Roots Vibration

photo: Tim Owen

"Don't fight gainst the Rastaman with him culture music, cause the Rastaman no mean no harm, what Rastaman want to do is calm the storm."
--Albert "Apple" Craig

As one-third of one of roots reggae's most prominent trios, Apple speaks with the same friendly yet serious manner of many Rasta singers. His companions and co-founders of Israel Vibration, Cecil "Skelly" Spence, and Lascelle "Wiss" Bulgin no doubt have a similar manner. One can infer from the music of the group that equality is taken very seriously, and that the longevity of the trio owes a great deal to the unity among the three men.

After coming under the wing of the Twelve Tribes of Israel in 1977, Israel Vibration successfully released a single, "Why Worry," recorded at Treasure Isle Studios. Their debut LP, Same Song, was produced and released by Tommy Cowan and released by his Top Ranking label in Jamaica in 1978. The group stayed with Cowan and followed with the legendary Unconquered People in 1980 (backed by the Wailers and released on Tuff Gong) and Why You So Craven in 1982 (backed by the Hi Times Band and released on Tuff Gong) before splitting up amid the harsh climate for roots music in the 1980s.

While the early years established the trio's approach in the 1970s, Israel Vibration's greatest success and core catalog has been developed since contracting with RAS Records in 1988 and forming a magical synthesis with the Roots Radics band. Since then, the group has released Strength Of My Life (1989), Praises (1990), Forever (1991), Vibes Alive (1992), I.V. (1993), and On The Rock (1995). In addition, three full length dubs have been mixed from the infectious grooves of the Roots Radics: Dub Vibration, I.V. Dub and Dub The Rock.

Ironically, the most successful years for the trio have come amid the same storm of slackness and programmed beats that dominated the Jamaican dancehall and forced the group out of the business in the early 80s. I Vibes found a niche in the favorable underground roots reggae markets in Europe and the United States dominated by Burning Spear, Wailing Souls, Ijahman Levi, Culture and others.

Slackness in the dancehall has long been a concern to Apple, who wrote the group's latest single, "Rudeboy Shufflin," to address the issue. "'Rudeboy Shufflin' come from the indifferences what gwan right now in the system. The system take away the culture few years ago from the people and put upon the people the slack music and almost totally block out constructive music.

"In the earlier days, if ya never sing something conscious, nobody would let you in the studio. Nowadays it different. You can sing anything now and go pon a record. You don't have to come with no special skills, no special voice. You don't haffe come knowing how to sing in chords or sing in tune, sing in a timing. Them just do anything now, and (if it has) a good stepping dancehall rhythm, people listen it or buy it. Some of the music alright, some of them can listen to, but some of them really gone bad. But is the system do this. You cyan blame the youth, cyan blame the people.
"Culture music open people eyes. And them don't want that. Cause when people eyes open and people get wise, then people put up more resistance. When them get wise and them eyes open to things, them become closer to each other. And when people unite, that's the greatest force right there."

Apple feels the definition of roots reggae goes much further than conscious lyrics. The rhythms must have a life force behind them to deliver the roots vibration. "(In the dancehall), them race up the rhythm, them race up the tempo. The things them playing, them not playing from rhythm, just playing from beat. Rhythm is something that come from a live person. Rhythm is a soul thing. Machine cyan give you rhythm, machine can give you beat -- beat on the time. Talk about rhythm, rhythm is something come out of live people. The machine cyan give that feel.

"There is no music like when live musicians come pon the stage and give you that feel -- the bass man, the rhythm guitar man, the lead guitar man, the keyboard man, the drummer. That is life right there."

Apple says the backing tracks of Roots Radics are most crucial to the roots sound of Israel Vibration. "Right now Roots Radics are the number one band right now. Just like in the Wailers time when nothing was like Wailers. That is how Roots Radics is now. Nothing out there is like Roots Radics.

"Them come from a long time, and them stay with it. Them very livicated to them work. Is a set of brethren who carry a positive vibration when it comes to the music. Them nah deal with nah little stupid music nah lickle slackey tidey. Them a deal with positive vibes. Those are the right people for the music that we sing. Them love and respect the truth."

For Apple, the creative process is very deliberate. He creates demos at home with a distinct idea of what the finished product should sound like. "Me can play instrument, me can play piano, organ, in other words keyboards. Me can play bass guitar, rhythm guitar, percussion -- thing like that. I create the rhythm track, then I put the voice on it. I carry it to the studio and the musicians listen to it. The musicians put in their skill and their vibe from the inspiration that I have on the cassette."

"When me write a song... me hear the tune, me hear the instruments and all the different sounds at the same time I come in with the lyrics. When the inspiration come, to me personally, is not just the words of the song come, is also the different sounds that the song carry. I can hear it. I can't explain how I hear it, but spiritually I just hear sounds."

To sum up his approach and the approach of Israel Vibration, Apple simply states, "It just Jah vibes. Jah vibes cover all things. Jah vibes cover the whole of creation."

Israel Vibration's visibility in the United States has been hampered in the last three years due to Wiss Bulgin's immigration status. As of October, 1995, Wiss is expected to be cleared to come to the United States, according to a RAS Records spokesperson. If everything goes according to plan, Israel Vibration will be seen on tour in the U.S. in February 1996 backed by the Roots Radics.

Copyright 1995 Carter Van Pelt

Originally published in Reggae Report Volume 13 Number 11 1995