Their upcoming album ‘Bigga Baggariddim’ is a collaborative effort featuring reggae veterans and Zorawar Shukla of Reggae Rajahs, whose ‘Roots Rock Reggae’ released on June 18
There are a lot of international artists who enjoy a hardcore, nostalgia-driven following in India even when they’ve had their time away from the hamster wheel of global hits, and critical acclaim. They have an everlasting charm that’s sometimes inexplicable, although there’s the fact that they just wrote and performed good, relatable music.
Birmingham’s reggae posse UB40 certainly fall into some of these categorisations. Talking about their continued appeal, drummer Jimmy Brown says over an email interview, “Being a ‘heritage’ band means we are known world-over. But it’s hard to gauge that when you’re in it. It’s like it’s happening to someone else.” In their case, they get that reality check of sorts about their “legendary status” when they meet fans. “To go all the way to somewhere like Samoa or Tonga and see people lining the streets to wave at you — the atmosphere of excitement in the air is a beautiful thing,” he adds.
UB40, the hitmakers who created emotive, affable reggae versions of songs like ‘Red Red Wine’, ‘Can’t Help Falling Love’ and ‘I Got You Babe’, leverage their global popularity in their latest album, a collaboration-heavy offering called Bigga Baggariddim. Releasing on June 25, it features Jamaican reggae veterans like Winston Francis and Inner Circle, plus the newer wave of Caribbean artists like Leno Banton, Protoje, Koffee and Chronixx and Blvk H3ro. There’s also their fellow British reggae pathbreakers like the band KIOKO, producer Tippa Irie and MCs such as Slinger, Pablo Rider and Gilly G.
Where the scope of Bigga Baggariddim actually gets global is with their inclusion of New Zealand-based roots reggae band House of Shem and Indian vocalist-producer General Zooz aka Zorawar Shukla, part of the party-starting crew Reggae Rajahs. The latter leads the song ‘Roots Rock Reggae’, which released on June 18, and his group also opened for UB40 when they performed in India back in 2017.
Bigga Baggariddim sees UB40 hand the reins to their collaborators in a major way, letting them take over all vocal duties throughout 15 tracks. Every musician was supplied the music (instrumental backing tracks) by UB40 to make it their own song with vocals and production. Brown says about the collaborations, “It reflects that our career has been truly international. Whether it’s Holland or Samoa, South Africa or the Americas, we have played to thousands and had them singing our songs back to us. It’s a source of pure joy for the band and we wanted to reflect that in this latest record.”
While the Birmingham posse have been directly political in their commentary before — like when they adapted the Labour government’s slogan as the title of their 2019 album For The Many — Brown says they left all the lyrical direction in the hands of their collaborators this time. “Any political commentary came from the individual artists themselves. We just did the music and told everyone they had the freedom to do or say anything they wanted,” he explains.
Back on the road
Despite the pandemic-related restrictions, Brown notes that the band just plugged into their gear, jammed out the songs and sent it out to collaborators. The drummer terms it a “pure pleasure” to work on this record, their 20th album overall and the follow up to 2019’s For The Many. “It was always exciting to get the work back from them and see what they did with our music,” he says.
Come November, UB40 get back on the road after a gap of more than a year, like most artists in the world. “It’s been nearly a year-and-a-half since we all performed together. Probably the longest break we’ve had in 40 years,” says Brown, adding that they’re playing the biggest halls and arenas in the UK, Scotland and Ireland. Ask the drummer about rehearsals and he matter-of-factly responds that they don’t need a lot of preparation. “We know the songs and we know each other, so a couple of weeks should knock us back into shape,”concludes Brown.