We hear a lot about younger roots artists like Chronixx and Protoje, but Jamaica’s also blessed with superb vocal talent right now. Christopher Martin and Romain Virgo lead the pack, and both are past winners of a popular TV talent show called Rising Stars.
Jamaican people know their music and faith in both singers has now paid dividends. Martin’s debut album Big Deal, released on VP Records last month, is living up to its name as I write. The standout tracks include hits like Under The Influence – now with a guest slot by Chip – Cheaters Prayer, Pirate Of The Caribbean, the title track and Better Than The Stars, which will be played at weddings for decades.
It’s been a while coming, but Christopher Martin is now a major name in the business. His output defines what today’s reggae and dancehall music is all about. Did I also mention that he’s a sex symbol in Jamaica? Anyone who’s seen the videos to some of his hits – and which have sent his army of adoring women fans into overdrive – can tell you that…
Almost three years have passed since we championed Somi’s The Lagos Music Salon by awarding her a first front cover of Echoes. That superb album, her debut for Sony’s Okeh offshoot and her fifth project overall, was, you’ll recall, inspired by an 18-month sabbatical in Lagos, Nigeria, during which time she first chronicled her experiences in a journal and then transformed them into an album recorded in New York. For her new set she has almost completely reversed the idea. Petite Afrique, released by Okeh at the end of the month, finds Somi back in Harlem – her home for almost a decade now – considering the situation of the local African immigrant community that centres around 116th Street: its contribution to and effect on the locality, its culture and social experiences, its not always easy relationship with African-Americans.
The album’s subtitle, although not appearing on the sleeve, is ‘The Other Black In Harlem’…
There is a long history of coded language in jazz song titles. If some don’t realize that Sonny Rollins’ Airegin is a back to front tribute to Nigeria then more may be knocked sideways trying to work out what Henry Threadgill means by Up Popped The Two Lips or This Brings Us To. Pianist-composer Craig Taborn has found his own very personal manner of expressing thoughts and feelings that can be interpreted in a number of ways, whether the work is Junk Magic or The Great Silence. Maybe the latter points to anything from apathy at oppression to protest at discrimination through dignity. Making a direct, wholly indisputable statement seems less Taborn’s intent than musing by way of implication, if not understatement.
“I don’t like to say too much about titles and concepts because I prefer to let the title resonate with the music for a listener and gather meaning from the music… ”
Valerie June now has a name for the music she makes.
“People have always been coming up and telling me my music was all kinds of different things,” she informs me on her mobile from what sounds like an airport somewhere in America. “Sometimes people tell me it’s soul, or it’s blues, or maybe it’s country… however it spoke to them at the time.
“And then my friend and I were sitting around one day – she’s a poet – and she said I should create my own name for the music I do. I loved the idea. She suggested ‘Moonshine Folk’ and at first I called it that. But I didn’t honestly feel I was just a folk singer – that the name maybe limited what it is I actually do. So I thought about it some more and I decided that perhaps my music was really based on the root – by which I mean the root of all popular sound: the root of folk, the root of blues, the root of soul. And then I also thought about people like Jimi Hendrix, who learned the rules of these root styles and then deliberately broke them; Robert Plant the same thing. I felt like I had also studied the root and then gone on to become who I am. So I switched it to ‘Organic Moonshine Roots Music’, which I felt was both more playful and took in more genres along the way… ”