CI Shorts: The Year In Reggae 2017

Tropical pop was everywhere in 2017, with Luis Fonsi’s Despacito topping the music charts worldwide. Unfortunately, the global resurgence of reggaeton did nothing for its parent genre, reggae, which spent another year fighting for its fair share of the international limelight. Even so, there were some landmark releases that should be on every reggae fan’s shopping list as Christmas approaches.

 In a perfect world, the irresistible Spanish Town Rocking, the opening track on Chronology by CHRONIXX, would have become a worldwide breakout hit to rival anything out of Puerto Rico.

 A reworking of Barrington Levy’s classic Prison Oval Rock, it demonstrates once again how Jamaica’s roots tradition constantly renews itself by placing old riddims in new contexts (more about the story behind the song here). The remaining 15 tracks keep up the pace and earn 25-year-old Jamar McNaughton the Caribbean Intelligence accolade of reggae debut album of the year (his previous release, 2014’s Dread & Terrible, was considered a mere EP, with seven songs and three dub versions). With Chronixx on the scene, the reggae revival is in safe hands.

But what of reggae’s old guard?


It was a quiet year for many of those vintage performers who are still with us, but The Itinuation by PABLO MOSES was a welcome return by an artist who was last heard from in 2010. Pablo Moses’ career stretches all the way back to 1975, when he surged to prominence with a clutch of enduring tunes including I Man A Grasshopper and We Should Be In Angola. This time around, he informs us that this is “no continuation, this is the itinuation" and also, as if we needed reminding, that “living in Babylon is brutal”. Without a doubt, it’s Caribbean Intelligence’s best comeback album by a reggae veteran this year.


“Reggae gone outernational” was the rallying cry in Jah music’s heyday as its popularity spread to the unlikeliest places. Today, performers such as Germany’s Gentleman and Italy’s Alborosie rank among its most highly regarded exponents. With the release of 1988 by BIGA RANX, there’s now another name to add to that select list. Hailing from the French city of Tours, 29-year-old Gabriel Gault has previously put out a series of solid but unspectacular releases. This time, however, he has struck creative gold with a unique combination of reggae rhythms and chillout tempos. The result is a collection of 16 cool meditations that were perfect listening during the European summer. A dose of “liquid sunshine”, as the opening track terms it, and Caribbean Intelligence’s best reggae album by a non-Jamaican in 2017.


A number of strong women performers have stamped their identity on the modern roots revival, with Jah9 and Etana among the notable rising stars. Climb by QUEEN IFRICA is another powerful contribution to this modern trend. Ventrice Morgan tips the hat to her father, Moon Hop legend Derrick, with Rebellion, a rousing ska tune of the kind that he pioneered. Elsewhere, she tackles the Jamaican government’s tourism policies on the dancehall excursion Lie Dem Ah Tell and shows her flirtatious side on love song Let’s Get Silly. All in all, it’s CI’s best conscious reggae album of the year.


“I know it’s impossible to go living through the past,” sang reggae’s most famous son back in 1977. All the more ironic, then, that the album on which those lyrics featured, Exodus by BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS, should be back on record shops’ shelves this year in a sumptuous 40th anniversary expanded reissue. Fresh attractions on the 3-CD edition, one of several different formats, are a previously unreleased live set and an “Exodus 40” remix by Bob’s son Ziggy. Sounds like a gimmick, you may think, but take a listen first: the new mix pushes Bob’s voice centre-stage and gives greater separation to the instruments. The use of alternate vocal takes adds new inflections and in places, lyrical changes, while Turn Your Lights Down Low has an entirely new musical track from Ziggy and his band. The effect is to make you listen afresh to an album that may have become dulled by familiarity, and that’s no bad thing. Easily CI’s best reggae reissue of 2017.


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Black Friday and Christmas choices:


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