By Saidif Mejia
Right now, the underground music scene has a heavy saturation of bedroom pop, old school-inspired and sometimes experimental hip hop, as well as indie and alternative rock. As a result, other genres like electronic, folk-rock, and in this case, reggae, have somewhat settled in the dust left behind by more popular types of music among independent listeners.
Clayton Hibbert, more famously known by his musician name Junior Toots, is the son of Toots Hibbert, a prominent Jamaican ska and roots reggae singer who used to be part of the reggae and ska group, The Maytals, during the 1960s and 1970s. Junior Toots started his musical career in the late 1980s and has since then produced numerous projects that make an effort to build upon the legacy left behind by his father, all while adding his own unique flair to the music.
Toots’ 2012 debut album, A Little Bit Of Love, seems to finally be getting a physical copy release now, seven years since its initial release on the internet. The album deserves all the praise it can get, especially since the funky and reggae sounds it champions of are not as common as they used to be.
Junior Toots opens with the track “Ready to Come Over”, a socially conscious song that points out the poverty and inequality which countless Jamaican men, women and children have been victims of for decades. The track invites the listener to truly consider the meaning of the lyrics through its simplistic beat combined with a groovy baseline, perfected by the vocal quality of Toots. A chorus appears on this track as well as others, consisting of three extremely talented women: Irae Divine, April Harmony Frye, and Jocelyne Edeh.
Similarly, the third track on the album “Seek the Truth” features some brass instrumentation, specifically trumpets, as well as some soft tambourine. Most of the song is in a different language, but for the small snippets that consist of English, there remains a clear message on spirituality and faith, two concepts that deeply resonate with the people of Jamaica due to their constant hardships. One other component that lifts this specific song to a beautiful level is the presence of Sol Atash, a native Jamaican who sings the foreign lyrics whose meaning is unknown, but quite possibly translates to more significant themes than the English portion.
Further into the album, the song “Ethiopian from Birth” begins with a soul-inspired vocal melody, but quickly transitions into the afro-beat rhythms that may remind some listeners of artists like Fela Kuti and Antibalas. The phrase “Thank God, Almighty!” repeats throughout most of the track, and it truly emphasizes the pride and honor Toots feels to possess the cultural origins he carries.
At the same time, his vocals mixed with the inclusion of electric guitar work to pay respects to “Mama Earth”, another repeated aspect in this song. Toots’ most political track “If Africa Is Not Free” contains a stronger use of snare drums as well as a return to a pleasing bassline.
Vocally, however, Toots expresses his criticisms of how other superpowers exploited the continent of Africa in the past, and how the crimes of the past must be addressed so that Africans will not continue to be oppressed and impoverished. The lyrics here maintain a clear intention to unite the African population as well as condemn the heavy presence of warfare and militarism in the land.
A Little Bit Of Love starts out as a fairly simple collection of reggae and afro-beat inspired tracks, but it later morphs into something deeper. The album grows into an elaborate mix of songs that possess commentary on the current state of Jamaica and Africa alike, a conversation that does not currently have as much discussion as it should, but which Toots encourages his listeners to contemplate.
Additionally, he touches on the universal themes of remaining optimistic during troubling times like so many third world country citizens have continued to do for centuries, outlining how this is also a possibility in our face-paced, technology-ruled first world. Overall, the album is exceptional and definitely deserves more recognition even seven years after its digital release.