This past week I was given the pleasure of speaking with reggae great, Yvonne Curtis about her new Greatest Hits Album released in August. When I first noticed the album it surprised me. How it is that someone I had only heard of in passing was able to put out a massive 3-disc greatest hits album? Had I missed the boat? Apparently I had.
It's always an uphill battle to the mainstream. Often the most talented artists go for decades without the commercial recognition they deserve. Despite her lack of commercial success Yvonne Curtis is a driving force in reggae music with an evolving sound that has spanned the entire reggae spectrum. Since 1978 she has released 11 albums, as well as numerous compilations and singles.
Her time may finally be coming, though. Yvonne's management team shared that she recently signed a contract with Digital Jukebox, which is publishing in association with BBC London. They feel this will be a great opportunity to get her name out, and they plan to promote her with music videos, collaborations, cross-over tracks, and a Christmas album which is due out soon. When I asked her how she felt about the label, Yvonne said, “It's fantastic, it seems I've got my work cut out for me. [Digital Jukebox] will take me to places I have never been. That is fantastic.”
I kicked off her greatest hits album on my way to work one Monday morning, and right away was taken by the first track, Bet-Affe. I caught myself skipping down the street to the light African beat without realizing it. Its up-tempo rhythm changed my whole outlook on the day for the better after only a few bars; and subsequent tracks did not disappoint. This is the perfect album to put on to the raise the mood as you go about your day.
One of the things I love most about this album is the length of the tracks. Most are 4-6 minutes long, making for great ballads that stretch out and remind you of being at a live show, or a good jam where the riff and chorus dance with each other, around and around with no end in sight. In addition to her solo work, she has also recorded a good deal with the band The Serenaders. She told me that working with a band gives the freedom to create the longer tracks and give a song that jam vibe.
Many of the songs on the album are not her classics. In reference to the many tracks included from her early years, Yvonne said, “Some of the songs on the album are not well known because they didn't get the promotion they deserved at the time. So for a lot of people, this is like a new album… They will say ‘I have never heard this one, where was this one?’.”
When I asked about the many types of music on the album, she added, “I do a lot of beats that are different. I am a bit versatile; into a lot of things… you know, I love a challenge: to see how far I can stretch myself and have it work out. It's nice.” Her depth as an artist is visible on the album. It portrays a wide variety of musical styles that show both her passion and understanding of the breadth of reggae music.
With standard reggae tracks like, It Hurts So Good and No Woman No Cry, we are drawn in by the classic reggae which seduces us all. But no sooner are those tracks over then we are hit with Soca in the tracks Soca Pumping , Soca Fever, and Soca Time. And while a little Soca may be in the repertoire of most reggae artists, Yvonne takes a departure from the standard fare with love songs and country ballads like Changing Partners and Tennessee Waltz, which round out the album beautifully.
The diversity made me feel like I was experiencing a variety of different artists, instead of just one. It speaks volumes of the career that Yvonne Curtis has had over the last 45 years.
I asked specifically about the cover of the love ballad, Tennessee Waltz, as it is one of my favorite songs, and is not something you often hear covered by reggae artists. Yvonne told me how a few people had suggested the song to her. A friend had said “Yvonne, try this song I think it will treat you well.” The track came out wonderfully and adds to the complex feel of the album as a whole.
With so many ups and downs in her career, I asked Yvonne what has kept her going all these years. “The music. I love doing what I am doing. I have been doing this for years now. If I didn't love what I was doing I would have packed it in long ago. I am not a millionaire, it's not the money, I just love the music.”
I asked Yvonne what advice she had for aspiring artists looking to make a name for themselves. Speaking like a true veteran, she advised, “Try and be yourself, don't try to be like someone else. Just be you and you will find you get along much better. For me, if you don't be who you are, you will be false, do you understand? You don't want to live in anybody else's shoes, live in your own shoes. Be patient because this business is not easy, not easy at all. It's a rough road with a lot of stones, so you got to be patient and plug along.”
Many amazing female reggae artists do not get the recognition they deserve merely because they are female. “It's very tough as a female artist because it's male dominated. It's a fight.” said Yvonne, noting that despite this, a few women have managed to break through the barriers. Specifically, she mentioned her favorite artist Marcia Griffiths, of whom she said, “She really shines a lot and I am so proud of her.”
The album is currently available in all the usual spots: iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and The Digital Jukebox Record Label. You might even pick one up at your local record store, if you can find one. I suggest you get a copy today so that you can see what you have been missing, and enjoy the rest of your summer with some great reggae vibes. I asked Yvonne when she would be coming to see us in New York. She said, “That would be fine, it's not a problem.” I will take that as “Soon come” and keep listening to the album until then.
For More Information About Yvonne Curtis:
Please Visit: http://www.yvonnecurtis.net/