Jah Shaka

Jah Shaka Presents the Positive Message

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American reggae fans tend to know Jah Shaka, if at all, as the producer under whose name a series of excellent instrumental dub albums were released in the 1970s. But in England he's known for operating one of the most successful and longest-lived traditional reggae sound systems -- a mobile, open-air, DJ-driven dance party -- in the country. This disc is a compilation of roots reggae tracks selected by Jah Shaka, as if for a sound system dance, and it demonstrates what has set him apart from his peers: not only an unrelenting focus on roots-and-culture material (to the strict exclusion of dancehall vulgarity, or "slackness") but a deep knowledge of reggae history that never devolves into mere cleverness or snobbery. Thus, on this album you have such predictable favorites as Black Uhuru's "I Love King Selassie" and Wailing Souls' "Kingdom Rise Kingdom Fall" rubbing shoulders with more obscure fare: Fred Locks' "Love and Only Love," for example, and Norris Reid's tender and lovely "Protect Them." Shaka is also smart enough to include two tracks from the brilliant and underrated falsetto Johnny Clarke, neither of them a particularly familiar hit, and one of them in a nicely extended discomix. A curious but strangely perfect inclusion is "Do You Remember" by Eek-A-Mouse -- a somber and mournful tune rendered especially weird by the singer's reliance on the strange nonsense syllables that lent a charming quirkiness to so many of his popular songs, and make this one come across, oddly, as even more dour that it might have seemed otherwise. Jah Shaka's particular genius seems to be for creating dance sets that simultaneously promote enthusiastic skanking and thoughtful introspection.

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