Category Archives: Jamaica

Tough and Soulful: The Mighty Diamonds

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Vocal trio the Mighty Diamonds were one of the most internationally popular reggae groups to emerge from the ’70s roots era. More accessible than many other roots outfits, the Diamonds boasted soulful, gorgeously pure harmonies and tight, catchy songwriting, much of it from within the group itself. They were devout Rastafarians, but balanced their spiritual and political messages with sweet romantic material, which gave them a more universal appeal than militant groups like Culture or Black Uhuru. Regardless of whether they were singing love songs or protest anthems, the Mighty Diamonds brought a startling emotional commitment to their best material, and their debut album, Right Time, still stands as one of roots reggae’s all-time classics.

The Mighty Diamonds

The Mighty Diamonds

The Mighty Diamonds were formed in 1969 in the Kingston ghetto of Trenchtown, also home to Bob Marley. From day one onward, their lineup consisted of founder and harmony singer Pat “Lloyd” Ferguson (aka Judge Diamond, the Judge), lead singer Donald Shaw (aka Tabby Diamond, the Prophet), and harmony singer Fitzroy Simpson (aka Bunny Diamond, the Jester). Their sweet sound and polished choreography were distinctly inspired by the Motown groups of the ’60s. During the early ’70s, they recorded for several producers, including Stranger Cole and Rupie Edwards, without much success. Finally, in 1973, they caught on at Byron Lee‘s Dynamic Sounds studio and notched their first hit with “Shame and Pride.”

From there, the group moved on to Joseph “JoJo” Hoo Kim‘s Channel One imprint in 1975. They scored two quick hits with “Country Living” and “Hey Girl,” and then had their biggest success yet with “Right Time.” Signed to a major-label deal with Virgin, the Mighty Diamonds issued their first album, also titled Right Time, in 1976. It was an instant classic, tackling a multitude of social and spiritual issues with powerful yet graceful music, and spawned further hits in “I Need a Roof,” “Have Mercy,” and “Africa.” Now stars in the U.K. as well as Jamaica, the group traveled to New Orleans to record their follow-up LP, Ice on Fire. Produced by Allen Toussaint, the album was an uneasy marriage of reggae and American R&B, and was received poorly by the group’s roots-minded fans.

Retreating from crossover territory, the Mighty Diamonds returned to Channel One and cut several strong roots albums over the next few years: 1978’s Stand Up for Your Judgement, 1979’s Tell Me What’s Wrong, and the most acclaimed of the bunch, 1979’s Deeper Roots. In the early ’80s, the group started working with producer Gussie Clarke, reworking old Studio One rhythm tracks into new songs on their 1981 album Changes. One of those new songs, “Pass the Kouchie” (or sometimes “Kutchie”), was a major hit in Jamaica, and in 1982 it was covered by the Musical Youthfor the U.S. and U.K. smash “Pass the Dutchie” (substituting a type of cooking pot for the original’s marijuana slang).

 

In the mid-’80s, the Diamonds began to incorporate the digital sounds of ragga into their music, on albums like 1985’sStruggling and the Clarke-produced efforts The Real Enemy (1987) and Get Ready (1988). Additionally, several collections of the group’s unreleased work for Channel One appeared during the decade. Their recording pace slowed a bit in the ’90s, though they still came up with fine new albums like 1993’s smooth, soul-oriented Paint It Red and 1994’s harder-hitting Speak the Truth. The group also continued its extensive international touring schedule up into the new millennium, and kept up a steady string of appearances at the annual Reggae Sunsplash Festival. (AMG)

 Classics

Track Listing:

01 Pass The Kouchie

02 No Pay Day Love

03 Natural Thing

04 Absent From The Heart

05 Book Worm

06 Come Tomorrow

07 Dem Under Fire

08 I Wanna Dance With You

09 Ku Deh

10 Lost Without Your Magic

11 What A Crazy Life

12 Your Hearts Desire

13 Pass The Knowledge

M.i.g.h.t.y

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Heal thyself: Cymande

Cymande

Cymande

Wo!

Just the first day of the working week and one’s soul and body is already aching. No complaints, mind. Just a cold assessment of the current reality. Several more similarly long and full days await until the weekend arrives and I depart on another trip. This time to my favorite part of the world, India. Mumbai for a couple of short weekend days and then the nation’s capital for meetings and hopefully a bit of down time to stalk through the streets with all my senses open to ‘receptive’.

 

One does find there are days and weeks of days when despair and sadness are hard to keep at bay. What with all the shit happening in the Middle East and the suffering and rudeness of the ruling classes towards anyone who is not one of ‘us’ is enough to make the heart break.

When I get into those kind of places I generally find a long walk outside followed by a cold beer and some fine tunes return my inner barometer to the normal range. And over the weekend the tunes I turned to were from an old band with the slightly hard to pronounce name of Cymande (Shamaanday).

I used to spy this album in record stores years back and inevitably paused to take in the intriguing cover art. There was something just off beat enough about it to want me to try it out but of course I would opt for the more familiar product. In those days of youth when one is supposed to be full of adventure, I have to confess my musical tastes were firmly unadventerous. But let’s not look back.

Except perhaps to give praise. And much praise is due to these chaps with the unusual name. A group of West Indian immigrants in the UK, Cymande mixed together reggae, proto-dub, funk, sweet soul harmonies and a righteous message on their very limited number of records.   Except for a tiny number of music snobs, club hounds and critics the records didn’t get much uptake; the band disbanded in the late 70s.

Rediscovered by samplers a number of decades on, Cymande has probably reached a wider audience in the past 20 years then they ever did in their heyday.

This is very groovy music. Listen. And you’ll instantly be aware of its healing qualities. The deep throbbing bass shakes the blues loose (or perhaps packs it further down?) and slowly draws you to surrender.   Like a musical body tonic, Cymande, are an elixir.

Heal thyself!

The Message

Track Listing:

01 Zion I

02 One More

03 Getting It Back

04 Listen

05 Rickshaw

06 Dove

07 Bra

08 The Message

09 Rastafarian Folk Song

C Y M A N D E

 

In at the Beginning: Ernest Ranglin

Ernest Ranglin

Ernest Ranglin

Ernest Ranglin did not teach Bob Marley how to play the guitar.  But he does take credit for inventing ska, and being the first one to play guitar in a style now known as reggae. The man who seems to have been involved in the very genesis of reggae and popular Jamaican music of almost every description is still going strong, pushing the boundaries of both reggae and jazz as he pulls the strings on his well travelled guitar.

Here is a link to a recent interview with him from the online reggae magazine United Reggae.  As you read, why don’t you listen to this lovely but often overlooked album with a cool jazz feel, Now is the Time.

 

Really cool accomplished slick gliding fun and lively.

Now Is The Time

Track Listing:

01 Sly Mongoose

02 Love And Happiness

03 Limbo

04 Ranglypso

05 Freeway

06 Ripe Banana

07 Funny

08 Taboo

09 Cruxian Dance

10 Con Alma

11 Fools Rush In

12 Mountain Melody

13 Lullaby Of The Leaves

14 Fly Me To The Moon

15 Now Is The Time

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