Shaka Black — “Righteous Day” b/w “Unrighteous Dub” (2016, Horus)
Having held a long-standing romantic inclination to recreate the legendary Black Ark Studio in my home’s second room, I began scouring the internet for information regarding the gear Lee “Scratch” Perry’s employed, so that in some distant future, Marginal Brevity’d be at the controls pumping out versions for days. While preliminary research suggests, that my wallet doesn’t currently match these grandiose ambitions, in some arbitrary corner of the internet’s surreal (or is it hyperreal?) vastness, yours truly stumbled across an excellent piece of wax from small London imprint, Horus Records. Hailing from the wee island of Montserrat, Shaka Black has a real gem of a tune with his single “Righteous Day.” Urgent, portentous vocals which could give any track from Two Sevens Clash a run for its money, rockers riddim, heavy bass, tape echo, wah’d out guitar stabs, it’s all there and it’s done well. As to be expected, the B Side is an instrumental version for all the toasters and emcees out there.
Save for the obligatory surface noise found on the island versions of yesteryear, this piece could’ve taken a Benjaminian tiger leap straight out of a Black Ark session circa 1976. That said, one might feel inclined to call it a nostalgia trip. That misses a fundamental point. Just as certain chord progressions and aesthetics have become inextricably linked with rock’n’roll (I’m looking at you I-IV-V and leather jacket) and serve as signifying roadmaps, the production values present on “Righteous Day” are themselves crucial stylistic signifiers. By resisting the sterilizing force of commercialization vis-à-vis high fidelity recording methods, Shaka Black and co. have, to borrow again from Benjamin, “blasted out of the continuum of history” a rich tradition of island musics, where the spartan production is as fundamental to the tune as the notes or arrangement. If it’s ersatz, derivative garbage, you want, look elsewhere. This is the real deal and a fine example of contemporary reggae.