is an eight piece, horn-driven ensemble, connecting the dots between classic New Orleans R&B and early Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae.
FROM PAPA MALI-
I have a long history, w reggae and Jamaican music, starting w my first trip to the island in 1977 and culminating a few years later, in the creation of The Killer Bees, a band, that earned numerous national and international accolades - most notably, by being among the very first American acts invited to play Reggae Sunsplash, in Jamaica in 1988, the same year our album ‘Groovin’ topped the reggae charts. It was while on tour, w Burning Spear, in 1985, that I received my nickname, from Spear’s drummer, the late Nelson Miller.
Over nearly two decades of touring w the ‘Bees, I met and worked with many of the top Jamaican artists and learned so much from them. And when they would learn that I was from Louisiana, the one thing I heard over and over, was how deeply and profoundly New Orleans music had helped to shape the birth of ska, rocksteady and reggae.
Did you know, that Bob Marley once told an interviewer “Reggae started with Fats Domino”? Did you know that when Fats toured Jamaica and the Caribbean in the early sixties, that saxophonist and bandleader Tommy McCook of The Skatalites was his musical director? Fats also enjoyed a long friendship, w Duke Reid, the legendary Jamaican producer, who was a prominent figure in the birth of ska and started the classic rocksteady label, Treasure Isle. These are just a few examples of the New Orleans > Jamaica connection we will be exploring and celebrating.
People have been asking me for years, if I ever planned to revisit the music of Jamaica. One of the reasons I stopped playing reggae, was the feeling that, as the eighties rolled into the nineties, I had lost touch with the thing that had originally excited me, about the music. Dancehall became the prominent style. And even though I enjoyed it, it relied more and more on drum machines, computer riddims and the braggadocio of the toaster or DJ. I could appreciate it, as a spectator or as a fan. I even performed and recorded with many well-known dancehall artists. But, increasingly, I felt less and less connected, as a musician. When my musical partner and co-creator of The Killer Bees passed in 2000, I felt like I’d had enough. I decided to fully concentrate on my solo career and the music I grew up with.
I was still very young, when I was introduced to Jamaican music and culture - and as I previously mentioned, I learned a lot. One of the biggest lessons I learned along the way, was that I could visit, enjoy and appreciate the roots and culture of other peoples and places, I could even learn how to play the music correctly and eventually gain acceptance in that world. But, in order to be true to myself and reach my full potential, I had to accept that it was not my world. This growth helped me to acknowledge and celebrate my own upbringing and culture, which fortunately, was guided by my childhood exposure to the sights, sounds and deep musical heritage of New Orleans. With the launch of Shantytown Underground, I hope to address the commonality, in the two styles and in doing so, celebrate the diversity and unifying qualities, of all peoples.
I never lost my love for early (first wave) ska, rocksteady and reggae. My large record collection includes many early Jamaican pressings and titles on labels such as Studio One, Coxsone, Trojan, Treasure Isle, Beverly’s, Doctor Bird, Harry Js, Upsetter and many more. We’ll be doing our best, to faithfully recreate the sound and vibe of some of these songs, by artists like The Skatalites, Phylis Dillon, The Heptones, as well as tunes by Irma Thomas, Fats Domino, Lee Dorsey and more - all presented and reimagined as if they had sprung from the same source. It should be an interesting and hopefully, enjoyable journey. I am looking forward to reconnecting (reconciling?) with this part of my past.
Joining me, on the maiden voyage of this project are some of New Orleans finest and like-minded musicians, from such well-loved bands as The Iguanas, 007, The Special Men and Walter Washington’s Roadmasters. I hope you’ll join us, too.