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Helen Rogers still does it for lovers

Still smooth

By Howard Campbell Observer senior writer

Saturday, April 16, 2016

London was the music world’s melting pot during the 1970s. Fans of heavy metal, funk, punk and reggae had an appreciation for their respective genres.

It was an exciting time for Helen Rogers, a teenaged English singer with a passion for reggae. That passion is intact.

In November, Rogers’ debut solo album Smooth Jazz Meets Reggae was released by Skinny Bwoy Records, an independent company based in Chicago and owned by Jamaican Henry ‘Sadiki’ Buckley.

As its title suggests, the songs are a collection of reggae done with the lovers’ rock flavour that announced Rogers in the 1980s.

Working with British multi-instrumentalist Paul Hardcastle in the 1990s, she found a smooth jazz audience.

"It was incredibly satisfying to be writing and singing over the reggae rhythms produced mainly by Sadiki and the smooth jazz songs produced by Sadiki and (keyboardist) Marvin Weatherspoon," Rogers, 54, told the Jamaica Observer from London last week. "The exciting thing for me is that I didn’t want to fuse the two genres [because] reggae music is a particular feel; it’s the music I’ve loved, sang, relaxed to and partied to since I was a teenager growing up in South London and I didn’t want to water it down."

Two songs have been released from Smooth Jazz Meets Reggae: the jazzy In The Light and I’m Still In Love With You Boy — a cover of Alton Ellis’s rocksteady gem, I’m Still In Love With You Girl.

Rogers said the latter is one of her favourite songs. She discovered the song in the mid-1970s when she also listened to a number of artistes including The Wailers and Marcia Griffiths.

Later she got into Black Uhuru, Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, and Gregory Isaacs, all of whom were popular in the United Kingdom.

"As a young girl, it was such a thrill to visit the Import record shops in Brixton Market and Jimmy Lindsay’s shop in Tulse Hill to get the hottest new sounds from Jamaica! And so cool to be in London and to be part of our own homegrown lovers rock scene," she recalled.

Rogers was a familiar face in London’s eclectic music scene during the 1970s and 1980s. She started out singing reggae with One Stop Music, working alongside lovers’ rock group Natural Touch and Ken Parker, a stalwart of the UK reggae scene.

In the 1990s, Rogers collaborated with Hardcastle and his group, The Jazzmasters, on five smooth jazz albums.

Buckley, a singer with three albums under his belt, and Weatherspoon, a Chicago session musician, co-produced Smooth Jazz Meets Reggae.

According to Rogers, many of the reggae artistes and producers who did well in the UK are still going strong. The support, though, has declined.

"The main difference between now and then is that the whole political and social scene is different. Aside from the Internet revolution, which has impacted the music industry at all levels, there is a lack of investment from major labels for genuine reggae artistes. I think that’s really sad…reggae music has always been massively influential and should be at the forefront of the music industry in its own right," she said.