I know it’s a cliché to reach for the reggae when the sun comes out, but hell I’ve studied enough literature and psychology to know that the reasons clichés are useful and endure is that there is nearly always a kernel of truth within them. Having had almost two weeks of sun here I’ve gone and reached for the reggae, Bob Marley & The Wailers Kaya from 1978 to be precise. It’s a funny LP Kaya, often just put down as a bit of a misfire after the mighty Exodus but I think it deserves to be talked about as more than just the follow-up to Exodus.
Being the child of a reggae buff, Bob Marley’s huge later fame was always a bit bemusing. I always found myself thinking ‘my parents have been into this for years, get off the bandwagon!’, especially when a lot of it seemed to be fuelled by his most inane pop songs (Urggh! ‘Jammin’) and the fact that everyone forgot the political aspects of his career and he eventually came to stand solely as a symbol for dope smoking. This later bit always confused me, because you can see his image on every alternative market stall* selling posters, tobacco tins and T-shirts and it was a little while before, poor innocent me, realised that it was such a popular image only because it said ‘the person wearing/using an object/putting up a poster with this man’s face on it advocates the smoking of dope’. Odd. At home Bob Marley & The Wailers were all-conquering gods, combining radical politics and sheer fun on track after track and occasionally on tunes like ‘Redemption Song’ achieving a very real and moving profundity, so it was all disappointingly superficial. But elitist griping aside I bought this in June 1996 – on a sunny day, I’m willing to bet. I thought I may as well start buying this LPs myself since I wasn’t going to get my hands on parents’ copies for a while**.
Just to show the world how right I am about such things, what does Kaya open with? ‘Easy Skanking’ with it’s refrain of
Excuse me while I light my spliff
Oh GOD I gotta take a lift
From reality I just can’t drift
That’s why I am staying with this riff
So not about smoking at all, nope! Also make sure you clock the large spliff and leaves decoration on the back cover! It’s a great gentle tune, the Wailers’ pop nous to the forefront and the fabulous I Threes combination of backing vocals / Greek tragic chorus working beautifully. It’s just got a perfect loping groove, I’d be willing to bet that at least one of you reading this was conceived to the sound of it. This is an easy, sunny LP, my favourite track is ‘Sun Is Shining’, is an insistent laid-back hymn to the sun, dance and feeling good. The lyrics are fairly routine but the rhythm and melody is just sublime, it has an edge though which stops it being background music. I also like what Finley Quaye did with the track when he covered it.
The Wailers tend to get forgotten a bit, but they were a formidable outfit. Carlton Barrett and Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett were a drum and bass combo capable of besting anyone in reggae, apart from maybe Sly and Robbie. Whereas Junior Murvin has the much underrated knack of not playing many notes but all the right ones. It may sound like a bit of damn obvious thing to say but Bob Marley was a great vocalist too, his voice adding textures and feeling above and beyond the bare lyrics.
Kaya is a good LP, not a great one by any means and it does take a bit of a dive towards the end of Side 1, start of Side 2 ‘She’s Gone’ and ‘Satisfy My Soul’ are fillers pure and simple. Possibly because a lot of the songs here are reworked versions from the Exodus sessions and/or re-recorded tracks from his early LPs on Trojan. We hit the heights again on ‘Misty Morning’, another great tune by anyone’s standards and ‘Crisis’, the sole truly political track on Kaya. This is followed by ‘Running Away’ a restrained, soul-tinged number which features a beautifully relaxed vocal, which morphs into Bob Marley singing in a very strange voice indeed for no apparent reason. The LP closes with ‘Time Will Tell’, beloved of Chris Robinson and covered by The Black Crowes I think. The sweet melody jars with the refrain,
Time alone, oh! time will tell
think you’re in heaven, but you living in hell
So there you have it Kaya is a good, sunny, (mostly) happy-go-lucky LP and it’s always a good exercise to go back and listen to the albums of artists like Bob Marley & The Wailers who have just been greatest hitted to death.
P.S- no Lego this time, just the coolest pics I could find of Bob Marley around 1978 – I lack the Lego wherewithal to make a convincing Bob Marley: are you listening Lego? we need a rasta set immediately.
*especially in mainland Europe.
**should either of you stumble across this one day in the future, this was a joke.