Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Freddie McGregor releases album in Japan, looks to Ja
In the introduction to his latest album, Freddie McGregor - Di Captain, Jenni Jenni gives a synopsis of a music career which has spanned almost 50 years and produced over 30 albums and numerous singles.
The number 30 also figures in another way in McGregor's life, as his most recent trip to Japan (where Di Captain was released on September 5) was his 30th time to the Far East. His first trip was in 1985, when he performed on the first Reggae Sunsplash tour there.
"It is a good marketplace. I am still amazed how Japan embrace what we do," he said.
"You go to the club and is the same thing like here."
In a few weeks Jamaica will get the same 15-track album that has been released in Japan, as it is slated for a November release here.
Among the tracks on the set are Bag a Hype, a remake of Bobby Babylon (featuring Gappy Ranks), Rainbow Country, Let it Be Me (featuring Etana), There You Go, Love in the Ghetto, A Love Ballad and My Story.
In Japan, McGregor did performances at the Blue Note in Tokyo, delivering two 75-minute shows each night. There were quick results outside of the audience's applause, as A Love Ballad entered the top 50 of the online charts.
Bucking the trend of Jamaican performers picking up bands in the countries they visit, McGregor toured with a Jamaican outfit he describes as "solid, solid, sweet!"
Getting the right sound is crucial, even at the expense of the budget. "If you keep the musicians right the work will keep coming in. Nuff time we no make money, but we make sure the music is right. That's how I got the deal with Polydor. I took it unto myself to bring a 12-piece band - not because we had the money, but because we knew something would happen. And it caught the attention of Polydor," he said.
However, on this trip Japan saw something that Jamaica has not. McGregor said "We no get a chance to do it in Jamaica. The shows in Jamaica cater to a certain kind of artiste. People like me, Marcia Griffiths, we don't get to do a good performance on Sumfest and shows like that where you have certain time."
In Japan, he said, although the Blue Note is a jazz club, reggae fans mixed with the jazz audience for his performances. And there were loyal people, as McGregor said some of those who came were those who attended his first concert in Japan.
He started recording Di Captain three years ago, some of the songs done in London. Steelie and Clevie, Stingray, Freddie's son Stephen, and Dalton Browne are the producers on the set. There has been an unusually long gap between this set and the 2005 Coming in Tough which, like Di Captain, is distributed through VP Records.
He puts it down to family reasons. "The youths became prominent and we give them a chance," he said. Those youths include sons, producer Stephen 'Di Genius' and deejay Chino. McGregor said he was not worried about the time that passed between full-length sets.
Let it Be Me with Etana came from a long-standing request to work together.
"Me always a bother Etana, say me and her have to do a tune. She say anytime you ready," McGregor said. Time passed, until the right moment came for the right song. "Is a song that most Jamaicans know and love," McGregor said.
activity this year
He did not only choose a particular voice, but a musician for a particular song, Leroy Sibbles playing bass on You Won't See Me - and ending up also laying the basslines for two other songs.
McGregor has seen his share of activity this year, doing the Legends series at the Hollywood Bowl with Ziggy Marley, Toots Hibbert and Bob Andy.
Then there were shows in San Francisco, Toronto (Jamaica 50 concert) and Marseille in France, among his European appearances. He notes the contrast between what is popular there and in Jamaica.
"It showed a different side of the music scene to what is happening here," McGregor said.
There was also diversity, with a sound system tent and a vinyl store which attracted numerous customers, including McGregor.
"Me buck up a Gregory Isaacs, it amaze me," he said. And he slaps his knee as he declares "we need to get back our thing".
McGregor confesses some nervousness about the fate of Di Captain in Jamaica.
"Over the years, we do some of the songs and we do no get the attention and you wonder if it going to be the same. I can't complain that my songs are not played. The thing is when you have new product, it depends on the atmosphere at the time," he said.
However, he said for this release "I believe it is good timing" as the market is ready for "some good authentic reggae".
"We have to keep fighting on and do what we do," Di Captain said.