Music Feature: Five of 2020’s Best Boston Reggae Recordings
By Noah Schaffer
Lots of artists made recordings during their lockdowns that have been released as vinyl, streams, videos, and in the case of the Attractors and Flying Vipers, even cassette tapes.
Like every live music scene, the Boston reggae world saw a bleak 2020. The low point came with the closure of Bull McCabe’s, which had featured local reggae multiple times a week. Still, there were some bright spots. There’s now a weekly New England roots reggae radio show hosted by Rider McCoy on ohhelloboston.com, and lots of artists made records during their lockdowns that have been released as vinyl, streams, videos, and in the case of the Attractors and Flying Vipers, even cassette tapes.
Attractors – Love Bombs LP – The Jamaican musicians who birthed ska and reggae in the ’60s were heavily influenced by jazz. Boston ska trumpeter Rich Graiko (The Void Union) continues that tradition by adding his gorgeous hard-bop tone to well-executed ska, rocksteady, and dub riddims played by some 25 collaborators from across the East Coast reggae and ska worlds.
Sista Dee and the Dis-n-Dat Band – Caribbean Soul LP – This beloved Boston band is a family affair that includes singer, steel pianist, and percussionist Sista Dee; her husband, veteran Jamaican drummer Rangotan; and her keyboardist son and fellow steel pan player Charleston Sarjeant Jr. While they’ve recorded many uplifting originals, this project finds them adding a Caribbean tinge to classics by Bobby Caldwell, the Eurythmics, and Kool and the Gang.
Flying Vipers – Cuttings LP – If there was ever an appropriate year for deep, dark explorations into the heart of dub reggae it would be 2020. The Flying Vipers keep things perfectly concise and grounded with their analog-driven approach that includes two tracks inspired by Dennis Coffey’s ’70s funk hit “Scorpio.”
Yves Lewis – Dreams Are for Living LP – St. Lucia-born, Boston-based Lewis had released 11 albums by other artists on his Wild Cubby label before stepping up to the microphone. Lewis’s incredible versatility takes the form of impressive takes on political reggae (“I Can’t Breath”), soca, and even the country-and-western music that is so popular in his native home.
Greg Roy – “Sammy” single – Boston’s reggae philosopher king Greg Roy reaches back to the early days of Jamaican folk music and delivers an updated “Sammy Dead,” a parable about a man killed for planting corn. “Did they kill him for the color of his skin?” asks Roy before declaring, “Sammy ain’t dead!”
Over the past 15 years Noah Schaffer has written about otherwise unheralded musicians from the worlds of gospel, jazz, blues, Latin, African, reggae, Middle Eastern music, klezmer, polka, and far beyond. He has produced multiple documentaries for public radio’s Afropop Worldwide program and was the researcher and liner note co-writer for the album Take Us Home: Boston Roots Reggae from 1979 to 1988. His first book project, an oral history of the Highway QC’s gospel group, will be published in early 2021. He has won over 10 awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association.