Writes about the coming together of electronic dance music (EDM) and roots reggae in the work of The Courtney John Project:
On an April afternoon inside the rehearsal room at Kingston’s Big Yard Studios, singer Courtney John is working out the live rendition of his current single “Black Cinderella”, an audacious interpretation of Jamaican singer Errol Dunkley’s 1972 hit. Holding the microphone stand, John swoops down, arms flailing as he chants the song’s refrain: “where can I find my black Cinderella?” But John’s falsetto is awash in warbling reverbs and thunderous echoes. To his right, Stephen “Lenky” Marsden pumps out futuristic minor-key synth chords from behind an assortment of keyboards; on John’s left, producer Natassja “The Wizard” Hammond, her dreadlocks swinging, obscuring her face, offers intermittent shards of backing vocals while generating an array of galvanic sound effects from her synthesizer and Apple computer that alternately recede and advance from a booming drum and bass driven reggae rhythm, played, respectively, by Kemar “Spanky” Liking and Richard “Shams” Browne. This is what it sounds like when electronic dance music (EDM) meets roots reggae.
John, Hammond and Marsden have come together to play, refine, and promote their hybrid sonic creation, rootstronic, defined as “one part Kingston mash-up, one part Euro-electronica and 100% provocative in its approach to contemporary music.” “Roots is the foundation; tronic is the innovation,” says John, an accomplished singer/songwriter best known for his lovers rock hits “When You Say” and “Lucky Man” “[. . .] Whatever effects are put in, our indigenous Jamaican musical identity will always be heard,” adds Hammond, John’s cousin and the daughter of celebrated Jamaican crooner Beres Hammond.
Nicknamed the Wizard for her precocious production talents [. . .] she is currently working on a rootstronic remix of Dahlia’s hit “Gangsta”. 21st Music/INgrooves are handling the distribution in all territories except for the UK, France and Japan where individual deals are being negotiated; vinyl and CD formats will be available in the coming weeks. “It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of something new and fresh, our retail and marketing partners share the same sentiment about “Future”; the singles “Black Cinderella” and “Rain Like Gold” will definitely see a huge look from radio, especially in London, France, Germany and the US,” enthuses Edward Power, Film and TV/VP of syncs and music supervision at 21st Music.
“Rootstronic energetically links Jamaica’s glorious musical past with today’s technological advances; we’re excited to play “Black Cinderella” for the French audience;” comments Max Guiguet, Music Director at Radio Nova, a Paris based French national station. The album’s first official single, “Black Cinderella”, released in February, is currently on the station’s playlist, which is largely comprised of electronic, hip-hop, and world music. The campaign for the “Black Cinderella” video, directed by Ras Kassa whose previous credits include Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock” begins this week and will debut here.
[. . .] The development of rootstronic continues a more than 50-year tradition of Jamaica’s musicians adapting unexpected innovations to existing styles and creating entirely new genres. For example, in the early ‘60s Kingston musicians sought to replicate American R&B and came up with ska, the island’s first indigenous popular music, the forerunner to rock steady and reggae. By the end of the decade, further pioneering efforts wrought dub, where instruments are stripped from a recording track with the drum and bass brought to the forefront (at the core of dubstep) and in the mid-80s reggae’s synthesized strain, dancehall, resulted from experimentation with that era’s new technology including the Casio keyboard. “Rootstronic is just a more modern interpretation of reggae/dub music, influenced by EDM, like most contemporary genres are now,” offers Hammond.
Despite an established precedent of alterations spawning viable, distinctive Jamaican genres, John says some reggae traditionalists have been skeptical towards this most recent homegrown sonic transformation. “Some older industry heads don’t want anyone changing Jamaica’s musical foundation, but as creative people we want to try other things,” John asserts. “Rootstronic is getting rotation on mainstream stations in several European countries. We’re being played after Depeche Mode and Adele and that represents Jamaica, just not in the traditional way.”
Listen to the original “Black Cinderella” here:
Listen to the Courtney John Project remix here: