Monday, December 19, 2016

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Rico "Man From Wareika/Wareika Dub"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Rico Man From Wareika/Wareika Dub (Double CD, Caroline International/Island Records, 2016): Even though he had lived in the UK since 1961 and had played on numerous records as a very respected and in demand session trombone man for Laurel Aitken, Dandy Livingstone (performing on "Rudy A Message to You"), Joe Mansano, Georgie Fame, and many others (for labels such as Blue Beat, Planetone, Ska Beat, Collins Downbeat), as well as releasing several albums of his own on Pama and Trojan, Rico Rodriguez (check out our bio of him here) wasn't well-known much beyond the Jamaican immigrant community and the devoted subculture of mods and skinheads until Island signed him in 1976. By that time, Chris Blackwell had begun to experience enormous success in marketing reggae to a rock audience--specifically with Bob Marley and the Wailers--and intended to repeat/build upon it with newly signed artists like Toots and Maytals, Burning Spear, and Rico Rodriguez.

Rico recorded Man From Wareika (its title track a tribute to Rico's friend and Alpha School mentor Don Drummond who first brought Rico to the Rastas up on Wareika Hill; this song is a version of Drummond's "Green Island") with top reggae musicians (Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Bobby Ellis, Eddie Thorton, Dick Cuthell, Ansel Collins, Karl Pitterson--who also produced the majority tracks here--and many more) during sessions in England at Island's Hammersmith Studios and Jamaica at Randy's and Joe Gibb's studios. A few months prior to Man From Wareika's release in 1976, Rico toured the UK with Bob Marley and the Wailers, which helped generate advance interest in his album (and in 1977, Rico opened for Marley on the European tour in support of Exodus). Man From Wareika received positive to stellar reviews and sold well-enough that Island released an extremely sought after handmade-looking white label dub version through its Ghetto Rockers imprint and a series of Island 12" singles in 1977 and 1979--"Africa," "Ska Wars," "Dial Africa," "Take 5," and "Children of Sanchez." Having said that, Rico's heavily jazz-influenced instrumental reggae was a bit out of step with the contemporary roots reggae of the mid-70s, which limited Man From Wareika's appeal to some degree (though Jerry Dammers took note, which led to Rico essentially joining The Specials a few years later and achieving even greater popularity and acclaim). But listening to it today, one recognizes that this a phenomenal album--a masterpiece of Jamaican jazz--though nowhere as near well-known and celebrated as it should be.

This definitive 40th anniversary release of Man From Wareika marks the first time that Wareika Dub has been available on compact disc outside of Japan (where it was issued in 2004) and this double CD features 15 bonus tracks--comprised of cuts from many of the Island 12" singles, a few tracks from the Man from Wareika sessions that were first released on Roots to the Bone in 1995, and five terrific unreleased songs (vocal versions of "Africa" and "(Free) Ganja" with Ijahman Levi; a cover of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder"; and Rico's "Shabeen" and "Night of the Bongo Man," which features Count Ossie). Fans of Rico will need this in their collection--but anyone who loves reggae and Jamaican music should really give it a shot, since it's that crucial.

One hopes that this re-issue will lead to expanded releases of Rico's two albums for 2 Tone: That Man is Forward (1981) and Jama Rico (1982). The later has never been released on CD, which is shocking, as its an extraordinarily good album (it may be Man From Wareika's equal or better) and very hard to find on LP these days.

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The Cultured Pop Junkie said...

I bought this after reading this review, and I've been listening to it non-stop for the last 2 days! It's killer!

Steve from Moon said...

Excellent! Glad you love it! Enjoy!