Six years ago, bluesman Bai Kamara Jr. travelled back to Sierra Leone, the country of his birth, to attend his mother’s funeral. It was to be quite an event: apart from anything else, she had worked for the United Nations, served as the country’s ambassador to both Guinea and Belgium, and later been appointed to the board of directors of the Sierra Leone National Bank. Bai was therefore prepared for a certain level of ceremony. What he hadn’t expected was the voodoo.
“My sister came to me and told me, ‘Listen, Bai, tomorrow morning I’m gonna get one of these spiritual people to clean up the house,” he recounts. “She said, ‘I believe that some people have put spells around it which are not good’.”
Having spent the best part of four decades living in Northern Europe, Bai was somewhat taken aback by this.
“I told her, ‘But Mommy’s a Christian – she never believed in this kind of stuff. And you went to school in the UK: you don’t believe in it either. Why do you indulge in this kind of black magic?’
Bob Marley would have been 75 years old in February and the Marley family didn’t just celebrate in style on the day, but also throughout the entire year with a near continuous outpouring of concerts, film and audio projects, reissues and the like, released in collaboration with Ume and Island Records.
This is exactly what fans were promised when Marley75 was announced back in January. The press release served notice of “live streaming events, the release of exclusive digital content, recordings and other unearthed treasures encompassing music, fashion, art, film, technology and sport,” and the Marleys have largely been as good as their word.
Prior to the reggae icon’s birthday in February, Rolling Stone listed their ‘Bob Marley 50 Greatest Songs’, calling it, “From Trench Town Rock to Jammin’ and beyond, the definitive guide to a revolutionary career.” The majority of Top 10 entries were fairly predictable, but right there at number one was Get Up, Stand Up – still one of the most explosive protest songs ever written and featuring both Marley and Peter Tosh on lead vocals. It was a good omen…
When we write about music, the emphasis is nearly always on singers or deejays and yet it’s the musicians who provide the heartbeat of any genre. This is especially true of Jamaica, birthplace of ska, reggae, dub and dancehall, and home to one of the world’s premier rhythm sections, Sly and Robbie.
The Riddim Twins, as they’re widely known, are among the most recorded musicians on earth, with a CV that encompasses every genre and includes names such as Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Grace Jones, as well as virtually every reggae act you can think of. For me, their music will be forever synonymous with a sense of discovery. No matter how familiar you are with Sly and Robbie’s sound they’re still likely to surprise you – something they delight in doing throughout their latest album Red Hills Road.
“I decided to make a push for 2020 and going forward with this new album,” says Sly Dunbar from his lockdown in Jamaica. “I have a personal love for instrumentals and so we’ve been doing some of that, and especially on a dancehall beat. There were lots of hit ska and rocksteady instrumentals, but in the dancehall era, not so many.”
The Hamiltones – Tony Lelo, J. Vito and 2E – are looking back at me, via Zoom, from a shared sofa somewhere in Charlotte, North Carolina. Tony and Vito are both wearing masks, which I guess makes it 2E’s place. They’re clearly gentlemen who take their anti-COVID measures seriously – and are quick to bemoan the disobedience of their fellow citizens when it comes to protecting each other in public. Tony: “Honestly, if they could just shut it down, like they did in New Zealand, I’d go with that. But the problem over here is we have a lot of people who just want to be out there because this is ‘the land of the free’. We’re the number one country with the most deaths, but the problem is the people, they just want to do whatever they want. And then you got some who don’t believe in Corona and you have others who just are defiant of government.”
“It never hits home until it actually hits home,” interjects Vito. “Like, I just saw some celebrity online – who I won’t name – put up a post of them being in a ‘Pet’ club. In the comments, people are like, ‘Yo corona is real!’”