After my first two articles I wanted to showcase some excellent record labels worth following. These labels are all independent labels who not only keep the music alive but also further pushes the boundaries of what we consider music of a specific genre. Among them you will find labels who have just started and labels who are around for some years now. Whatever the case they all release some funky, deep or scorching music that will definitely get your blood pumping. Their catalogues gave me hours and hours of music to discover. So hopefully this can quench your thirst for new music at least for a while. I will give you some tips along the way just to get you started, but after that you’re on your own. At the end of the article you can find a link to a Spotify playlist I created. This playlist contains all the recommended albums available on Spotify. Enjoy!
Cool Up Records was born after four long-time Reggae aficionados decided to bundle their forces. The label is being operated from Sevilla (Spain) with their very own Legalize Sound Studio. Since their start in 2017 these guys haven’t exactly been sitting still. They have released two albums, more than a dozen of singles, organizing and performing live shows and released their first music video. They drew my attention with their first album release by Payoh Soulrebel named “What A Vibe”. Cool Up Records makes use of the best musicians from the local scene which result in quality riddims together with crisp production from their own studio. Every release gets a custom art design which sets the label apart from any other label. Just pay a visit to the labels website. The label mostly focuses on (New) Roots and Digital Dancehall. The stream of new music from Cool up Records hasn’t gone unnoticed and is featured in multiple international magazines and blogs. This is one of the record labels worth following the coming years.
One of my favorite record labels that has produced so many good stuff on its various labels that it’s hard to just name a few favorites. Roberto Sanchez is the mastermind behind the label as producer, singer, musician (multi-instrumentalist), arranger and main promoter. He started out as a member of different Reggae outfits both in England and Spain and is a well-known figure in the Reggae scene. The music is recorded in his own A-lone Ark Muzik Studio based in Santander (Spain) which opened its doors in 1997. The studio is prepared to record on analogue equipment as was the way Roots Reggae was produced in the 70’s as well as digital recording. Rather than to copy what’s already been done before, every riddim is build up from scratch with the assistance of former bandmembers as the Lone Ark Riddim Force as well as studio veterans like Boris Gardiner. The sound can be described as rich, multi-layered and warm. The extend of influences which contributes to the A-lone ark sound is bountiful. You can hear traces of studio wizardry by the likes of Lee Perry, Dennis Bovell and Mad Professor to eighties dancehall sound made popular by the Roots Radics. A-lone ark’s distinct sound quickly drew attention from veterans like Milton Henry, The Viceroys and Noel Ellis.
Website: isn’t working momentarily so check-out Discogs or Bandcamp for their catalogue
Recommended: Milton Henry – Branches and Leaves, Alpheus – Good Prevails, Benjamin – Sons & Daughters and the most recently released Irregular Roots – Showcase
Lost Ark Music is more than an record label. It started life as an organization to promote and give young talent a change to jump start their career. The brains behind the enterprise is Bregt “Braithe” de Boever. With his band Pura Vida which he started as a project in 2006 he quickly made a name for himself and Lost Ark Music. After the release of the debut album “Struggle In The City” things moved fast. Bregt never hid his admiration for the sound of Lee Perry’s Black Ark recordings, hence the name of the label. He soon got the opportunity to record with one of the most legendary Reggae groups ever to record at the Black Ark, The Congo’s. The result was astonishing and a Roots Reggae classic was born. With close resembling to the Black Ark sound and featuring the angelic harmonies by the Congo’s they were unstoppable. This opened more doors and soon the label released an album with Lee Perry himself. From their initial start in 2011, Lost Ark Music released 9 albums and a dozen of recordings for other artists such as Jah9. Next to recording Pura Vida is a very active live band and appear at venues to promote the organization and at festivals supporting the Congo’s or Lee Perry. I’ve you have the chance to see them live don’t hesitate you’ll be rewarded!
Website: isn’t working momentarily so check-out Discogs or Bandcamp for their catalogue
Recommended: Pura Vida and The Congo’s – We Nah Give Up, Lee Scratch Perry and Pura Vida – The Super Ape Strikes Again and Pura Vida – Seasons Of Life.
A small independent label operated from Israel and founded in 2012 by the brothers Smilan to promote Reggae music. Apart from using Med Tone Records to release their own music as Zvuloon Dub System they have been releasing some serious singles from the likes of U-Roy, Cornell Campbell and Ranking Joe. The latest release by Linval Thompson already dates back to 2018 so I’m anxiously waiting for something new. A new album by Zvuloon Dub System perhaps or a first album release by an artist on their roster? Whatever the case, it will be worthwhile for they release nothing but quality music recorded in their own studio with the stellar Med Tone Allstars band. See my previous article A Wonderful Piece Of Etho-Jazz Reggae for a full review on the second album by Zvuloon Dub System named “Anbessa Dub“. Definitely one of the record labels worth following!
This excellent reissue label has been on my radar since the release of Verckys Et L’Ochestre Vévé – Congolese Funk, Afrobeat and Psychedelic Rumba. That album never left my side and will always be part of my collection. Analog Africa is the story of Samy Ben Redjeb who’s travels to Africa set him on a path to unearth long forgotten African gems from Ethiopia to Cape Verde and everything in between. The amount of infectious music created in Africa during the 70’s and 80’s that the western world has yet to discover is enormous. After a few jobs as diving instructor in Senegal and flight attendant for Lufthansa operating in Africa, he embarked on a mission to release this music he was so passionate about onto the world. Every album release gets the Samy Ben treatment. He travels to a new destination, immerses himself in the local scene and sets out to find the original master tapes of forgotten and often nearly impossible to find tracks. Sometimes he is in luck stumbling on an out of use radio station stuffed with master tapes. Other times it is the local community that help him track down the music. From there on it is a daunting task listening to literally thousands of tracks, do the remastering and captivate the story in the cover art. From the impeccable taste in selecting the best tracks to the lavish cover art, this is a label that doesn’t have one bad release to its name. Samy expanded his territory from Africa to Latin America unleashing a staggering amount of Latin-funk. If you are interested in discovering African of Latin music and going beyond the well-known names this is your one-stop shop. Enjoy the ride!
Website: www.analogafrica.com and www.analogafrica.bandcamp.com
Recommended: literally everything they ever released but Verckys Et L’Ochestre Vévé – Congolese Funk, Afrobeat and Psychedelic Rumba and the African Scream Contest albums are a good starting point.
Only a few years back I picked up a Nicole Willis record on one of my trips to Belgium. I was unfamiliar with both the artist and the label and was instantly impressed by the production and the vintage warm sound. Timmion Records is all about preserving the vintage soul sounds made famous in the 60’s and 70’s. Although its impressive output since their birth in 2000 it is still a relatively unknown label. Timmion Records was founded by Sami Kantelinen and Jukka Sarapää who also act as rhythm section for the various bands such as The Soul Investigators and Cold Diamond and Mink. The latter is the inhouse session band that takes on most of the production and writing for the label. Based in Helsinki their loyalty towards vintage soul soon attracted international singers such as Nicole Willis, Myron and E and Willie West. The label has an 8-track recording studio, a state of the art vinyl cutting facility and dozens of subsidiary labels mostly dedicated to a subgenre. Next to producing original material Timmion Records ventured into re-releasing rare and sometimes unreleased material such as the 1960’s “Deep Shadows” album by Little Ann. Even though vintage soul will always be at the heart of the label it recently moved into other genre’s as well. The soul jazz release by the Jukka Eskola Soul Trio, Ernie Hawk’s jazz funk anthem or the R&B laden release by Carlton Jumel Smith are excellent examples of Timmion Records drive to further broaden their musical spectrum.
Recommended: Nicole Willis and The Soul Investigators – Keep Reaching Up and Tortured Soul, Willie West – Lost Soul, Myron & E with The Soul Investigators – Broadway, Calypso King and The Soul Investigators – Home Cooking and Ernie Hawks – Scorpio Man
Another young label that started life as a project in 2014 to find the legendary but seclusive singer I-Kong. I-Kong left us one with of the blueprints for Roots Reggae with the seminal “It’s the Way” released in 1979. Soon after its release I Kong got fed up with the record business and disappeared from the scene for much of the 80’s and 90’s. With I Kong on the project they created a showcase album called “A Little Walk”. The music is mostly recorded in the Mixing Lab Studio in Jamaica while some additional recording, mixing and mastering took place in Europe with the help of Roberto Sanchez. While recording “A Little Walk” they also recorded the “Troddin’ on” riddim featuring The Viceroys, Lone Ranger, Prince Alla and Roberto Sanchez. These recordings formed the foundation which Fruits Records is built on. With love for Jamaican Roots music in abundance Fruits Records mission is to find forgotten singers that gave shape to the genre and partner them with young talents to pass on knowledge and wisdom. Working closely together with other producers, studios and artist who share this vision they already created some stunning albums and singles. I will certainly keep an eye out for their next release!
A Dutch label who originally started as Umojah Ashanti Soundsystem. A start that many Reggae labels share with Jahsolidrock. After the sound on the Soundsystem circuit changed from conscious music to dancehall with is slackness lyrics founders Ras Denco and Benaïssa Linger decided to slow down their Soundsystem efforts and focus on production. Benaïssa Linger acted as MC on the Umojah Ashanti Soundsystem. After being demoralized by the change in sound and atmosphere on the Soundsystem circuit they had something to say. So they set out and created the debut album by Benaïssa named “Tables Turn”. The album is full of positive vibes and was well-received. Ras Denco and Benaïssa used their network they inherited from the Soundsystem days to contact various Jamaican artist. It didn’t took long after the initial start back in 2007 to release their first full album by another artist. Chezidek’s “Judgement Time” was a big hit upon release featuring an authentic Roots Reggae sound recorded with live instrumentation. The success of “Judgement Time” gave more opportunities to produce some of the biggest names in the Reggae scene. The label quickly established itself as one of the premiere creators of infectious riddims that reached out far and wide. Take Chezidek’s second release on the label which features killer riddim after killer riddim or the bass-line used on “To The Chief Musicians” on Addis Pablo debut release “In My Father’s House”. Make sure to use a system that’s up to the challenge to handle that monstrous bassline!
One of the major European Reggae labels. It received lots of attention being one of the first European labels outside VP Records to record an astonishing amount of household names in the contemporary Reggae and Dancehall scene. The label was founded in 2001 when traveling to Jamaica in order to meet some of their heroes. From there on they never looked back. The first release was in 2003 and they have since then build up an impressive catalogue. In the beginning focusing on creating riddims and releasing singles as is the norm within the Reggae business. I didn’t take long for Irie Ites to make an impact and the Soundsystem operators eagerly took hold of everything they released. After releasing a stream of singles from 2003 till 2016 the label started focusing on album releases with success. The period from 2016 till 2018 was especially fruitful. During this period everyone who took Reggae serious had an album on their playlist released by Irie Ites. Their latest album release is a throwback to the 80’s dancehall period by King Kong. Repatriation sits proudly among King Kong’s other work as a true masterpiece.
A smaller label in output than in name and fame. Operated by the well-connected Rory “Stone Love” Gilligan. Rory was born in England but raised in Jamaica and made a name for himself on the Soundsystem circuit as selector for the major Stone Love Movement. The label hasn’t released a lot of music yet but what they lack in quantity they more than make up in quality. Rory’s rise to fame started with the breakthrough of Jah9’s debut album “New Name” which was produced by Rory. The album was packed with hit material and yielded multiple hit records such as “New Name” and “Avocado”. The album had a distinct sound which only marked what was still coming. Two years forward, Rory started to collaborate with a than unknown singer by the name of Samory I. When the first single “Rasta Nuh Gangsta” came out it send a shockwave throughout the Reggae community and reigned supreme for a longtime on every Soundsystem. Soon after, the debut album “Black Gold” followed along with an European tour during the festival season. Prices for “Black Gold” on vinyl soon skyrocketed as this was a privately released album in limited numbers. Rory cut out the middle man in order to gain control on his output. I contacted Rory myself and was able to purchase a copy for a reasonable price. While this new cat Samory I got all the media attention Rory released another album by Kristine Alicia mostly based on the same riddims used for Samory I’s debut album. Both “Songs From Zion” and “Black Gold” ooze with quality riddims and originality setting the tone for contemporary Roots Reggae. Instead of working with the well-known names in the scene Rory prefers to work with unknown talent. What can we expect form a new release by Rory? Your guess is as good as mine, but I will certainly stay tuned!
Probably most well-known outside Reggae circles for their “Dub Side Of The Moon” album by the Easy Star All-Stars. Released in 2006, the album made a lot of heads turn and even Reggae critics took notice. The album is a dub reinterpretation of one of the most beloved albums all-time “The Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd. After its success the band decided to apply the dub treatment to some other albums with legendary status such as O.K. Computer dubbed “Radiodread”. The story of the label started in 1997 releasing their first single by Rob Symeonn. In these first days of the label they set out to create a roster of artists from all corners of the world and keep a constant quality in the material released by the label. As to give Reggae fans all over the world a seal of approval even before purchase. Besides the international status and influence it gained, Easy Star Records biggest accomplishment is the immense effect it had on the US Reggae scene. There has never been a label with more number 1 albums in the US Reggae charts than Easy Star Records. It helped shape the now bustling US Reggae scene. It took me a while to get used to the US Reggae sound with has lot of rock elements in the way the drums and guitars are played. That doesn’t necessarily mean the music isn’t full of dread vibes. It is just a reinterpretation of the sounds these players and artists are influenced by. Let us be thankful for everyone who continue to push the envelope on the development of Reggae music.
Recommended: Easy All-Stars – Dub Side Of The Moon and Radiodread, Gentleman’s Dub Club – The Big Smoke, John Brown’s Body – King and Queens, Mortimer – Fight The Fight EP and The Expanders – Old Time Something Come Back Again Vol.2
A small label from Washington DC with three artists to its roster so far. The label was formed by Christopher Vrenios better known as Christos DC. Christopher is of Greek heritage and his parents both sang opera and had a professional career as singing teachers. This stirred a deep love and appreciation for music in the young Christopher who from a young age set out to established himself as a true artist. In 2008 he released his first album and in 2011 his second followed after which he set up his own label to have full control over the music and the message he was sending out. The first single on the new label featured the son of legendary singer Joseph Hill. Not long after the successful collaboration Christos DC was at the helm of creating Kenyatta Hill’s debut album. In 2017 Christos DC released the critically acclaimed “Tessera” which to me is still one of the best contemporary Reggae albums to date. Christos DC continues to inspire and recently released his latest work “Self Evident”. Again a marvelous piece of modern Roots Reggae created with the upmost respect for the present and the past.
There you have it, 12 record labels worth following! However the journey of discovering if these labels have something in store for you has just started. To make things somewhat easier you can use the Spotify playlist beneath here containing all the recommended albums that are available as a jump start.
Share and like