Archive for the ‘Reggae’ Category

Who? The Burns Unit

Title: Side Show
Proper Music
Tell me more:
A super-dooper Scottish supergroup featuring Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, Future Pilot AKA, King Creosote and other artists that may or may not be known south of Coldstream.
The Lowdown:
This eight-piece came together at Burnsong in rural Scotland in 2006, which is, I gather, a showcase for diverse talents to come together and bash and clash and see what comes out at the end. Nothing to do with Rabbie Burns it appears and the album features ten original tracks. Given that the backgrounds of the Unit are folk, alt-country, rap and a band that can best be described as indie-Indian there is a fascinating breadth of ideas and sounds on Side Show. There is the Kate Bush-esque Sorrys, featuring the enchanting vocals of Emma Pollock, the campfire niceties of You Need Me To Need This and the emotionally, and politically, charged Send Them Kids To War. With such a range it almost feels like a compilation.

Anything else? How many bands can claim that their formal debut appearance on stage played to a sold-out crowd of 1200?

Who? Natacha Atlas

Title: Mounqaliba
World Village
Tell me more:
Atlas traverses borders with roots or residencies in North Africa, London and Belgium and she blends her Middle Eastern heritage with the sounds of the west. Mounqaliba is inspired by the poems of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and, in addition to original works, contains covers of Francoise Hardy and Nick Drake songs.
The Lowdown:
Among the tracks I would like played at my funeral is Chariots, by Transglobal Underground, not for any thematic reasoning but purely because it is one of the most endearing and atmospheric tracks ever recorded, with Atlas providing it with her majestic voice. Mounqaliba is written almost entirely by Atlas and Samy Bishai, who grew up in Egypt, the orchestral players are Turkish and Atlas sings in Arabic, with interludes in French on Francoise Hardy’s La Nuit Est Sur La Ville and English on Nick Drake’s River Man. Atlas moves easily through the languages, adding beauty and grace to the non-Arabic tracks while adding some bite when she sings in Arabic. It would be difficult to pigeon-hole this album as World, something Putamayo would make a compilation out of, but like Transglobal Underground, or Temple of Sound, this is an album that reflects the sound, sights and feel of the modern world.

Anything else? In 2001, she was appointed by former Irish President Mary Robinson as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Conference Against Racism.

Who? Stars and Sons

Title: Good Morning Mother
Twice Burnt Records
Tell me more:
England’s new white hope, an over-excited Q magazine writer has gone as far as describing them as “the next big thing.” A little premature perhaps considering they had a single out in 2008, and one to herald this, their debut.
The Lowdown:
In the UK’s fast-flowing, eat-em-and-shit-em, music scene, you need something to stand out. Doing 30 gigs in a week, including places like Bristol Prison, will get half-page spreads in The Sun. Judging by the reviews they can cut it on record too. In The Ocean, that debut from two years ago, is a rousing, zany, family and student-friendly single; Drop and Roll is a more mellow accompaniment with keyboards and a captivating chorus and there’s many swings and roundabouts on the bright and breezy Untested, Untried. It’s poppy, catchy and inoffensive but also seems like many ideas are rehashed and that they rely too much on enthusiasm and a carefree attitude, which is perfectly acceptable but may not be enough to fuel them beyond or even to a second album.

Anything else? Founder Mike Lord is a former bin-man and classical music graduate who has a love of musicals. This may explain much of the contents of Good Morning Mother.

Who? Trinity Roots

Title: Music Is Choice
The Label
Tell me more:
Before signing off in 2005, Warren Maxwell, Riki Gooch and Rio Hunuki-Hemopo, released two albums that sold extremely well in New Zealand despite not being bothered by advertising or mass radio play. Music Is Choice features tracks from two concerts at the Wellington Town Hall, from August 2004, and six months later, which was their farewell gig. A second disk features a 71-minute documentary on the band and various bits and pieces.
The Lowdown:
Trinity Roots come from the same musical whanau as Salmonella Dub, Cornerstone Roots or Fat Freddys Drop, a select group of New Zealand bands that take the essence, and heart, of reggae and provide it with funk and soul. It is a beautiful, measured sound, wonderful for a leisured day in the garden or in the park, or while ironing the shirts. As a live show, it would appear Trinity Roots had it all and this album captures them at their peak. But while this may be a retro album, and one with some fantastic extras, they’re not a footnote of history, as they play around the country next month after reforming recently.

Anything else? The artwork you see is the cover, folded out. The segment on the bottom right is what you’ll see in the shop.

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Hikoikoi are the kind of band the world needs just now in these unstable, uncertain times; an act that has an unshakeable dedication to peace and equality.

Thankfully, they’re also a damn good band, an excellent self-titled debut album released last year heralding their unique form of roots reggae.

Hikoikoi are heavily involved in the Parihaka Peace Festival in Taranaki, and Hikoikoi, the album, was laced with conscious-heavy tracks like Jah Armour and A Deeper Revelation.

With that in mind it’s a little of a surprise to hear from dreadlocked bassist James Coyle that Hikoikoi’s sound is evolving away from the sounds that has its roots in Jamaica.

At the office where he works part-time as an architect in Wellington, Coyle told me more about the new direction and something that won’t change – they’re dedication to just causes

James Coyle, Paul Wickham and Ben Wood

Porky: What’s the plans for the band just now?

James Coyle: We’re recording a lot in the studio just now, and have finished one song that we’ll be releasing in September on a nationwide tour. It’s called Timewalking and signals new ground for the band. Quite often we have been focused on roots-reggae but this album will have elements of rock. A lot of the other songs that we’ve demoed for this upcoming album have a harder edge, they’re less cruisy than previous songs.

Porky: And what of the lyrics and themes on the new material, does that have a harder edge as well?

JC: We have a strong message, that of peace, but also a strong interest in past events, for example, atrocities carried out during World War 2, and also in this land, issues of colonisation. In the past we’ve supported the kaupapa of quite a few information concerts, like one in Tuhoe to support in the struggle of the people there. The police raids (in 2007) and what’s also happening now (the Government’s rejection of the Te Urewaras being returned to Tuhoe) – I like to think that music is part of a solidarity campaign, to push for past wrongs to be corrected.

(for more on Tuhoe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ng%C4%81i_T%C5%ABhoe)

(And for more on Te Urewara and the Tuhoe tribe: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/3677975/Tuhoe-negotiators-told-Urewera-off-the-table)

Porky: Can you give the readers an indication of what to expect on the single?

JC: We have a guy called Kieran Rynhart directing the video and it looks like it will be an interesting one. He’s starting from scratch with an image of a land that has nothing, then develops with mountains growing from the oceans, animals inhabiting the land and it goes through to the early discoverers of New Zealand, the colonisation of New Zealand and looks into the future.

Porky: Any idea when the album might come out?

JC: March next year. We’ll also be touring then.

Porky: Did you pick up some influences from other bands or just decide you wanted to do more rockier sounds?

JC: I think it’s the influences within us. There are three of us in the band with our personalities shaping the band. For example, Paul (Wickham), the singer – his previous band was much influenced by rock. Roots-reggae is something that unites us all but I’m very much into jazz, particularly Miles Davis.

Porky: It’s interesting how you are changing, as the debut album was very much a reggae record with various other influences.

JC: Looking back, we really dig that sound but we also found it quite cruisy and we thought that things should get a bit more intense. We have a pretty intense live show and the album will reflect that live sound. Our drummer, Ben (Wood), who also does a fair bit of producing, has a lot of experience in drum’n’bass so he also adds an interesting dimension in the studio.

Porky: Where are you recording, in the boat sheds again?

JC: We worked in two studios at Hikoikoi Reserve (in Petone) but Paul has since moved his business to Akaratawa, which is that crazy road that goes from Upper Hutt to Waikanae. It’s a beautiful property, the river runs through it and there’s plenty of swimming holes. It’s a great location and the garage where we record has an interesting sound that’s impacting upon on the band.

Porky: You say Paul is a businessman and you’re an architecture undergraduate, so to some people it might be a bit of a contradiction that Hikoikoi is about peace, justice and equality.

JC: I guess the only people who have time to be actively fighting for those things are devoting their whole life to it or allowed the time to do it, which we don’t. But when you talk about business, Paul is a traditional boat builder, so he’s working with his hands every day, and he’s a very humble man so when it comes to writing lyrics and composing music he brings that humbleness into it. He really thinks about the world, and the suffering of people less fortunate than we are in New Zealand. One track from the debut album, Sudan Sun, was projecting ourselves into their shoes and imagining what it must be like to be that hungry and oppressed.

Porky: I was reading a piece on a blog that said you were more of a consciousness reggae band than an activist reggae band, but it sounds like you’re a bit of both.

JC: We’re nothing like some activists, there are some activists who devote their lives to changing the corrupt systems. It takes a lot of commitment to be an activist and it is an aspiration of ours to devote more of our time to that.


Hikoikoi playing in Wellington 2007


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