25.11.17

Reggae in the UK



Just last week I finally smacked down the cash for two records I had always wanted but which had proved elusive for years. The first, Alton Ellis's "Some Talk" is sometimes called "English Talk" and is famous for its section where Alton puts on a cockney accent "Hiya mate, a cuppa tay, a slice a cake". When he sings "I wish I had a big woman to keep this cold from off my back" - you can just imagine the young Alton moved to London from the Caribbean and contending with the bitter winter. I've spied him once or twice over the years in London - the last time when Sacha and I were with his baby in Brockwell Park - there he was, on his own, catching the breeze.

The second track is Harry Toddler's "Donkey Kick". Harry Toddler is a bonafide Dancehall MC. He's not one of the renta-ragga UK wannabes that, for instance, litter Dubstep. I don't know the background of how Wiley got him to version Eskimo but the track is possibly the ultimate fulfillment, the apogee of the UK-JA axis that ran like a thread of gold through UK Pop music. From The Beatles "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" at one end to the Nuum at the other.

It was queer to (suddenly) reflect that the two tracks are some kind of Alpha and Omega. There might be earlier or later examples - but I reckon these two are as good cases as exist. It was Luke Davis who first pointed out to me that Grime was largely made by second generation African immigrants to the UK, rather than as had always been the case with Black music in the UK, by people of Jamaican descent. However, at that stage in the early Noughties you couldn't really hear the African sonics. "Donkey Kick" is a case in point, the UK was still in thrall to the armored personality of the Jamaican sound.

Cut to 2017 and Yungen's "Bestie". This track, by an MC born in Jamaica and raised in South London, couldn't sound more African if it tried. The auto-tuned vocals are straight out of the (modern) Afrobeat textbook. The video, shot in Dubai, further scrambles the signals.



Honestly? I don't really like it. I mean, it's OK but... In the same way Stormzy leaves me feeling empty, like he's going through the motions, I don't connect with it. I know it's possibly a generational thing but actually I wonder if there isn't some fundamental component missing that I look for in music - some shade of psychic pain which I can recognise. Whatever is missing is definitely an intangible quality of Reggae.



This one J Hus's "Did You See" works the same formula, clearly African - but, yeah, more likeable!