Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gospel reggae: Tropical vibes of praise!

Now back to happier topics! Six months ago I discovered a new genre of music: gospel reggae. I don't know about you my Christian brothers and sisters but at least for me this phenomenon is a whole new discovery that I didn't know existed and I'm so excited about it! I haven't found yet my personal favourite artist of this genre but once I'll find it I'll definitely buy my first gospel reggae album. I actually almost prefer gospel reggae to more traditional gospel soul though I consider both so touching and uplifting. I also suppose that I've mentioned that I love also secular reggae my favourite artist of the genre being Ziggy Marley. Because I haven't found a significant artist of the gospel reggae genre yet I'm not quite sure yet how to present the genre for the other newbies.

Gospel reggae naturally originates from Jamaica and sounds exactly the same as the secular reggae only difference being Christianity-themed lyrics. Several reggae artists, many of whom were previously part of he Rastafari movement, have converted to Christianity and adopted gospel reggae as their primary style. Examples include Tommy Cowan, Carlene Davis, Nora Dean, Papa San, Sanchez and Lieutenant Stitchie. Lester Lewis has been described as a pioneer of gospel reggae, having won the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Gospel Song Competition in 1989 with "Every Time I Read My Bible." The popularity of gospel reggae has been seen as a sign that reggae has taken broader hold in Jamaica, having previously been strongly identified with the Rastafarian community. To me personally the first gospel reggae artists that I heard were June J. Wright, Judith Gayle, Chevelle Franklyn, Christafari, Sherwin Gardner, Sanchez, Sister Patt, Marvia Providence and Donna Marie. I've heard the most music by Judith Gayle so I'll probably provide some kind of a review of her production after showing the big picture.

Best of Christian Reggae Parts 1 & 2

Chevelle Franklyn, Queen Of Gospel Reggae: Number One

Judith Gayle
Judith Gayle was born in Clarendon, Jamaica. Judith began her music career in the 1980's singing with secular artist and as a cabaret singer in Jamaica's most prestigious hotels. From ever since she could remember music has always been her love. She traveled to the Cayman Islands to perform in 1983, and when she was about 14 years of age, she auditioned for the Tastee Talent Competition but wasn't selected. Judith relocated to Negril to reside with her brother who owned and operated several businesses along the northern coastal areas. She was eventually employed with Hedonism II Resort as 'a singing entertainer' and she entertained on the North Coast of Jamaica for approximately ten years. In 1998, Judith was the first runner up in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Popular Song Competition with her first single "Mi Na Lef Jamaica". She then teamed up with Lady Saw to record a song entitled "Matey". Judith was also a back-up singer for Ritchie Stephens.

In 1999 her life changed as God captivated her heart at a local church in Clarendon where she was invited by a friend. Judith's early years as a young Christian brought seemingly unbearable serving of loss, heartache, despair, fear, pain, struggle and suffering. Having been stripped of everything and isolated in misery, she experienced brokenness in God who taught her to smile again. Judith is currently a proud member of the Overcomers Christian International. Beside her native Jamaica Judith's career prospers also in Canada, in the USA, England, the Caribbean and in various other countries.
Judith Gayle has released and produced five studio albums: Jesus Is Alive (2000), The Sun Shines Again (2003), Broken to Be Blessed (2006), Designed to Worship (2009?) and her latest album I Believe (2012) which I'll review. Judith produces and writes or co-writes all her music.

Judith has been privileged to share a stage with Pastor Donnie McClurkin (who has dubbed her "the Jamaican Whitney Houston"), CeCe Winans, Rev. Jackie McCullough, Papa San, DJ Nicholas, Alvin Slaughter and many others. In the early fall of 2004 Judith was invited to minister at Canada's Premier Gospel Award Event, the Maja Awards. She is the Two (2) time Marlin Award Nominee and winner of the Jamaica's Mega Jamz award for the best female artist in 2009. In 2009 she was also awarded by the Mega Gospel Awards as the best female vocalist of the year. Judith names Shirley Caesar, F.C. Barnes and Carol Carridice as her musical influences.

Now God has inspired her through her experience to pen and publish her first book, "Preserving the Soul." Through her experiences God has taught her the importance of a healthy soul. "Preserving the Soul" teaches you about the effects of sin on the soul and the plans of the enemy to destroy the soul. You will also discover how through the power of God you can restore a soul that has been tormented and bound by the enemy. She is also currently pursuing a Degree in Theology. Judith is also in the restaurant business and she's an entrepreneur. She would like to teach people about business and also how to have the attitude of Christ displayed in your business. Judith wants to be financially balanced because she wants to help people and establish a women's ministry. She also wants to train gospel artists and help produce their music. She has also a women's cloth boutique. Judith loves also baking, listening to Latin music and counselling and encouraging others.

I Believe (2012)

Judith Gayle is only a minor act but this album should promote her to a rising star. This album exceeded all my expectations as I thought it would sound cheaply made and cheesy but I was SO wrong! I also expected that there would be more ballads than upbeat reggae songs but luckily it's the opposite way. Judith Gayle's most recent album opens with light, summery, even a bit sensual dancehall or house influenced and autotuned "Rejoice In The Lord" which sounds very modern and trendy (could be played on MTV!). It continues with a mellow, carefree roots reggae influenced vibe of "God Is So Good" which is one of her most recent singles from the album.
The third track "It Is Not I" continues with mellow, relaxing, hopeful vibes explaining how God works through your troubles. It sounds like a mix of roots reggae and pop/rock and house.
The fourth track "God Is Amazing" opens with elegant piano sounding like a live song with cheering audience. Judith's vocals are amazing on this beautiful, smooth ballad joined by female backing vocals. The fifth track is Judith's second current single and the title song "I Believe" which is probably the most cliché and cheesiest song on the album. It's a touching, bright piano ballad as well. Judith is joined by deeply humming backing vocals.
The sixth track "Roll Away" continues the similar mellow roots reggae vibes already heard in "God Is So Good". The song tells about that bliss how God takes away your burdens. It's groovy and fun with horns and mellow backing vocals. I consider Judith's vocals smooth, soulful, deep and dark.
The seventh track "Turn It Around" is my least favourite on the album being the most melancholic track on the album with heavy rock influence (electronic guitars and psychedelic piano). It's of course only a taste question as this song is undoubtedly the strongest one on the album and Judith still continues shine with her vocals. 

I was positively surprised about the versatile repertoire of influences heard on the album. I'm hearing dancehall or house influences, roots reggae, soul and R&B, pop, hiphop and even a bit of rock, Latin and African influences on the album. All in all the sound is very strong, smooth and fresh which shows that her production is flawless, extremely professional and very well done. This album is so empowering and uplifting and it offers you perfect worship music for summer and will keep you warm on winter! I highly recommend for the young audience or anybody who loves these genres. This album is so upbeat that it makes me wish that I could dance along its songs like "He Brought Me Out"!

This album manages to give Judith also a high profile by its many collaborations including "Switch" featuring Courtney McClean, "He Brought Me Out" featuring Sista Sasha, "I Will Wait Till My Change Has Come" featuring Kevin Downswell, "Heaven" featuring Kerron Ennis, "I Will Never Let You Down" featuring Eddie Neblett and the closing track "Thank You Lord" featuring Alleluia Bwoy. These tracks with collaborations are probably the best songs on the album.

Grade: 8/10. It would be wrong to give her a grade less than this because I loved each and every song except "Turn It Around". Her vocals sound nearly flawless whereas the whole production is extremely very well done, "huge" and professional and so flawless but this album doesn't sound overproduced on any level. I would have given this album 9/10 just for the great sound but I had to give her some minus points as I haven't got enough proof of her active creative control over her recording. I've grown to realize that she may have it a little but maybe not enough to give her the full props of a singer-songwriter. If I had to find something more a bit negative to say the album feels pretty long to listen to though it gives you a beautiful, enjoyable experience but I'd have probably shortened the album to 15 songs instead of 17.


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