Mighty Culture

 

In 1977 Joseph Hill and his group Culture released the archetypal roots reggae album "Two Sevens Clash," a masterpiece that Rolling Stone recently ranked 25th on its list of The 50 Coolest Records. Celebrated for its brilliant mix of scorching reggae rhythms, militant protest lyrics and Hill's passionate lead vocals, the politically-charged album was a major influence on London's burgeoning punk rock scene.

Today, some 26-years after "Two Sevens," Hill and company are still making topical, incendiary music as evidenced on Culture's latest release "World Peace." The album is another tour-de-force of organic roots reggae featuring all the classic elements of the genre tailored for contemporary audiences - an impressive milestone given that "World Peace" marks Culture's 30th album.

"It makes me feel younger," says Hill about reaching his 30th long player. "Fact is that I had almost considered retiring for a while but then something told me that I should go on. I just feel like cranking up - like I put a new gear box in, rebuilt my engine and I'm ready to go again."

Hill's renewed sense of energy is palpable throughout "World Peace," especially on blistering cuts that attack poverty, war and injustice like "Time is Getting Harder," "No Segregation" and the title track. The singer/songwriter, whose fervent, gospel-based tone is one of the most recognizable voices in reggae, recorded "World Peace" earlier this year at Mixing Lab, one of Kingston's premier studios.

Richly arranged and tightly-produced with a full horn section, background singers and cracking rhythm section, "World Peace" features some of Jamaica's top studio musicians including the Firehouse Crew with veterans Dean Fraser (saxophone), Robbie Lyn (keyboards), Dwight Pinckney (guitar) and members of Shaggy's band. Like the rest of Culture's deep discography, "World Peace" is a full bodied album with heavy rhythms ranging from dancehall style beats to traditional Rastafarian-inspired drumming all played on real instruments.

"Dealing with digital sound is like trying to talk with a dead man," says Hill. "But dealing with live sound, then you are there making life so simple and realistic."

The self-produced album marks Culture's first release of new material for Heartbeat Records. Over the years, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based label has reissued some of Culture's classic material from the late '70s and early '80s.

Hill was enthusiastic and well prepared for the "World Peace" recording sessions. "He would spend about 15 minutes talking to the musicians, but not about music," says Heartbeat's A & R Director Chris Wilson. "It would basically be a pep talk. And after this little discussion everybody's on the same wavelength. A lot of the songs on the record are first takes."

That spontaneous, live feeling comes through on the album's dramatic title track recorded just as the U.S. war in Iraq was starting. Over a rolling, ominous bass line, Hill implores "We can't take another war, we want world peace…mass destruction, deep corruption, cover up."

"People can live more peaceful than the way they are living at present," says Hill about the song's message. "We don't have to be animalistic to each other. This is a time when people should think about each one as a brother. And if that could be added on top of the beauty of the plants and the birds and all the rest, then the world would be a double beautiful place."

Hill (now synonymous with the name Culture) is reggae music's leading elder statesman - part of an exclusive fraternity of veteran roots reggae artists still singing potent songs of truth and rights a quarter of a century after first emerging on the Kingston music scene. Alongside Burning Spear, Dennis Brown and Bob Marley, Culture helped popularize Rastafarian-influenced reggae around the world with several internationally released albums on the Virgin Records label and countless worldwide tours.

In addition to building a solid and lengthy international career, Hill has always remained on top of the local music scene and is revered in Jamaica as a survivor of Kingston's cut-throat music business as well as for his stature as a musical freedom fighter.

"Hanging out with him in Jamaica for two weeks," recalls Wilson, "everywhere he would go people would be trying to hail him up - beeping in the cars, shouting out the windows, it's amazing."

Hill's influence on the younger generation of reggae stars can be heard in the passionate vocals of current hitmakers such as Sizzla and Anthony B who view Hill as a musical godfather of righteous reggae.

"Makes me feel responsible for the music," says Hill. "It feels good. Everybody is supposed to try to do the best they can as long as they can. If you do the music in the right way, then you are responsible for your self esteem and the well doing of good things in the world."

Hill's concern for humanity has always been evident in his music and "World Peace" is no exception. On the album's opening track, the breezy "Sweet Freedom," Hill sings out for equal right and justice, for all.

"Some people are so free and have so much liberty," says Hill, "but they don't even consider the next person should be free also. And each person have blood run through their veins and each person have some feelings. So that is song is teaching us to be more human to each other."

Never one to rest on his laurels, Hill continues to be one of reggae's most active recording artists and live performers. His strong work ethic is part of the inspiration for another "World Peace" highlight, the sprightly "Long Day Bud A Bawl," on which he admonishes idle people.

"The fact is that the lazy people have to get up and do something," says Hill. "Stop depending on another person to cry out loud for you. Cry out with your own voice or give an assistant crying and the voice will be louder. In other words, do something with your life which is progressive."

And since the '70s, Hill has taught by example, recording some of the most progressive and socially conscious songs in all of popular music. Hill has sustained his extensive career by incorporating new sounds and ideas while holding on to his roots. "World Peace" is as much a milestone for being Culture's 30th album as it is for being another vital message from roots reggae's foremost voice.


Official Website : http://www.culturereggae.net

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