Considering the state of global politics, there's never been a better time to get reacquainted with the righteousness of Black Uhuru. The iconic reggae band, whose name means "Black Freedom" in Swahili, is still going strong after more than 40 years, and they brought their much-needed songs of solidarity to the Tiny Desk. Fittingly, the set begins with "Here Comes Black Uhuru," a telling and literal re-introduction to the group's legacy for audiences that may be unfamiliar with their extensive catalogue.
While most-known for their late-'70s and early-'80s classics — years defined by a game of musical chairs within the group as played by founding members and/or collaborators Michael Rose, Garth Dennis, Don Carlos, Sandra "Puma" Jones, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and even Junior Reid — this incarnation of Black Uhuru, with frontman and co-lead Andrew Bees, has been touring and recording since about 1997 or so, longer than any of the configurations that precede it. As The World Turns, an album that was mired in issues around its master recordings, was finally released in 2018 — six years after it was recorded — and earned a Grammy nomination for best reggae album. Its title track is the second song of this set, followed up by "I See You," a love song led by Derrick "Duckie" Simpson, a co-founder and the only steady member of the group since its beginnings in the early '70s.
The most well-known song of the performance — "What Is Life?" — explores the hopelessness endemic to those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, and explores the complexities of the human experience — what life could be, versus what it is. Despite being written and recorded in 1984, you can probably recognize the endurance of its themes.
Derrick "Duckie" Simpson: vocals; Andrew Bees: vocals; Elsa Marie Green: vocals; Daniel "Axemon" Thomson: bass, keys; Horace "King Hopeton" Campbell: keys; Frank Stepanek: guitar; Rolando "Phanso" Wilson: drums
Producers: Abby O'Neill, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, Patrick Boyd; Videographers: Jack Corbett, Kara Frame, Maia Stern, Morgan Noelle Smith; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR
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