Reggae in Toronto: Uncle Jonny on the New CD & Chaka Demus on July 16th

Uncle Jonny
the new CD Old School &
Concert at the Phoenix, Toronto July 16 2011 with Chaka Demus, Pliers & Tiger

As a cantor, Uncle Jonny's been involved with music for many years, but it's his love of roots reggae and a meeting with an old friend a few years ago that led to a growing career as a recording artist in his own right. Three CDs later, the music's still going strong.

"For me, it's been an exciting two years," he says. "I linked up with Sugar Minott in 2008 when he was in Toronto," he says looking back. "We used to work with each other in the 1990's." He went down to Jamaica the following year to record. "I told him, I want the old Legend players," he says. Sugar delivered those players, people like Sly & Robbie, Dean Fraser, Flabba Holt, Style Scott, Bongo Herman, Horsemouth Wallace and Chinna Smith. Sugar also produced and sang harmony on the recordings. The sessions took place at three different legendary studios in the heart of Kingston: Leggo, Anchor and Tuff Gong.

The result was a pair of releases, including Kingston Class Reunion and then Singing With Legends. He was scheduled to play a live concert and video recording session with Sugar in May 2010 when that legend and stalwart of the vintage reggae scene took ill and sadly passed away. The momentum was already underway, though, and even at the sad occasion of Sugar's funeral in Jamaica, Uncle Jonny met his current producer Bobby Digital. That collaboration resulted in the new release, with tracks that feature Luciano, Sizzla and Gyptian. He released his third effort, Old School, earlier this year.

"I'm getting a lot of good feedback on it," he reports, with some interest in one of the tracks as a single. "I think Jamaican Girl is going to cross over."

Old School delivers a bright and upbeat version of vintage reggae. Uncle Jonny's got a melodic voice that's at home in the high notes, and the songs sing about love and doing away with racism, among other things. "My songs are about love, hope, understanding," he says. "I love music, and I've got a message to say." His affection for the music of Sugar and his contemporaries comes from what he heard on the radio during the classic era of the 1970's and 80's. "That's what I grew up with. I'm really happy I was able to hook up with the old generation."

For me, one of the highlights of the album is Move Over with Luciano (I'm a real sucker for a horn section!) with its driving beats. It's the one song with lyrics that are more political in tone. 

Move Over, Uncle Jonny featuring Luciano. Filmed in Jamaica, March 2011.

The horns come back for Mr DJ with the rich voice and deep bark of Sizzla to complement Uncle Jonny's vocals. In What Happened to the Music, he pays tribute to the greats of the genre, and Teach the Children with Gyptian has a great rootsy vibe with churchy organ accompaniment. Overall, the music's laidback yet upbeat, and the CD also include 3 dub versions. Of the dub versions, once again my fave has to be Move Over, with its inventive use of electronics.

Along with his own recordings, Uncle Jonny produces concerts locally under the Kingston Class Reunion moniker, and he's especially psyched about the show coming up on the 16th. "I really feel like roots reggae culture is ready for a big comback," he says. "We like to bring back some of the legends.Chaka Demus and Pliers are back on the scene, and Tiger - it's his first time in Canada in 17 years. They're powerhouses."

After that? Uncle Jonny's already written a few songs, and is about ready to go back to Jamaica to record again. The music is a calling. "It feels a part of me."

Featuring Chaka Demus & Pliers & Tiger live in concert
with Uncle Jonny, Mel Dube, Ammoye, and the Backing Band.
The Phoenix Concert Theatre
410 Sherbourne Street
Admission $35 advanced - more at the door - available at:
SHANTI-BABA, 546 QUEEN ST. W. 416-504-5034
• NICEYS (SCARBORO, BRAMPTON) -- 416-497-9717, 905-450-6054
• JAMAICA HOUSE RESTRNT (TORONTO, BRAMPTON)--905-460-0651, 416-744-2913
• PLAY DA RECORD (YONGE STRT)--416-586-0380

• (416) 525-3394
• BBM 26ACD6D5

• Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show starts at 9:00 p.m. sharp. Lots of free parking.

Uncle Jonny Reggae - What Happened To The Music? - Live @ Lula Lounge