Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Electric Avenue Update: King Django and The Snails to Headline First Show!

Breaking news: The Hard Times unexpectedly had to withdraw from playing the debut Electric Avenue gig coming up this Saturday, August 4, 2012 at Characters NYC in midtown Manhattan, but the amazing King Django has graciously stepped in to perform! (Don't worry, we'll feature The Hard Times at a future Electric Avenue show in the fall or winter...)

For this gig, King Django will be backed by The Snails (from Philly who also are playing the own set of terrific ska/rocksteady/soul originals)--and DJ Duff and King Django will be spinning some great ska and reggay wax before and after each set. For a taste of things to come, check out the video of King Django with The Snails (playing some great KD cuts, like "Avenue A" and "Does He Love You?").

If you're in the NYC area, be sure to make this show!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Story Behind "One In Ten" By UB40: A Reminder Of "A World That Doesn't Care"

It was almost exactly 31 years ago on July 30, 1981, that UB40 released one of their most memorable and iconic songs of all time -- the single "One In Ten." Set to a chugging reggae beat with a mournful sax riff, the song ranks with "Stand Down Margaret" by The Beat and "Shipbuilding" by Elvis Costello as among the best political protest songs of all time.

Though it never directly names her, "One In Ten" directly challenges Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government's policies of the 1980s. At the time of the song’s release (and sadly much like 2012), Britons were enduring  great economic turmoil, a widening gap between the wealthy and the poor and racial riots that underscored the failure of England to integrate a growing Black British and Asian community.  As such, Thatcherism (like the current Con-Dem government) seemed to reflect a part of society that did not care for those suffering the most.

Thatcher summed up her personal and political view that there was "no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families." It was a shocking reversal of the idea of the welfare state and safety net for the neediest members of a society, but rather dog eat dog, and every man for himself.
"I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."
In pointed response, “One in Ten” succinctly voiced the pain of millions, as they struggled to survive Thatcherism, referring to those who were unemployed, starving, suicidal and homeless as a “statistical reminder of a world that doesn’t care.” The lyrics call out the “dole queue”, malnutrition ("malnutrition dulls my hair”), drug addiction (”I’m a housewife hooked on Valium”) and poverty (“beggar(s) on the corner”).  A line that has always had a particular impact on me is: “I’m the murderer and the victim”, suggesting that those who turned to crime and violence were doing so because of the rising need to survive and express their frustration at the growing poverty.

Margaret Thatcher's economic reforms made Britain wealthier at the expense of millions who lost their jobs, their homes and their livelihood. Thankfully, UB40 carried the torch for those that Thatcherism and the world were all too content to leave behind.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

BAMcinématek Presents "Do the Reggae" Film Series Celebrating Jamaica’s Music & Independence: WIN FREE PASSES TO FILM SCREENING OF 1970 DOC "REGGAE"

I can think of no better way to mark the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence on Monday, August 6th, then by attending "Do The Reggae," a 14-film series screening at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, New York, that is dedicated to the island nation's unique and widely influential musical tradition. The series takes it name after Toots and the Maytals’ eponymous song—the first to use the word “reggae.”

Focusing on vintage films from 1971 to 1983, the series opens Thursday, August 2nd with the Trenchtown-set "Rockers" (1978), Ted Bafaloukos’ Jamaican adaptation of "The Bicycle Thief." Also screening are "Land of Look Behind" by Alan Greenberg, three parts of the British series "Deep Roots Music", Jeremy Marre’s "Roots Rock Reggae", and possibly the earliest feature film on reggae, Horace Ové’s "Reggae."

Although Perry Henzell’s "The Harder They Come" (1972—Aug 3) is widely considered the first, iconic film about reggae, Bafaloukos’ "Rockers" (Aug 2), showing theatrically for the first time in New York in over a decade in a new hi-def restoration, is the original artifact of Rasta cinema. The film follows renowned Studio One drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace playing himself in powerful portrait of surviving in a Kingston shanty town.

The classic pulp tale "The Harder They Come" features Jimmy Cliff as island outlaw Ivanhoe Martin. Before Bob Marley made it big stateside, Cliff took the midnight movie circuit by storm, introducing reggae to American audiences for the first time. The film not only made Cliff a star, but tells the story of reggae in a microcosm: the country boy going to Kingston to make it big,  as well as the push-and-pull of the Rasta spirituality and rude-boy swagger.

One of the most revelatory films in the entire series, and quite possibly the first feature ever made on reggae, is Horace Ové’s documentary on the genre, "Reggae," which has not shown in the U.S. in decades. The centerpiece of the film is a 1970 UK concert featuring Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, the Pioneers, John Holt, and others.  The fine people at BAMcinématek have provided me 2 free passes to the screening of "Reggae" on Saturday August 4th at 4:30 pm.   Go to the Marco On The Bass Facebook page to enter to win the 2 passes.

The entire film screenings schedule is below:

"Do the Reggae" Film Series at BAMcinématek

Thursday, Aug 2
4:30, 6:50*, 9:15pm: Rockers
*Followed by “Downtown Top Ranking in a BAMstyle” with Deadly Dragon Sound System featuring Ranking Joe in the BAMcafé

Friday, Aug 3
2, 6:50pm: Land of Look Behind
4:30, 9:15pm: The Harder They Come

Saturday, Aug 4
2pm: Buck and the Preacher
4:30pm: Reggae
6:50pm: Countryman
9:15pm: Babylon

Sunday, Aug 5
2pm: Deep Roots Music: “Revival” + “Ranking Sounds”
4:30pm: Deep Roots Music: “Black Ark” + Word, Sound and Power
6:50pm: Roots Rock Reggae
9:30pm: Heartland Reggae

Monday, Aug 6
7, 9:15pm: OnePeople

Monday, July 23, 2012

Snoop Dogg to Release Reggae Album as Snoop Lion - New Single "La La La" Now Out

Multiple media sources are reporting that rapper Snoop Dogg will be releasing a reggae album! The LP, titled "Reincarnated," will see release later this year on the Vice label, with the rapper adopting the reggae moniker Snoop Lion.

The first single, "La La La," is now available and features production work from from Diplo, who took Santogold on a reggae inspired musical trip on the "Top Ranking" mix tape a few years back.  In preparation, he's released a single, "La La La," which you can listen to below. Snoop and his backing band -- "the Jungle" -- will perform for the first time on Aug. 3 at Toronto's Caribana festival.

"La La La" has a great retro reggae feel with modern touches, that features tasty guitar and organ riffs and an actual singing vocal track from Snoop, which is slightly auto-tuned, but not annoyingly so.  Snoop borrows Bob Marley's "who feels it knows it" lyric line as the hook for the tune and is paired with a female backing vocalist who sings the "La, La, La" chorus with him to great effect. Its definitely worth a listen and I'm looking forward to hearing a whole album of Snoop Lion reggae tracks!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Electric Avenue Presents: The Hard Times and The Snails on 8/4/12 at Characters NYC

I'm excited to finally announce that my fellow New York City-based ska blogger Duff Guide To Ska (Steve Shafer) and I are teaming up to present monthly ska and reggae shows at Characters NYC, a midtown Manhattan Irish pub with a big back room ideally suited for live music.

We are calling our joint venture Electric Avenue after the powerful Eddy Grant song that name checks the main street that runs through the Brixton section of London (it was the first street in London to be wired with electric lights).  Ostensibly about the Brixton Riots of 1981, Electric Avenue is also where Caribbean and European cultures come together on market day.  It was this idea of the mixing of cultures that inspired us to try the same thing with the many different ska, reggae and rock steady bands playing music across the Northeastern U.S.

Electric Avenue is our attempt to have some fun, support the ska scene and most importantly, bring ska music back to Manhattan, where it was born with The Toasters, Beat Brigade and N.Y. Citizens in the early 80's.  Electric Avenue is a non-profit venture--all of the $7 cover at each show will be split equally between the bands.  We don't plan to take a cut, nor does the venue, so you can be assured that if you come out to see a show, the money you pay will directly support the band's playing that night.

Speaking of the bands, we are kicking off our first show on Saturday August 4th with two of the best purveyors of dirty reggae -- The Hard Times from Brooklyn and The Snails from Philadelphia.

The Hard Times - Fattie Fattie

The Snails - Live From The East Room

Our second show on September 15th will be one for fans of old school New York-styled 2-Tone with The Beat Brigade and my band Bigger Thomas.

Our third show on October 13th will feature Boston-based reggae band Destroy Babylon and a special guest.

We also plan to have guest DJs and selectors at each show spinning the best in ska and reggae.

We hope to see you at one of our upcoming shows!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

JImmy Cliff's New Album "Rebirth" Released Today

The legendary Jimmy Cliff's full-length follow-up to last year’s Sacred Fire EP was released today! The entire album is available for streaming on Rolling Stone. The lead single, “One More”, is also available as a free download through Cliff’s website.

Produced by Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong,  Rebirth mixes 10 original vintage-sounding ska and reggae tracks with covers of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” and Rancid’s “Ruby Soho”.

Cliff has been a busy man this year and backed by Armstrong and the Engine Room, has performed at Coachella and sat in with both Paul Simon and the E Street Band.  Reviews of the album from the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and NPR have been mostly positive.

Check out Cliff performing "One More" and "World Upside Down" from "Rebirth" on "Later With Jools Holland" in the UK.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bim Skala Bim Announce Annual Summer Tour Dates

Iconic American ska band Bim Skala Bim are reuniting for their annual set of summer shows across New England, including a stop at the Middle East in Boston. The line-up will include original members Jim Jones, Mark Ferranti, Vinny Nobile, Rick Barry, Jim Arhelger, and Dan Vitale. John Cameron, Jackie Starr and other special guests including Dana Colley, saxophonist with the band Morphine, will make appearances at most of the shows.

While the band has tended to play these summer reunion shows close to their old stomping grounds, the good news is that The Middle East Show will be webcast on WBCN online for anyone around the world who would like to listen.  The show kicks off live at 10 pm EST on Friday July 20th.

Tour Dates:
Wednesday July 18th at Newport Blues Cafe in Newport, RI
Thursday July 19th at Dover Brickhouse in Dover, NH
Friday July 20th at Middle East in Cambridge, MA w/ Allstonians and Void Union (Webcast on WBCN)
Saturday July 21st at Beachcomber in Wellfleet, MA
Sun July 22nd at The Beach House in Falmouth, MA.

I have three requests for the webcast show:  "I Took A Fall," "Solitary Confinement" and "Jah Laundromat."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pauline Black's Autobiography "Black By Design" Now Available on Kindle

Good news for fans of e-books and Amazon.com! Pauline Black's excellent 2-Tone autobiography "Black By Design" is finally available for Kindle's in the U.S. for just $9.99!  As an added bonus, the Kindle version and paperback version include a brand new additional chapter- 'Raisin In the Sun- Women Don't Resign'.

While the book provides a insiders view of the birth of The Selecter and 2-Tone in Coventry, its really more a tome about the search for identity. The book pulls no punches when it comes to painting a picture of the trials and tribulations Black faced as the adopted bi-racial child of white parents living in the suburbs of London. More importantly, it examines issues of racial identity during a time that the U.K. was struggling to confront its own racism and the challenges of assimilating Black and Asian immigrants into British society and culture.

I asked Black about the process of writing her book during an interview I conducted with her two summers ago. Here is what she shared with me about the difficult questions and topics related to race and identity that she explores:
I have been writing short stories and opinion pieces for BBC Radio 4 in the UK for years, since the early 90’s. I also wrote a novel in the mid 90’s “The Goldfinches” which picked up publishing interest, but then the recession hit and money was scarce and the interest evaporated. Therefore I did not approach my book as a novice. I knew that I wanted to write my own memoir. When a “ghost writer” is used it is usually obvious. The main difference between my first outing into the book world and now, is that I got a literary agent. Without a literary agent it is almost impossible these days for a writer to be taken seriously by publishers. Publishing interest in my memoir was there from the beginning, largely because I was the only female among the bands that did the legendary “2-tone tour” in 1979 and also because I have extended my repertoire over the past 30 years to include, acting, presenting, radio broadcasting & writing, while still remaining active as a musician throughout the 90’s and Noughties. Therefore my story covered a wider brief. I didn’t want my memoir to be just about the brief period of the 2-tone years. Fortunately my literary agent and publisher agreed with my approach. For the book to have been signed by influential, maverick publisher “Serpent’s Tail” is very much a dream come true. They have a great publishing history reflecting many of the books that have influenced me throughout my life, most notably many of the “Harlem Renaissance” writers like Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen. 
Primarily, “Black By Design” is about my search for my cultural and racial heritage, which, I discovered, had surprisingly original beginnings. It vigorously discusses the twin evils of “racism” and “sexism”, which gave me the motivation to join a 2-tone band in 1979 and enter the ongoing musical polemic offered by that inclusion. 
I wanted my book to be “ideas driven”, to ask some difficult questions about what it meant to grow up black in a predominantly racist Britain in the 50’s and 60’s and how being adopted into a white working class family influenced my decision to choose music as a career path. I didn’t want to write some dishonest potted history of my private life or just a scrupulously kept diary. Hopefully I have achieved my goal.
I highly recommend the book.  It really is a must read!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Horace Panter of The Specials Shares A Piece Of The Specials History

Now you can own a special piece of 2-Tone history!  Horace Panter of The Specials (who has a degree in Fine Art) has converted a picture of the original cassette demo tape of the rough mix of "Enjoy Yourself" which was recorded at Horizon Studios in Coventry in 1980, into a limited edition print available on his excellent web site Horace Panter Art.

According to Panter:
"The cassette is an artefact, or a piece of memorabilia, from the early days when The Specials recorded some of their classic tracks at Horizon Studios in Coventry (now demolished to make way for a shopping mall). The year 1980, hence a limited edition of 80 prints at £80 ... geddit?!"
Horizon Studio has long gone. It has been demolished. But it is important that it is not forgotten because of its importance to ska music history.  Coventry was always a city that was buzzing with music, musicians and venues. Many of them recorded at Horizon. The studio, with its various associated owners, producers, musicians and engineers produced such memorable music and many 'hits'. Both The Specials and The Selecter recorded their iconic albums at Horizon.

 Based on the popularity of the print, Panter has just made created a line t-shirts featuring the print that are also available for sale via his web site (see below). I'm planning to get one.  Are you?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Eddie Vedder A Reggae Crooner?

Well crooner may be pushing it, but before he launched off into rock stardom, Eddie Vedder dabbled in reggae music. Before joining Pearl Jam, he lived in San Diego in the late 80's and was very fond of listening to the Sunday night reggae show on local alternative radio station 91X. According to friends and roommates at the time, Vedder also owned a small collectio of reggae records including a few of Bob Marley's best known albums.

Some time during 1988, Vedder recorded a four song demo tape of his own songs including one titled "Reggae Woman." Though I would not say it's one of the best reggae songs I have ever heard (the rhythm guitar is slightly off and it meanders into rock), its still interesting to hear Vedder attempt a Marley-like "No Woman, No Cry", lover's rock song. His interest in reggae and Bob Marley has continued throughout his Pearl Jam years, and has been known to sing Marley songs accapella. He has also added part of The Beat's "Save It For Later" as a coda to "Better Man."

Have a listen (if you dare) to Vedder's 1988 demo of "Reggae Woman" below:

Hat tip to Tone & Wave for sharing this and enlightening me about Vedder's interest in reggae music.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Versions Galore 4th Anniversary Guest Mix #1 By Marco On The Bass!

As the late, great John Peel once said, "I know loads of cover versions that are regarded as being better than the original." Its a sentiment that I ascribe to whole heartedly, and one that my fellow music blogger Leopold Stotch, of the excellent Versions Galore has dedicated his time and passion to celebrating.  His blog remains one of the first I visit each day for its incredibly diverse and eclectic batch of the best and most interesting cover versions you will ever hear.  Even better, Stotch regularly posts fantastic reggae, ska, dub and rocksteady cover versions of songs that often surpass the originals in soul, musicianship and danceability.

Stotch is marking the four year anniversary of Versions Galore this week by inviting a number of guest bloggers to submit cover mixes.  I'm honored and excited that he asked me to submit a mix of some of my favorite cover versions and that he selected it as the first mix to be posted.

Here is a link to the mix: Versions Galore 4th Anniversary Guest Mix #1: Marco On The Bass 

Below is a little bit about each cover song in the mix:

The Back Stabbers – The Professionals
Belize’s The Professionals morph The O’Jays 1972 Top 10 Philly Soul hit “Backstabbers into horn-drenched reggae that retains its ominous warning.

Baltimore – The Tamlins
The Tamlins were a 70’s Jamaican reggae vocal group that gained wide attention for their Sly and Robbie produced dub reggae version of the Nina Simone lament about inner city life in Baltimore

Heart-Shaped Box – Little Roy
Aging Reggae lifer Little Roy (with help from UK producer King Fatty) finds the sweet humanity hidden inside one of Kurt Cobain’s darkest songs making it bob and weave its way into your memory.

You’ll Never Find – Dub Pistols
U.K. reggae/club collective Dub Pistols pay homage to John Holt’s reggae cover of Lou Rawls 1976 R&B hit by sampling Rawls singing the memorable chorus and Holt’s killer bass line.

Cupid – Amy Winehouse
Ska aficionado and noted Specials fan Winehouse recorded a soulful rock steady version of the Sam Cooke classic that mines its sadness while remaining eminently danceable.

It’s a Shame – Alton Ellis
The Stevie Wonder penned Motown hit for The Spinners, about a man who complains about a lover “messin” around on him, was memorably covered by Jamaican reggae and rock steady innovator Alton Ellis in 1971.

Sugar Sugar – Bigger Thomas
Long running New Jersey ska and reggae band recorded a poppy dub/reggae version of the 1969 hit recorded by the fictional TV show band The Archies. Ron Parker, the Father of Bigger Thomas guitarist Steve Parker was in the studio band that recorded the original providing a perfect musical symmetry.

Cecilia – Suggs
Madness lead singer Suggs recorded a Sly & Robbie produced pop reggae version of the Simon & Garfunkel classic, which pays homage to St Cecilia, patron saint of music.

Golden Years – Special Beat
Early 90’s 2-Tone ska super group Special Beat, featuring Ranking Roger of The Beat and Neville Staple, Horace Panter and Lynval Golding of The Specials recorded this never before released ska demo version of David Bowie’s hit from the Station to Station LP.

Orgasm Addict – SKAndalous All-Stars
The SKAndalous All-Stars were a late 90’s U.S. ska super group featuring members of The Slackers, The Skatalites, Mephiskapheles and Stubborn All-Stars who recorded an albums worth of 3rd wave ska covers of punk classics including Buzzcock’s paean to onaism.

Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) – Los De Abajo
Mexico City-based Latin ska band Los Del Abajo recorded Spanish and English language versions of the Fun Boy Three track featuring a guest appearance from Specials and Fun Boy Three front man Neville Staple.

Strawberry Fields – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
Argentine ska band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs recorded a 60’s styled Jamaican ska version of The Beatles “Strawberry Fields” sung in English and Spanish that features Blondie’s Debbie Harry as well as horn lines worthy of The Skatalites.

Tu Gotnisht (Do Nothing) – King Django
New York ska legend and trombonist King Django (The Boilers, Skinnerbox, Stubborn All-Stars) recorded an all Yiddish-language album of klezmer meets ska and reggae songs including this faithful cover of The Specials “Do Nothing”.

Fast Car – Wayne Wonder
Jamaican vocalist Wayne Wonder puts a Dancehall reggae spin on Tracy Chapman’s narrative tale of generational poverty.

For The Turnstiles – Bim Skala Bim
Boston’s Bim Skala Bim, who were one of the first American ska bands to emerge in the early 80’s, recorded a sublimely soulful reggae version of Neil Young’s rocker.

Live And Let Die – Byron Lee
Jamaican music pioneer, producer and leader of The Dragonaires was a fan of The Beatles, recording reggae versions of many of their most popular tracks. He later recorded this incredibly soulful version of Paul McCartney & Wings theme song for the James Bond movie of the same name.

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place – The Ska-Dows
The Ska-Dows were one of the many U.K. ska bands that sprouted in the wake of the 2-Tone explosion. Signed by Chas Chandler, bassist of The Animals to his Cheapskates Record label in the late 70’s, the band recorded a rollicking ska version of The Animals hit from 1965.

Happy 4th Birthday Versions Galore!