Smile a While

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There are few figures in the Jamaican DJ tradition as important as Ewart Beckford (aka U-Roy). Generally credited with elevating the chanting, sound system style to a respectable (and highly popular) musical form, U-Roy had no equal from the time of his debut until Big Youth hit number one with "S 90 Skank" three years later. Surviving the transition to dancehall in the '80s, U-Roy ran his own Stur-Gav Hi-Fi sound system, recording sporadically on his own. It wasn't until the following decade, however, that a steady output began to flow once again. In 1991, Mad Professor produced the True Born African set, followed closely by Smile a While (1993). Backing U-Roy are a number of players from the Professor's Ariwa stable, among them multi-instrumentalist Black Steel (who also co-produces and shares mixing duties) and bass and drum man Preacher. There are also contributions from a staggering 13 vocalists, including singer Sandra Cross and the great roots man Yabby You. Unfortunately, the productions provide U-Roy with rhythms to ride but little else. They are hardly the equal of Mad Professor's Lee "Scratch" Perry collaborations, let alone the early dub plates provided the DJ by Duke Reid and Bunny Lee. Thankfully, U-Roy quickly recovers from the "you really make my day" sentiments of the title track to join Yabby You for a reality check on "I'm a Rastaman," setting the stage for the subjects that follow. Loosely thematic lyrics offer affronts to Babylon, praises to Jah, and words of wisdom to both the converted and non-believers. U-Roy's efforts are best heard unaccompanied. In the gaps between harmony vocalists chiming choruses on songs like "Freedom" and "A Chapter a Day," the spark of the DJ's work flares once again.

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