3 is coming on the Fourth of July, and in the meantime you can get a free audio download of his new book). Willis shared that his brother died of AZT poisoning in 1994, and three months later his mom died from the effects of chemotherapy. The second that Willis mentioned AZT pusherman Anthony Fauci, the crowd spontaneously burst into Dr. Paul Alexander’s, “Lock him up!” chant. The colorful, philosophical Alexander – who refused to take a multimillion dollar Pfizer deal to just shut up and go away – energized the troops with a characteristically uproarious appearance a little later on.

Journalist Lara Logan emceed the latter half of the bill and spoke eloquently to the impact of divide-and-conquer schemes. Dr. Bob Sears underscored how much “Our country has been discriminating against people of a certain medical persuasion for decades now.” He’s been fighting pharma-funded mandates and the marginalization of the vaxx-injured for a quarter of a century: one suspects there were others in the crowd with as much experience.

The most entertaining and utterly fearless of the several political candidates on the bill was Dr. Michael Huang, who as he tells it is the one remaining doctor in the state who writes medical exemptions to lockdown and jab orders. “I am the Chinese version of Del Bigtree,” the affable family physician boasted. Having successfully treated two thousand patients for Covid, then helping over a thousand school kids “come off face masks,” as he put it, he’s running for state Senate to represent the district situated around the park. He deserves our support.

Bigtree, whose weekly news program The Highwire now has three times the viewership of every nightly tv news show, was as much of a firebrand as he was at the January rally in Washington. “Senator Richard Pan wants to kill your children,” he asserted, “We will not recognize any leader again who will not stand for freedom.” Words of wisdom for any candidate running this fall. Ultimately, Bigtree said, the only thing in this moment that we have to fear is fear itself.

Attorney Leigh Dundas, longtime crusader against sex trafficking and leader of Freedom Fighter Nation, was also on fire. “Two years ago, on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, I said we are on a bullet train to Auschwitz if we do not course correct. Well, we did not course correct.” She also asserted that “The Third Reich will not rise on my watch….the Third Reich wasn’t over when World War II ended. The Third Reich ended when we put the criminals on trial and then put them to death.”

There’s more to unpack and a lot of takeaways here – as historic a moment as this was, this blog doesn’t recommend spending eight straight hours in front of a screen even if you’re getting paid for it. The Highwire has archived the whole thing if you’re feeling ambitious.

Carina Powers, founder of Latinos For Medical Freedom reminded that in California alone, that demographic numbers almost sixteen million, most of them Mexican-American. It would be wise for the movement as a whole to reach out and embrace this population. Inflammatory rhetoric about border closures is not a way to win the support of millions of America’s most unselfconsciously patriotic people.

It was stunning to watch the elegant, articulate Dr. Christine Parks completely drop her guard for once: “It’s time to stop the fucking gaslighting and it’s time to stop the mandates!”

Best joke of the afternoon was from Kevin Sorbo, who deadpanned that “If you want to get rid of Covid, tell the Clintons that Covid has something on them.”

A close second came from actress Leigh-Allyn Baker, who via uplink explained that “I’m just your average, run-of-the-mill. everyday domestic terrorist…I mean mom.”

Oh yeah – there was intermittent music, most of it acoustic or semi-acoustic. Protest song maven Five Times August – whose hit Silent War topped the list of best songs of 2021 here – debuted a defiant, catchy, Tom Petty-esque new tune, Fight For You. And he got the crowd singing along to his bestselling hit Sad Little Man, a corrosive portrait of Fauci: “I released this song in November…in an ideal world it would be irrelevant by now.”

Former Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett offered a message of unity, then turned the stage over to his guitarist bud Grant Ellman of roots reggae band Prezence, who delivered one of the night’s smartest, most aphoristic numbers. “We’re dying to get better,” was the chorus.

There were also low-key cameos by theatrical rap-rock band Sonic Universe and cinematic disco loopmusic violinist Dpak, as well as a couple of moments where it was obvious that rap duo Hi-Rez and Jimmy Levy were lipsynching. Dudes, you are perfectly competent at what you do, you don’t need that backing track. Just let it flow. By the way, Hi-Rez, that was ballsy of you to propose to your girlfriend onstage. The two of you won’t forget this day, ever.

There were many, many others on the bill. In the interest of brevity, too many to enumerate. Marines facing discharge over the Covid shots, heartwrenching survivors of Covid vaxx injury and ubiquitous Constitutional scholar and Arizona sheriff Dr. Richard Mack.among them.

And did anybody notice, toward the end of the night, how The Hill’s Kim Iversen was trying to play both sides of the issue? Changing jerseys, but leaving the old one on underneath just in case? In insisting that there were still good journalists in the corporate media, and that she always stuck to the facts, she never once enumerated what those facts were. Her closing ad-lib spoke volumes: “Party at my house! Just kidding. Don’t show up at my house!”

Inspired Roots Reggae From the Zebulonites 

In a world where roots reggae has been digitized to the point of extinction, it’s a good thing we have bands like the Zebulonites. The Long Island band’s debut ep is streaming at Spotify.

The first song is Do You Love Me, a classic minor-key echoey vamp with a woozy dubwise synth interlude midway through. Track two, Let Judah In has warmly breezy horns and a punchy  Memphis soul guitar solo. The band get intense and relevant with the fiery brass-charged Race War, a scathingly insightful look at of how the robber barons play the divide-and-conquer game. Good to see a band playing oldschool Jamaican-style roots music with organic sounds instead of the cheesy techiness that’s come to pervade what’s left of the style these days.

Haunting, Wildly Psychedelic East African Sounds Rescued From an Obscure Archive in Djibouti

Many emerging African nations in the 60s and 70s had a national band. Those were typically established by newly independent regimes, to help concretize a national identity in areas which had been balkanized by Western imperialists. While those groups may have been founded and then exploited for propaganda purposes, their music was often very good, and fascinatingly cross-pollinated. One of the most intriguing was from Djibouti.

That country’s group, 4 Mars’ bandname commemorates the founding date of the ruling People’s Rally for Progress party there. What makes this music so unique is not only the haunting chromatics common throughout what is now Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, but also the global influences that passed through Djibouti’s ports. For centuries, the region has been a major Indian Ocean commercial hub: no wonder the Chinese Communists are building a naval base there.

In a much more fortuitous and peaceful development, the American firm Ostinato Records recently gained access to the massive archives of Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti and is mining the collection for all sorts of treasures never before heard outside the country. The new 4 Mars compilation Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tjadoura – streaming at Bandcamp – is the first release, comprising both studio and concert recordings made by the regional supergroup between 1977 and 1994.

A couple of the cuts here are questionable: how appropriate is it to include a tribute to a repressive political figure? Sure, the praise-song tradition in Africa goes back centuries. But comparatively speaking, does the inclusion of Dixie in an anthology of American folk songs enhance the album’s historical value…or compromise it ethically and esthetically?

The album’s opening track, simply titled Natesha (Compassion) sets the stage: a Bollywood-influenced, melismatic chanteuse out front of what sounds like a lo-fi, vintage synth-driven roots reggae band playing a dark minor-key groove. That beat is actually dhaanto, an ancient East African rhythm that eventually made its way to Jamaica.

The quasi-reggae pulse gets more organic, with swirly organ, spare bass, trebly tremolo guitar and one-drop drums in the epic, almost ten-minute Hobolayee Nabadu (Hello Peace). The group’s saxophonist, Mohamed Abdi Alto – who now leads the excellent Groupe RTD – plays spare, biting minor-key riffs and remains an often haunting presence on many of these tracks.

Dhulika Hooyo (Motherland) is cheerier, with more surreal harmonies and a massed choir which could be half kids: at their peak, the group comprised more than forty members including dancers. How powerful is Tamarta (Power)? Not so much: this is one of the more synthy tracks, guy/girl vocals matched by tradeoffs between flute and keys, shifting to an unexpected latin soul-inflected groove.

Daroor (rough translation: Drought) has a loping, vaudevillian beat behind the Bollywood-style vocals. The number after that is faster: imagine Fela playing rocksteady. The song for an iron-fisted Djiboutien ruler has more of a strut and is a lot shorter. Likewise, the pulse of Lana Rabeen Karo (It Cannot Be Desired), a long one-chord jam which seems less forced: one thing that definitely can’t be desired is having to sing for a dictator.

Tellingly, the female singers are missing until a couple of minutes into the even more disturbingly titled Tilman Baa Lagu Socdaa (Follow the Rules). Like several of the reggae-ish tracks here, Inkaar Walid (The Elders’ Curse) could be a Burning Spear anthem with surreal Chinese flute and Balkan pop influences.

The broodingly catchy Abaal (Gratitude) seems to be of the same early 80s-tinged vintage as the album’s opening number, with flaring metal guitar, warpy synth and hasty, overcompressed lo-fi production. An acerbically modal traditional wedding song gets a bouncy, electric update with keening flute and synth along with more Ethiopian-flavored vocals: it’s arguably the catchiest track here. The concluding epic is a real departure, a melancholy, pentatonic Chinese ballad. Goes to show what a range of flavors the trade winds will blow in. Let’s hope for winds of trade rather than winds of war in that part of the world in the coming years.

A Brilliant Live Album From Reggae Road Warrors Tribal Seeds

Roots reggae band Tribal Seeds were a big draw on the summer festival circuit until the lockdown. All that time on the road obviously inspired their latest album, Live 2020, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s one of the few records made in a studio during that time to surface so far, and even though there was (presumably) no audience there giving the band energy to feed off, their set really nails the outside-the-box sensibility of their live show.

This is a long album, fourteen tracks. The template seems to be Burning Spear’s immortal 1988 Live in Paris record: prominent lead guitar, brassy horn breaks, a kaleidoscope of keyboard textures and many breakdowns into dub. They don’t waste time hitting a dubwise, echoey theme as the opening number, Down Bad Vibes gathers steam, part Burning Spear’s We Are Going and Exodus-era Bob Marley. 

With echoey guitar, swirly organ and balmy horns, Rude Girl has more of a 21st century, post-pop vibe, reverbtoned sax and more dubby echoes bursting up from individual instruments. This time out the group – frontman/guitarist Steven Jacobo, guitarist Ryan Gonzo, bassist Victor Navarro, keyboardists Louie Castle and drummer Jamey “Zeb” Dekofsky – are joined by the brass of trombonist Josh Molle, saxophonist Warren Huang and trumpeter plus a string  quartet of violinists Hannah Yim, Joe Sanders and Taichiroh Kanauchi, and cellist Jay Hemphill.

They pick up the pace with Guerra, a bubbling, minor-key antiwar anthem in Spanish. Then they slow things down again for Tempest, first bringing to mind Jah Spear and then hitting a catchy Marleyesque four-chord groove with crackling clavinova and spacy organ.

Taking a cue from Peter Tosh for inspiration, the band lash out at “illuminati” in Blood Clot, picking up with an ominous vortex and a snarling, metalish guitar solo out: total Spear, 1988. Fallen Kings has a stark, echoey string section on the intro and a wry detour into J.S. Bach before the band pulse and swoosh their way the rest of the way: the orchestration is a really cool touch.

Dark Angel is even more orchestral: the idea of a reggae suspense movie theme might seem pretty insane, but this works insanely well. Then the band completely flip the script with Lift, a bright, bouncy love song.

Lushness returns along with the bubbling organ and bass and sunbaked guitar in Surrender. The band kick off Sekkle and Cool, their signature anthem, with a big, crescendoing sax solo, loosen into a dubby thicket and then pull back onto the rails. Then the band go back to vintage Marley catchiness with Moonlight, spiced with classical-flavored piano and shivery strings.

They stay in Marley mode with In Your Eyes, but with all kinds of neat touches: squiggly clavinet and a little surf drums. The defiant, blazing Spear ambience returns in Gunsmoke with sunburst horns and a jagged, slashing guitar break. The band wind up the set, pulling out all the eerie stops with the strings and guitars and keys in Vampire “Corruption spread like a virus.” No joke.

There hasn’t been a new roots reggae album this long, and this strong from beginning to end in years.

Ferociously Lyrical, Amazingly Psychedelic, Eclectic Sounds From the Free Radicals

Fearlessly political Houston-based collective the Free Radicals have a brilliant, insightful new album, White Power Outage Volume 1 out and streaming at Bandcamp. Over catchy, psychedelically arranged organic grooves that range from hard funk, to roots reggae, to dub and even surf music, a vast cast of over fifty artists speak truth to power with witheringly insightful lyricism. This album is like a great musical podcast about the state of the world right at the first strike of the lockdown: over and over again, this crew breaks down the big picture in ways that make sense, especially considering what’s happened since March 16 here in New York and even earlier in Wuhan.

Not surprisingly, it took more than a year to pull together all 23 tracks here. Hip-hop artist Obidike Kamau kicks it off over with America Is a Lie, over a slinky, live funk groove with wah guitar:

I know how much this hurts your feelings
It’s not because you strive for justice, but I’ve heard this bullshit all my life
The propaganda you spit, the rose-colored myths you declare
…I guess it goes back to your gangster beginnings
Your genocidal belief in unhappy endings
…I know a thief appreciates possession being nine tenths of the law
And you’re a liar
I ain’t in fear, your reign is temporary
I see it leaving here

EQuality delivers another broadside so good all 58 seconds of it are worth reprinting:

If multiple black men are found dead in the apartment of a millionaire tied to the Democratic Party named Ed Buck, and nobody investigates his role in the incident, does it make a sound?
Bartender I’ll take another round
But pouring kool-aid in a wine glass don’t make it merlot
A cat having kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits
Well I’ll be George Washington Carver selling peanuts to the peanut gallery at the art gallery See what’s on the walls, pictures of poverty and pain
‘Cause that’s what sells n____s to negros
Some inverse tradeoff
Paid off the most popular rapper so the house can run the field n____s
Capitalism and Christ cut a deal in the back of the Vatican
As the Pope pours another round of scotch
Excuse my cynicism
The gospel according to a con

“Maybe we just catch a case and disappear without a trace,” says rapper Nosaprise over the loopy psychedelic backdrop of Cash Out — and he’s not talking about COVID.

“Beware the boogieman, terror threats scaring us out of psychological reason,” D-Ology warns in Look at That, a far-reaching catalog of threats from police brutality to transhumanism.

The Great Australian Heist, featuring hip-hop lyricist Bryte from down under, reminds how the slave trade devastated his country’s indigenous population…and how that resonates today in, as just one example, the way fracking is destroying the country’s already scarce water supply. He doesn’t get into the fascist lockdown situation there, the most repressive clampdown on human rights outside of China and Israel right now.

Swatara Olushola takes over the mic in Racist Car No Driver, revealing a sinister white supremacist motivation behind driverless cars: their “garbage in, garbage out” technology was designed not to recognize the presence of black people in the street. Earlier in the record she contributes another rocksteady-tinged protest song that also pokes savage fun at technosupremacists.

The musicians here turn out to be a phenomenal roots reggae band. The best of many of the reggae tunes here are the intricately arranged Daughter of Diana, with Kam Franklin on vocals, and Student Debt Dub, an Ethiopiques number fueled by bass and brass. Yet the best straight-up instrumental on the album is the sarcastically titled Deepwater Horizon, a slinky, reverbtoned minor-key surf rock instrumental – it’s really cool how the bass gets to carry the melody for a verse.

Later on the band careen into punk klezmer for a bit, then toward the end of the record Matt Kelly contributes Piece of the Rock, a Celtic/punkgrass mashup sung from the point of view of a greedy oligarch. “Come take a hit of my rock,” he snarls.

Highlights among the many other tracks here also include also fiery, politically charged reggaeton from Karina Nistal; Rashard’s More Power, a political update on vintage James Brown spiced with vibraphone and horns; and Genesis Blu & Jasmine Christine’s Chariot Rock, a conscious hip-hop reinvention of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot over dubby, Ethiopian-tinged loops. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2020 page here at the end of the month.

Smart, Politically Woke Party Music From Los Mocosos

Old ska bands never die: the party never stops. Look at the Skatalites. They invented ska, and even as they lost some members along the way – starting early, with Don Drummond – they had a fifty-year career. Los Mocosos have a long, long way to go before they get that far, but don’t rule them out. And they play a lot more than just ska. Their latest album, wryly titled All Grown Up, is streaming at Bandcamp.

Throughout the record, the band switch between English and Spanish, typically in the same song. They start out with the party songs and get more political as the album goes along. They open with the title cut, a catchy minor-key mashup of rocksteady, salsa and ska. “‘I’m just here to play my tunes, get your body to move and get all the ladies,” frontman Juan Ele sings in a resonant croon with a strong resemblance to Steel Pulse’s David Hinds.

Speaking of classic reggae, the second track, United We Stand, immediately brings to mind Bob Marley’s Exodus, right down to Steve Carter’s slinky organ, Happy Sanchez’s tightly clustering bassline and the punchy brass section. It’s a reminder that we’re one big nation of immigrants who need to stick together and fight, or else we’re all in trouble.

Mirala is a psychedelic cumbia party tune with balmy horns and a little reggaeton. Ready for the Weekend shifts back and forth between a turbocharged oldschool disco groove and a ska bounce. Then the band hit a simmering roots reggae pulse and make their way into a Sympathy For the Devil-style sway in Caminos, an anthem for hardworking strugglers everywhere.

They slow things down even further with the twinkling retro rock ballad Memories of Love and then give themselves a shout-out with the salsa-ska theme Viva Los Mocosos. Ele contemplates how an immigrant fits into a neighborhood and its history with It’s All Good, a brooding mashup of lowrider funk, oldschool soul and hip-hop.

The album’s most defiant track is Libre, a big, soaring rocksteady anthem. They close with Brothers & Sisters, a call for unity. It’s been a brutal year, and it’s been a long time since there’s been any party music on this page. Feels good to know bands like this still exist.

Director Ted Bafaloukos’ Posthumous Photo Book Captures the Turmoil and Glory of 1970s Reggae

Ted Bafaloukos’ 1979 film Rockers is iconic in reggae circles. Its soundtrack captures many of the foremost figures from the golden age of roots reggae at the peak of their powers. The movie became one of that year’s fifty highest grossing films. And it was almost never made.

The late director and photographer reveals the drama, the turbulence, passion, and ever-present danger surrounding the artistic crucible of the mid-70s Jamaican music scene in his richly illustrated coffee table book, ROCKERS: Ted Bafaloukos + 1970s New York + Kingston + On Set Mayhem = The Making of Reggae’s Most Iconic Film, out this year from Gingko Press.

The Greek-born Bafaloukos got his start at the Rhode Island School of Design. His steamship captain father had sent him there after discovering, while docked in Providence, that the school drew students from as faraway as California. The younger Bafaloukos earned media accolades for his photos while still in college. But by 1978 he was struggling as a freelancer, largely supported by his wife’s $78-a-week sweatshop paycheck, sharing a loft at the corner of Varick and Franklin Streets with several friends.

He’d discovered reggae a few years earlier and fallen in love with it after seeing a show by melodica player Augustus Pablo and his band at the Tropical Cove, a club located above Gertie’s Discount Store in Brooklyn. He intuitively grasped the connection between the communal esthetic of reggae and the folk music he’d been immersed in at community celebrations as a child in the Aegean island village of Apikia.

Aided by his new friends from the New York reggae scene, he traveled to Jamaica and decided then and there to make a reggae movie, despite having neither script nor cast. Bafaloukos enlisted several New York friends as production crew, and a hippie neighbor with money to be the producer.

Bafaloukos’ photos from his initial expeditions are a goldmine for reggae fans. The most choice shots are black-and-white. Singer Kiddus I, with record producer Jack Ruby behind him, sits slit-eyed with both a cheat sheet and a spliff in hand at a recording session: it’s clear that this is all live, with no iso booths. A young, thin Burning Spear perches triumphantly atop the ruins of a slavery-era jail in his native St. Ann’s Bay. Jah Spear (who also appeared in the film) pops up again and again, most memorably backstage with an equally rail-thin Patti Smith, laughing it up. And Big Youth is captured on his signature motorbike on a Kingston street, showing off his jewel-embedded teeth

In full color, there’s dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry in his ramshackle, rundown original Black Ark Studio before he burned it down: from Bafaloukos’ description of the setup and gear, Perry’s engineering genius becomes all the more astonishing. A series of 1975 portraits capture Bob Marley on Sixth Avenue near West 8th Street in Manhattan. There’s owl-glassed, bearded folk music legend and experimental filmmaker Harry Smith with Burning Spear drummer (and eventual star of the film) Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace. Impressively, the book’s candid photos far outnumber stills from the movie.

Which is basically The Bicycle Thief transposed to Jamaica, with tons of classic songs and a cast comprising the most colorful people the filmmaker had met while traveling across the island. “For those who think that movies get made in the editing room, Rockers is not a case in point,” he avers. As he tells it, the film ended up being even more highly improvised than originally planned.

The problem with crowdsourcing your cast is that a bigger crowd comes with it. It ended up taking Bafaloukos more than a couple nickels to buy his way out of many pickles, several brushes with death and, as he tells it, a mutiny by the movie’s two stars, who had held out for more money. Considering how hard both cast and crew partied when they weren’t working, and how many challenges – several at gunpoint – they had to overcome, it’s a miracle they were able to finish it.

And considering how breakneck – literally – the pace of the filming was, some of the most memorable moments in the narrative are the asides. We find out that Earl Chin, who in 1975 had not yet become the legendary host of Rockers TV, is a crazy driver: gee, big surprise. The movie’s crucial set piece – a very fickle, used motorbike – ends up being delivered by none other than the Cool Ruler, Gregory Isaacs. And Bafaloukos recounts the priceless moment at Bob Marley’s Peace Concert where Jacob Miller leaps from the stage, goes up to a cop guarding the Prime Minister and offers him a spiff. When the cop declines, Miller steals the guy’s helmet and finishes his set wearing it.

What Bafaloukos never mentions is residuals. He ended up retiring to a villa on the Aegean. it would be interesting to know how much Horsemouth, his co-star “Dirty Harry” Hall, the Montego Bay mystic named Higher, or the Reverend Roach and his A.M.E choir, to name a few of the cast members, came away with.

A Reggae Record For Drinkers: Oxymoron or Rare Artifact?

Today’s album is a real rarity: a roots reggae record about drinking. It’s actually the second in bassist Victor Rice‘s planned trilogy. The first one, big surprise, was titled Smoke. This one, heavily inspired by red wine, is called Drink and is streaming at his Bandcamp page. On one hand, it’s akin to a night barhopping around Rice’s Sao Paolo home turf. While it also reflects the diversity of influences he’s incorporated into his music since leaving New York for Brazil in 2002, this album will definitely resonate with anybody who remembers his legendary Friday night residency at the Parkside back in the late 90s and early zeros.

To be fair, not everybody who likes reggae smokes weed, and the reverse is definitely true. How does this record sound after several rounds of 24-ounce cans? Pretty damn good. Throughout the album, Rice’s playing is very chill and in-the-pocket: original Skatalites bassist Lloyd Brevett would no doubt approve.

The album opens with a wistful, minor-key rocksteady groove, La Mura, which reflects Rice’s deep, bass-oriented production sound: the guitars have more reverb than the horns, but everybody gets plenty. Trombonist Buford O’Sullivan and tenor sax player David Loos take moody solos before the Burning Spear-inflected horns kick in again.

Drummer Tony Mason propels the southwestern gothic-tinged second track, Simao, with a lightly syncopated clave, guitarists Jay Nugent and Teddy Kumpel adding skank and Memphis soul, respectively. The Demander is a goodnatured ska tune dedicated to a dictatorial cat, while This Is Fine is Brazilian rocksteady with summery solos from sax and trumpet.

Agenor de Lorenzi infuses Bebida with a similarly cheery electric piano solo over drummer Nico Leonard’s low-key shuffle beat; they take it out with bluesy solo sax. Rice goes back toward Burning Spear-style roots, but also bossa nova for Arouche, which kicks off the record’s b-side.

The only real reggae references amid the conversational horns in Five are Leonard’s classic turnarounds, not necessarily where you would expect them. The band return to warmly upbeat rocksteady with Because I Can and then Madrid, which recalls Spain a lot less than Kingston, 1965, Kumpel adding a low-key, purposeful solo. They finally plunge into deep dub to close the record with Time to Go.

Roots Reggae Rebels Steel Pulse: Never More Relevant Than They Are Now

It’s hard to think of a more appropriate album to listen to in our virus-scare isolation than Steel Pulse‘s Mass Manipulation, streaming at Spotify. It’s the iconic roots reggae band’s best album in two decades. It’s dedicated to fifty-four individuals murdered by racists, many of those killers members of the police. The individuals remembered here begin with twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, all the way to fifty-eight-year-old Gregory Gunn in Charleston, South Carolina. Several of our fellow New Yorkers are on that list.

This is a magnum opus that’s long overdue. Frontman David Hinds’ voice is a little grittier than it was when the group exploded out of Birmingham in the late 70s, but his songwriting is absolutely undiminished, through a total of seventeen tracks. As to be expected, the production is techier than the clangy, distinctively trebly sound that defined them during their early years.

They open with Rize, a characteristically catchy revolutionary anthem. Stop You Coming and Come is a respectable attempt to blend the band’s classic 70s/early 80s sound with an elegant keyboard-centric production style: “We’re building us a brand new nation, only then the prejudice and bigotry will leave us alone,” Hinds predicts.

The band channel a rebelliously defiant vibe in Thank the Rebels. Likewise, Justice in Jena has a majestic arrangement matching Hinds’ scathing lyric about the infamous Jena, Louisiana racist attack Then he assaults the sex trade in Human Trafficking – has another artist ever been willing to confront those horrors? Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s extortion scheme hadn’t come to light yet when the album was released last year, although the scandals at the highest levels of the Republican Party here and the Tories in the UK were old news by then.

Cry Cry Blood is a decent facsimile of the fierce witness anthems Steel Pulse would become famous for forty years ago. Don’t Shoot, a wickedy catchy, chillingly cynical narrative, draws on the murder of Eric Garner – a large black Staten Island street vendor harrassed for years and eventually killed by police in front of a luxury condo whose owners didn’t want him there.

Jimmy “Senyah” Haynes plays biting, Middle Eastern-tinged acoustic guitar on the album’s longest track, No Satan Side, a corrosive look at economic and environmental exploitation in Africa. With N.A.T.T.Y., Hinds sends a shout-out to Rastas keeping it real. With its cold, techy string synth, the album’s title track is a cautionary tale about the ultimate consequences of mass brainwashing. World Gone Mad has a blend of 80s roots sonics and 60s rocksteady; Hinds’ son Baruch adds a sharp, insightful rap cameo.

Awash in shifting keyboard textures, Black and White Oppressors reminds that fascism is not an exclusively caucasian pathology. The Final Call, a fire-and-brimstone warning, has a bizarre contrast between harmonica and a vocoder choir of what sounds like alien beings. The cover of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love (retitled as Rasta Love) is the album’s bounciest track; Hinds finally winds it up with Nations of the World, the most Bob Marley-influenced song, with those aliens on backing vocals again.