Reggae is music and much more. It's a rhythm set to a poor man's cry, a pledge from a singer to struggler that "better must come." No other Reggae singer today delivers that promise with as much grace, power and heart as Jamaican baritone Luciano. A NEW DAY, his latest set, offers 16 tracks of buoyant inspiration that builds on his previous best-selling CDs 95's "Life", 97's "The Messenjah" and 99's "Sweep Over My Soul". Both this new album and Luciano's career story testify to the depth and constancy of the singer-songwriter's human commitment.
Ever since Bob Marley left this plane in 1981, at age 35, Reggae has been searching for another prophet. That position comes at a heavy price. Marley himself survived a gunshot wound; his children still received death threats. The late Dennis Brown reigned as Reggae Prince for a while, until industry abuses and a tenacious drug habit wore away at his talent. The trilling voice of Garnet Silk was silenced when he died in a suspicious fire in late 1994. Into the void created by those loses- and too many others - came '95's prayerful hit, "It's Me Again Jah", a stunning expression of pain and piety that seemed to have been ripped from its writer-singer'' soul. With that single song, a 30 year-old upholsterer from Manchester parish became Reggae's Anointed One. Born as Jephter McClymount and renamed Luciano for his luxuriant, near operatic vocal gifts, Luciano's several previous albums for producers Castor Brown and Freddie McGregor (also a legendary singer) had stirred scarcely a ripple. They were recorded during this self-styled "struggler's" second stint in Jamaica's music capital, Kingston. After his first but unsuccessful stay in the city, Luciano had returned to Manchester to sell food in the market place. The second time he tried to make it in music, "I came with more seriousness," he says. "I started doing upholstery, then went to the studios for work."
"It's Me Again" reflected its maker's struggles and newfound depth, and it struck a chord deep in the Reggae consciousness. More uniquely radiant songs followed in quick succession, among the "Lord Give Me Strength", "Your World and Mine", and "Heaven Help Us All." It was soon clear that Reggae's new hero was drawing from a bottomless well, and millions of International Reggae fans happily succumbed to Luciano's rapture. The UK branch of Island Records, the label that introduced Marley to the world, hastily signed Luciano through his home Xterminator label. "Where There Is Life", released in '95, corralled Luciano's hit single, plus equally luminous new tracks for one of the greatest Reggae albums ever. "The sky's the limit for Luciano, you could take him anywhere," said legendary drummer/producer Sly Dunbar, who arranged and played on the album."
But Luciano remained earthbound, that is another Reggae secret. He toured in the US and the UK in support of "Life" , but Xterminator, who also managed, produced and booked him - and served as a surrogate family - stuck to areas heavily populated with Jamaicans. In '97, Island Records, together with VP Records and Xterminator, released Luciano's sophomore Messenjah set. With tracks like "Never Give Up My Pride", "How Can You", and "Carry Jah Load", the album was a worthy follow-up to "Life". Again, the album tour stuck to the usual reggae circuit. Once you've seen Luciano live in performance, you've witnessed reggae church at its most exhilarating, but without playing to alt rock and pop audiences, Luciano remained a secret to all but millions of Reggae's already-convinced. "A man can have an impact from his little corner," this humble man once said.
That was a few years ago, and time has wrought changes. "My life has been like a storm," Luciano succinctly observes. Today, the sun shines, and Luciano's direction is forward…. In every direction. He's left Xterminator - taking the fabled Firehouse band with him. Back in '97, as Luciano fever was settling into a chronic condition, the youngest Xterminator member, a firebrand name Sizzla, lit his own worldwide bonfire with lucid songwriting delievered in a mesmerizing, poetic chanting style. But when Sizzla's live, between-song diatribes began creating rifes within the Rastafarian community, Xterminator's "family" ties unravled.
"One pen cyan (can't) hold two bull", Luciano succinctly explained. "I'll tell you the honest truth as a philosophical, Christian-like messenger on earth, I will not be hypocritical about certain things. After a while, me get to realize that the philosophy of Sizzla was changing toward another dimension. What I stood for all this time as a righteous singer and spiritual man in Creation was being threatened by the overall side. We all falter sometimes and transgress from the way of life and change side. But who don't know God's love have to take time out and search deep. It's not just about becoming involved in the music fraternity, 'cause at the end of the day, many people sing this and that and one got burnt, one got shot, one got poisoned. If we don't learn from all these things, something would be lackin in I and I own heart and mind. And once you say something must be done, you must do it."
Luciano has no regrets and acknowledges the benefits of his Xterminator period. "I have to say foundation is foundation and you cannot remove that," he says. "I have to give thanks for the work that Philip Burrell [Xtermintor's head] did and all my Xterminator compareros. But we're like a tree and some grew new branches. I'm sending out my own roots at this time as a young vibrant tree. The work is the same; you just move from one place to another. I have to spearhead many things and make sure the work is lined up with my own philosophy."
So, while some roots Reggae artists continue to shrink Reggae's once-generous vision, Luciano is intensifying his humanitarian commitment. "Sweep Over My Soul" yielded a hit in it's title track and "Ulterior Motive," A tune in which Luciano shared a hard lesson about Reggae stardom. At the same time, Luciano was looking beyond the Jamaican music industry. Unlike many who only write about Motherland roots, Luciano actually collaborated with Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal and his Dande Lenol band on "Africians Unite," for Maal's '98 "Nomad Soul" album. Luciano then visited Maal in Dakar, and appeared onstage with the singer and his Dande Lenol band at the '99 Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival, essaying challenging Sengalese "Sabar" dance moves and lending background harmonies.
A collection of Reggae's studio elite joined forces for the aptly titled "A NEW DAY", including riddim twins Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the Firehouse Crew, the Daffodils harmony trio. Jamaican saxophone legend Dean Frazier served as executive producer. At the same time, this eagerly anticipated album counters Reggae's current tendencies toward self-crippling insularity by steers the music closer to the warmth of it's original spirit, it re-charges Luciano's own career.
"It's a new day, and a new day comes with my acknowledgements of the truth," Luciano says in explanation of the set's title. "The Kingdom of God is within me, so true faith starts within me. I must have perseverance and strength. I ask God for that strength and will power, so God operates within me as inspiration and my willingness to comply."
Luciano announces the set's overarching spiritual theme in the opener, the Binghi-infused "No Night In Zioin" that vividly evokes images of a nightlong Rastafarian drumming circle retracing ancient riddims under a canopy of Caribbean stars. "Oh Father I Love Thee", with it's references to the late Dennis Brown, affirms Luciano's faith and the piller of strength faith can be for all people, while "Happy People" and "Road Of Life" envision a future world where humanity is free of petty divisiveness. "Music is universal and we have to approach it as such to really bring out that universality," he says. "Some of the songs like 'Happy People' are about people who live in their imaginations. If we can't imagine a new way of life or the way out of situations like war and crime, we can't resolve them."
The challenges and tests of the past several years find heart-wrenching expression in the questioning "Is There A Place." Yet faith is reconfirmed throughout the set, as in Luciano's interpretation of "Save The World", an old Negro spiritual that receives two mixes here, and the spine-stiffening self-promise of "Nah Give Up", produced by Luciano with singer Mikey General for their Jah Messenjah Label.
"This album shows my maturity, my growth, and the expansion of my consciousness," says the man Reggae embraces as The Messenjah. "This album is for people to realize that I'm serious about what I'm doing, and that it's me again for Jah".
Written by Elena Oumano and supplied by VP Records 2001.