Reggae artists have never shied away from criticizing greed, corruption, and oppression. But Joseph Hill of Culture, one of the most influential roots artists since the 1970s, offers more than criticism on the band's new release, "Payday."
Rather than simply blaming society's problems on politicians and other popular targets, Hill forcefully advocates self-reliance, responsibility, and other positive solutions. "Rise up and do something good for yourself, instead of begging," Hill sings in "Do Something for Yourself," urging able-bodied men to take care of themselves and their families. "Can't you be a mechanic? Can't you teach yourself to build a house? Can't you make a pair of shoes?" With more sincerity than most presidential candidates, Hill calls for hard work over laziness, and education over ignorance.
Not that the politicians get off easy. In songs such as "Share the Riches" and "The Boss," Hill takes on leaders and policies that favor the rich, promote oppression, and maintain violence everywhere from Africa to Kosovo. The album's strong title track, with an opening that borrows from Jimi Hendrix's take on the "Star-Spangled Banner," refers not to greed, but to the lasting effects of slavery. "When will this payday be for these retired slaves?" Hill asks.
Produced by Clive Hunt, the album's music is as rich as its messages, as many acclaimed singers and musicians complement Hill's unique and sometimes humorous vocals with classic but up-to-date rhythms that could almost stand on their own. Despite a few predictable moments, like "Legalization," Culture provides a refreshing affirmation of reggae's relevance and timelessness.
Appearing Wednesday at the Garage with Jah Works.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Culture, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)