By Kerry Doole
In any Hall of Fame for reggae, the name Culture would be prominently displayed. Over the course of a prolific career now spanning 32 years, their name has become synonymous with vocal excellence and conscious lyrics, and they can take credit for helping spread the reggae gospel internationally.
Culture formed in Jamaica in 1976, with the original lineup comprising Joseph Hill, Kenneth Dayes and Albert Walker. Hill had prior studio experience, having worked at Coxsone Dodd's legendary Studio One as a percussionist. The group soon began working with producer Joe Gibbs and engineer Errol Thompson, known as "The Mighty Two."
They wasted no time in making a mark, as their 1978 debut album, Two Sevens Clash, quickly found an audience in the U.K. As the respected Trouser Press Record Guide noted, "the record's apocalyptic title track is a reggae classic, a perfect marriage of Rasta ideology and musicianship that struck a chord in punk England and became an influential scene staple. Hill's high, wavering voice is at the center of the album. In song after song, he conveys his own distinctive blend of conviction and dread."
Reggae authority Jim Dooley neatly explained Culture's recipe for success, writing that "while the songs may have been dealing with serious issues, at the same time the group always recognized the value of a catchy beat. At once Culture became part of a wave of vocal groups (including the Mighty Diamonds, Black Uhuru, the Meditations and countless others) that ruled the reggae scene for a brief while in the late 70's.
"Two Sevens Clash" is the song and album with which Culture is still most often linked, but they have a long list of strong records to their credit. A record deal with Virgin's Front Line imprint boosted their profile, and the group became sought-after for performances around the globe. For instance, Culture played an historic concert in South Africa in December 2000, resulting in a popular DVD/CD set, Live In Africa.
They continued to write socially aware material, but also kept their sound contemporary and relevant. For instance, their 1986 album, Culture In Culture, used the then-popular "Sleng Teng" riddim on the song "Capture Rasta."
Culture has gone through a few personnel changes over the years, but the formidable figure of lead singer Hill provided consistent excellence. Sadly, he died on August 19th, 2006, in the middle of a European tour. Joseph Hill's status as a Jamaican cultural hero was shown after his death. A tribute concert in Kingston featured an all-star line-up of artists ranging from Luciano to Bunny Wailer.
Joseph's son Kenyatta was working as the group's audio engineer, and he took over lead vocal duties from his father, allowing that tour to be completed. It soon became clear he has inherited his father's vocal talent, and so Culture continues to record and tour internationally, to positive response.
Culture with Kenyatta Hill will headline the IRIE Festival on Sunday August 3rd, a performance not to be missed.