Reggae Artists To Watch In 2016
Jamaican Reggae roots itself firmly in 2016
Erin Hansen McKnight
Reggae never died. Despite what the term "Reggae Revival" may imply, the spirit of reggae music has always lived in the streets of Kingston, or on a dusty road in the country, even when you can’t hear it. The recent scarcity of live reggae shows and sessions once left a vacancy in Jamaica. But thanks to strictly reggae events like the Wickie Wackie Music Festival, Dub Club in the Kingston hills on Sundays, Vinyl Thursdays in Crossroads, and Dubwise on Wednesdays, the genre has seen a resurrgence that has propelled into the international market. With the transglobal movements of gifted artists like Chronixx, Protoje, Jah9, and Jesse Royal leading the way, reggae music is now being celebrated enthusiatically outside of Jamaica’s borders as well as at home.
The musicians chosen for our "Artists to Watch" list are not brand new by definition, but rather artists that have been generating buzz and are poised to make big waves in the coming year. There is so much new talent coming up, both at home and abroad, that narrowing down the list was extremely difficult, and that’s the best problem to have. Some have had international experience, others are still breaking out locally, but all are bubbling and taking their time to build something long-lasting. They are all rock steady.
Here, in no particular order, are picks for reggae artists to watch in 2016
Multi-dimensional in his talent, Dre Island is at the very least a reggae singer, conscious songwriter, classically-trained pianist and producer. At times, his voice references the hoarse baritone of Stephen and Damian Marley and is just as diverse in genre-play. Keep an eye out for his upcoming debut project, Now I Rise, set for release in early 2016.
Raging Fyah is an undeniable force in the Jamaican reggae scene, and boasts an expansive discography. The talented collective just signed to VP Records for a multi-album venture, has written and produced "Black Woman" for Richie Spice, and are preparing for the release of their next album, Everlasting.
You might have heard of Kelissa from her international travels opening for Chronixx, or her musically-inclined family, or her reggae revival mention on Vogue.com. While Kelissa may be surrounded by overwhelming talent, she is staking out her own claim in the reggae scene. She has been developing her craft since she was a youth - even having traveled to Ghana to study music - and her radiating voice keeps getting sweeter and sweeter. Her recent awe-inspiring solo performance in Kingston is proof of her increasing traction.
At just 18, Skip Marley - grandson to Bob and Rita Marley and son to Cedella - is making an impressionable mark. His first official release, "Cry to Me", was a strong start to a budding career and has solidified his position amongst the next generation of Marley’s as a voice not to be taken lightly. Look out for more from him in 2016.
Singer Iba Mahr fuses the greatness of reggae's past with the best of what’s yet to come. His stirring vibrato recalls the late Alton Ellis tinged with Jacob Miller: it’s enticing and inviting. Paying homage to his reggae elders, Iba has cited Max Romeo as an important influence and mentor and even shared his knowledgeable advice from the veteran in a Wadada.tv interview last summer. Iba explained, "It’s about finding the right song, and making positive and conscious music that can uplift people and put people in different places." The full Diamond Sox LP was released in November 2015. Go cop it.
If there is a term that most fits the third generation of Marley artists, it's "genre-bending", and Daniel Bambaata Marley is the grandson that really pushes his sound outside the box. Touring with the likes of veteran entertainers such as Lauryn Hill and Don Carlos, Daniel has staked out his own claim as an artist worthy of your attention. Check out his latest release, "Waiting for the War."
Roots artist Micah Shemaiah is part of E.D.B Entertainment group, the musical collective that holds a session called Vinyl Thursdays in Crossroads, Kingston. Micah’s vintage sound combines dub with a rockers vibe, while his vocals play in tandem with the riddim, instead of overpowering it. Since the release of his Original Dread album in July, Micah has been holding steady, touring the release in Europe and even as far-reaching as Ethiopia. Expect to see him expanding internationally in the new year.
These young graduates of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts have yet to unleash the full force of their talent on to the world. Lead singer Kevor Williams takes a page from Jimmy Cliff and Peter Tosh with his transcendent voice. The group’s acoustic performance for "Black Face" is enough to give even the hardest badman goosepimples. The collective recently performed at the strictly reggae Wickie Wackie Music Festival in Jamaica on Dec 5th. Keep your eye out for more from them.
Runkus literally hails from musical determination, as the son of veteran reggae artist Determine. A diverse talent, he has the ability to cross from dancehall to reggae seamlessly. He recently dropped the track "Move Yuh Feet," a new single from his Move In EP which features production by Oneness Records and is slated for release in January 2016.
A soulful young artist, Sevana has one of the strongest voices in Jamaica right now. With support from Protoje, Phillip "Winta" James, and the InDIGGnation collective, Sevana’s first single "Too Shy" was enthusiastically received by reggae lovers around the globe. Her voice elicits deep emotional maturity, particularly in her acapella version of Sia’s "Chandelier". Earlier this year, during a video interview, she promised an upcoming single and EP soon to follow. We’re waiting for both with bated breath.
Keznamdi has been catching fire, particularly with "Ganja Man", his herbal refix of Jidenna’s "Classic Man". Both a singer and DJ - and brother to Kelissa - Keznamdi is versatile and spirited. He is also very busy. This December he is traveling to Eastern Africa, while also preparing for the video release of his survivor anthem, "Champion", and then revving up for a West Coast tour and the release of his mixtape with Mighty Crown in early 2016. Up. Way up.
Kabaka Pyramid’s lyrical prowess is not for the flippant. He has grit and an opinion worth a damn. Best of all, he puts his energy into what he preaches, taking action to support the National Environmental & Planning Agency and the local environmentalist community. Expect a joint EP from Kabaka and Walshy Fire in 2016, which will undoubtedly increase his presence on the global radar.
Since he was a little youth, Joseph "Jo Mersa" Marley was stepping into the shoes of his musical heritage with enthusiasm, taking the stage to join his father and the Melody Makers. Jo Mersa finds inspiration in everything from roots heritage to EDM and hip-hop, making him a dynamic artist and singjay with a bright future. Check out his first EP, Comfortable, and take note.
Straight from the yard of reggae legend Max Romeo comes his youngest daughter, Xana. Taking a lesson from her father’s wisdom, Xana has released two stellar singles this year with the promise of her debut album, The Cleanse, in due time. The young artist has made a clear path for herself, but is in no hurry to flood the market with her music. Instead, she’s taking care to create a strong project with a vision for the future in mind. Clever lady.