Messenjah and Snypa Levi

2008 has already been a landmark year for Christchurch-based group, Dubwize.  This May, four years after the release of their previous two albums, To The Control Tower (2001) and Reality Chant (2003), the crew released their third album, the debut solo offering from lead-vocalist, Snypa Levi – The Sojourner.

The album was the first release from their own label, Reality Chant, which was established six months ago.  As Messenjah explains, ‘I decided that I wanted to keep using the brand as my record label as it suits what we are all about – promoting reality in this time, when we are exposed to so much fantasy and disillusion through mainstream media, television and music.’   

Dubwize are comprised of three key members – Gabriel ‘Messenjah’ Calcott (producer, sound-engineer and selector), David ‘Snypa’ Levi (vocalist) and Nava ‘Confucius’ Thomas (keys, bass, production).  They also work closely with a selection of vocalists including Raggadon (Eskimo Squad, UK), Tuff Enchant, Iya Fari and some of New Zealand’s top session musicians.

Since their formation in 2001, Dubwize have established themselves as solid players in the New Zealand reggae scene.  Having spent the last few years playing major festival circuits, touring extensively throughout the South and making memorable appearances in the North, supporting most reggae internationals that pass through the country, gigging in Australia and making music videos, it is not hard to see why the album was so long in the making.

Add to this the geographic locations of the crew, with Snypa based in the North and Messenjah and Confucius in the South, it has taken sustained innovation and determination from all involved to carry the project to its completion.

Constant travelling, fitting in with each other’s schedules and finding new ways to facilitate the creative process long-distance proved no easy task.  Messenjah states, ‘The album has been a testing process due to the fact that we live in different islands which has made it very time consuming.  Recording took place at ten different studios in different parts of the country spread out between Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland over four years.

This made things quite interesting for me as the producer and engineer of the project. Levi would come to Christchurch, we would get a whole heap of work done then he would head home to the Bay of Plenty for a couple of months, and things would have to be put on hold until we could hook up again.

It has certainly been rewarding finishing the album, in the end it has been extremely satisfying and has been well worth the wait.’

The relationship between producer and artist is one that has been crucial throughout the history of reggae and the recognition of this importance and the strength and unity that has been fostered among the crew is obvious, with Snypa explaining, ‘The relationship between artist and producer in the early days of reggae (60s, 70s) was absolutely symbiotic. One could not exist without the other  

As far as this release goes, myself, Messenjah and Confucius have functioned as a production ‘trinity’, one laying the foundation, the beat, the direction and basic form of the tune, another laying down most of the instruments, and another writing lyrics, melody, horn arrangements, harmonies, etc.’

Messenjah also reinforced this relationship, ‘A good working relationship between artist and producer is crucial. I have been working with Levi for over 7 years and it has certainly changed in that time. When we first started out the whole production game was new to me and it involved a lot of experimentation to get the sound we were looking for. Whereas with the new album we both knew what sound we wanted and we would just get straight down to business.  

The same artists and producers inspire us both so it made the whole process a lot easier creatively. With some songs I produced the riddim first and Levi wrote the lyrics to that, others Levi had the lyrics first and I produced the riddim to his song.  This kept it interesting and enabled us to get a clearer picture of what we wanted as the album progressed. Good communication is the key.’

When asked who inspires and guides their musical creation, Messenjah included mid-seventies to early-eighties producers and artists such as Sly and Robbie, Roots Radics, Burning Spear, Joe Gibbs, Jacob Miller, Freddie McGregor, Dennis Brown and Augustus Pablo as well as the current crop of new wave contemporary roots and dancehall producers and artists such as, Sizzla, Capleton, Jah Mason, Jah Cure, Jnr Kelly, Turbulence, Chuck Fenda, Chrisinti and many more.

Snypa stated some of his key influences as The Wailers, old-school singers like Freddy McGregor, Sugar Minot, Tabby Diamonds, Johnny Osbourne and DJs like Tony Rebel, General Trees, Brigadier Jerry, Prezident Brown and Shabba Ranks. These days he ‘…gets charged up by Turbulence, Fantan Mojah, Jnr Kelly, Jah Mason, basically all the youth who throw down militant, melodic and conscious.’

The second part of the year looks to be equally challenging but also as productive as the first for the crew.  They are supporting Luciano and Mikey General for their two South Island shows on 29 and 30 May and are also putting plans in place for an album release tour of the rest of the country.

Dubwize have also been working on a second project which is perhaps set to be one of their biggest yet.  The Country Living rhythm (featured on The Sojourner album) is due for release on a series of 7″s and along with Snypa, there will be versions from Jamaican artists, Jah Mason, Chrisinti and Ginjah.  Check for this in June 2008.

The final word went to Messenjah, when he stated, ‘Thanks to the massive for supporting Dubwize over the years!  Reggae music can only grow in Aotearoa! I hope this album and our next releases can contribute to that. Keep Jah fire blazing. Blessed love’.

Venus Hi Fi