New Zealand-based label Reality Chant – comprised of Messenjah and Midnight Dubs – resurfaces with a fine EP showcasing a true Jamaican legend: Cornell Campbell. He is joined on this two-riddim release by Elijah Prophet, Hi Kee, and Raggadon, who bring about a nice range of vocal stylings.

The Elijah Prophet voiced “I’m Thankful” sets a strong tone for the release: earnest and heavyweight, balancing modern production techniques with the roots tradition. Prophet’s paired with a melodica line at times which works well to thicken the vibes, though it’s the rhythm section’s tightness that enables those other elements to shine.

On the same riddim, Cornell Campbell’s soaring tenor strikes a similar lyrical theme with “Father Says.” Cool and confident, Campbell credits the most high for his mindset, ‘like a roaring lion, afraid of no one.’ The ensuing dub lets the vocal lines reverberate out in emphasis, building tension rather than stripping away elements, all the while rolling in a rootikal fashion.

That same vocal then gets taken in a different direction for the “Father Says (Remix),” courtesy of a subtle-yet-bubbling vintage-tinged digital cut. Hi Kee’s tough dancehall-inflected flows provide a nice contrast to Campbell’s delivery. While hard to pick a favorite, this may well be the most versatile from a selector’s perspective.

Raggadon however, might beg to differ as he gives an equally passionate effort for the eponymous “Love Vs. War.” Especially noteworthy is the catchy chorus – ‘them ah talk about war, war; love is my religion, war war; love have no division, war war; love is my decision, love from season to season.’

One-half of the Reality Chant team, Messenjah, kindly took the time to tackle a short Q&A on the label’s approach, how the Love vs War EP came together, and more.

TGT: While arguably best known for its Rastafarian-infused roots, the Reality Chant production team creates and promotes many styles of reggae. How has the label evolved over time, and is my assessment accurate?

M: Blessed Love, yes that would be a correct assessment, the label is deeply immersed in cultural integration and works, recording and collaborating with Rasta artists globally. The primary focus of our work is to promote universal unity and truth through music, without apologies.

While we (myself and Midnight Dubs) produce different flavors of “Reggae” you will always hear the Nyahbingi drum foundation, which is often the starting point for our productions. We draw strong inspiration from the music that came out of Jamaica in the mid/late 70s and early 80s, so roots music is generally the motivation. It’s hard to pinpoint the evolution of the label exactly but as we move forward with each project the music progresses and develops in its own natural fashion, likewise as a tree grows, so its roots go deeper.

TGT: The Love vs War EP is primarily built around a powerful vocal from Cornell Campbell. That said, Elijah Prophet, Hi Kee, and Raggadon all give on-point contributions as well. How did this project’s lineup come together, and what led to the two diverse (yet equally heavy) riddims: melodica-fueled roots followed by bass-laden ragga?

M: Initially recorded in 2013, the backbones of the 70s inspired version were put down first, with basic drum programming, bass loop, and instrumentation. Cornell recorded his song to that (a friend Lenny Roots who was managing a US tour for Cornell at the time helped line up the recording), and when the song arrived it was clear that the vocals outshone the riddim. So we went back to the studio and re-recorded the riddim with Kiwi producer Julien Dyne on drums.

Once we had the new version I voiced Elijah Prophet on it in Jamaica, which came about through a random Facebook link up. We felt a remix was in order to make the most of Cornell’s beautiful vocal, so next we laid down the stripped back 80s version. We tend to go all in on our productions, lots of instruments and layers etc., but with the remix we went for the less-is-more approach.

The riddim was then sent to regular Reality Chant artists Hi Kee in Italy and Raggadon in England for their versions. I travelled up to Kog Studio in Auckland and mixed the tracks up there with Chris Chetland, except for the dub version, which was mixed at my studio in Christchurch. The tracks were mastered to tape at Kog, which contributes to the warm sonic characteristic of the EP.

TGT: This release, while optimistic, is all about conflict and consciousness. Love and war are both deeply rooted lyrical themes, but do you think music’s role in society has changed much since reggae’s beginnings in the 1970s? What connections do you draw between your home base in Australasia and Jamaica?

M: Reggae music can be a voice of the people, a voice of truth, reason and redemption; it can also be a vehicle for the transmission of positive energy and the teachings of his majesty Haile Selassie I. Others engage in the music for different reasons, sometimes in not such a positive or cultured manner and it has always been so.

In saying that, reggae music’s role on a global scale has changed drastically a lot since the 70’s, all one has to do is go on the Reggaeville Youtube channel and see the multitude of artists/vocalists and bands appearing from all over the world, which does say something about the power of the music as a universal language. I will hold back from commenting on the quality of some of it though.

TGT: You’ve recently released an exclusive “Dubs, Remixes & Rarities” mix for NiceUp. A showcase of wicked tunes – personally I’m hoping the “Rise Above It” remix sees a proper release right quick – which includes many tracks involving fellow Kiwis like Dub Terminator and Steezie Wonder. Any intriguing studio stories to share? And for the curious amongst the outernational audience, what’s the current state of the Aotearoan reggae scene?

M: Respect, it was awesome for some of those tracks to see the light of day. The “Rise Above It” remix in all honesty hasn’t been released because I wasn’t sure if it was fire enough, haha.

The most memorable studio session was probably with Cian Finn, a wicked Irish artist who was passing through Christchurch at the time. We voiced the tune on the Country Living riddim (which had already been released) and not long after we performed it live to a few thousand people at Ranglan Soundsplash with Dubwize Soundsystem, a most memorable session. I lost his vocals and only just dug them up on an old back-up drive.

The studio session with Deadly Hunta was pure vibes also, he was passing through the area on tour with NiceUp crew at the time, and we have continued to work with him since that initial link up.

In regards to the state of the reggae scene in Aotearoa, I have these words from Haile Selassie I: “Strength can be achieved through unity, and success is the fruit of cooperation.”

Oneness & Peace.

More info:
Reality Chant Facebook
Reality Chant Bandcamp
Reality Chant SoundCloud
Dubs, Remixes & Rarities mixed by Messenjah


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