Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kenya: Reggae Festival to Go Live With Israel Vibration

The Nation (Nairobi)
May 21, 2006
by Fred Orido

Jamaican reggae trio Israel Vibration will be in Nairobi for the annual Reggae Summerfest. The threesome, Skeleton (Cecil Spence), Apple Gabriel (Albert Craig) and Lascelle Bulgin (Wiss), are expected to fly in for the festival, scheduled for September 7.

Members of Israel Vibration group on stage entertaining fans in one of their many live shows. The group will grace this year's Reggae Summerfest in Nairobi. "The event, organised by Showbiz Promotions and Shashamane International, has in the past brought in reggae greats from Jamaica."

The event, organised by Showbiz Promotions and Shashamane International, has in the past brought in reggae greats from Jamaica including Joseph Hill of the Mighty Culture group, Gregory Isaacs and Glen Washington who graced it in 2004.

Speaking exclusively to Lifestyle , events promoter Evans Ombajo promised better organisation and security during the shows. "Insecurity has been a major issue, but this time around, we have invested heavily in ensuring security is tight," he said.

Mr Ombajo said that they settled for Israel Vibration after many reggae fans voted for the trio in a poll conducted by Shashamane International over the past one year.

Members of the group overcame adversity, illness and poverty to become one of the finest roots groups in Jamaica's history. All three had been afflicted by polio and first became acquainted, albeit briefly, at Kingston's Mona Rehabilitation Clinic.

Singing sensation

Of the trio, Bulgin appeared least likely to emerge a singing sensation. He spent much of his childhood at a variety of rehabilitation centres. In his teenage, he began working for a tailor. In contrast, Craig initially did seem destined for a musical career and for a while attended the famed music school - Alpha Cottage School.

However, he found the tough discipline and rigid atmosphere oppressive and ran away at 14 into a life of homelessness and poverty.

After an equally bright start, Spence's life also took a severe down-turn. Before his teenage, he played xylophone in a youth band with whom he appeared on national television. Although physically disabled, he was a gifted athlete. In his teenage, he was selected for the Jamaican Wheelchair Basketball team.

But his conversion to Rastafarianism put an end to all that in 1969. He was dropped from the team and returned to Kingston where bumped into Craig soon after. As fate would have it, the pair established contact with Bulgin.

Before their union, the three teens had all individually converted to Rastafarianism. Their shared faith and childhood experiences helped them forge a strong friendship. Leaving behind their old lives, the trio spent most of their time together, busking for money around Kingston.

They spent the next six years singing for their suppers and by 1975, Israel Vibration was a vocal force to reckon with. However, their initial attempt at recording was abortive as the one track they did, the Ernest Hookim-produced Bad Intention, was never released. The following year, an answer to their prayers came through members of the Rastafarian religious group, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who agreed to finance a single by the trio.

The group recorded the single Why Worry and a new version of Bad Intention for its flip. The group's exquisite dread sound and militant cultural themes made an instant impression and the three found themselves on stage curtain-raising for the likes of Bob Marley and Dennis Brown.

Stunning proportions

In 1977, Israel Vibration began work on their follow-up, The Same Song, with producer Tommy Cowan. By the time they were done, the group had another hit song and a debut album of stunning proportions, which was titled after the single.

The trio's deeply devotional songs, cultural themes, inspirational lyrics, and original take on the roots style had struck a chord with reggae fans around the world. Thus, it was a surprising decision that Israel Vibration recorded their next album, 1981's Why You So Craven, with legendary dancehall producer Junjo Lawes.

After the cross-over success, the three attempted solo careers but only Bulgin made it to a recording studio. His Mr Sunshine album paired him with the Freedom Fighters Band.

In 1987, the three decided they were stronger together than apart. They reunited and approached the RAS label. Although label head Doctor Dread had shown no interest in their solo efforts, he was enthusiastic about their reunion and quickly signed them to RAS.

The trio settled down for the long haul, and although their sound was no longer on the scene's cutting edge, they continued putting out strong sets.

In 1996, the group released their first single in years, the infectious Feeling Irie, taken from their new album Free to Move.

Israel Vibrations' career shows no signs of slowing and the group has firmly carved a secure niche out of what once seemed an impenetrable surface. Their popularity seems assured and they remain a vibrant live act and an all time intriguing studio group.

Original posting location: http://allafrica.com/stories/200605220250.html

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Best Coffee in the World!

Head to Jamaica's Blue Mountains

We seem to be awash with coffee and coffee shops. Has the world gone coffee crazy?

Well, we all seem to be hooked on the brown brew because coffee is now the world's most popular drink and coffee beans are the second most traded commodity.

What's the first?
Petroleum - and compared to the problems they are having in that industry any worries about our growing caffeine consumption seem as mild as a skinny latte.

Ian Fleming's favourite: Blue Mountain coffee

Agreed, but how do I find my way through this flood of cappuccinos, frappuccinos and espresso macchiatos? You could start by travelling to taste what some connoisseurs consider to be the world's finest coffee - Jamaican Blue Mountain.

Really, and who are these connoisseurs?

Well, the writer Ian Fleming for one. He may have been biased because he had a house in Jamaica, but Blue Mountain was his favourite coffee and, like so many of his personal preferences, it became James Bond's choice too.

Great, a trip to the Caribbean to try 007's favourite brew. Lead on.
Once in Jamaica the first step is to head for the hills, as it is only the coffee grown above 3,000ft on the steep slopes at the eastern end of the island that is classified as true Blue Mountain.

And where should I stay?

The best place is Strawberry Hill - an elegant, plantation-style hilltop hideaway that makes a perfect base for coffee expeditions.

A hotel I presume?

Yes, 12 Georgian cottages to be exact and a lot more besides. It was once the home of Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. It's where Bob Marley convalesced after being shot and where U2 relaxed in between recording sessions and saving the planet.

Sounds like a cool place?
In more senses than one, because it is usually 10 degrees cooler than downtown Kingston, which makes it so a great place to ease yourself into tropical Jamaica. You particularly appreciate the setting when you wake up early from your night flight and realise where the name comes from.

What, Strawberry Hill?
No, the Blue Mountains. The low morning sunlight gives the slopes a warm blue hue that's quite a sight from your bedroom veranda. Then, with the hummingbirds darting and the swallowtails swooping, its over to the terrace of the main house for your first taste of the legendary coffee.

Is it as good as Bond promises?
Well, sitting at a table with freshly pressed linen, drinking from white china while listening to warm reggae with the whole of Kingston laid out before you, it is hard not to enjoy a cup.

So what does it taste like?

It's surprisingly mild and sweet with a heavy aroma - perhaps even a little too subtle for modern Europeans, who are used to the mule kick of the Robusta bean (Blue Mountain coffee is pure Arabica). It has been called the tea drinker's coffee and you can see why it appealed to early English settlers.

Indeedy. Now, after my early morning dip in the infinity pool, is there any other coffee business to enjoy?

There are coffee candles on sale in the hotel shop, pork loin with Blue Mountain Coffee glaze to try in the restaurant, and there is even talk of a coffee scrub in the Aveda spa. But your best bet is to arrange a trip to the source of the hotel's fresh morning brew by booking a taxi to take you to Twyman's coffee farm.

The home of our Grail Trail coffee I presume?
Yes, the Twyman family runs a single-estate coffee plantation another thousand feet up into the mountains. A few years ago, after a tough legal battle, the Twyman's Old Tavern Estate won the right to sell its coffee under the Blue Mountain name. It now produces its own high-quality product, which is unashamedly aimed at the gourmet market.

And are visitors encouraged?
Alex and Dorothy Twyman offer good old-fashioned hospitality for all the coffee pilgrims who make the trek to their simple mountain shack. They make a great double act with Mrs Twyman as the roaster and Mr Twyman the raconteur, guiding visitors through the process of coffee production on their estate.

Do you learn anything?
Not half. You come away with a sensory understanding of how the intoxicating scent of the coffee is released from unpromising green beans. Then there is the child-like wonder of actually seeing coffee growing on a bush. With the tremendous views of the valleys below (when mists clear) and Alex's boundless enthusiasm for his land, his product and his family, it's a real treat.

An expensive excursion?
You are not charged a penny, because they know that their bespoke retail business relies on word of mouth and the tours are the best form of advertising. Of course, they do sell their coffee at the end of the visit and it would be remiss not to come away with a bag or two. There is a choice of freshly roasted styles that you can buy in half-pound bags for £8.

Isn't that rather steep for coffee?

Alex describes it as "bloody expensive" but feels that the high-quality maintenance that goes into the slow growing, hand-picked and sorted beans demands it. It's certainly cheaper than the bags of ground coffee sold at resorts and tourist shops around the island and considerably less than the Fortnum & Mason price of £20 for half a pound.

So how should I prepare my precious beans?

Everybody has a preferred method and should grind the beans accordingly, says Alex. However he does lay down a few strict rules to get the best from his Blue Mountain coffee:

# Always use the purest of water, even bottled water if necessary. One of the reasons the coffee he serves on his estate tastes so good is because of the fresh mountain water he collects from just outside his door.

# Serve in china rather than paper or plastic cups and make sure it's white so you can see if the coffee's muddy.

# Stale coffee tastes bad no matter where it comes from, so always grind your beans fresh for each new round of drinks. Remember to store your bag of beans away from direct light and heat. Vacuum sealing isn't a good idea because the beans need to breathe - all Twyman's coffee is packed in bags with a one-way valve so that the CO2 can come out and no oxygen can get in.

# Serve the coffee piping hot and don't ever pollute the beautiful brew with that dreadful stuff, cow's milk. Of course, the true Jamaican style is coffee served with condensed milk and perhaps even a splash of the island's other national treasure - overproof rum. Try it, it's a fine combination, just don't let Alex catch you and remember to call Dorothy for a fresh roast when you've drunk your quota.

Going there

A perfect time to visit the Blue Mountains is April, when the air is filled with the delicate perfume of coffee blossom. For a more traditional coffee tour that's within walking distance of Strawberry Hill, try Craighton Estate and Great House. They offer a lecture, coffee tasting and a tour around the gardens that lasts about one hour for £8.50 per person (001 876 929 8490). "It can rain in a heartbeat" in Jamaica, especially up at Twyman's, where the mist can come in the time it takes to stir sugar into your coffee.

Take a waterproof and remember to phone ahead to check on conditions.
ContactsTo arrange a personal tour of Alex Twyman's Old Tavern Blue Mountain Coffee Estate, telephone 001 876 399 1222 (www.exportjamaica.org/oldtavern). Note that the Twymans don't cater for large groups.

For reservations at Strawberry Hill, contact 00800 688 76781, www.islandoutpost.com./strawberry_hill. For more information about the Blue Mountains and trips in and around Jamaica, contact the Jamaica Tourist Board (020 7225 9090), or see www.visitjamaica.com. Air Jamaica (020 8570 7999, www.airjamaica.com) offers daily return flights from London to Kingston and Montego Bay from £450, including taxes.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ziggy Marley Pledges "Love" on New Album

By Wes Orshoski
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Ziggy Marley has just finished work on his second solo record, "Love Is My Religion," a disc of groove-laden songs touching on the most universal of emotions.

"It's all about love and all aspects of love," the reggae scion told Billboard.com. "The title track is about love between a man and a woman. It just means, 'Hey baby, I'm all love."'

Marley's first album since his marriage about a year ago, "Love is My Religion" is also his second disc apart from longtime backing group the Melody Makers. He plays most of the instruments on the disc, most of which was recorded at his home studio in Jamaica.

As the eldest son of Bob Marley, he has been in the spotlight since he was a toddler, and he says the new album reflects his three decades in music. "It's my best, because I've taken all that experience and I've learned so much, and I kind of understand where I want the music to be," he said.

"Right now, I want to groove more. I want to be onstage and be able to groove throughout the whole album. In the past, I was very artsy, and I did a lot of artistic things, which was just for me. But that should have been just for me," he added, laughing. "Now, I'm grooving for everybody."

Marley says the record will most likely be released in July via his Tuff Gong Worldwide label. He's currently in negotiations for a distributor. "Nobody owns my stuff. I own it," he said. "So what I did was form a new Tuff Gong, which is like Tuff Gong without any attachments to any other labels."

Now 37, one year older than his father at the time of his death from cancer in 1981, Marley is excited to gain new footing in the business world. After recording for Virgin and Elektra with the Melody Makers, and releasing his 2003 solo debut via Private Music, he's now a free agent.

"This is the best time, in terms of owning your own masters," he said. "This was a dream of my father. I'm actually fulfilling what he wanted. Right now, I feel like I'm doing for him what he wanted to do. After 'Uprising,' his last album for Island Records, he was going to do his own thing."

In 2003, the Marley family discovered a box of Bob's previously unreleased recordings and may eventually release them on an album. The first unheard song, "Slogans," featured a guitar overdub from
Eric Clapton, appeared on last year's singles collection "Africa Unite."

Marley says a second tune, "Real Good Time," will boast drumming from the Police's
Stewart Copeland, but he did not reveal a planned release date. "We'll wait for the right time," he said.

Where There's Smoke

Christopher J. Farley

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at the annual Houston International Festival in Texas. This year's Ifest focused on my native country of Jamaica. After a panel that featured my new book, Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley, a teenager in a Johnny Cash t-shirt came up to me and said he very much appreciated my talk.
"I didn't realize how deep Bob Marley was," the teen said. "I thought he was just a stoner."

I don't smoke and I don't drink. But I know from research that I did on my book, and from the conduct of the potheads in my high school shop class (they were particularly bad and dangerous when it came to spot-welding), that it's sometimes tough for folks who smoke lots of marijuana to be taken seriously. That's true whether you're Bob Marley or a medical researcher with an Ivy League degree.

In fact, serious pot-smokers got dealt a serious blow by the U.S. government just a few days ago. On April 20, in a move that was sharply criticized by many researchers and physicians, the U.S Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that read, in part, that the agency did "not support the use of smoked marijuana for medical purposes." The statement also claimed that several Department of Health and Human Services agencies had "concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States."

Marley might have wondered what the FDA had been smoking.

The reggae star was the most famous advocate of medical marijuana use. As a believer in Rastafari, a school of religious thought born in Jamaica, Marley saw marijuana as a sacrament. He also saw it as medicine for the body and the body politic. Time and again he called ganja "the healing of the nation." Marley argued that "Herb is not a drug. Herb is a plant that grow. And God made it so that mankind can take it."

Perry Henzell, the director of the classic film "The Harder They Come," once pointed out that the reggae star's decision to embrace a religious faction that featured ganja as a sacrament may have been the canniest move of his career.

Henzell was right. But Rastas don't just smoke ganja just to get high. Well, of course they like getting high, but there's a lot of thought that goes into it, or at least much more thought than the potheads used to show in my shop class.

Rasta teachings hold that the Bible once read that King Solomon's robes were made from hemp and that the original Hebrews used wisdom weed as incense. Rastas cite several biblical passages to back up their position. For example, Exodus 10:12 declares: "Eat every herb of the land."

It says "eat" and not "smoke" but for Rastas, that's close enough.

Rastas have paid dearly for their choice of sacrament.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Rasta musicians were routinely targeted by Jamaican cops. Bob Marley and his bandmates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer would all spend time in Jamaican prisons for marijuana offenses. Toots Hibberts of the Maytals spent two years in jail for marijuana possession, nearly derailing his career. He later wrote the hit song "54-46 (That's My Number)" about the experience.

The FDA's recent statement asserted that "there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful."

Marley and his Rasta brethren had their own "sound" evidence that it was not.

Marley was arguably the greatest creative force the music world has ever seen. His songs, decades after they were first written, are anthems in Jamaica, South Africa, Japan -- and Houston, Texas. Ganja didn't seem to have a negative impact on his creativity.

Critics, however, have a powerful counterargument. Marley died of cancer at the age of 36. It's impossible to say with certainty whether his near-constant ganja smoking played any role. But it would be tempting for some to argue that it did.

Marley's life, like all lives, may have faded like smoke from a spliff. But his music lingers. The art that he made was more than a temporary buzz. It is serious stuff. TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT "BEFORE THE LEGEND", CLICK THE AMAZON LINK...
Original post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-j-farley/where-theres-smoke_b_19810.html