Despite an occasional bad seed fouling the crop, Jamaica’s recently offered a bounty of young, conscious reggae men sincerely spreading messages of peace and righteousness. This new lot, which includes Turbulence, Gyptian, Fantan Mojah, Rob Symeonn and Richie Spice, resists the slackness and negativity offered by their dancehall peers and celebrates life, nature and respect for women. Richie Spice’s newest album, In The Streets To Africa, not only teaches admiration for the ladies and the land, but reggae music as well.
Although Spice has been a reggae foot soldier for quite some time, and is one of the “elders” in this new conscious group, his ruminative, smooth vibration only began to gain attention with his hit 2004 album Spice In Your Life. Born Richell Bonner in St. Andrew in 1971, Spice has been aggressively pursuing his musical career since 1994, and has wowed critics with a distinctive singing voice teetering toward pop-friendliness. Although Spice’s vocals are a manifestation of Rastafari, his tone and timbre, especially on his love songs, evoke Stevie Wonder at times. In fact, In The Streets To Africa is something of a love song sandwich, with crooner tunes including “Brown Skin,” “Uptown Girl,” “Babyface” and “Grooving My Girl” (some of which have been released in Jamaica and have appeared on reggae compilations) piled in the middle of the album.
“This new sound is leading the people to the path of righteousness right now, because righteousness shall cover the earth just like water cover the sea,” says Spice. “And that is where we are at right now—it is also meant to uplift the empress with songs; melodies and sounds to make a women feel even more hopeful. This is the way the real reggae music supposed to be. It is the music that the people listen to going through their day to day life.”
Spice easily rolls through the tunes on In The Streets To Africa by climbing to his characteristic falsetto and balancing it out with his normal singing voice. He starts out “Open The Doors” this way and flows into a Jacob Miller-esque stuttering singsong, reaffirming his versatility and displaying his range. This pattern plays out through the entire album.
Spice not only pays homage to reggae tradition through his singing voice and conscious lyrics, but he welcomes them into the musical mix as well. The track “Digital Days” features Culture (and the late Joseph Hill) as well as Spice’s brothers Spanner Banner and Pliers (famous for his ’90s hit “Murder She Wrote” with Chaka Demus). The track is one of the album’s best, with the feel of an authentic old-time hit.
“Working with Culture was a nice vibration because we did this song together and everyone come to the studio and work on it together,” says Spice. “It just takes a good meditation and natural vibration to make a classic sound.”
While much of reggae’s recent international success has been spurred by the invasion of slackness-promoting dancehall, Spice remains true to his reggae roots, adding that his music is both “international and local, because I speak for the people out there who facin’ the struggle at home and abroad.”
One of the most important factors a conscious reggae man must consider is his influence on the youth, supporting the ideology that the next generation can make things better for everyone if only there is someone to guide them, someone for them to look up to. Spice’s hit “Youths Dem So Cold” delivers this message, and it’s apparent that when the singer was a youth, he viewed reggae’s creators as respected role models. “As a youth, reggae influence me very greatly because it teach me to be self-confident and self-intelligent,” muses Spice. “It teach me the way I was supposed to live—reggae like a father to me.” And Spice is like a father to the youth on “Youths Dem So Cold,” when he sings, “As generations comes and grows you got to make preparatio