Alpha & Omega meets Ras Tinny
No Beginning No End
Steppas Records – LP / Digital Download
1.Roots Music 2. Dancehall 3. Every Human is a Refugee 4. JahYu – It’s Critical 5. Mystical Sound 6. Roots Dub 7. Sound System 8. Refugee Dub 9. It’s Dub 10. Mystical Dub 11. 18 Species of Bird 12. Watch & Pray
This month sees the release of the first new Alpha & Omega studio album in five years. ‘No Beginning No End’ features the Alpha & Omega trademark dubby sound, whilst Surinamese singer Ras Tinny supplies voice and lyrics.
For those of you new to A&O, the core of the band is made up of bassist Christine omega and keyboard player John alpha. Since their first release in 1988 they have produced a multitude of albums featuring their heavy bass driven dub sound. Each album is always laced with a conscious attitude; they certainly have a back catalogue to admire and cherish.
I must confess to loving the sound Christine and John produce, I am a fan and a disciple. I don’t know them and have never met them (I would love to though!), but you can’t help feeling a connection with them, perhaps it’s because their music is so inclusive and so full of integrity.
No Beginning No End
This new offering ‘No Beginning No End’ kicks off with a track called ‘Roots Music’ and gives you a first taste of the vocals of Ras Tinny. Distinctive is an understatement, his gravelly voice is earnest, strong and certainly full of feeling. It’s a strong opener; all the reggae jigsaw pieces are present in this track, driving bass, wispy harmonica, spikey sounding keyboards and strong lyrical message.
This first track got me thinking about Ras Tinny, I know quite a lot about A&O but Ras Tinny was a little more of an enigma. I loved his vocals on the Black Rose track on the recent Dub Dynasty album ‘Thundering Mantis’. So thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I managed to get in touch with him and he was kind enough to fill in some of the blank spaces and details.
I asked him first how he started in the business, ‘Years ago me and Cian Finn and Radikal Guru and another mutual friend called ManG used to live in the same city called Cork in Ireland. Cian used to sing in a band but while I was writing and selecting reggae in a pub I never vocalised. Cian used to encourage me to use my vocals and always called me on stage at his gigs.’ He continued, ‘Me and Cian both loved Reggae but at the time we met around 2008 I didn’t know a thing bout UK Sound System culture. Where I grew up in the Caribbean there was none of that there it was either roots, roots & culture and dancehall.’
Next was the obvious question of how he first became aware of Alpha & Omega, ‘So one night we had been playing and sharing tunes and he let me hear some UK dub including A&O for the first time. I had never heard anything like it and was mesmerised by the mystical sounds in the music.’ He continued ‘Both of us were wondering what A&O actually looked like so we went to the internet to see if we could find pictures. And yes eventually we found a vague picture of Christine with her hand in the air. The image stayed with me.’
Ben Alpha Steppa
I asked Ras Tinny about how their paths crossed, ‘Cian continued making music and eventually released a single with Ben Alpha Steppa (Son of John alpha) and Radikal Guru, which they came to promote in Ireland. By then I had moved to Dublin and they all came to visit me in my tiny Dublin apartment. And so I got to link with Ben. Ben then told me about Alpha & Omega being his Dad and Aunt and that’s where and when he heard the ‘Monsoon Come’ track first. So we became idren and later in 2013 he decided to release the Monsoon with Dub Dynasty and that was the first time my work was released on vinyl.’
I was interested to know when did he start working on ‘No Beginning No End’, ‘I think it was winter 2014, Ben came to visit us in Ballycastle in Mayo and told me A&O were planning a new album and if I wanted to write some tunes. On that trip I wrote the lyrics for ‘Watch & Pray’ and what later became Holy Cow. Ben heard ‘Refugee’ as well first on that trip. ‘Roots Music’ and ‘Mystical Sound’ were written and recorded in 2013 in Dublin after the ‘Monsoon Come’ release. ‘Critical’ was released first on a ‘Jahyu’ riddim and is one of my personal favourites. ‘Dancehall’ was written along that time.
Listening to Ras Tinny’s lyrics he is obviously passionate about social and environmental issues, I asked what influenced his beliefs, ‘Years before I made music I learned about Rastafari and decided to live according to the vow: To uplift the poor and protect the environment. I hope my music reflects this and my lyrics are therefore either about the environment, the animals plants and objects in it or the way we live with each other like humans and the way we treat each other and our ecosystem.’
My final question was about his love of the environment and whether that was something that he shared with A&O, ‘As such it is so easy to work with Ben and A&O because we share this same deep interest in the social and natural world. Me and Ben and Christine talked about compassion and to make music that evokes compassion to each other and to all that shares our ecosystem.’
Ras Tinny left me with a final message about his music, ‘It’s my hope thus that this compassion is reflected in my music and my everyday life for the rest of the days of my vow. I really hope people like the music and the songs because it’s all rooted in our real every day lives as people in Europe. Blessings’
18 Species of Bird
Ras Tinny comes across as a passionate guy, with bags of feeling and a real caring attitude for the issues he believes in. This comes across when you listen to my favourite track from the album ‘18 Species of Bird’. The track has a very introspective, contemplative and slightly melancholic feel. The song is punctuated with echoes and effects and is really sad, just my thing really. Maybe the track is about animal extinction or maybe about the casual disregard for the animals and birds we share the planet with. But like the album as a whole, it does have the power to make you think.
This album is a very worthy addition to the Alpha & Omega catalogue, I mentioned integrity early on in this piece and this is something that you can feel in both words and music. I really hope we don’t have to wait another five years for the next release, John and Christine are important figures in the reggae scene and we need them to anchor us, teach us and educate us.
‘No Beginning No End’ is an essential purchase and if you need further convincing then have a listen to some samples on YouTube. The album is available now from the Steppas Records website (initial orders get a lyric booklet!) and all good retailers.
Please share this if you can and spread the word, peace and love. Paper Lion