Review: Max Bell, NME, May 1981

After a period of too much introspection and clinging to musical tradition the better mainstream reggae is emerging into harder light. Obvious events of world wide significance in recent weeks – the vigorous black militancy in Britain, genocide in Atlanta, the sad death of Bob Marley – Jamaica’s political instability – will force another role and a renewed potency onto the style.

Black Unhuru’s ‘Red arrives at a particularly poignant moment while ‘Sinsemilla’ and ‘Showcase’ have already established the vocal strengths of Michael Rose, Puma and Duckie Simpson and cast them forward as potential ambassadors for rasta’s best shot, righteousness and tolerance without mystical confusion.

On top of that, Black Uhuru continue to benefit from their association with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, two seminal producers, musicians and arrangers. The Sly and Robbie connection is begging to have a huge hold on all sorts of creative soul sounds; the metal funk of Grace Jones, the sweet lovers rock of The Tamlins, the Taxi rankin’ catalogue. This is also a time when no one can pretend that Island is Babylon and so Sly and Robbie keep an ear open to catch those strange folks at Ze. You can hear this on ‘Red’ and it’s beneficial.

Meanwhile Black Uhuru are developing their own direction and character. Michael Rose stands for peace and life. The songs that wrap around ‘Red’, ‘Youth of Eglington’ and ‘Carbine’ make that clear. Uhuru want to take the sting out of the tension and defuse ugly gun law. Rose says that without compromise, looking about in the cheap Freddy Laker jet age for his examples. Uhuru recognise the struggle in New York, Kingston and London, the only place to avoid the sounds of gunshot (so far).

But no everything is endurance and danger, ‘Sponji Reggae’ is a light and humorous account of the musical drug, ‘Utterance’ a celebration of its mass acceptance.

The lynchpin on ‘Red‘ is probably ‘Rockstone’, a defiant work song that protests on behalf of people without the right of choice. A contemporary slavery days.

Whatever the focus Black Uhuru are to deliver a fresh approach; all the group sounds, rhythms and vocal parts are stimulating and funky. Puma’s range is deployed to make the choruses sticky and sensual while the back-up is radical enough to be interesting in its own right. For the third time Black Uhuru have concocted a combination of ingredients to ease your head. They’re also up to date. Take it as ‘Red’.