‘Tis the season of good cheer… and extended Christmas TV adverts.
As the Twitterverse loses yet another hinge over which multinational soft drinks supplier or UK store chain has sickened viewers the most this year, the rest of us Normal Folk take a second sip of Old Kilty’s single malt, wrap up Grandma’s present from the children – silk stockings and suspenders again, eh Joyce? – and consider which ridiculous jumper to wear to the Boxing Day home match.
But wait! What’s this? Isn’t that Gregory Porter’s voice on the Disney ad? His tone sure fits right in with the ‘stepdad’ theme – and no real surprise that a guy who sells out the Albert Hall should get Walt’s gig. Hang on, though: who’s the female voice on the second verse? It sounds like… Cherise. Now, how did that one happen?
Seems Ms. Adams-Burnett has some old friends to thank:
“It came from Tomorrow’s Warriors,” reveals the rising soul and jazz starlet about whom, only a few weeks ago, we raved on the arrival of her new EP Remedy. “As you know, I’ve been with them for the past 10 years – though as I’m saying that, I can’t believe it’s already into double digits! Anyway, they have a long standing, lovely relationship with the record label Decca… and Disney also have a connection to Decca through Gregory, so it’s kind of this network. When the question was asked, ‘Who should join Gregory on the song?’, my name somehow travelled all the way from Tomorrow’s Warriors through Decca to Disney.
Picture a young man on a bus headed to see Latin-rock superstars Santana at the Hammersmith Odeon, London in the mid-‘70s. He wears the band’s t-shirt with pride and clutches a copy of their classic album Abraxas. He wants the world to know he is a signed-up fan. He has a grand date with destiny, though: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick is about to hear a soul group that will do nothing less than alter the course of his life.
“My world changed when I saw Earth, Wind & Fire, the opening act,” he reveals. “It changed me in a positive way, in that it reaffirmed what Santana was saying, but it took it to another level – a level where I thought, ‘This is the music you’re going to make’.”
An excellent body of work over five decades bears out that declaration of intent. It’s too glib to say that Maunick has taken the sassy brass of the band he didn’t know and the sweaty riffs of the one he did, and managed to meld them with the sophistry of what was known as ‘fusion’ in the seventies, but those references remain close to his heart.
In any case, he formed Incognito and built a discography dotted by quality long-players such as 1981’s Jazz Funk, 1991’s Inside Life, 1999’s No Time Like The Future, 2004’s Adventures In Black Sunshine and 2016’s In Search Of Better Days. The timespan transcends scenes such as Brit-funk and Acid jazz but, regardless of these buzzwords, the core values of black music, from depths of emotion to heights of technique, have underpinned his entire career.
How times change. Much of the outstanding reggae music being made in this era isn’t necessarily being led – or even distributed in many cases – by major record labels, but is the result of talented artists and musicians coming together and doing things for themselves, independently of outside help or influence. Micah Shemaiah’s latest album, Still, is the perfect example of this and it also happens to be the singer’s finest, according to many.
Despite not yet receiving the mainstream recognition he deserves, Micah is that rare entity, a reggae artist of genuine integrity. He sings what he feels in his heart and lives by his principles, even though this path has left him at a disadvantage compared to contemporaries like Chronixx, Protoje and Jah9, who all started out at around the same time, and have generally proved more adept at navigating commercial dictates. You won’t find Micah publicly declaring that he doesn’t want to be considered a reggae singer anymore, as Chronixx and Tarrus Riley did recently, or experimenting with trap and hip-hop in a vain attempt to win over urban audiences in the US.
Whilst pleased with the acclaim that his album has garnered so far, Micah mainly puts this down to the way it sounds and the messages that came to him during the recording process…
Last month we featured Hawaiian reggae band The Late Ones, whose debut album The Fourth Quarter was recently released on Easy Star Records. This time it’s the turn of labelmates The Green; another highly-rated Hawaiian musical export who are well established on the mainland, where they regularly tour alongside leading reggae names from Jamaica and the US. Their latest album Brand New Eyes is their sixth and was largely produced during lockdown, although they’d already worked on various tracks before Covid struck.
“We actually got a lot of work done during the pandemic,” says lead singer JP Kennedy. “At the beginning it was really frustrating, but once we committed to a schedule we found that hunger and it just took off. Then a few things happened with some producers which built the fire even stronger, so yeah, it happened in a really cool way. We did some tracks at our home studio with Leslie Ludiazo, who was actually our original drummer. He’s J Boog’s drummer and musical director now, but he’s basically been part of all our projects from the beginning. We also had a few sessions with Brian Fennell who did Coming Home, Blue Skies and My Friend [Don’t Give Up], and then Recipe was finished in Jamaica by Winta James, who’s worked with Damian Marley and Protoje.”
The Green don’t normally do too many covers, but their take on Aswad’s Recipe is first-rate, and perfectly suited to the group’s sound with its gorgeous melody and harmonies…