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Keeping that roots vibe alive

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Just 26 years old, Mathias Liengme has a passion for the reggae music from the 1970s. Since 2013 when he first met veteran drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace in his native Switzerland, he has recorded with a number of his Jamaican heroes from that era.

In June, Liengme and Najavibes — a eight-piece band from Geneva in which he plays keyboards — released the album Same Sun. It features songs with Jamaican singers Mark Wonder and Kumar (formerly of Raging Fyah).

The set was released by Liengme's Fruits Records. In a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, he said Najavibes went for a sound reminiscent of the 1970s, considered reggae's most creative period.

“We tried to think of our album as bands like Third World or In Crowd used to do in the 70s, 96 Degrees in The Shade album, for example. The album has a start and an end, everything flows naturally in the middle,” he explained. “If you listen to the first song, Sun Light, you will hear the long introduction, it comes slowly into the song. Then the last song, Same Sun, has a long 'outroduction' that reminds the introduction of Sun Light; it's like a circle.”

Najavibe's founding members Antonin Chatelain, Léo Marin and Adrien Stern met Mark Wonder in 2013 on their first trip to Jamaica. They were introduced to Kumar two years later while in Kingston for recording sessions with roots singer I Kong.

“Kumar is actually the one who asked us to come perform in Jamaica with I Kong in December 2016. It was originally for (the) Wickie Wackie Festival, but they had to cancel it, so we performed at Red Bones. So naturally, we wanted to make him part of this album,” said Liengme.

Wonder, who has toured Europe several times, sings on Love Revolution while Kumar appears on This Dust.

Najavibes have done a number of collaborations with artistes and musicians who played significant roles in the development of roots-reggae. In addition to Wallace, they include bassist Lloyd Parks, guitarists Dwight Pinkney and Earl “Chinna” Smith, and keyboardists Robbie Lyn and Lloyd “Obeah” Denton.

They have also worked with veteran vocal duo Keith and Tex and neo-roots singer Samory I. Fruits Records have released albums by I Kong ( A Little Walk and Pass it On) and Oku Onura ( I've Seen) as well as The Inspirartors, an eight-song album with songs by Wallace, Smith and Sangie Davis.

Najavibes, Liengme points out, keeps their sound as authentic as possible.

“We do our best to play reggae the way it should be played, as the elders taught us. We try to play it the Jamaican way but with our own personal influences like jazz, Afrobeat, soul,” he stated. “We also try to capture the old-school live sound of the instruments; no programming, no computer music, no synth horns, (we use) vintage instruments and analogue mixing with Prince Fatty. The most Swiss element is the song Parcours, sung in French with Swiss rappers Rootwords and Jonas. This one is definitely made for the Swiss audience.”

Liengme is currently putting the finishing touches to Roots Architects, an instrumental album he recorded with more than 50 Jamaican musicians from the golden age of reggae.