Your monthly round up…

Reshma B with the month’s essential reggae and dancehall happenings…

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On 19th October, John Holt passed away at Wellington Hospital in north London. One of the greats of Jamaican music, Holt was the lead vocalist of The Paragons in the late 1960s, the band behind ‘The Tide Is High’, which was a hit when covered by Blondie in 1980 and again by Atomic Kitten in 2002. During the past year, Holt was diagnosed with colon cancer. He denied reports that he was seriously ill, despite missing his booking at NYC’s Groovin’ in the Park concert in June. The reggae legend made his last performance at the UK’s One Love festival this summer.

Dancehall star Ninjaman (pictured) will have to wait until April 2015 to stand trial for a 2009 murder charge. The entertainer, born Desmond Ballentine, and his son Janiel were arrested and charged with shooting Ricardo Johnson in Kingston, Jamaica. They spent three years behind bars before posting bail and have been fighting the charges ever since. Renowned for hardcore tunes like ‘Murder Dem’, Ninja is currently working on a new album.

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Of all major American cities, Miami is the closest to the Caribbean, and many artists and producers from Jamaica reside in both places. “Miami is like a second Jamaica,” explains Shifta, a new reggae artist who is making waves on the reggae scene from JA to Miami. His song ‘Do You Wanna’ with R&B singer Che’Nelle has been getting massive rotation on Miami radio. “It’s Caribbean, it’s dancehall, it’s pop, it’s R&B, and there’s nothing vulgar or derogatory,” says Shifta, whose father was the producer behind the Jamaican dancehall label Pipper Records. “I want the music to represent our culture. It can be someone who’s five years old in the car, 15 or a 50-year-old woman and you don’t have to feel like this is not appropriate.” But don’t get it twisted – his lyrics may be rated PG, but Shifta looks like he knows how to party. Check out his new video and #WhoIsShifta below:

On a slightly different vibe, Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda (pictured) has had NYC on fire with his street anthem ‘Hot N*gga’. This August he released a reggae remix featuring Junior Reid, Mavado and Popcaan, helping to spread the song and its ‘Shmoney Dance’ to Jamaica. The latest yardie artist to jump on the riddim is Timberlee, whose ‘Shmurda Freestyle’ will be included on her forthcoming mixtape. Shmurda, whose father hails from Jamaica, titled his EP ‘Shmurda She Wrote’.

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UK dancehall singer Specialist Moss has teamed up with veteran microphone chanter Mr. Williamz (pictured) to release the ‘Dub Style’ EP on the 45 Special label. Backed by some heavy drum ‘n’ bass-style tracks, Moss and Williamz brandish their own unique flows on tracks like ‘Dubby Dubby’ and ‘Herbman Skank’, also featuring the Caucasian sensation YT.

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DJ Sunshine (pictured) is setting the pace in the dancehall right now with her ‘Wul Dem Again’ riddim on Yellow Moon Records. The juggling features Demarco, Mavado, I-Octane, Mr. Vegas, Elephant Man, and newcomers Bryka and Chilando. But the standout track has to be Vybz Kartel, who threatens to “box you down quicker than a box lunch and punch up your face quicker than a fruit punch”.

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It’s been too long since we heard from British reggae legends Aswad. But the boys from Ladbroke Grove will be performing at the Jazz Café December 6th.  Just ‘Don’t Turn Around’ or you might miss it!

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It was the first major reggae cruise to set sail. On 16th October the Norwegian Pearl took 2,400 passengers from Miami’s South Beach on a round trip to Jamaica and back lasting five nights for the official Welcome To Jamrock Reggae Cruise.

“Reggae lovers seem to have a common mentality,” said Damian Marley, the host of the cruise named after his breakthrough hit. “Don’t care where you come from or what language you speak, you have that ‘One Love’ mentality. I heard them saying 42 countries are here – I would have to double-check that figure, but I can tell you I’ve run into people from all over the world and it just seems like a big extended family.”

The opening night’s entertainment included Junior Gong as well as his elder brother, London-based Julian Marley, both of whom were preceded by Black-Am-I, a young roots singer who hails from Bob Marley’s birthplace, the Jamaican village of Nine Mile. The legendary Stone Love sound system provided the post-concert entertainment until the wee hours of the morning.

Night two kicked off with the roots harmony group Wailing Souls, followed by Tarrus Riley, who showed why his friends call him “Singy Singy” with a performance that underscored his place as one of reggae’s leading stars. Shaggy, the biggest hitmaker in reggae next to Bob Marley, closed out the night with his usual fun-loving vibes.
On the third day of the voyage the ship docked in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where a new wave of talent came aboard, including Jah Cure, Busy Signal and Bounty Killer, all of whom have been unable to travel to the UK and the US in recent years due to visa restrictions. Busy Signal made reference to his recent incarceration when he performed songs like ‘Nah Go A Jail Again’ and ‘Fresh From Prison Now Me Deh Ya’ – a freestyle set to the instrumental from ‘Started From The Bottom’ by Drake. ”I'm so happy that the past is in the past,” Busy said. “Me no haffi elaborate, you all know what happened.” Later, Busy said he felt “like I was being elevated” while he worked the stage.

This dimension of the cruise was always part of Damian Marley’s vision. “That’s a big highlight of it all to me,” he said, “that some of the artists who were not able to go to these different countries to visit and represent to all their fans, we brought their fans to them. Even the legend Bounty Killer, a lot of his overseas fans haven’t had the opportunity to see him live”.

The rest of the cruise included memorable performances by Sean Paul, Cham, Morgan Heritage, Ghetto Youths artists Christopher Ellis, Jo Mersa and Wayne Marshall, as well as Damian’s elder brother Stephen ‘Ragga’ Marley. When Stephen’s performance was cut short by rain, he took the party indoors to the ship’s atrium with backing tracks provided by Jamaican sound system Renaissance Disco. His set soon turned into an epic freestyle session with every single artist still on the boat, including Jr. Gong, Sean Paul, Shinehead, Cham, J Boog and many more passing the mic until just hours before boat returned to Miami.

“I think it was great,” said Damian Marley on the final night of the cruise. “I think we made the statement that we wanted to make and Jah has blessed us. Everyone gave their all, they seemed to be very appreciative of being a part of it, likewise meself. So in that sense it’s overwhelming.”

Busy Signal performs his tribute to John Holt on the WTJRC 2014 with ‘Up Park Camp’:

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See ya next month!

Words: Reshma B (online / on Twitter)

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