Black Roots-Take It.

Label: Nubian Records.

Within the British reggae scene, Black Roots are viewed as respected elder statesmen who have been together since 1979. During the last thirty-nine years, Black Roots have been making music that is powerful and full of social comment. That’s the case on their new album Take It, which was recently released on Nubian Records. It features eleven new songs, where Black Roots highlight injustice and speak up for the poor, disenfranchised and dispossessed. This is something that Black Roots have been doing since they were first formed in 1979. 

As the Black Roots story began in 1979, change swept across Britain on 3rd May 1979. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister with a majority of sixty. Britain now had a Conservative government for the first time since 1974. Among the interested onlookers were the members of Black Roots who wondered what the future held for them, and the rest of their generation?

By the early eighties, many people had discovered that Britain wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to live in anymore. Especially the unemployed, disabled, poor or elderly. They were all part of an underclass who it seemed, were despised by the right-wing Thatcherite government. Britain in the words of the politicians was “broken.”

Unemployment was over two million, and Inflation was rising and the future looked bleak. To make matters worse, poverty and racism was rife. It was no surprise that eventually, riots broke out in Liverpool, London, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham. Some of the commentators saw this as the disenfranchised fighting back. 

Many of those who fought back, thought there was no other way. They had had enough, a and could no longer could they walk the streets without being constantly stopped and searched.

Stop and search was one of the most controversial pieces of legislation the police had been using. The powers to stop and search had been instigated under The Vagrancy Act 1824. The new powers enabled police officers to stop and search anyone based upon “reasonable suspicion” that an offence had been committed. In reality, stop and search was often used a fishing trip by the police. To make matters worse, in many inner cities, a disproportionate amount of young black men were victims of stop and search. They had done nothing wrong, and instead, were British citizens going about their lawful business in a peaceful manner. This wasn’t going to end well.

That was the case in 1981, “the year of the riots.” Across England, communities literally exploded. Often, when the dust settled, heavy-handed policing was to blame. Especially, when it came to the use of stop and search. So on 27th August 1981, the power to stop and search was repealed when the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 received assent. Maybe things were starting to change?

That looked unlikely. In 1980, Margaret Thatcher gave her “the lady’s not for turning” speech. It seemed the Conservatives were not going to be derailed. Those that took to the streets saw a government that seemed unwilling to listen, never mind change. The only alternative was to make the government listen.

The chances of this happening were slim. Those that weren’t poor, unemployed, disabled or elderly weren’t willing to upset the apple cart. They led comfortable lives in middle class, middle England. Safe in the suburbs, they weren’t willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the disenfranchised and dispossessed.  So it was left to writers, philosophers, poets and musicians to provide a voice for the disenfranchised and dispossessed. This would include Black Roots.

By 1983, the eight piece Bristol-based band were one of the rising stars of the reggae scene. Black Roots had toured the length and breadth of Britain, and soon, had a large following.  Especially, in colleges and universities. Audiences were won over by what Black Roots described as “militant pacifism” roots reggae. It struck a nerve with the bright young minds who were hoping to graduate from colleges and universities across Britain, and enter the workplace. In 1983, this seemed unlikely.

Unemployment was at record levels since the depression. Still the ‘lady’ wasn’t for turning. Things were at breaking point in Britain. Bristol, Black Roots’ home city was no different. Unemployment, poverty, racism, disquiet and unrest were almost omnipresent. However, the disenfranchised and dispossessed didn’t have a voice. The eight members of Black Roots decided they would became their voice.

Later in 1983, Black Roots released their eponymous debut album. It featured Black Roots’ unique brand of militant roots reggae. They highlighted injustice and the way large parts of communities had become alienated by the political reform introduced by the Thatcher government. Britain it seemed, was broken; maybe even beyond repair?

That’s how it looked right up until 1985 when many parts of England were like a powder keg, just waiting to explode. Often it did as the disenfranchised and dispossessed felt they had no option but to take to the streets, and riots broke out. However, as 1985 drew to a close, the riot years were over.

By 1986, a lot had happened to Black Roots. They continued to tour constantly and had also released their sophomore album The Front Line in 1984. This seemed fitting, as in parts of Britain, it was like a war zone, with the disenfranchised and dispossessed taking to The Front Line in an effort to have their voice heard. Black Roots were also The Front Line, but used their music to provide a voice for the disenfranchised and dispossessed. Someone was listening.

Soon, Black Roots were making their way to Broadcasting House to record a series of sessions for Radio 1. These sessions allowed Black Roots’ music to be heard by a much wider audience than they played to in several tours. This was a huge break. So was when highlights of the sessions were released in 1985 as the Black Roots ‘In Session’ cassette. By the end of 1985, things were looking up for Black Roots. 

The remainder of the eighties saw Black Roots continue to tour and record. Their third album All Day All Night, was released in 1987, but was their first album for Nubian Records. It would become home to Black Roots for over a decade.

When Ina Different Style was released on Nubian Records in 1988, it marked a stylistic change from Black Roots. This was their first adventure in dub. It wouldn’t be their last. Before that Black Roots would release two more albums.

The first was their first live album, Live Power. Released in 1989, Live Power was a reminder of how good a live band Black Roots were. That was no surprise. Black Roots had spent much of the last ten years touring Britain. They were a familiar face in venues the length and breadth of Britain. Especially in colleges and universities, where their songs about injustice would be welcomed and embraced. Some of the people in the audience could they hoped, in the future, make a difference and make Britain a better place.

As the nineties dawned, Black Roots were now into their third decade making music. However, it had been nearly three years since Black Roots had released a studio album. It was time to rectify this.

Later in 1990, Natural Reaction, another album of roots reggae was released by Black Roots. This was the Bristol-based eight-piece’s fifth studio album.  It’s not just social comment than can be found on Natural Reaction. There’s emotion and spiritually on an album that was well received by critics. This didn’t stop Black Roots going for another adventure in dub.

Dub Factor: The Mad Professor Mixes was released in 1991, and was Black Roots’ second dub album. Just like Ina Different Style, this latest adventure in dub was well received. It seemed Black Roots were willing to experiment, so that their music stayed relevant. This included collaborating with some familiar faces within the British reggae scene.

Two years passed before Black Roots returned with With Friends in 1993. It was a collaboration with some of the biggest names in the British reggae scene. This included Dub Judah, Mickey Forbes, Trevor Dixon and B.B. Seaton. They joined Black Roots on ten new tracks. While this was a welcome release, and one that was well received by critics and cultural commentators, some of Black Roots’ fans wondered when they would next release a noter studio album?

When Black Roots announced the release of their next album in 1994, the wait for a studio album went on. Fans weaned on militant roots reggae discovered that the next album was Dub Factor 2-The Dub Judah Mixes. The wait went on in 1995, when Dub Factor 3-“In Captivity” Dub Chronicles-Dub Judah/Mad Professor Mixes was released. Still the wait for a studio album continued. 

Two years became three and four. Still there was no sign of another studio album from Black Roots. Was this the end of the group once hailed as “the next great hope for [British] reggae?”  It seemed like it when Black Roots decided to call time on their career in the mid-nineties.

Nothing was heard of Black Roots until the next millennia. Then in 2004, a compilation On The Frontline was released. Things went all quiet until 2011, when The Reggae Singles Anthology was released on Bristol Archive Records. Some critics thought that was release meant it was the end of the road for Black Roots. If it was, The Reggae Singles Anthology a limited edition release, seemed a fitting farewell to one of the most eloquent of the British roots reggae groups. Little did anyone realise that Black Roots were about to make a comeback.

This came in April 2012, when six of the original members of Black Roots began to record an album of new material, On The Ground. It was well received upon its release in 2012, some nineteen years after their Black Roots’ previous studio album, With Friends. Belatedly, Black Roots were back, just in time. They were the musical  superheroes with a social conscience.

Two years previously, a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010. By 2012, the junior partners were enjoying the once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of the decision making process. Suddenly, principles forgotten about as the heady scent of power hung in the air. With a seat at the Cabinet at stake, the disenfranchised and dispossessed were forgotten about. The worst that could happen to the junior partners was they loose their seats at the next election, and retire with a healthy pension and string of directorships.

That’s what happened in 2015. By then, Black Roots had released another new album Ghetto Feel in 2014. It was released on the Soulbeats’ label. The voice of the disenfranchised and dispossessed were back, and were determined to make a difference. However, in 2015, things took a turn for the worse.

Politically, Britain lurched to the right. Many of the junior partners lost their seats, and retired with their pension pots and directorships. This left the the most right wing government in living history with a mandate to govern. Things were about to get messy, very quickly.

The newly elected government announced their plans for the age of austerity. They were determined to go further than previous Conservative governments had gone. Public spending wasn’t just cut, it was slashed. Especially on the welfare state. Hardest hit were the unemployed, disabled, poor and elderly. Suddenly, they  that found themselves choosing between eating or heating their home. However, the Conservatives weren’t finished yet.

With wars raging around the Middle East and North Africa, many refugees were came to Britain seeking political asylum from tyrannical regimes. However, they discovered that there was no room at the inn. This was after all, the age of austerity. For many onlookers and commentators this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. This included Black Roots.

They returned to the studio in 2015, and recorded eleven new songs. These songs became Son Of Man. Just like on previous albums, Black Roots combine social comment, melodies and hooks on Son Of Man. Accompanied by harmonies and horns, Black Roots deliver lyrics that are uncompromising, and provide a voice for  the poor, disenfranchised and dispossessed. Especially the victims of the age of austerity and the refugees fleeing the Middle East and North Africa. These are two of the subjects that feature on Son Of Man which was released to plaudits and praise. The big question was when would the veterans of British reggae return with a new album

As November 2018 dawned, Black Roots made a welcome return with their new album Take It. It’s another album full of searing social and political comment, while Black Roots sing about African emancipation on other tracks on Take It.. 

Just like their previous albums, Black Roots message on Take It is one of unity and inclusiveness, encompassing everyone, regardless of their race and religion. Black Roots message of unity encourages the listener to seek out and speak about knowledge, become empowered and unite to face and fight against those who enslave and oppress those that are disenfranchised, poor and weak. This is particularly fitting and poignant.

Across the globe, right wing governments have come to power in many countries. In many of these countries the rights of minorities, refuges and those trapped in poverty have been infringed and are constantly and shamefully being diluted. Black Roots document this on Take It, and on   Children Of The World believe that children should be protected as they are the future of the world. Sadly, across the world children are starving, displaced and living in poverty, which Black Roots highlight on Take It.

A subject that Black Roots revisit on Take It is Africa. They  believe the world won’t be free until Africa is, where poverty shamefully, poverty is still rife in a continent that is sadly, is home to some of the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised people in the world.

Elsewhere on Take It, Black Roots turn their attention to the subject of war which they believe is fuelled by greed. That may be the case in some cases, but not every war has been fuelled by greed as historians will be quick to point out.

Two of the most controversial songs close Take It, including Reincarnation, which is the penultimate song on the album. It finds Black Roots referring to President Trump as the reincarnation of Hitler. Then on Tories which closes Take It

Black Roots turn their attention to the Conservative Party who currently govern Britain. Black Roots have previously railed against the Conservative Party’s austerity policy, but this time refer to the government as false prophets whose present to the nation is oppression and false imprisonment.  This is a thought provoking way to end Take It, which marks the return of Black Roots.

On Take It, Black Roots continue to provide a voice for the poor, disenfranchised, dispossessed  and disadvantaged.  This is what they’ve been doing that since they released their eponymous debut album in 1983. Since then, they’ve doing this eloquently, and do this for the most part Take It.

Black Roots highlight injustice, while speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. This is the voiceless underclass who can’t fight back in countries around the world. Thirty-nine years after Black Roots continue to provide a voice for those who have none. 

This they continue to do with their unique and inimitable brand of melodic roots reggae on Take It. That is the case from the opening bars of Take It through songs like Forgive Them, Be, Common Man, Children Of The World and How Long. These songs find Black Roots rolling back the years on Take It, which is another carefully crafted album from the grand old men of British reggae. Black Roots continue to combine  social and political comment with songs about African emancipation on Take It and provide a voice for those who have nome.

Black Roots-Take It.

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