When he was touring Britain on the back of the success of Good Thing Going in the early ‘80s Sugar Minott, one of the best reggae singers of the decade, had a band that spanned generations. On one hand there were Jamaican legends such as organist Jackie Mittoo, trombonist Vin Gordon and trumpeter Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton. On the other there was a young London-born backing vocalist called Cleveland Watkiss. It was one of the first significant gigs of his career and mere mention of it makes him practically well up with nostalgia.
“I was surrounded by royalty,” says Watkiss. [The music] It’s in your blood, it’s in your pores, it infuses everything that you do… ”
Dennis Bovell’s Dubmaster is the most comprehensive compilation of his back catalogue yet, featuring dub and vocal tracks by himself and other reggae artists he’s produced throughout the course of a career that began in the late sixties and shows no sign of slowing down. It’s just the start of major reissue programme by BMG that encompasses the majority of his solo albums and includes all four 4th Street Orchestra titles.
He’s a singer, musician, producer, band leader, soundman and engineer who’s not only significantly helped shape popular music here in the UK – the list of artists he’s worked with outside of reggae includes Sade, Jarvis Cocker, Boomtown Rats, Zara McFarlane, The Slits, Joss Stone, The Pop Group and Bobby Gillespie – but also reggae music internationally, given that he’s collaborated closely with artists from Africa, Hawaii, Japan, the US, Caribbean and throughout Europe. That’s without even mentioning his involvement with film and television…
Tanika Charles is in Saskatchewan, where, she tells me, it is minus 30 degrees outside. For the second month running, then, we’re Zooming with a soul singer whose present living conditions are making me grateful for London’s early spring sunshine. Not that this particular interviewee seems anything remotely close to glum: by nature Ms. Charles, more usually at home in Toronto, is bouncy, full of energy and humour – personality traits that always translate into her music and [to these ears, anyway] frequently recall the great Betty Wright, recently departed from this parish.
Tanika’s new album, Papillon de Nuit, was, however, assembled under all too familiar lockdown conditions: a great deal was done remotely over the internet, there was hardly any getting together with the band or co-writers, and plenty of wrestling with the so-called ‘new normal’ over the past two years since her previous set, The Gumption. The latter was the album that was supposed to be Tanika’s ticket to Europe…
NappyNappa might be a world away from Duke Ellington, but it was the School of the Arts named after the jazz legend in Washington DC where he got his first taste of a formal arts education.
“It was a good experience as a community of artists, like going to Professor Xavier’s school for mutants” jokes the DC rapper. “But I wouldn’t say it did much for me as an artist. It was more about being able to connect and learn from other artists. The school has curriculums and people wanna teach you what they already know, to mould you. You’re being taught classical shit, the stories of certain artforms. It’s learning the rules, rather than learning that there’s not really rules.”
Nappa doesn’t find the rules that easy to follow.
His latest album is ONDAMICUNDERDACOZMICLYTZ, the latest in a run of more than 20 releases he’s put out since 2019.