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Album Showcase: Earthkry – “Dandy Shandy”

Recently, while discussing French collective Pinnacle Sound as a guest on the podcast, A Conversation in Dub, host James Pasqua and I gushed about how much we love artists that make new reggae music that sounds like old reggae music.  This throwback sound is especially popular in the States and throughout Europe, with the list of talented bands recreating reggae from bygone eras seemingly growing regularly.

Somewhat surprisingly, one place that does not produce a lot of vintage vibes is the birthplace of reggae music itself, Jamaica. For decades now, dancehall reggae has dominated the musical consciousness of the island. With such a disparate sound from the earlier eras of reggae, it could be argued that dancehall is not reggae at all, but simply another form of Jamaican music. But that is a conversation for another time.

Within the past decade or so, however, there has been a movement in the Jamaican music scene commonly referred to as a  “roots revival.” Artists such as Protoje, Chronixx, Kabaka Pyramid and Jah9, to name a few, have slowed down the tempos, implement real instruments and promote “conscious” (socially aware, spiritual or wholesome) messages as opposed to the “slack” material like guns and violence and sex that have comprised a lot of the dancehall lyrics over the years.

Nevertheless, while the term “roots revival” does aptly fit this trend, the music still sounds unmistakably modern. Fans of the Studio One sound continually have had to look beyond the shores of Jamaica to find new reggae music that sounded like old reggae music.

Until now.

Just over a month ago, Jamaican group Earthkry released their latest LP, titled Dandy Shandy. This collection of tunes takes listeners back to the origins of this blessed music with an old-school feel.

I’ve been a fan of Earthkry for a while now, really enjoying their traditional roots style from the Hard Road EP of 2015 and the Survival LP of 2017. Both of those albums brought to mind the later work of Bob Marley e.g. Uprising and Confrontation, as well as other hall of fame artists and albums from the same early 80s era, such as Steel Pulse and Black Uhuru.

However, when I first heard Dandy Shandy, I was surprised and delighted to find that Earthkry had stepped back even further in time to the late 60s and 70s. When asked about what prompted this decision, the band said they had always wanted to produce an album that paid homage to the styles of that era. Finally taking the steps to achieve that goal, with passionate intention and careful attention to detail, they wrote, performed, recorded and mixed a mix of rocksteady, ska and early reggae songs for their latest release.

To achieve the sound they sought, Earthkry carefully selected Tad’s Recording Studio over many other local options. According to drummer Phillip McFarlane, who also mixed the album and has used Tad’s for many of his personal projects, “I love that I am allowed to go in and tune the drums, and set frequencies on the recording console the way I want for specific tracks. So, I used that privilege and familiarity to record EarthKry’s project there. I could try different mics and outboard gears until I find the sound I want.  However, a big part of the sound was also the post mix, using tape saturation, harmonics and three mics on the kit itself. I tried to record as if I had only an 8-track recorder.”

Coming of age long after the bygone eras of Jamaican music had come and gone, what motivated Earthkry to emulate the old days despite the odds against them given what’s trending now across their island home?

The band acknowledged that their creative choices have not garnered a lot of local fans, but that hasn’t dissuaded them. “To be honest, we do not get a lot of support in Jamaica,” McFarlane said. “We will get a few air plays from the few radio jockeys who really love the band or reggae music in general. 99% of our fan base are overseas.”

Continuing, he said, “We are strong admirers of pioneers like the Wailers, Black Uhuru, Wailing Souls, Steel Pulse, The Heptones and many other groups before us. So, we wanted to emulate their style as we know the world still loves that sound. Our people in Jamaica may not know how appreciated reggae music is worldwide. However, we who know it, definitely make sure we capitalize on it and also ensure we carry on the tradition of authentic reggae music. We find that EarthKry have an important role to carry out with the sounds of reggae not just to the outer world but for the young ones in Jamaica who may not hear at the parties, radio or clubs which would kill the development and creation of the genre from the younger generation. We have so many ideas on how we could bring back the presence of enthusiasm for reggae back in Jamaica.  However, it takes a good budget, government and media cooperation, educational campaigns, and collective effort of the top artists who value the importance of reggae.”

According to McFarlane, this is easier said than done. When questioned about the sense of community amongst the musicians in Jamaica and the “roots revival” artists in particular, he admitted that they are not considered to be part that group. “The reggae revival was seen as a set of particular artists which do not include EarthKry. To be honest, here in Jamaica, there are cliques and circles which can be good and bad at the same time. However, we are the lone wolf just doing our thing slowly and surely. We tend to focus on our journey. We would have loved to see a more unified community, however sometimes it feels like elitism and treatment is based on what circle you are in or who you know more than just the music itself.”

Given these challenges and the general lack of interest of the Jamaican people in revisiting the foundational sounds of their national music, I was curious about their experience growing up on the island within the context of becoming musicians. How were they first introduced to the classic reggae sound? Did they need have a mentor to guide them into the traditional music?

McFarlane explained, “We all grew up in the countryside of Jamaica where a sound system is on every corner playing. We would hear the music all day, every day. However, our interest for reggae grew when we went to the Edna Manley College where all met, and started learning about the history of reggae and the different groups. At that time, there were many bands formed like Raging Fyah, cSharp and others. That really influenced us to start a band. Then, we met the legendary trombonist, Nambo Robinson, who guided us in the feel of reggae, ska and rocksteady as he would have played on a lot of those hot records. From there on, we kept pushing and one thing led to the other. That was the start of the journey.”

Ultimately, Earthkry developed a deep appreciation of reggae music as they came to understand the impact that it has had on the world, and why the classic sound resonates with so many people all over the globe.

They recognized that reggae “came into the world as a fresh sound from a third world country that brought messages that everyone worldwide could relate to. From love songs to political commentary. Despite one’s race, religion, sex, culture or nationality, reggae music is one that all can find comfort in. Also, the musical elements from the rhythm, the beat, the sonics and spirit that is being put in it. It’s a magical sound that will be loved forever.”


Next Wednesday, March 15, at 8pm ET, Earthkry will be guests on Rootfire’s Vibing with Rootsdude radio show on our Stationhead channel for a Dandy Shandy Listening Party including a Q & A with the band.

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Ever since becoming deeply moved and then essentially obsessed with reggae music as a teenager, Dave has always strove to learn as much as possible about the history and culture of reggae music, Jamaica and Rastafari, the ideology and lifestyle intertwined with reggae. 

Over the years, he has interviewed many personalities throughout the reggae world including Ziggy Marley, Burning Spear, Lucky Dube, Bradley Nowell and many artists in the progressive roots scene.

Dave has also written and published a novel, “The Cosmic Burrito,” a tale of two friends who drive across the USA in search of the ultimate burrito. He plays ice hockey weekly for a recreational team he founded and manages, Team Rasta.

Reggae music has filled his life with a richness for which he will forever be grateful, and he gives thanks to musicians far and wide, past and present, whether they perform roots, dub, dancehall, skinhead, rocksteady or ska, whether their tools are analog or digital, as well as the producers, promoters, soundsystems, selectors and the reggae massive at large who comprise the international reggae community.

You can follow Dave on Instagram at @rootsdude and Twitter at @ElCosmicBurrito.

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