Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Jah Stitch: Original Ragga Muffin (1975-77)

Jah Stitch: Original Ragga Muffin (1975-77)
Blood & Fire, BAFCD010

"Original Ragga Muffin" is a collection of the tunes cut by foundation DJ Jah Stitch in the classic rockers/steppers period of the mid to late 70s, primarily for the near-ubiquitous kingpin producer Bunny Lee (many of whose riddims here were recut incredibly prolifically in the contemporary dancehalls), but also featuring 2 tunes cut for the equally legendary Vivian Jackson aka Yabby You.

The opening track, "Give Jah The Glory", is a recut of the riddim to Burning Spear's "Invasion" (aka "Wa Da Da"), on which another singer (possibly Ronnie Davis) makes a creditable attempt at covering the usually hard if not impossible to cover well Spear. Stitch chants devotion to Jah as well as judgement on Babylon over a typically Spear-style rolling horn riff and a very satisfying deep, dubby mix.

"African People (3 in 1)" is over Johnny Clarke's recut of the perennial classic "Declaration of Rights", in which Stitch takes as his starting point the words "Africa", "Zion" and "Ethiopia", deconstructing each letter by letter into a startling improvised sermon of symbology, one of the most inventive DJ tunes to come out of the roots period.

"Ragga Muffin Style" is Stitch's take on Horace Andy's anthemic "Money Money (The Root Of All Evil)", its sharp horn riff and rumbling rockers bassline mixed into raw dub deconstruction while the DJ's vocal is delivered in an almost hypnotically charged dread bass tone, affirming his authentic dread credentials as a "raggamuffin" (one of the first uses of the term "ragga") from the ghetto.

Horace's magnificent "Zion Gate" and Stitch's accompanying toast "Every Wicked Have To Crawl" are presented next as a nearly 7 minute long 12" discomix, with both singer and DJ masterfully riding one of Lee's deepest, heaviest roots riddims, with dread horns rolling like a river. Stitch riffs on Andy's Revelation-inspired message of warning against iniquity, proclaiming that "Righteousness shall stand for all who know that Satan kingdom got to fall" and chanting devotion to the "red, gold and green" over eerily floating snippets of a typically spellbinding "sleepy" vocal.

Next are 2 back-to-back toasts over Johnny Clarke's bass-heavy Bunny Lee-produced version of Bob Marley's much-versioned "Crazy Baldheads" - "Watch Your Step Youthman" following the lyrical theme of the original by calling down fiery judgement on gunmen and warmongers, while "Crazy Joe" re-uses the riddim for a playful attack on rival producer Joe Gibbs, branded here as a "follow fashion monkey" while Stitch and Lee are "the original foundation in dis ya record creation".

"No Dread Can't Dead" is a joyful, defiant proclamation of survival recorded following Stitch's recovery from a near-fatal shooting in 1976, with floating backing vocals and echoing percussion making this one of Bunny Lee's more complex and satisfying mixes. "Sinners Repent Your Soul" appears at first to be a return to stern Old Testament themes, over a rather more minimal mix of the Johnny Clarke song of the same name, but Stitch soon segues from the religious to the radical: "I and I don't want to be left behind in this poverty and frustration... must be a revolution". Repentance and revolution are elided together in a classic example of roots reggae's fusion of secular and spiritual radicalism.

"Judgement" is a version to Yabby You's mighty, apocalyptic "Judgement On The Land" (which can be found on the utterly essential BAF compilation "Jesus Dread"), with its thunderous bass perfectly complemented by righteous horns and ethereal flute, over which Stitch demands in uncompromising terms freedom "from all captivity", while "Militant Man" keeps up the heavy cultural vibes defending the true, righteous and militant Rasta against hypocrites and impostors over an appropriately martial steppers riddim, with nice echo on the piano and snare drums.

"Real Born African" takes another well known Johnny Clarke tune, "Roots Natty Congo", and elaborates on its theme of African diaspora identity, adding to it a conviction in divine guidance for the "chosen people", regardless of circumstances, with some Big Youth-style hollering and swirling synth effects, while "Cool Down Youthman" is yet another biblically styled warning to the youth to stay away from violence, with a Tubby's mix particularly heavy on the echo and reverb.

"African Queen" is the other Vivian Jackson produced track, focusing (atypically for the man known for being the epitome of dread eschatology) on the mellower side of the roots vibe, with a warm, celebratory affirmation of black feminine beauty, in which Stitch quotes Curtis Mayfield and The Last Poets over lazy, muted horns and keyboards.

The set closes with "King Of The Arena", a celebratory (in a different way) cut to the well-versioned classic riddim (one of the first to make Bunny Lee famous in the 70s dancehall landscape), mixing Rastafari themes with joyful sound system boasting, neatly showcasing in one tune the two sides of Stitch's toasting personality.

Very nicely packaged, with typical Blood & Fire photo-collage artwork, and interviews with Stitch himself giving his own story of the making of the tunes, this is a compilation that is sure to find favour with any fans of DJing in the classic 70s roots style. It also nicely complements B&F's first compilation, "If Deejay Was Your Trade", which features several more of Stitch's (alongside other DJs') tunes cut for Lee. Together, these 2 compilations make the ideal introduction to the great mid-70s Jamaican DJ explosion.

No comments: