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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Inner Circle Revives Rasta vibe of Reggae's Glory Days

When most people think of Inner Circle, they think of the COPS theme song “Bad Boys”—so much so that for a while there, the Jamaican group was nicknamed the “Bad Boys of Reggae”. Which is a bit of a misnomer. The easygoing, spiritually enlightened musicians never really were all that bad-ass. The song was more about karma and how it will get you in the end, not about outrunning the five-O in suburbia.

Furthermore, since its formation in 1968, Inner Circle has never hyped up violence as part of its m.o. The original lineup, including cofounder and guitarist Roger Lewis, was part of the '70s' socially conscious reggae movement, synonymous with Bob Marley—an era Lewis is trying to recapture with the band's latest album, State of Da World.

“I really love that period because it gave us a state of something that was of our own making,” recalls Lewis, who's calling from his Miami digs. “That conscious wave, that reasoning, that talking of the world and understanding the world and what the world is about, and putting everything in a black conscious perspective, is basically, to me, what rasta is really about.”

Unfortunately, Lewis feels that a lot of that original spirit in Jamaica has been lost because of the glorification of violence in mass media.

“The young kids coming up now adhere more to that,” Lewis says. “Jamaica is much more Americanized in thought and ways of life than ever before…and in all of the Caribbean. Every man is a gangsta.…all of the Caribbean islands—plagued with crime.”

That's the motivation for State of Da World's opening track, “Dis Life”. Over an '80s-era reggae beat, the song starts with these bleak observations: “Dis life is not the same anymore/Makes me want to run away/It's a new vibe taking over the world.”

But the album is not a doomsday warning for long. Three tracks later, we get the centrepiece, “Smoke Gets In My Eyes”, a chilled hip-hop/old-school reggae hybrid featuring Damian and Stephen Marley on vox. As Lewis recalls, during the recording process the brothers respectfully referred to him as “Uncle”. And that familial warmth definitely shines through.
And for the ganja set, there's “Mary Collie Weed”, a re-recorded pro-bud song that Inner Circle originally released almost two decades ago. The herb hymn received very little fanfare back then—and Lewis predicts it won't be taking over mainstream radio airwaves this time round, either (nor will any track on State of Da World, for that matter).
“I'm good with that, mon,” says Lewis. “It's for reggae people who love reggae, and who follow it and understand it.”

Inner Circle plays the Commodore Ballroom on Friday (March 5).


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