Various Artists
Universal Message

Unmissable compilation showcasing Jamaica's new roots sound which eschews modern dancehall’s materialism and the trinity of guns, girls and ganja for more spiritual values.

By Masta G

With modern dancehall and its star artists consistently mired in controversy, it seems unsurprising that Jamaican music should have turned back to the roots reggae sound and conscious approach which originally popularised it internationally. The singers on VP’s excellent new compilation – artists like Jah Cure, I Wayne and Richie Spice – espouse more spirtitual values than their rudeboy counterparts in the bashment scene, touching on Rastafarianism, injustice and social inequality. They embrace the oppositional politics which have led numerous different communities around the world to find solace in Jamaican music, eschewing modern dancehall’s materialism and the trinity of guns, girls and ganja on which it so often seems to focus.

Universal Message takes a selection of the biggest new roots riddims from Jamaica and one from Germany to showcase the best of what this thriving genre has to offer. Jailbird Jah Cure’s plaintive tones open the set on the Sweet River Rock riddim. It’s impossible to listen to this artist and not hear echoes of his situation – ‘No wicked heart cyan test me’ he sings. Morgan Heritage weighs in with his superlative cut on Big Yard’s heavy new version of the classic Stop That Train, his lyrics bringing a sense of militancy almost equal to Shaggy’s Stand Up and Fight on the same riddim – ‘Uncomfortable Babylon will be from this day on / because the rebels can start up the revolution’, he proclaims and it’s all too easy to believe him. I Wayne has made a massive splash in the reggae world off the back of a handful of tunes and Living In Love, his cut on the Hard Times riddim, gives a sense of why he’s perhaps JA’s most hyped young artist. With lyrical depth and a memorable style he looks set to be a big star and is unafraid to take on big issues: ‘Rasta tell them all the while / stop war and go till the soil / stop fighting for land and oil’. Capelton’s cut on the same riddim serves as a timely reminder of where this roots revival originally came from back in the early 90s and his idea that ‘We’re living in a small world’ also resonates both in Jamaica and internationally.

Sizzla, another who’s work has clearly inspired many of the younger artists here, can be heard on the rolling He Speaks riddim – Ain’t Gonna See Us Fall touches on familiar themes of steadfastness in adversity and allows him to flex the world’s finest and most powerful falsetto. There’s also a Wayne Wonder cut on the same riddim which is, if anything, even more meditative and masterfully delivered. Newcomer Fantan Moja has also made a big impression in the past six months, with his Hungry, addressing the poverty which is still endemic in Jamaica and many other developing nations. Like many in this collection, his lyric urges action as well as consciousness, aspiration as well as awareness. Tanya Stephen’s acoustic anthem What A Day is already a dubplate classic and this is unsurprising as her powerful yet poignant delivery combines with memorable, incisive lyrics which target ‘the hunger... on people’s faces’ as well as ‘pricks with money but no social graces’. Richie Spice’s haunting Blood Again on the gGerman label Pow Pow’s banjo driven Blaze riddim is sure to be a massive tune this year. Its focus on a vicious circle of violence once again encompasses more than simply the immediate problem of Jamaica’s gun culture, extending to suicide bombers (‘a who send dem?’, he asks) as well as the bombs which fall from skies around the world.

A global consciousness is a striking feature of this collection: where dancehall artists like Vybz Kartel reference terrorism and violence to reinforce a badman persona (‘I’m hot like 97 / or 9-11’), many of those present here seek to critique and question the outernational realities which are beamed around the world by CNN, as well as focusing on the more traditional reggae subject matter of the local reality on their doorsteps. With this lyrical virtuosity allied to tunes with the mnemonic potency of great pop songs, the profile of Jamaica’s new roots sound can only increase. An unmissable album.
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