Various Artists

Don't Call Us Immigrants

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The fact the informative liner notes are written by Pressure Sounds label founder and modern dub avatar Adrian Sherwood is a sure sign of the historical importance attached to this compilation. The music on Don't Call Us Immigrants marks the emergence of the original wave of U.K. reggae bands, many of them the children of the original post-WWII immigrant wave from Jamaica to the U.K. It features the first-ever recordings by Steel Pulse and Aswad, chronicles the emergence of Dennis Bovell as a producer and major creative force with Matumbi and others, and spotlights U.K. scene mainstays like Misty in Roots, Black Slate, and Reggae Regular. It's the soundtrack to a period of forging musical and personal identities and overcoming the purist prejudice that valid reggae could only come from Jamaica, serving as the local bridge to reggae-enamored first-generation U.K. punks like Sherwood. The grooves are almost universally spare, kicked-back (but not too far), and easy-grooving, and the themes cover the full reggae spectrum. Lion Youth's "Rat a Cut Bottle" and Pablo Gad's "Hard Times" are both sufferers' laments. The former boasts a potent bassline and vocals evoking prime Gregory Isaacs, and the latter's strong riddim and backing vocals break down nicely to a drum and bass bridge with an early taste of DJ toasting. Black Slate's "Sticksman" questions black-on-black crime, and Tabby Cat Kelly's title track is a very strong, very understated statement of identity.

On the Rasta front, Reggae Regular's "Where Is Jah" sports tinkly piano and a rocksteady-style picked guitar line, and the African Brothers' "Gimme African Love" works a deep, semi-Burning Spear groove with dub touches and strong singing, including "she-doop-choops" from the backing vocalists. Trevor Hartley's livelier "Skip Away" features more of a pop structure with horns and prominent backing vocals, while Matumbi's version of Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me" impresses as a very well-arranged example of reggae as a pop music form. Hell, you end up wondering why the song wasn't a general pop hit. Misty in Roots' rare "Six One Penny" (originally a 500-copies-only 7" given away at gigs) combines a gentle groove and harmonies with ghetto life lyrics, while "Nyah Love" is strong but you wouldn't really ID it as Steel Pulse in a blindfold test. "It's Not Our Wish" shows more recognizable traces of Aswad's distinctive vocal harmony blend and later dub love with its bass and drums breakdown at the end. Some of the recordings are rough and both the songs and dub excursions sound like first steps, but what shines through is the freshness of musicians discovering their own sound and identity more than any tentativeness. Don't Call Us Immigrants is 100 percent crucial for anyone seriously investigating the global facets of reggae history -- after all, this was the first major offshoot to develop out of Jamaican reggae's worldwide explosion in the '70s. And it's only slightly less valuable and enjoyable for everyday roots reggae fans.

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