Music: World/Reggae

February 25, 2011

The Highs and Lows of Buju Banton

Buju_Banton When most people say they have good days and bad days in a given week, what they usually mean is that a presentation went well, their kid got an A, the dry cleaning wasn't ready on time, or the cat had to be taken to the vet after swallowing a peanut—the stuff of everyday life. Of course, when the extraordinary things happen, good or bad, they quickly bring the more mundane occurrences into perspective. For Buju Banton, the last 10 days were likely among the best and worst he's ever had. On Feb. 13, the reggae star was awarded the Grammy for Best Reggae Album for Before the Dawn, his first. But what should have been an extended celebratory period was short lived, as on Feb. 23, he was found guilty on drug charges in Tampa. The conviction could result in a minimum sentence 15 years in federal prison. Banton's lawyer announced that he intends to appeal the case. In the meantime, the outcome has saddened fans and fellow artists alike, with stars like Junior Reid and Tony Rebel coming out in support of the embattled singer. Whatever the final outcome, Buju Banton has surely felt the vertigo associated with a rather unfortunate emotional roller coaster.

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February 16, 2011

Reggae and World Music Grammy Winners

Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté Sure, the Lady Gagas, Rihannas, and Arcade Fires get a lot of ink—and computer characters—for their Grammy wins. But the pop world doesn't have a monopoly on recognition by the Recording Academy, and worthy artists from all across the musical spectrum also get a turn in the limelight. This year, the award for Best Traditional World Music Album went to Ali and Toumani, a collaboration recorded in 2005 by two of Africa's most beloved and respected musicians, the late guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté. Not enough can be said here about the album's merits, but among the most noteworthy are the fact that it was the 5th best-reviewed album of 2010 according to Metacritic and that it represents the last recording of the esteemed Touré's career. Meanwhile, Throw Down Your Heart, Africa Sessions Part 2 took the award for Best Contemporary World Music Album, earning banjo player extraordinaire Béla Fleck his 12th Grammy. The album's predecessor, 2009's Throw Down Your Heart, won in the same category last year. Finally, troubled reggae star Buju Banton won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album for Before the Dawn, which is made up of a seemingly prophetic collection of songs when taken in the context of his recent and unfortunate troubles with the law. There were many, many other deserving artists—a whole world's worth, actually—who were not recognized for their efforts in the past year, but those who were can surely be counted among the best the planet has to offer.

Throw Down Your Heart , Africa Sessions Part 2: Unreleased Tracks

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February 03, 2011

Lauryn Hill Live at the House of Blues

Lauryn Hill I was in attendance recently at the Atlantic City, New Jersey House of Blues to witness the return of one of hip-hop and R&B’s most exciting artists, Lauryn Hill. Coming back after years off the scene, Ms. Hill (as she prefers to be called) took the stage as Movado’s "I’m So Special" played and combined with the rousing applause from the audience. Following a brief interaction with the crowd, she started her set with a original song and then dove into hits from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and from her years as a member of mega-group The Fugees. It has been years since she has performed many of these songs live, which may be why many of them were arranged and played in surprisingly different ways. Many crowd favorites, such as "Lost Ones," "Final Hour," and "Doo-Wop (That Thing)" were performed at very fast tempos. In another confusing moment during the show, Hill played the song "Ex-Factor" twice in row. But later, she took a moment to slow things down and do a song honoring reggae legend Bob Marley. Throughout her set of old and new songs, many in the audience seemed to have mixed feelings about her performance. It wasn't hard to tell that much of the crowd was made up of loyal fans as (1) the show was sold out and (2) Hill hasn't released a full-length album in over a decade. But whether you love her or not, Ms. Hill’s entrance song ("I'm So Special") was certainly apt. She sure knows how to make an impression.

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Bob Marley and The Wailers, Live Forever: The Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA, September 23, 1980

Bob Marley and The Wailers, Live Forever This Sunday, Feb. 6, while America celebrates the Super Bowl, we suggest taking a moment between the fistfuls of wings, ladles of seven-layer dip, and multi-million-dollar ads featuring Clydesdale horses selling beer to also celebrate the birth of Nesta Robert "Bob" Marley, who would be turning 66 on that day, had cancer not ended his life in May 1981. Here's one way you can remember the man: Check out the recently released Live Forever: The Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA, September 23, 1980. This live album captures the revolutionary musician's last show ever, and by delightful coincidence, it was recorded in Pittsburgh—so you Steelers fans should have a little extra incentive to honor "Tuff Gong," as your city was the last to witness his genius on stage. And for the non-Pittsburgh part of the world, well, Marley's life and music are enough of a reason to take a moment, reflect, and smile.

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February 01, 2011

New Music Tuesday: Bob Marley, Ricky Martin, Dr. Dre, Aretha Franklin, Kidz Bop Kids

Most new music comes out on Tuesdays (it's a U.S. record business tradition), and each week we cull through the mountain of new releases to bring you some of the best from across different genres. Click below, or find them in Napster's New Releases section.

Bob Marley & The Wailers, Live Forever Bob Marley & The Wailers, Live Forever: The Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA, September 23, 1980 (World/Reggae): This historic concert album captures the iconic reggae group's last gig before Marley succumbed to cancer. In time for his birthday on Feb. 6, Napster's version includes five exclusive tracks.


Ricky Martin, Musica Alma Sexo Ricky Martin, Música + Alma + Sexo (Latin): Martin's first album since coming out is mostly a Spanish-language affair, but current single "Lo Mejor De Mi Vida Eres Tu" featuring Natalia Jimenez is also included as an English-language version, "The Best Thing About Me Is You," featuring Joss Stone.


Dr. Dre, I Need a Doctor Dr. Dre, "I Need a Doctor" (Hip-hop/rap): The latest number from his long, long-awaited Detox album (following first single "Kush," released in November) is brought to you by the hitmaking team that concocted Eminem's smash "Love the Way You Lie." The emotional new single features Em and Skylar Grey.


Aretha Franklin, The Great American Songbook Aretha Franklin, The Great American Songbook (R&B, pop, easy listening): A compilation of 18 standards by the likes of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and Johnny Mercer (to name a few), sung by one of the greatest singers of any generation. From her early-1960s tenure with Columbia Records.


Kidz Bop Kids, Sings the Black Eyed Peas Kidz Bop Kids, KIDZ BOP Sings the Black Eyed Peas (Children's/Pop): Pop superstars The Black Eyed Peas get the Kidz Bop treatment, with their biggest hits covered as part of the popular children's series. Songs on the album include "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling," "Let's Get it Started," and "The Time."


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January 21, 2011

Deborahe Glasgow, Gregory Isaacs, John Holt: Lovers Rock Hits (Napster Playlist)

Lovers Rock Hits (Napster Playlist) With Valentine's Day just a few weeks away, it's not too early to start thinking about mood music for you and your special someone to share during the quieter moments. That's why we're here to give you a romantic assist with Napster's "Lovers Rock Hits" playlist. This is some of the smoothest and sweetest reggae ever recorded, heavily influenced by '70s American R&B. The list includes moving ballads by righteous crooners and chanteuses like Gregory Isaacs, Deborahe Glasgow, Winston Reid, Carroll Thompson, Sugar Minott, John Holt, and more. So, this Valentine's Day, let us take care of the music—you can take care of the rest.

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January 11, 2011

Best of 2010: World and Reggae (Napster Playlist)

Best of 2010: World and Reggae We could start with the usual platitudes about how vast the world is and how hard it is to boil down what is by definition a truly global musical "genre" (if you can call it that) to about two dozen of the best songs from 2010—wait, we just did start that way. Argh. The thing is, all of that is true. It's hard enough to pick the top rock or hip-hop tracks of the year. But when you're dealing with almost the entire rest of the world's musical output, what's most notable of any year-end "best of" list is really what's left out. Nevertheless, there are always standouts that emerge from even the most crowded field, and Napster's "Best of 2010: World and Reggae" playlist highlights some of those gems. One of our favorites was the collaboration between rapper Nas and Damian Marley that yielded the excellent hybrid album Distant Relatives and its explosive opener, "As We Enter," which happens to include a sample of Ethio jazz master Mulatu Astatke's composition, "Yègellé Tezeta." Astatke also appears individually on our list with the Latin-tinged Ethiopian track "I Faram Gami I Faram." Brazilian singer-songwriter-actor Seu Jorge teamed up with the hyper-skilled band Almaz on a cover of Nelson Cavaquinho's "Juizo Final," part of a sublime covers album that tackled hits from Brazilian and American artists. Tuvan throat singers and instrumentalists Huun-huur-Tu are featured with "Konguroi," a hauntingly beautiful song that evokes the vastness of their native steppe region. Perhaps no band better exemplifies the meeting of the traditional and the contemporary than Konono No.1. With their their extreme D.I.Y. approach to instrumentation and rudimentary amplification and distortion, the Congolese collective achieve an effect at once earthily authentic and thoroughly modern. The track "Fula Fula," from their latest album, Assume Crash Positions, is a choice take. There are many more featured tracks, including standouts by Sizzla, Angélique Kidjo, Gotan Project, Gaelic Storm, Gyptian, Marcos Valle, The Chieftains, and over a dozen others. If you didn't get a chance to travel much in 2010, let us bring the world's music to you with this exciting international romp.

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December 28, 2010

Eminem, Katy Perry, Taio Cruz, Enrique Iglesias, More: Napster Favorites: Top Hits of 2010 (playlist)

Napster Favorites: Top Hits of 2010 (playlist) Featured this week is Napster Favorites: Top Hits of 2010, a collection of the biggest songs of the year compiled into one major playlist. Who could forget Eminem's monstrous return on "Love the Way You Lie," featuring Barbadian pop star Rihanna? Or Katy Perry, who released a string of hits in 2010 as well, dominating the charts with several songs from her smash album Teenage Dream, beginning with the single "California Gurls," featuring Snoop Dogg? The UK's Taio Cruz, meanwhile, burst onto the U.S. scene this year with the catchy "Dynamite," while Enrique Iglesias, not to be outdone, hit with "I Like It," featuring Pitbull, which became a huge party anthem. Other featured songs include chart-toppers from Far East Movement, Drake, B.o.B, Lady Antebellum, and many, many more. What were your favorites of 2010?

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December 02, 2010

Flip Your Latkes In The Air

I Heart Hanukkah (Napster Playlist) The 2010 Festival of Lights got started this week, and while it's true that, aside from Adam Sandler, there's a dearth of big Hannukah tunes in comparison to Christmas material, there's plenty of humor in the songs that do exist. Our "I Heart Hanukkah" playlist is a lighthearted take on the holiday, and this year includes The Maccabeats' semitic spin on the big Taio Cruz hit "Dynamite" and a new Matisyahu song. Hasidic hockey fights? Who knew?

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November 19, 2010

Dennis Brown, The Crown Prince of Reggae: Singles 1972–1985

Dennis Brown, Crown Prince of Reggae Reggae fans know that the genre has more compilation albums than you can shake a spliff at, so most of them barely register as a blip on the radar. But when powerhouse label VP Records speaks, people listen. Their latest is a massive 40-track set of highlights from the illustrious and industrious "Crown Prince of Reggae," Dennis Brown. It's been over a decade since his death, yet his sweet voice is still very much in demand. If you're not familiar with Brown and are looking for a one-stop primer on the man Bob Marley called his favorite reggae singer, or even if you're a longtime fan in search of a legitimate "best of," The Crown Prince of Reggae: Singles 1972-1985 is a solid choice.

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