“silence is a riddim’ too…”

23 10 2010

With a mixed cultural heritage (German/British), mixed-up cultural focus (noise/reggae) and a mixmastered public persona (art school/wild child), Ari Up brought a disjointed beauty to her vocals that remain haunting.  I had seen her perform with the Slits @ Tier3 in 1980 (?), the foot-off-the-ground stage adding to the intimacy surrounding a band that never seemed all that distant.  I had met her a few times at the Rough Trade office in London also, back in the Rasta distribution area, a permanent cloud of weedsmoke hovering over the shipping desk, a time when it seemed the label, the people, the scene would go on forever.

Ari (Ariane Forster) died a few days ago.  She is survived by three children, a more than interesting extend family (publishing scions, Johnny Rotten),  jungle homes (Indonesia, Belize) and a very satisfying body of work.

My favorite (above) is the eponymous twelve-inch single containing “In the Beginning There Was Rhythm.”  Using a range of Jamaican musics as a jumping off point, the songs dispense with the heavy-on-the-upstroke Reggae guitar, replaced with a more than satisfying sharp No New York minimalist sound and solid base work.  It’s difficult for me to describe a music that was both discordant and charming.  But I’m not a critic.  But I never stopped listening to this stuff.

You can still get versions of the Slits’ “Cut” on CD, on Island.  When it was released it caused a bit of a stir because of the skin.  More importantly the name was similar to overusing ‘nigger’ by rappers, taking a pejorative and making it their own.  So while the stance and the cover produced some sales,  the band never charted in the US, only reaching #30 on the UK charts in Sept 1979.  No other single or LP charted here or there.  But the influences flowed into and from a variety of kindred spirits; The Raincoats, UT, Blurt, Flowers of Romance, The Pop Group, The New Age Steppers.

Ari’s Slits recordings were mostly produced by Dennis Bovell, but my favorite things were with the New Age Steppers and producer Adrian Sherwood.  Here Ari’s joined by second-gen Slitmate, Viv Albertine.  These two LPs are treasures, meandering deeply atmospheric dub, still clearly British.

You can get pieces of Action Battlefield on iTunes, but even the CD of the self titled LP is going for more than $30 used these days.  It contains one of the bands gems, “Fade Away.”  Nice records to be remembered by.

Here’s an alpha list of the Slits vinyl recordings @ the ARChive:

• “Animal Space”//”Man Next Door”/”In the Beginning There Was Rhythm” (Human Records, USA, YUS-1, 12″ 45rpm, vinyl disc single, 1980).

• “Animal Space”/“Animal Spacier” (Human Records, USA, HUM-4, 7” 45rpm, vinyl disc single, 1980).

• Cut (Island Records, UK, ILPS-9573, 12″ 33 1/3 rpm, vinyl disc LP, 1979).  One version here has a special custom label with a silhouette of the girls.

• Cut (Antilles Records, US, AN-7077, 12″, 33 1/3 rpm, vinyl disc LP, 1979).

• “Earthbeat”/“Begin Again Rhythm” (CBS, UK, CBS-A1498, 7” 45rpm, vinyl disc single, 1981).

• “Earthbeat And Earthdub”/“Begin Again Rhythm” (CBS, UK, CBS-A 13 1498, 12” 45rpm, vinyl disc single, 1981).

• “Earthbeat And Earthdub”/”Or What Is It” (Epic, USA, 49-02576, 12” 33-1/3rpm, vinyl disc single, 1981).

• ”In the Beginning There Was Rhythm” (Slits)/”Where There’s A Will There’s a way” (Pop Group) (Rough Trade/Y Records, UK, RT 039/Y-1, 12″ vinyl disc single, 1980).

“Man Next Door”/ “Man Next Door Dub” (Rough Trade/Y Records, UK, RT 004/Y-4, 7″ 45rpm, vinyl disc single, 1980).

• Return of the Giant Slits  (Urgent Records/CBS, UK, 85269, 12” vinyl disc LP with single containing an extra cut and interview, 1981)

• “Typical Girls”/”I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Antilles, ANS-102, with a folded poster sleeve, 7″ 45rpm, vinyl disc single, 198?).

• “Typical Girls”/ “Typical Girls – Brink Style”//”I Heard It Through the Grapevine”/”Liebe And Romance” (Island Records, UK, 12WIP-6505, 12″ 45rpm, vinyl disc EP, 1979).

• Typical Girls Won’t Pay More Than $8.00 So Why Should You? (Basic Records, USA, BASE-1, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, Bootleg, 19??)

Size (speed, amplitude) matters

15 10 2010

How to permanently preserve audio materials is a major concern of archives around the world.  Us included.  After all, isn’t that why we’re here?

But ARC does not migrate, i.e; make a copy of an audio object in another medium, ideally more stable, in order to preserve it.  Increasingly archives are abandoning this route, as large collections would be barely started before a new, better, improved preservation system would supplant it.  The daunting problems of saving our audio heritage are the subject of an important recent report via the Library of Congress, The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age. If that’s daunting there’s a pop summary via the AP wire.

We’ve often joked that we should be taking our CDs and cutting vinyl albums in order to preserve them – a sort of audio reverse osmosis – on the order of a dub plate, that Jamaican genius system of direct cut vinyl one offs.

Lo, the sky’s have parted.  The path has been shown to us.  Vinylrecorder.

This platter cuisinart is available from German vinyl cutting specialists and manufacturers, Fritz & Souri Sourisseau.  Their site is only somewhat illuminating, but hints at wondrous potential.  I learned about it from the WOMEX folks, who will have their annual get together next month in Copenhagen. Now the home enthusiast or indie archivist can work out of the basement, cranking out the latest Lady Gaga MP3s on a disc of their own.  Hey, we could even do it as a 10” 78rpm!

The only logical conclusion is that an ARCangel comes forward with the $10K to donate the machine to the library!  That way when batteries for i-everythings are no longer made, and silicone chips have turned back to sand, we’ll be churning out archival copies of the latest hits in all their vinylized splendor.

Dan Donates!

31 05 2008

A good friend of ARC, Dan Zanes, has done the impossible; donated ALL, not some, no ALL of his LPs to the library. Sure he threw in a nice pile of CDs (841), but ALL’s a lot, or at least 1,954 discs, and that’s a lot. Not only ALL, but ALL in great condition, and not only that, great recordings. All of them.

Over 300 LPs were Reggae of the highest caliber and rare enough. Like every donation there were the usual 20 or so Dylan items, but no one ever offered 23 Burl Ives albums? Some of them pre-beard!

If you don’t know who Dan is, well you can go to his webthing. We first knew him as a Del Fuego. These days he’s one of our leading family entertainers, and that’s his press agents way of saying an amazing performer of music for kids.

His Catch That Train! was the 2007 GrammyAward winner for Best Musical Album for Children. There was a100+ count box of children’s recordings in the donation, and equal sized boxes of jazz, early R&B, blues and Folkways LPs. Nice.

So thanks Dan for the incredible donation – we should have them all catalogued and infiled by the end of the month.

Reason 5446 Why I Love Jamaica

19 03 2008

Calling All Vipers?  Yeah…for a “listening party.”  The “records” (*wink* *wink*)just arrived.

Global Reggae

25 02 2008

Got back yesterday from spending a week in Kingston, Jamaica at the aptly named “Global Reggae Conference” held at the University of the West Indies, Mona. There, I presented a paper about mento music’s role in the 1968 Festival Song Competition on a panel that included Ken Bilby (from the Center for Black Music Research) and L’Antoinette Stines (of L’ACADCO). It went great, and a great honor for me to share a panel with two really important thinkers. I also met with a publisher about getting my dissertation published and picked up a couple copies of the new issue of Caribbean Quarterly in which I have an article about the earliest days of Jamaica’s recording industry (“Calling All Speechmakers” about mento and the aesthetics of the early recording industry – pick it up if you can!).

The panels were really outstanding and brought together a BUNCH of people doing really interesting work on all facets of Jamaica’s music (folks like Herbie Miller, Lara Elizabeth Putnam, Louis Chude-Sokei, Marvin Sterling, Klive Walker, Amon Saba Saakana [aka Sebastian Clarke to reggae fans], Dennis Howard, Michael Veal, Carter Van Pelt and Clinton Hutton among many, many more). Roger Steffens did a few really interesting presentations about his work, as well. Complementing the academic work was a series of concerts. Lunchtime events included performances by the Alpha Boys Band, the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, the Blue Glaze Mento Band (it’s leader and banjoist Nelson Chambers is shown below, left) and a kumina group led by the fantastic young drummer and singer, Bongo Shem (below, right):

Nelson Chambers from Blue GlazeBongo Shem Kumina
There were two nighttime concerts as well. The first included Lovindeer (below, left), Big Youth (below, right) and Sugar Minott:

LovindeerJah Youth

I’m sure I don’t have to say how great they were. Interestingly, the Lunar Eclipse happened as just as Lovindeer performed Bob Marley’s Concrete Jungle (No sun will shine in my day today / The high yellow moon won’t come out to play / Darkness has covered my light / And has changed my day into night), but no word on whether it was the inspiration behind him singing it.
The second concert, “A Tribute to Mikey Smith,” featured Cherry Natural, Oku Onuora, Mutabaruka and Mervyn Morris among many others. I didn’t get any pictures of that one (unfortunately, I missed most of it) but that which I did catch was awesome.
Although the papers and concerts were great, some of my favorite moments took place outside the panels, including this one here where (left to right), Clinton Hutton, Garth White, Colby Graham and I talked about some early photos Colby (who seems to know where to find ALL the pictures) had put his hands on:

Clinton Hutton, Colby Graham and Garth White
Later on, I sat with a bunch of really interesting folks from University arguing the finer points of Leonard Howell and the Rasta enclave Pinnacle. All in all, a really rewarding trip.

RIP Jah Jerry

24 08 2007

August 11, 1921 – August 13 2007


13 07 2007




So I took the ‘G’ train. I’ve never taken the ‘G’ train. NO ONE has ever taken the ‘G’ train. But two Dutch stops later ( Hoyt-Schermerhorn and Bedford-Nostrand} I was in Bed-Sty, past alternating magnificent and run-down town houses, passing under the only ponderosa pine I’ve ever seen on a NY street, approaching Von King Park. Most NYC maps call it Tompkins Park. Even Google Maps couldn’t place Von King Park!

The park has a built-in sunken amphitheater with wide cement slab seating in curved rows. The crowd is mostly Jamaican, the requisite Japanese couple and one other white person who may or may not have been an ethnomusicologist. Dinner is orange cod fish cakes and leathery fried plantains. Onstage is Junior Reid.

In the Mid 80s, like everyone else, I settled for his move to frontman in Black Uhuru without really letting go of Michael Rose. But Brutal was better than anyone expected and since then Reid has had a strong career as performer, producer and record company exec. Along the way Reid has skillfully inched from classic crooning reggae into dancehall bombast, seldom abandoning strident lyrics for rhythmic fluff.

Backed by the New Kingston Band, tonight Reid offered snatches of songs like “Dread Locks In The White House,” dropped to his knees with convincing sincerity to wail “Cry Now,” and brought the crowd to his feet with his classic, “One Blood.” Beautiful weather, a one-love vibe, smiles all around – exactly why we live in ol’ New York, even if sometimes it’s hard to get there.


A Sprinkling of Dub

28 06 2007

Today the ARChive got a package from Sanctuary Records that included some really amazing albums.  In the glamorous world of ARChiving, what happens normally is that material shows up, it gets cataloged and it gets put away.  Now and again, we pull things aside we want to hear and since I opened the box, THIS one went directly into the CD player before any of the others:

WOW is this record good.  It was good when it came out in 1975, and this reissue does NOTHING to hurt its reputation or sound.  If’n you like the dub music, then this is a must MUST have.  Featuring Tommy McCook and King Tubby, better dub you would be hard pressed to find.

In addition to some awesome music, the liner notes are by David Katz, an author whose writing I am always a fan of.  His work is just so filled with tid bits of great information.  For example, he wrote: “In 1954, Tommy travelled with guitarist Ernest Ranglin and other Jamaican musicians to Nassau, capital city of the Bahamas island chain, for an extended engagement at a club called Zanzibar.  When the Zanzibar gig ended the following year, Tommy drifted through various dance bands active on the tourist circuit, where he was frustrated by the emphbasis on calypso and rumba; no one, it seemed, was there to hear jazz, which was all that McCook was motivated to play.”

I think Katz is right – no one was there to hear jazz (I mean, wasn’t that one of the reasons Joe Harriott left Jamaica for England in the early 1950s?).  But I would argue that another factor that gave rise to McCook’s problems in the Bahamas was that the Jamaican musicians working there in the period Katz describes were not members of the Bahamas Musicians Union.  In the mid-1950s, Bahamian musicians become vocal about their belief that the Jamaican musicians working in tourism – of which there were many – were taking away jobs. (How many sax players were there who could compete with Tommy McCook?)  In 1955, around the time McCook’s engagement at Zanzibar “ended,” the Bahamian Musicians Union clamped down on Jamaican musicians working in clubs like Zanzibar.  In fact, period newspaper coverage specifically lists McCook as one of several “offending” musicians.  Shortly after the fracas, many musicians (including McCook) returned to Jamaica where, as Katz so accurately put it, they “drifted” through the tourist circuit – playing calypso, rumba and the occasional mento on bandstands for tourists.  The rest, as they say, is history.  If McCook had been allowed to stay in Bahamas, we might not have had a Skatalites.  Or the Dub Station album.

By the way, those looking for a great book on dub music need look no further than Michael Veal’s Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae.

It’s a fabulous book that’s just come out on the subject and one that any dub mixer should read.  (By the way, party people, Dub is a Weapon – fresh from a tour backing Lee Perry – is having their album release party this Saturday [June 30] at Zebulon, 258 Wythe in Williamsburg.  Go.  Enjoy.  It’ll be awesome.)


Reggae. ReggaeReggaeReggae.

23 06 2007


One afternoon in late 2002 (November?), while I was living in Jamaica doing fieldwork on mento for my dissertation, I bumped into Colby Graham at the National Library’s circulation desk.  I don’t exactly remember why we started talking – maybe someone suggested we compare notes? – but I’m sure glad we did.  Colby was there that day doing some research for his magazine Vintage Boss. I’d not seen Vintage Boss before (it first appeared in May 2002 and the earliest issues were snatched up quickly by the Kingston cognoscenti), but I was struck by the work Colby was doing.  Not only was he searching down and writing about some of the most talked about and often least acknowledged people in Jamaican music history (particularly from the ska, rocksteady and reggae eras), but he seemed to be constanly scouring newspapers and photo archives in search of images that could help him chronicle and reclaim facets of Jamaica’s music history from obscurity.

Much of what he’s found (and continues to uncover) is astonishing, and some of it is now up on the Vintage Boss blog.  For those that grew up in Jamaica, Colby’s work helps enliven the musical past.  For fans of Jamaican music around the world, his work helps contextualize – indeed, helps put faces to – the seemingly innumerable and often anonymous vintage records widely available from stores in the US, stores in Japan, and from vendors on the internet and on eBay.  I understand that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 issues (many on their way) and a dozen interview DVDs.  These should all be more widely available in the coming months – if memory serves, I think he got a distribution deal – but if you just can’t wait, back issues are sometimes available through Ernie B’s.

Point is, I haven’t come across many talking about Vintage Boss and this is a shame, so I want to get the word out.  In my opinion, it provides some of the finest coverage of early Jamaican music and should be required reading by anyone interested in its history.


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