Reggae continues to inspire International musicians Image

by Jordan Delahaye

The eccentric musician Rafter Roberts, hails from San Diego, California - a city that is no stranger to reggae culture. Artists like Jimmy Cliff, Etana and Raging Fyah are just a few of the Jamaican musicians who are frequent headliners at various shows and concerts hosted in the region. These artists are working hard to meet the demand for quality reggae acts, a market that is constantly growing, and usually find they must play alongside local acts that sometimes just don't make the cut.

"Living in Southern California there are so very many terrible white-boy-reggae-bands! My drummer Nathan loves reggae as much as I do and one night the feeling was just right and we started making this record.

"[We were] pounding our tracks into an ancient and huge 4-track machine from the 70s. I slowly kept working on it as the inspirations came. Every step from then 'till now has been a total delight. I don’t think I’ve ever danced more in the studio while making a record. The music just feels so good to me. I hope it feels great to you too," Roberts writes on about his latest release titled "It's Reggae".

Signed to the Asthmatic Kitty record label, Roberts has been in the music business for some nine years now as both a producer and musician, even operating his own music studio in San Diego. You probably wouldn't have expected it from the indie pop musician but Roberts was able to produce a very inspired reggae compilation in "It's Reggae".

According to Roberts, the initial motivation to do the album came to him during his vacation in Maui. Hawaii is another part of reggae music's vast diaspora and artists like up and comer OMI have enjoyed a surge in popularity in the region recently. While listening to a local FM radio station, Roberts and his wife couldn't help but take note of all the reggae music that was being played. The inspiration didn't come in the way that you would expect however, as Roberts was struck by how "bad" the music was but expressed that he was still moved to explore the genre.

"I came back and started soaking in great reggae. The Congos, The Upsetters, Trojan and Studio One and Lee Scratch Perry compilations galore - so many amazing albums," Roberts wrote.

The inspiration from those albums is evident in "It's Reggae". Ska meets techno and rock steady is reimagined as Roberts attempts to explore the full gamut of reggae music, all the while offering his own unique artistic interpretation.

It would have been interesting to hear some vocals on the tracks outside of the backing vocals that are included in some. Nonetheless it is impressive how many different elements of reggae music Roberts is able to completely explore on the one album. Although it is all about the base in the final track, "The Other Side", Roberts also highlighted the horns, drums and rhythmic guitar throughout the album. All of the sounds are developed and reinterpreted with a keen attention to detail and true reggae enthusiasts will be able to appreciate his dynamic approach to the genre.

There is a futuristic twang in songs like "Three Year Love" that introduces abstract elements within the familiar, but the entire album overall channels a heady dub flavour. The track "Computer Chip Cory" has a notable island feel which is probably owed to what sounds like electric steel pans accompanying the flourish of horns on the track.

The album also carries the steady, relaxed vibration that is usually exemplified in reggae music. The breadth of what Roberts has accomplished with "It's Reggae" is by no means diminutive but the musician is able carry it off with a refreshing and subtle easiness that seemed natural. The album never feels rushed or lethargic and the music progresses in a way which allows you to fully savour the ideas it presents.

Roberts starts the album off with a steady yet upbeat tempo on "Wedding Ring Modulator". The track could be called a tribute to dub music and the influence of pioneers like Lee Scratch Perry is unmistakable. "Road to Hanna" is probably one of the most imaginative tracks on an album filled with imagination and presents the lighter, more free spirited side to reggae. "Shudder Lee" with its heavy, grungier sounds amplifies the angst sometimes associated with the genre's more rebellious factions.

In a way, Rafter's creative liberty with “It’s Reggae” is a form of rebellion in itself against the conventional and the expected.

"Spy Boat to Milan" showcases the militant ra-ta-ta-ta-tat of the kette drums used in Nyabinghi and "Christina 1981", like many of the tracks, has that catchy, hypnotic rhythmic progression that would be interesting to hear accompanying strong vocals.

With its guitar riffs and horn troupe "Kusterica vs Markovic" incorporates some Mediterranean flavour but for the most part the album is an ode to reggae - one drop, lover’s rock and all. "Translation: Success" could have easily been the album’s title track as it exemplifies the sonic bridge which Roberts successfully uses to link both his own unique pop palette with the timeless genre of traditional reggae.

What Roberts has accomplished creatively with "It's Reggae" points to a bright future for the reggae genre. If reggae music is going to continue to grow the sound needs to evolve and that won't happen without musicians like Roberts who are willing to take creative liberties within the genre while preserving the integrity of sound.

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