Israel Vibration's Jamaican reggae legends appropriately titled their latest album "Stamina." Creating classic roots music for more than 40 years, this revered vocal group is often acclaimed as heirs to the legacy of Rastafarian roots legends like Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear.
"Stamina means you have the energy or the potential to carry through on a mission and accomplish your part of the works," says Israel Vibration's Lacelle "Wiss" Bulgin.
"Every individual has a part to play. Some have tall duties and some have short duties. Jah determines the fulfillment, the destiny of each and everyone's duties. We just go ahead and do this until Jah says."
Israel Vibration (featuring Lacelle “Wiss” Bulgin (left) and Cecil “Skelly: Spence).
Adopting a name derived from a Bible concept about the 12 Tribes of Israel, the group originally comprised Cecil "Skelly" Spence, Albert "Apple" Craig and Wiss. All three were afflicted with polio at an early age. The whole island of Jamaica experienced a polio epidemic in the 1950s, likely triggered by a shipment of tainted used clothing from England. As many of the island's poor could not afford to raise these children, Wiss, Kelly and Apple were sent to a rehabilitation center.
Singing together and learning how to play instruments at the clinic, the trio members were later attracted to the teachings of Rastafari. This led to conflict with administrators, who kicked them out.
"It wasn't really because of the music, it was more like the way we appeared with the dreadlocks," Wiss explains.
* Israel Vibration (featuring Lacelle "Wiss" Bulgin (left) and Cecil "Skelly: Spence), backed by the Roots Radics, perform on Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's A&B Amphitheater. Inna Vision will open. Show begins at 6 p.m. Advance tickets are $30, $35 day of show. Tickets are available at the MACC (where applicable fees are added), Premiere Video & Music, Old Lahaina Book Emporium and Request Music.
* The "70s Soul Jam" concert with the Stylistics (right), Chi-Lites and Three Degrees takes place on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Castle Theater. Tickets are $35 and $49, plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org
"It was a different style of life that they couldn't really understand. They interpreted it as something bad. We weren't being bad, we were just trying a different experience."
The trio found inspiration in the spiritually themed reggae music of the time.
"Bob's music was there, Peter's music was there, Burning Spears' music was there, all those cultural songs were there," Wiss recalls. "We grew up listening to all those different artists, and it kind of helped in a way, their insights, their understanding and teaching."
Assisted by a Rastafarian organization known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the trio recorded its first single in 1976. Four years later they entered Bob Marley's recording studio, Tuff Gong, and backed by the Wailers band, recorded the legendary album, "Unconquered People," including such anthems as "We A Da Rasta," "Give I Grace" and "Mr. Taxman." The group's strident messages and inspirational lyrics would soon attract reggae fans around the world.
Frustration with corruption in Jamaica's recording industry led them to relocate in New York City, but they soon broke up, and eventually re-teamed in 1988.
This was a time when dancehall rose to prominence and the appeal of roots diminished. "I could say it was challenging, but it's more like another step inside of the music, like a branch from a tree," says Wiss philosophically. "Each tree has a lot of different branches. Musicians and singers started to explore. It's not bad to do that, it gives a different flavor and texture, a different insight and look. It's good to do that, but sometimes some of the dancehall singers have lyrics that are not quite acceptable for young and old."
Throughout the '90s and into the 21st century, the group continued to release potent albums, even after the exit of Apple Craig. Headlining reggae festivals around the world, they routinely uplift audiences with their crucial roots music.
"We hope people get strength and guidance and encouragement, love and happiness, and prosperity," says Wiss.
"Those are the things we hope the music carries, and fulfills the last step of life. The music is like a vehicle, like a transport for the people. Like you find food within the earth, you find spiritual food within the music. The good word is for all."
(Jamaican Rastafari musicians often talk in symbolic terms with biblical references and strong accents that can be difficult to decipher. This article would not have been possible without the help of ace translator Marty Dread.)
Sold out last year, the "70s Soul Jam" concert with the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites, plus the Three Degrees returns on Monday to Castle Theater at the MACC.
At their peak, the Stylistics were one of the most consistent hit makers in soul music. While they first achieved regional attention in 1971 with the song "You're A Big Girl Now," it was the combination of Russell Thompkins Jr.'s silky falsetto and lush production by Thom Bell that brought the group stardom.
Their debut album, hailed as a Philly Soul masterpiece, contained a feast of memorable tracks by Bell and co-writer Linda Creed, including "You Are Everything," "Stop Look Listen," "People Make the World Go Round" and "Betcha By Golly Wow" (which Prince covered in 1996).
Their follow-up, "Round Two," was equally as memorable, and included the classics "Break Up To Make Up," "Children of the Night" and "You'll Never Get to Heaven." But it was their third album, "Rockin Roll Baby," that earned them their first No. 1 crossover hit, "You Make Me Feel Brand New."
In 2000, lead singer Thompkins suffered vocal problems and left the group. He was replaced by Eban Brown, who joined original members Airrion Love and Herb Murrell, and new group member Van Fields.
Like many popular soul groups of the '60s and '70s, the Chi-Lites met as teens, singing together and apart in various groups in their native Chicago.
Over time, the Chi-Lites developed their own unique sound around the writing and production of lead singer Eugene Record. He distinguished the Chi-Lites from other soul groups like the Stylistics and Blue Magic by balancing sweet soul ballads about loneliness and vulnerability with funky numbers about race relations and social justice. Thus their albums featured contrasting songs like "Give More Power to the People" and the love song "I Want to Pay You Back."
By 1972, the group had attained national superstardom with two ballads that rocketed to the top of the charts and became among the most memorable songs of the decade - "Have You Seen Her?" and "Oh Girl." The hits kept coming with "Homely Girl," "Stoned Out of My Mind" and "Toby," keeping them near the top of the R&B charts.
When Eugene Record left the group in 1976, Marshall Thompson led a revamped Chi-Lites through the remainder of the '70s. In 1980, the most popular Chi-Lites lineup, consisting of Eugene Record, Thompson, Squirrel Lester and Craedel Jones, reunited and released the album "Heavenly Body."
Thompkins and Lester, along with the more recent addition of Frank Reed, have continued the Chi-Lites tradition, recording and touring over the last two decades.
Signed by Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International Records in 1972, the Three Degrees female trio made an immediate splash with the disco hit "Dirty Ol' Man," before joining with MFSB (the Philadelphia International house band) to record the Soul Train theme song "TSOP," which topped the charts. A year later they released their signature song, the international hit "When Will I See You Again."
Huge in the U.K. during the '80s, they were dubbed "Charlie's Angels," as Prince Charles proclaimed them his favorite group - they attended his wedding to Princess Diana.
The group continued to record throughout the '90s, their most recent release being a 1998 Christmas album.
JabbaWockeeZ, winner of MTV's America's Best Dance Crew contest, headline a Summer Mele show on Saturday at the MACC. The mele also features dance crew contestants Kaba Modern, Lisa Lisa (of the '80s dance group the Cult Jam), and Angel of The Cover Girls, plus a Maui vs. Oahu B-boy Showdown and Maui's Dani Girl. Tickets are $37 advance, $45 day of show, plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
* Contact Jon Woodhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.