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Jamaica's Hottest New-School Reggae Artists Return To Roots

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Jamaica's Hottest New-School Reggae Artists Return To Roots

Music

JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

In Jamaica, there's a revival going on: a return to roots as in roots reggae. A younger generation of musicians in the birthplace of reggae music has come to dominate the scene with a fresh take on an old-school sound.

Baz Dreisinger has more.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All of the foreign ladies, make some noise...

BAZ DREISINGER, BYLINE: Live bands, soulful music, substantive lyrics. I could be describing the Jamaican music scene circa 1976, the heyday of Bob Marley. But I'm talking about a sound that dominated at this year's Reggae Sumfest, Jamaica's biggest annual music festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHRONIXX: (Singing) Oh, the feeling in Jamaica today, girl...

DREISINGER: That's 20-year-old Jamaican artist Chronixx, performing before some 10,000 fans. He's Jamaica's most buzzed-about artist right now and he's leading the way in a rich musical movement; new-school roots a bit of Rasta-meets-hipster.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER GIVE UP")

CHRONIXX: (Singing) Rastafari they neighbor. Never leave I alone, so even when the road gets darkest. Me say me never a give up. A say there ain't no giving in...

DREISINGER: Chronixx says it's a repackaging of what came before.

CHRONIXX: We are not going to do it like Bob Marley did, like Burning Spears did, you know? We are using their blueprint to bring on a new generation of works.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WARRIOR")

CHRONIXX: (Singing) (Unintelligible)...

DREISINGER: It's a sound that's been in his ears since he was a kid. His father was a successful musician who went by the name Chronicle. Chronixx began writing songs at age 6 and started producing as a teenager. He says he went to reggae school, which he compares to the rigorous demands of medical school.

CHRONIXX: It's like before you go out there and do a surgery on a human being, you have to learn, you know, medicine, you have to learn biology, you have to learn chemistry - all of these things you need to be a doctor. And in reality, artists don't do much different from doctors - heal people. I mean so I have to learn your craft good. It's a science, you have to learn it. You know, you have to learn the history.

DREISINGER: Know Thy History is definitely an unspoken commandment of the new roots movement. But before you say retro, listen to some of Chronixx's club-friendly dancehall music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NAH FOLLOW NOBODY")

CHRONIXX: (Singing) And if you think I, put me to the test. Give me a beat and mic, me no need nothing else. Me see them a drink rum but me not sip up. And me no want drunk till me can't get up. Me say me not sing no song about the party buck, Worse me not show me...

DREISINGER: So it's not about creating a musical carbon copy of the past, though the fashion sense of these artists definitely screams 1970s. Take new roots artist Protoje. He describes the style of his 2013 sophomore album, "The 8 Year Affair," as a blend of traditional roots reggae, modern-day rock music and hip-hop.

PROTOJE: The first song I ever knew word for word was: Once upon a time not long ago when people wore pajamas and lived life slow, when the laws were stern and justice stood. You know, Slick Rick, "Children's Story." When I heard Slick Rick and, you know, it's not that type of flow, I was like, oh, it's so cool. I didn't hear stuff like that so I kind of started to pattern my style.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KINGSTON BE WISE")

PROTOJE: (Singing) Hey-hey, when did the city a go click-clack blow, you bet government fingers and tic-tac-toes in it. And while they working on the X's and O's, I'm living I and I like I'm Mr. Kamoze. No surprise when they sending foes to me. Opposite of when plainclothes approaching me. Follow they rules is what they propose to me. Selling they souls for what is owed, you see...

DREISINGER: Protoje wrote that song about the so-called Tivoli massacre of 2010, when 76 civilians were killed by Jamaican police and military forces, scouring Kingston for alleged drug lord Christopher Coke.

PROTOJE: I sat on the top of skyline and watched the city burn that day. So I wrote about it to say, you know, be wise in these times and understand there's a lot of geopolitics at play and a lot of stuff going on.

DREISINGER: And that suggests another commandment of the current movement - write Your Own Songs and Have Something to Say. Kumar Bent, lead singer of the band Raging Fyah, says that's what the new-roots scene is about.

KUMAR BENT: This movement now that's happening, revival that's happening, it's a revival of consciousness because it's not about singing about a girl's skirt anymore or certain things. It's about upliftment of the mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NAH LOOK BACK")

RAGING FYAH: (Singing) Computers, warmongers, them shoot us, them loot us. Computers, warmongers, them shoot us and them loot us...

DREISINGER: Two more tacit rules of the scene: first, don't beef, collaborate. Artists like Chronixx, Protoje and Raging Fyah are a kind of collective, performing and recording together all the time. And last but not least: go live. Chronixx plays keyboards, drums and guitar. Raging Fyah delivers the ultimate live show. Protoje, who only records live in the studio, says this return to bands makes Jamaican acts on par with American reggae bands like SOJA and The Green, who've come to rival the island's musicians in popularity.

PROTOJE: We're ready to go out there and play reggae music alongside these bands and show that the authentic sound is still Jamaican. Reggae music was born and bred here and we're ready to show that, you know, we're here to continue on that tradition.

DREISINGER: A tradition that, however many times remixed and repackaged, never seems to get old.

For NPR News, I'm Baz Dreisinger.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NAH LOOK BACK")

FYAH: (Singing) We running and we running and we can't look back. Don't want to stay in Babylon trap so we stay running and we running and we cant look back. Don't want to want to turn into no salt sack. Running and we running and we can't look back

LUDDEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin returns next week. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

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