Positive vibrations

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Sunday, December 07, 2014

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VETERAN roots-reggae band Israel Vibration are in Jamaica recording songs for their first studio album in four years. The sessions are being conducted at Mixing Lab Studio in Kingston.

The album is scheduled for release in February, just ahead of the duo's European tour. The album and tour are being produced by French company Mediacom.

Formed in 1970 as a trio, Israel Vibration's current members are Cecil 'Skelly' Spence and Lascelle 'Wiss' Bulgin. Albert 'Apple' Craig, another founding member, left the fold in 1997.

Spence, 62, said he and Bulgin recently completed shows in California and Colorado. He added that they were eager to record fresh material for their first European run in three years.

"The people still love the old songs, but dem appreciate the new songs to. But the old ones they can sing along to," he told the Sunday Observer.

Israel Vibration's previous album, Reggae Knights, was also released by Mediacom. It was nominated for a Best Reggae Album Grammy in 2011.

Spence and Bulgin both live in the United States but travel to Jamaica each time they record an album. Most of the musicians working on their current project are familiar faces. Bassist Errol 'Flabba Holt' Carter, guitarists Dwight Pinkney and Steve Golding, and keyboardist Richard Thompson are members of their long-time touring band, the Roots Radics.

While they frequently record in Jamaica, not many fans in their homeland are familiar with the songs that have made Israel Vibration one of reggae's best touring acts in the last 20 years. The Same Song, their classic 1979 call for Rasta unity, is their best known song in the country.

Bulgin, 59, is not bothered by the lack of attention in Jamaica.

"Wi used to dat from wi out ya. Wi know how it go but no hard feelings," he said.

Spence, Bulgin and Craig first met in the 1960s at the Mona Rehabilitation Centre in St Andrew, where they were being treated for polio. They were victims of a polio outbreak that impacted Jamaica during the 1950s.

Despite their physical challenges, they found common ground with music and Rastafari. After years of recording, they hit paydirt in 1979 with The Same Song which was produced by Tommy Cowan; it remains their signature piece.

After a split in the mid-1980s, the group got back together in the United States in 1987 with the Washington DC independent label RAS Records producing and distributing their music. It was a fruitful partnership, as Israel Vibration released several well-received albums for that company including 1988's Strength of my Life.

Backed by the Roots Radics, Israel Vibration became a force throughout Europe, the United States West Coast, and untapped reggae markets like Israel.

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