Comment or discuss the Set Me Free riddim below. If you want you may also upload an MP3
file relating to your comment. The uploaded tune will appear as an embedded player in your comment.
Set Me Free
And for all those of you, like me, that have Sleng Teng as a ring signal on the mobile phone…:
A guide to digital reggae!
As I mentioned before in this roundup, the music from the digi years (about 1983 – 1990) has recently gotten a lot of focus on the Internet. There has always been a a group of people that has been devoted fans of the style, but recently thre has been a boom. If you look around you’ll find digi reggae blogs, digi reggae riddim sites and a bunch of people bukiding new digistyled riddims, som even with the same instruments as those used at the time.
You may also have noticed that a few of the artist from the time release more and more music. Burro Banton is the primary example. Back in the days he was viewed as an extremly underrecorded artist, but the last few years he has been on a lot of riddims, and if threr is a digi recur, he’s on it. Other examples are Carl Meeks, King Kong, Echo Minott.
What you notice when listening to all those old LP:s from the mid to late eighties reappear is how poor they where. It’s not a surprise so few of them where remembered, most was just thrown together in a hurry, poor riddims, poor performances and poor production. Even the covers are ugly, despite that many of them don by legendary cover maker Limonius, but as with the music – in a hurry and with minimum effort. So, in order not to have to waste your time, here is my guide to some of the best LP:s of the digi area:
1. Anything with Nitty Gritty
Nitty Gritty did his first larger set of recordings Sugar Minotts Youth promotion label. These where not released on an LP until long after his death. In my ears this is some of the most weird but yet stylish music ever made in JA. These tunes can be heard on the “Lot’s Of Sign” LP with Tenor Saw.
Nitty’s real success came when he started to work with Jammys. The best of this work is compiled on the “Trials and Crosses” CD, but every tune he made for Jammys is good and worth checking out.
An interesting thing is that there almost isn’t any film footage of Nitty Gritty. In forums ppl are always requesting Nitty Gitty DVD:s or clips, but all there is (it seems) is a short sequence from a Jammys dance (I think it is). Can be found on youtube.
2. Anything with Tenor Saw
Not as consistent as Nittys material, actually, about 30 % percent of his tunes are downright poor, but it was all cut in very short period and he was just a kid… But TS created a number of the most hard hitting dancehall songs ever made, and if ever a tune deserves the classic mark it’s some of these, Pumpkin Belly (Sleng Teng), Ring The Alarm (Stalag), Help Me Praise Jahovia, Roll Call and Come Me A Come (Gun Man).
LP wise the classic is the decently consistent is Fever, a set of Youth Promotion productions done a bit later then the ones mentioned above.
3. Courtney Melody – Man In love
This man was HOT! For you kids to understand just how hot - in 88 he was hotter then Movado has ever been.
This resulted in 30 - 40 songs a year for a couple of years and needless to say the quality varies hugely. Particularly since his style of songwriting was based on a “make up the lyrics as you go along” approach. On rare occasions it worked, but usually not. There is a bunch of LP:s around, they are all worth checking out. Which you prefer is a matter of taste as they are all rather uneven, but on the other hand there is gams on all of them. I choose the Man In Love LP because of the rootsy, but still decidedly digi, Tappa Zukie production and because someone – perhaps Courtney himself, although it sounds somewhat unlikely – made up the lyrics _prior_ to making the recordings.
There are also loads of good 7” that was never featured on albums, it seems CM made his best recordings in 7”. Perhaps because when recording a one off tune he did that in a day, whereas when recording an LP he did that in a day too.
4. Horace Ferguson – Sensi Addict
One of the earliest, if not the earliest real digi recordings.
Prince Jazzbo turned producer after his DJ career started to fade. However, he was a small timer and he found that he couldn’t afford studio time with a full band. He did some odd recordings with Roots Radics, but after mild success with these tunes he found that he had to try a low budget approach instead to make ends meet. So he had a set of sparse riddim built for him on a synthesizer. I guess this would have been around 83, 84 or so. In an interview he claimed the synthesizer sound has gotten so good that it was impossible to tell it from a real band. Yeah, right… But it’s an interesting statement as it shows that even the Jamaicans viewed digitally made music as not “real” music at one point in time. However, he had a hit with the song Sensi Addict, featuring local singer Horace Ferguson (who probably also recorded more or less for free). This saw the release of this album. It features 9 digi songs, and one traditionally instrumented Roots Radics backed song. All are just wonderful. As with the Tappa production mentioned above some of the riddims has a rootsy feel to them that is real nice.
So if youth think digi started with Jammys Sleng Teng… here is the real “first digi”. And it’s good!
Horace Ferguson released a second LP an a couple of singles for Jazzbo and then vanished from the face of the earth it seems. It’ said he moved to Canada, but it seems no one knows what became of him.
5. Carl Meeks – Whe Dem Fah
Producer Redman worked initially for Jammys, but started his own label. Most of the work Redman released in his label was real poor, but he managed to release a few real gems. LP wise it’s only this one. Redman usually tried to get as much juice out of the riddims he invested in, resulting in lengthy one or two riddim albums, but there is an exeception. 9 crisp Steelie & Clevie riddims with Meeks energic and unique style on it. A killer! Missing is unfortunately Meeks most well known tune for Redman, Dangerous, which was recorded after this album.
6. Lilly Melody – Give It To Me
This guy is still in the business making real good roots tunes under the name Ishia Mentor. Worth checking out. This LP made no sort of impact at the time and is real obscure. But since some of you that read this are digi experts I thought I’d put something in here that you haven’t heard before. A gem most digi connoisseurs don’t even know about. But now you do.
7. Gregory Isaacs – Warning
Gregory in a real “deh man weh dem call Hitlah” (as Fussy Jonez put it) style – delivery wise and lyrics wize. Some of the best Tubbys digi riddims. Unique production. 10 strong tunes.
As you may know, Tubby was not actually involved in the production, he had by this time gotten tired of music making. While this music was recorded in his studio he was in the backyeard reparing radios and toasters. Instead some of the kids he had tutored was in the studio recording digi classics such as this.
I think this was recorded just prior to Tubbys death. After his death his relatives quickly dismantled the studio, probably not knowing that great (but perhaps not short term profitable) music was still being made.
7. Cocoa Tea – Come Again
Huge at the time. Coca Tea was predated the digi area somewhat with a number of big hits on traditional riddims, but the title says it all, this is real real sweat, and rather different from anything he did before or after. Jammys riddims. Another one in a similar style os Leroy Gibbons Four Season Lover, but I like this better, more stylish.
8. King Kong – Legal We Legal
King Kong has made better, and more consistent, LPs after this, but this captures the sound of the time. Another Jammys production.
9 Pinchers – Can't Tek The Pressure + Agony
To me Pinchers both started and closed the digi area. I love his Can’t Tek The Pressure LP for Sugar Minott, and I love his Agony LP for Jammys, although they are very different. The first one has a lot of digi feel to it while still mostly played with traditional instruments. As such it predated the digi area in many ways. The second one has a super digi sound and sort of closed the digi area as it was the last real popular digi LP before other things took over. Yes, I know the first was release 86 and the last it was release 87/88, but still… Somehow this sums up the start and ending…
10 Junior Delagado – Raggamuffin Year
As you have seen from the list above many of the most influential and/or successful people involved in the digital reggae was people with long presence in the music industry many of which up to that time was associated with traditional roots reggae. But I bet you still will be surprised to find an LP by long time roots icons Junior Delgado and Augustus Pablo (can you be more roots then that?) on this list. Actually all major singers, and mnay of the main producers made digi musc. Most of the majors singers cut – now forgotten – LP:s on Jammys digi riddims. Horace Andy, Isaacs, Dennis Brown… all of them was at least on one Jammy LP on Jammys digi riddims.