Various Artists
African Rebel Music: Roots Reggae and Dancehall

By Masta G

The profound connections between reggae music and the African continent have been apparent since thousands of rastas came to greet a bemused Haile Selassie on his trip to Jamaica in 1966. A two-way traffic saw the increasing number of references to what Desmond Dekker called ‘pretty pretty Africa’ in Jamaican releases matched by a flourishing of African reggae bands and singers in the 80s and 90s. While these seized the imagination of world music fans in the first world as well as achieving success at home, they were essentially backward looking, playing live roots music with African influences.

As hip hop has flourished across Africa in the 90s, a new culture of urban music in countries like South Africa and Senegal has provided a place in the sun for the more up to the time sounds of contemporary Jamaica. The internet and cheap studio technology have allowed African producers to keep up with developments back a yard and emulate them in the studio. Both the bashment and roots styles which run modern Africa’s dancehalls are showcased on this excellent new compilation which ranges widely over ten African countries.

The one drop sound which typifies reggae and which has been such a big feature of JA productions over the past 18 months is audible throughout the album on conscious numbers like the bus driving duo Mad Melon and Mountain Black’s meditative weed tune Sensimilla, or the East Africa reggae bashment crew’s Africa Unite. On African, Johannesburg based crew H2O version last year’s all conquering World a Music riddim (the backing for Damian Marley’s monster hit Welcome to Jamrock), turning in a powerful, melodic cut which easily stands up to the numerous Jamaican versions.

More exciting to these ears are tracks like the opener Owange by Ugandan vocalist Peter Miles which sees him take on a classic Pocoman style ragga beat with melodic singinging and singjaying. His countryman small axe also offers a compelling performance in a similar style on Love Somebody. Cologne based Nigerian Bantu turns in a superlative performance on his conscious track One Vibe One Glow Pt. 2 which combines memorable sung hooks with quickfire rapping over a classic ragga beat. The bashment vibes also come through strongly in Senegalese all-girl crew Alif’s Wooyo, which similarly uses an up tempo dancehall riddim as the backing for a mesmerising combination of styles and languages. The close relationship between local African traditions and Caribbean ones is clear on South African artist Teba’s Gatyeni which bridges the gap between Kwaito (a kind of reggae influenced house music) and dancehall and is driven by a rumbling b-line and glistening guitars.

While the production is generally not as innovative or sophisticated as its Jamaican equivalent, the variety of styles and influences audible on this album cannot fail to intrigue any reggae lover. The fusions of dancehall and traditional African music hint at whole new genres of urban music which may emerge from the continent, while the wide range of countries, languages and musical cultures on display also suggest that African reggae has a lot more to offer.
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