I’d just like to say two things before I start this review. In case you were wondering what the hell “Uhuru” is it means “freedom” in Swahili. Secondly Black Uhuru were the first reggae group to ever win a grammy award.
1981 is considered to be a bad year for reggae and its obvious why. Bob Marley the famous reggae singer/songwriter passed away in 1981, so basically the genres only well known figure is now dead. Coincidentally the most iconic and well known reggae artist suddenly passes away in the same month that Black Uhuru release their most critically acclaimed album Red
. While Red
wasn’t even close to being as popular as anything that Marley released it is still one of the strongest reggae albums released in the early 80's.
is a very diverse and colorful record. Pianos, flutes, synthesizers, electronic drums, guitars, and brass instruments are all found throughout the course of the album. The record opens up with Youth of Eglington
, a shimmery, vibrant tune. There is actually a lot going on musically, grand piano chords play over a sleazy flute line and of course the classic reggae guitar riff is also playing. Lead singer Derrick Simpson sings through all of this, his slurred tone and Jamaican accent gives the music a heavy Carribean atmosphere making the song a definitive highlight . Spongji Reggae
is another track that incorporates numerous instruments into the music. A synthesizer twinkle plays frequently over a sandy beat, the production makes it seem like Black Uhuru are playing right in front of your eyes. This is easily the kinkiest song off of Red
and it even wants to make me get up and do a little jig.
has to be the most soul influenced song off the album. Simpson is accompanied by an array of sublime female vocalists that sing in between the groovy guitar licks creating a gospel and religious type of feel. The most noticeable part of the song would have to be the slick guitar playing, it’s the best off of the album. Carbine
has a slightly different approach from the rest of these songs. It has a slow, steady beat played over a mellow guitar riff. The focus of the song would definitely be the chorus were Simpson and some women vocalists wail out undecipherable words about freedom. Black Uhuru really nail the Jamaican atmosphere with this song. The highlight of Red
has to be the closer, Trodding
. A deep, lazy bassline plays over dub effects and piano chords. Snazzy guitar rhythms take over throughout the middle of the song and instrumentally this is the strongest track off the album.
While this is an excellent record there are two songs that pail in comparison to the rest of the album. Puff She Puff
is your run of the mill reggae tune, the monotonous guitar riff plays over Derricks strong vocals but the problem is that the song clocks in at five minutes long and it tends to get boring and tedious after a while. Rockstone
follows Puff She Puff
and is another lackluster song. It features another typical reggae melody with the basic guitar line that is repeated throughout the whole song. This stretch of the album shows that reggae music can get repetitive as these two tracks are both stripped down and basic.
Instead of playing the same song over and over Black Uhuru mix in crafty elements of soul and funk into their reggae roots. Some reggae fanatics consider Red
to be a classic, but I strongly disagree. While it contains some key tracks and groovy instrumentation it’s nothing mindblowing, yet it’s still good. If you’re seeking some laid-back and relaxing reggae this wouldn’t be a bad choice yet the atmosphere is animated and peppy. There are some occasional parts were the music will get relaxing but for the most part it stays upbeat. Despite its lifeless mid-section Red
will please anyone who is looking for some loveable reggae music that will get you off your feet.