Think reggae music, and one usually thinks Jamaica - the land of Bob Marley and Dennis Brown, Third World and Gregory Isaacs, Garnet Silk and Sizzla. Yet, reggae has long since gone beyond the shores of its country of birth and is now an international phenomenon. For the past fifteen years, the Virgin Islands has developed a unique reggae movement that has captured the support and attention of reggae lovers across the world. With artists like Midnite, Pressure, Dezarie, Niyorah, Mada Nile, Batch and others leading the way, VI reggae is an identifiable force in the world of reggae.
The most well-known VI reggae act is the St. Croix-based quintet, Midnite - a group known for their heavyweight deep roots sound and penetrating lyrics by frontman Vaughn Benjamin. One of the most prolific bands in all of reggae, Midnite has released over forty-five albums since their stunning debut album of 1997 - "Unpolished." Midnite is currently a highly active touring band, having played at major festivals in the US, South America and Europe. Just as renowned, but from a very different trajectory, is the St. Thomian native son known as Pressure. The former member of a local supergroup known as the Star Lion Family, Pressure traveled to Jamaica where he teamed up with producer Don Corleon to release the international breakout hit, "Love and Affection" in 2008 and has since developed a strong musical career with three acclaimed albums and supporters the world over.
Yet beyond these household-name VI reggae artists are scores of other artists and musicians who have developed a sound and style of reggae that many reggae lovers find refreshing. Musically, VI reggae is known for its live instrumentation sound, its spiritually uplifting lyrics and its heavy emphasis on the deep tones of one-drop drums and rumbling basslines. Lyrically, VI Reggae artists approach music as much as education as entertainment. Artists such as Mada Nile, Niyorah, and Batch are known for their socially conscious lyrics that send messages of empowerment and upliftment. Mada Nile, has recently teamed up with the Stop the Bleeding Foundation, to lend the lyrics of her hit, "Like to See" to it's anti-violence campaign.
At the forefront of the VI Reggae movement is St. Croix-based producer/label-owner, Laurent "Tippy" Alfred. His label, I Grade Records (www.igraderecords.com), has released 23 albums with a range of VI artists including Midnite, Dezarie, Niyorah, Army and others. His base of operations is located in studio B of St. Croix's only state-of-the art recording studio, Aqua Sounds Studio (www.aquasoundstudio.com). There, along with studio owner Padraic Coursey, Alfred produces and records music the "old-fashioned way," with live instrumentation recorded though an analog mixing board, giving his productions a classic, yet contemporary sound.
On St. Croix, VI Reggae music is well-supported and loved by locals and visitors alike. Live music venues like eat at cane bay and Club 54 showcase local bands, while Riddims Music and Culture (www.riddimsmusic.com) in Christiansted (on the corner of Queen Cross and Company streets) specializes in VI reggae music with another one hundred such titles in stock.
VI reggae is in a constant state of evolution. Through the driving force of local artists and producers such as Tippy Alfred, the future is limitless. Stayed tuned.