BLACK UHURU / “Emotional Slaughter”

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2 Responses to “BLACK UHURU / “Emotional Slaughter””

dacks Says:
October 19th, 2007 at 10:19 am

Hi BOL guys-

Always enjoying your posts. I wanted to add a few long-winded observations about the genius of Sly Dunbar .

Although Sly was a revolutionary drummer, I wouldn’t give short shrift to drummers of the earlier reggae eras. One major difference between the reggae of the early to mid 70s and that of the late 70s and beyond was technological – at the dawn of the decade, most of the best loved reggae was cut on a 4 track recorder. The instrument that suffers most in these circumstances is drums, which require many microphones and channels on a mixing board. Hence, the best arrangements for drums (as in ‘Wolves And Leopards’ and ‘Book of Rules’) would stack them with the other rhythm instruments. The one drop rhythm perfected by Wailers’ drummer Carlton Barrett is probably so influential on an international level because the Wailers recorded under the best possible conditions during their Island years, which highlighted Barrett’s undisputed mastery of this technique. But don’t sleep on Horsemouth Wallace, who’s far from background material on the “Marcus Garvey” album and brings the jazz to so much Studio One material of the early 70s.

But Sly stands apart from his influences. Once Channel One studio opened with 16 then 24 tracks in 1976, there was more room for drums. The influence of disco was best expressed in Sly’s metronomic drumming style (reputedly encouraged by Lee Perry because he wanted Sly to play along to drum machines), and became ubiquitous as he became the principal drummer and one of the prime creative movers at Channel One. In fact, the studio closed down for months in 1977 as Sly worked with the engineers to come up with a perfect drum sound for the studio. So… more tracks/greater fidelity, the influence of disco, and Sly’s precise style and ability to control his sound in the studio were all important inputs. His drumming marked the birth of dancehall which I would strongly argue that Blcak Uhuru was a part of, rather than a continuation of the roots era (the no-horns minimalism of the “Showcase” album is about as trancey as it gets over a powerful sound system). All the upfront drums songs you mentioned came after this turning point – and Sly in fact is the drummer on “Stepping Razor” and Bob Marley insisted that Carlton Barrett’s drumming sound like Sly’s ‘rockers’ beats on “Exodus”.

Furthermore, Sly’s translations of folkloric Jamaican rhythms from mento to calypso to various forms of Rasta drumming with his use of the ultra-synthetic Roland syndrum (the bubbly effect on “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” of your previous post – the story goes he heard the syndrum on M’s “Pop Muzik” while on tour with Peter Tosh and bought one shortly thereafter) created entirely new rhythms and possibilities for Jamaica. Robbie’s melodic basslines – tell me there isn’t a bit of Paul McCartney in his playing, especially those Black Uhuru tracks – matched Sly’s odd syncopations and that made them the cutting edge rhythm team in the whole world thanks to their work at Compass Point studios in the Bahamas. As for the synths, at least they had the good fortune to work with Wally Badarou (Level 42, Talking Heads), one of the most distinctive keyboard programmers of the early 80s, and if all that no-wave punk-funk of that era is now remembered fondly, surely these keyboard sounds still have some gravitas to them.

Michael Rose, by the way, has released two excellent albums (with dub companions) in recent years – “Warrior” and “African Roots” produced by Canadian expat Twilight Circus and featuring many of the Uhuru players including Sly.

Keep up the great work guys!

our pages Says:
July 28th, 2015 at 1:33 pm

fascinating idea

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