Sly and Robbie pay tribute with ‘Red Hills Road’ - New album drops January 1
In the roaring 70s Red Hills Road in St Andrew played host to an endless number of night clubs and was the acknowledged hip strip for city Kingston. In fact, two of Jamaica’s musical legends trace their genesis to Red Hills Road and the clubs with unforgettable names, which were the hub for live bands.
“Every club on the strip had a resident band. I played at Tit For Tat and Robbie was across the road at the Evil People, and that was how we met,” drummer Lowell ‘Sly’ Dunbar, one-half of the famous ‘Rhythm Twins’, Sly and Robbie told The Gleaner. He went down memory lane to name clubs, long departed from the now violence-prone area which too often rocks to the sounds of live rounds rather than live music. Among the clubs which partygoers flocked were Neptune, Stables, Golden Nuggets and Turntable and The Rock, which was just around the road.
But despite the transition in the area, and their international successes, the renowned Taxi label duo, Sly and Robbie, have remained loyal to Red Hills Road. Their One Pop Studio, although not positioned in the same section which once housed the legendary strip, is still on the road, right at number 30. And in homage to the road which is suffused with musical history, their latest album is aptly titled, Red Hills Road.
“We were not working on an album, we were just making some tracks,” Sly said of the project. “But sometimes you make 45s or singles and they don’t go anywhere. An album lasts longer,” he explained. And for this project, the 13 tracks are driven by rhythm and instrumentals, and is imbued with what bass player, Robbie Shakespeare, calls “a raw sound, nothing too over produced or complicated”.
Engineer, Rorey Baker, who handles the recording and mixing duties at One Pop Studio, added that the project has been in the making since 2014, but “we thought we were ahead of the groove, so we pulled back. We want to ensure that it captures the imagination of the public,” he said.
The pencil slim Sly, who jokes that back in the days he was the ‘Bones’ in the Ansel Collins-led band Skin, Flesh and Bones, is heavy on instrumentals, and he does a bit of experimentation on Red Hills Road. “I have a love for instrumentals, so we’ve been doing just that, and especially on a dancehall beat. There were lots of hit ska and rocksteady instrumentals, but in the dancehall era, not so many. When I listen to dancehall, there’s nothing exciting happening. So I started to search for something different that people can listen to. I even go back to kumina and mento on tracks like Linstead Market and Coronation Market,” he told The Gleaner.
He, naturally, likes all the songs on the album, however, there is one that possibly has that cherry on top. “I love Sweet Dub. It is a special experimentation with the music. We went back in the Channel One kind of sound and there is also an EDM sound. It is dub with a difference,” he says with pride.
The musician has been doing quite a bit of dub projects, and one of his more recent projects is an album of that genre with vintage artiste, Bitty McLean, titled Love Restart. “There is a big marketplace in Europe for dub. Dub is nice. It is the raw riddim with just the bass and drum and the riddim and the rumbling sound,” he explained.
Having spent the first half of lockdown at home, Sly has since been going to studio twice weekly and feels that now is the best time to make more music. “A lot of people are home listening to the radio and just generally hearing more music. So, we need to make more music because people are getting a chance to listen.”
But, as much as Sly loves making music and putting that oomph in it, he confessed that he misses the road. “I love touring. Sometimes it is nice to go on tour for a few months. It is very exciting to perform and see the people how they react. Sly and Robbie is like a top band and we get a lot of booking from overseas. Sometimes we and Bitty McLean, Peter Gayle and Cherine Anderson go on tour and we play a set for between two and three hours,” he shared.
Quizzed as to how he and his ‘twin’ have kept the energy going for so long, he said it was simply the bass and drum synergy. “Sly and Robbie look for which way is the best way. We never look at it like who is the better musician, we support each other. It’s not Sly’s drum or Robbie’s guitar, it’s Sly and Robbie’s. A lot of people point at me and say ‘See Sly and Robbie there’. Or they come up to me as say ‘which one are you’, because together we are such a force that it’s as if Sly and Robbie is one person.”
On Red Hills Road, Sly and Robbie work exclusively with their longtime musical friends including Ansel Collins, Robbie Lyn, Lenky Marsden, Dean Fraser and Nambo Robinson. Drummer Speckles makes his debut on the congos. Red Hills Road is out on pre-order, and will be officially released on January 1, 2021.