A Black History Month look back at Culture, one of reggaeÂ’s most influential and Â‘consciousÂ’ groups. Culture set themselves apart by insisting on reporting on Jamaican social conditions, above all else.
The sound of reggae derives from the nyabanghi rhythms of West Africa which form its basic structure. The electrified, rocked up reggae which reached North America ears was a long way from the primal rhythms of the Jamaican hills. So to was the lyric content and in the fullness of time, reggae arrived at the inevitable schism between the commercial and the authentic.
Ranked against the ranking blingers led by Marley and Tosh, a true believinÂ’ triumvirate of Winston (Burning Spear) Rodney, Bunny Wailer and Joseph Hill.
Break it down further and Hill and Culture fitted somewhere between the Bunny WailerÂ’s country rootsman and the Â“Mystic RevelatorÂ” Burning Spear. More accessible than Bunny, less overbearing than Spear, Hill pitched the most fiery of messages clothed in the most groovalicious melodies and sweet, seductive arrangements.
Culture was very much a band of KingstonÂ’s volatile streets. Born in 1976 into a vibrant, politically charged Jamaican reggae scene., Culture made a name meshing solid harmonies with sharp social commentary and grooves galore. The vocal lineup of Hill, Kenneth Dayes and Hill’s cousin Albert Walker performed mostly material penned by Hill and indicative of his keen sense of the connection between JamaicaÂ’s history and its social and pollitical climate at the time. Hill was hip that the message went down best hooked to a catchy beat, a sensibility not lost on the nascent UK punk scene. The Culture band at one time or another included genre luminaries like Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespear, Ashton Barrett and Skinny Lindo.
Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear retired to country compounds to live an Ital lifestyle and leave Babylon to its sins and distractions. To Hill this was preaching to the converted. He was of the opinion his place was to speak truth in the belly of the beast. Culture stood up and addressed oppressed and oppressor alike and only HillÂ’s ready wit and straight-up rep kept him from harmÂ’s way.
At once teacher and fellow sufferer HillÂ’s songs today would read like urgent blogs from a battleground eyewitness. Dubbed the “Keeper of Zion Gate, he became one of Rastafari’s most respected voices, if not always the favourite of the islandÂ’s police force. Hill stance was part teacher, part fellow sufferer as he commented on Jamaican history and current political issues. In his lyrics, Hill often explored how the legacy of slavery continued to have an influence on Jamaican citizens.
Onstage HillÂ’s performances were a savvy mix of truth telling and booty shaking, MC and professor, the man with Â‘consciousÂ’ reggaeÂ’s most golden tones. During the seventies the group had a string of hit singles for producers Joe Gibbs and Sonia Pottinger including ‘Two Sevens Clash’ which hit in Jamaica, the UK and the U.S.. It was named by Rolling Stone magazine in 2002 as one of the ’50 Coolest Records’ – the only single artist reggae album to make the list. The group also hit internationally with ‘Stop Fussing and Fighting’, a song directly addressing the politically fuelled gang wars of the Seventies, with specific reference to the attempt to whack Bob Marley.
No matter who was in government, Joseph Hill was there to keep an eye out and speak truth to the powers. Hill and Culture played only a handful of Canadian tours during one of which he told a Toronto reporter: Â“ I have much respect for Canada because it shows nuff respect for others. It shows acceptance for different ways and is not a beat down culture that pushes everybody into the mainstreamÂ”.
Hill died suddenly from renal failure during a European tour in 2006. HeÂ’d lived long enough to garner a number of his countryÂ’s highest honours including an induction into the Jamaican Reggae Walk of Fame and a 2005 Independence Award presented by the Prime Minister of Jamaica. In 2006 the group continued to draw good reviews, especially for their performance at ‘Bob Marley 61st Birthday Celebration’ in Ghana.
At his funeral in September 2006, Hill was eulogized by, amongst others, then Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller who lauded him for his contributions to Jamaican Culture and ambassadorship to the world.
Even the passing of Joseph Hill in 2006 hasnÂ’t stopped the spread of Culture. The current evolution of Culture is fronted by Kenyatta Hill, JosephÂ’s eldest son and is enjoying renewed success due to recent re-release of many of the groupÂ’s classic albums.
by Lenny Stoute
source : digitaljournal.com