Benny Culture and Singie Shante
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2008, Volume 15, #1
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu January 3, 2008, 9:45 AM CST
"Now, I say, guide me, Jah-Jah, as I trod along,
and listen to the voice of a true Rasta Man,
who never went to high school to get an education,
but I know I can teach love and
compassion — I can make a difference."
– Benny Culture
Originally released in 2002 and recently reissued by Megawave Records, Benny Culture and Singie Shante’s Conscience is a classic, modern reggae album. It is a strong and passionate collection of revolutionary songs that are supported by rhythms from the Gumption Band, and its re-emergence is a fitting tribute to Benny Culture, the musician and activist who succumbed to cancer in 2004.
Culture’s work was a testament to reggae’s highest ideals. In an era where a lot of press coverage of the genre tends to focus on guns, violence, intolerance, and homophobia, Culture’s life and actions stood in sharp contrast to the gangster stereotypes that often have left the humanism and "one love" philosophy espoused by Bob Marley and other early Jamaican music icons as little more than dimly recalled dreams from bygone days. Throughout his career, Culture frequently tackled issues that were unpopular within the more conservative sectors of Jamaican society. Right from the start, he was an HIV/AIDS advocate who used money from his record sales to establish Culture Shop, a gathering place where the sick and poor were fed and where guidance was provided at any time, without prejudice. It was a Mecca of music, social activism, and brotherhood — a place of tolerance and safety. In addition to working with those who were marginalized and ill, Culture was also a committed environmentalist whose Earth Day cleanup campaigns in Jamaica became legendary.
"It doesn’t matter what you say ’bout righteousness
Man, if Jah calls upon you, you might be next
So mind how you program and how you a flex
In the midst of life’s plan, you need to look out for death."
A dedicated Rastafarian, Culture had a way with words that allowed him to create lyrics that addressed and elevated his spiritual concerns in a manner that was both moving and artistically satisfying. Unlike many contemporary reggae artists who are content with retreading old musical ground or emulating the more troubling aspects of hip-hop culture, he was able to embrace the genre’s new sounds while retaining the traditional natural essence of the musical form. Conscience, his collaboration with Singie Shante, a great singer and activist in his own right, is a deep and profound album full of wonderful songs with killer rhythms. Each track is essentially a conversation or duet between Culture and Shante. The two performers act as perfect foils for each other with Shante’s smooth, almost silken voice providing a counterpoint to Culture’s deep, unrelenting vocal attacks.
From the opening title track to Groovematist’s final remix of Chant Rastafari, there’s not a lackluster song on Conscience. Though many of the beats are mechanized and utilize computer technology, Culture and Shante’s lyrics bubble with so much warmth and passion as they sing over the instrumental tracks that the lack of real instruments is never a distraction. Conscience is a perfect marriage of old-world roots music and modern electronica. It is, in many ways, a 21st Century reggae album that is peerless. For those whose reggae collections begin with Jimmy Cliff and haven’t progressed past the last, original album by Black Uhuru, and for those who have been thinking of trying something new, there’s no better place to start than with Conscience.
Of Further Interest...
Conscience is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box