Culture is one of Jamaican reggae’s most respected names, beginning in the ’70s as a vocal trio and continuing to this day as Joseph “Culture” Hill, lead singer and songwriter of the original trio, and a revolving cast of musicians, still brings the militant consciousness, Rastafarian perspective, and deep roots reggae grooves.
Classic albums such as Two Sevens Clash and Baldhead Bridge, recorded in the mid-’70s with producer Joe Gibbs, and singles “This Train” and “Never Get Weary” recorded in the late-’70s with Sonia Pottinger, established Culture as international stars.
Hill is still at it in fine form after 25 years, working with the Firehouse Crew (Melbourne Miller, Donald Dennis, Paul Crossdale) and Shaggie’s band on World Peace, an album whose sentiment is as fundamental and uncompromising as its title.
Hill has a bathed-in-ganja soul rasp somewhat similar to Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals, and he puts it to best use on the loping, “Sweet Freedom,” in which he speaks for the downtrodden and disadvantaged and their eternal search for “equal rights and justice” (great line: “Santa Claus come to town he never come around my way”). While Hill’s stance is uncompromising, the cheeryness of the melody and his delivery tell us there is joy in righteous expression and at this point in a lifelong career, he may be satisfied with incremental gains for “his people.”
Horns give “Time Is Getting Harder” a special punch; the title track insists on “World Peace,” somehow making a very broad and generic demand urgent and specific with lines like:
“Every man a run a front
Want to be the leader
But I will stay in the back
To lead the blind”
The album is a tuneful, musically bright primer on Ratafarian concerns, keying on the slackness of Jamaican non-believers; the evil of guns, the tool of exploiters big and small; the redeeming light of Jah, which makes righteous “sufferation” tolerable and noble; train imagery symbolizing salvation; Biblical borrowings including Babylon as a corrupt materialistic and warlike culture doomed to fall, and Mount Zion as paradise on earth.
The “culture” of Joseph Hill is still uncompromising, uplifting, and deeply satisfying.