This coming Friday, Singapore will be participating in International Reggae Day for the very first time, and of course, the good folks from Singapura Dub Club will front and center leading the festivities.
Held at Mariko's, the selectas and sound systems on the lineup for the huge party includes some of finest talents in regional roots culture, namely Jakarta's Agent K (Yella Sky Soundsystem), Submerge (Reverb), Rumshot (Dub Skank'in Hifi) and Adonis (Kilowatt Soundsystem) alongside special guest Denny Frus (lead singer of famed Indonesian ska outfit Monkey Boots) who will be jamming with Singapura Dub Club's house band Reggae Remedy.
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Fittingly, Lion City's first lady of Irie herself, Masia One, will be hosting and toasting this celebration of reggae, dub, dancehall and ska. The renowned MC is deeply entrenched and respected within the reggae community around world, having played and recorded in cities such as Toronto, Los Angeles, Singapore, and most notably, Kingston, Jamaica. Whether she's collaborating with Sizzla Kolanji or sharing the stage with the legendary Toots Hibbert (of Toots & the Maytals), the vivacious MC is generally regarded Singapore's reggae queen (read VICE's profile on her here).
In the lead up to International Reggae Day Singapore 2016, we asked The Irietones frontwoman to dish out a crash course in reggae culture by picking out some of the most essential reggae or reggae-influenced records that she has in her collection.
Augustus Pablo - King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (1976)
Dub, the riddim and the music, is the heart of reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and even EDM. The Singapura Dub Club is named after the inspiration from the Kingston Dub Club after I first experienced this special and sacred space on the hills of St. Andrew - the incredible hand built sound system, and the legendary musicians I have met as a result of this. I started to understand more about dub music when I received an Instagram message from Ras Jammy of the group Suns of Dub inviting me to join them in the studio.
Not realizing the figures involved (and in my experience of artists using “studio time” as a pickup line), I arrived to meet Jammy and Addis Pablo (son of Augustus Pablo) and sat and listened to an archive of unreleased Augustus Pablo melodica sessions and dubs. I had to opportunity to record with Rockers Sound Station sound man Gabre Selassi, perform at the Augustus Pablo tribute in Kingston last year with Earl “Chinna” Smith on guitar and currently booking Europe through Rocker’s International Agency.
The first Singapura Dub Club featured Suns of Dub in Singapore and has led to many reggae connections across Southeast Asia. The root of Augustus Pablo and the significance of his music has such a profound influence on my life.
Bob Marley - Babylon by Bus (1978)
Bob Marley is quintessential to any reggae essentials list. This double record includes hits like 'Stir it Up', 'Positive Vibration', 'Exodus', 'War', 'Jamming'…every single is a hit off this LP. I’ve traveled to so many places in the world, and now discovering Southeast Asia, Ive come to realise that Bob Marley is the biggest influence on reggae not just in the music, but in terms of the positive message, Rastafari culture, fashion, food and even his love for futebal (soccer). Bob was more than an artist, but a cultural movement. In 2015, we had the honour of kicking off our Singapura Dub Club rooftop events Irie Vibrations with Donisha Pendergast, Bob Marley’s granddaughter here in Singapore.
Toots & The Maytals - Funky Kingston (1972 UK, 1975 US)
Toots & The Maytals holds a special memory for me because I attended their concert with my brother in Vancouver, Canada. I couldn’t believe the lead singer Toots Hibbert was 63 at the time, but jumping dancing and full of energy on stage without skipping a beat as a vocalist. Musically the sound crossed genres and was so infectious; one part cool reggae, one part soul crooning and all melodious energy. I was so inspired I told my brother one day I would share a stage with this band.
He laughed and said, “Whatever, good luck trying”. Years later while in Jamaica, I had a chance to open for Toots Hibbert! I announced on stage that my dream had been fulfilled, I called my brother on my cellphone from that stage in Kingston, Jamaica and Toot’s had a chat with him!
Lee Scratch Perry with The Upsetters - Super Ape (1976)
Lee Scratch is the “Miyazaki” of reggae to me. If the imagination of Totoro could be expressed as a reggae song, this is Perry’s work not only as a producer but as an inventor with innovative studio techniques and a pioneer in the development of dub music. He is incredibly prolific releasing a new album almost every year and adopted the effecting of vocals and remixing instrumental tracks very early. He worked with the best of the best like Bob Marley and The Wailers, Junior Murvin, Max Romeo. The Singapura Dub Club plans to work together with The Projector later this year to screen the movie The Upsetter - a documentary film about Perry that premiered at SXSW Film Festival.
Peter Tosh, various
Any album by Peter Tosh really would be my most essential reggae musical documents…it’s like asking a parent to pick their favourite child. Legalize It (1976), Equal Rights (1977), Wanted Dread & Alive (1981), Mama Africa (1983) are notable selections. I was originally attracted to Peter Tosh single 'Steppin’ Razor' as the lyrics sing: "I’m a walking razor, don’t you watch my size I’m dangerous." I’m a 5 foot 1 female emcee and reggae chanter - I definitely related to these words.
Tanya Stephens - Rebelution (2006)
I first heard Tanya Stephens single 'Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet' and fell in love with her raspy voice and unapologetic rudegyal swag. With Rebelution, the lead single 'These Streets' became an anthem for me…not cause I had a ghetto boo that was neglecting me, but because it was finally a different type of love song coming from a female that was telling it like it is. This record took me through my college years and gave me an extra gangster bounce to my step.
Sizzla Kolanji - Black Woman and Child (1997)
Sizzla Kolanji is undoubtedly one of the best reggae artists of all time - from lyrics, vocals, diversity of sound, production and the quality of every note played by each musician. 'Praise Ye Jah' when I used to feel scared walking through a bad neighborhood at night - I would just sing it at the top of my lungs ("and I’m still alive aren’t I?").
I had the blessing of recording with Sizzla Kolanji at his studio in August Town before leaving Kingston and this man would sit down quietly, read his Maccabee Bible then suddenly (as if told by Jah this was the right moment), go into the vocal booth and execute the perfect song in one take…then return, greet me quietly with a “Yes, Chiney” return to reading his book. Check out the collaboration that came from this time called 'Freedom'.
Buju Banton - Til’ Shiloh (1995)
The fourth album by Jamaican dancehall artist Buju Banton was his international breakthrough. Where dancehall often focused on more sexual and party themes, this established that a dancehall artist could also release a project that explores newfound faith in the Rastafari movement. Songs like 'Til I’m Laid to Rest' and 'Untold Stories' still held Gargamel’s rudeboy style while introducing a roots reggae influence. Til’ Shiloh means "Forever" and singles like 'Champion' have come to represent dancehall music international. #FreeBuju.
Chronixx - Dread and Terrible (2004)
Chronixx, alongside artists like Protoje, Jah 9, Kelissa, Jesse Royal and Kabaka Pyramid are leading a musical movement known as the Reggae Revival. (Please check out ALL these artists!) To me it’s incredibly inspiring to listen to the music of a younger generation of Jamaican musicians that hold the wisdom and knowledge of roots reggae, but have the perspective of today’s more contemporary themes.
The Major Lazer curated mixtape 'Start A Fire' showcased the catchy melodies, relevant topics and charisma of this artist. I was in New York at the time and there were many whispers about this young artist from Jamaica being Bob Marley reincarnate. I’m so inspired by this artist and last year in celebration of Singapore 50, my Singapura reggae band The Irietones released a cover of Chronixx’s 'Smile Jamaica' with our own version 'Smile Singapura'.
Vybz Kartel - Pon Di Gaza (2010)
I’m going to get so much flack for this one but I gotta be honest about the records that influenced me, and my time in Jamaica was highlighted by dancehall street parties where this music was the staple. It was amazing to me that a pothole riddled parking lot that sold normal wares during the day, became such a glamorous affair at night where people entered the party like a Soul Train debut - creatively showing off the craziest fashion, latest dance moves and always done with the utmost of confidence.
As a songwriter that had just moved from the LA scene to Kingston, Jamaica, Kartel doesn’t need to write a hook, the quality and sound of his voice IS the hook. He would take simple pieces of everyday life, and turn them into hit songs that set the trends for dancehall music over the past decade. The messages of the song are like cartoon violence to me, so outlandishly rude that they can be hilarious and I don’t take them seriously. (Admittedly the negative intonations of the songs are harmful to a younger generation).
There is a growing trend and group of dancehall dancers here in Singapore that are amazing and enjoy Kartel songs because likely they don’t actually understand half the things that are being said.
International Reggae Day Singapore 2016 happens this Friday, 1 July at Mariko's. Important note: Singapura Dub Club will be documenting our reggae DJs, musicians, dancers and fans here in Singapore for a "Reggae Family Portrait". If you are interested in being part of the picture, please RSVP via email@example.com and turn up at 8pm sharp in front of Mariko's (no island time please).