Review Summary: Black Uhuru mixes all of the popular reggae styles of roots, dub and dance hall to give the voice of freedom a new inflection.
Black Uhuru (Uhuru meaning freedom in Swahili), was formed in 1974 by Derrick "Duckie" Simpson and was initially named 'Black Sounds Uhuru'. The original configuration of the band was Derrick Simpson, Don Carlos and Rudolph "Garth" Dennis. The band released a few singles in Jamaica but the lack of record company interest led Don Carlos to leave and go solo, and for Garth Dennis to join The Wailing Souls. They were replaced by Errol Nelson and the "reggae-cantor" vocalist Michael Rose.
With the new line-up established, and a stellar backing band of Robbie Shakespear on bass; Sly Dunbar on drums and Earl "Chinna" Smith on guitar, the band released its first album "Love Crisis" in 1977. This would be re-mixed by Prince Jammy and released as "Black Sounds Of Freedom" in 1981.
The music on this album is an interesting collaboration of roots-rock, dub, dance hall, and funk. This conglomeration of styles sounds daunting but the band is able to, as Tim Gunn likes to say - make it work. The innovative and revolutionary bass stylings of Robbie Shakespear and drumming by Sly Dunbar really propel the music of the album.
"I Love King Selassie" was a hit in Jamaica, and it is straight roots-rock.
"Satan Army Band" is another roots-rock tune with a nice horn arrangement driving the melody.
"Time To Unite" has a disco horn opening which segues into another hypnotic, roots, grooving rhythm. The singing by Michael Rose is gravely and intoxicating. The band then does a pretty faithful rendition of "Natural Mystic" by Bob Marley.
"Eden Out Deh" has a clavinet playng a predominant role in establishing the melody, while Robbie and Sly lay down a dub style backbeat.
"Love Crisis" follows and it is a pop-reggae song made for radio play, with nice harmonica playing by Johnny Osbourne (Ozzie's brodha - sort of).
"African Love" has a dance hall, disco, dub vibe with Michael Rose sounding great. "Hard Ground" is another mixture of roots and dub making a hypnotic offspring that enables Michael Roses voice to sound even more awesome.
"Willow Tree" has a fantastic dub beat by Robbie Shakespear while Michael laments about the hardships of ghetto life.
"Sorry For The Man" ends the album in an appropriate and interesting mixture of dub, roots and electronic music with Michael singing about the travails of love.
While the message of unity, love, ghetto life and military violence is nothing new, the motley crue mixture of the different reggae music styles (dub, roots, dance hall) was somewhat groundbreaking at the time. The band would expand on this interesting mixture and achieve its greatest success in the early 1980s won they won a grammy; the first reggae band to do so. Peace and love.