In contrast with the last three decades of the previous century, the first decade of the new millennium has seen the emergence of a staggering amount of new artists in reggae music coming from outside Jamaica. One of the most prolific as well as most consistent newcomers that put their name on the reggae map has been Midnite from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Since the release of their crucial debut set "Unpolished" in 1997 up till now, Midnite has released 38 full length albums and despite this high prolific output there has been hardly any decline in quality. Truly exceptional as this cannot be said of any other band or artist in the history of Reggae music as most reggae acts have found it very difficult to go beyond about five albums without losing their way.

Benjamin Vaughn

Benjamin Vaughn
First of all let's try to sort out what's what when it comes to Midnite. As a general rule, the name Midnite stands for the singer, songwriter, musician, poet and thinker Vaughn Benjamin, and conversely, whenever he is involved in a collaboration project, its name will include the name Midnite. Vaughn Benjamin is a shaman of rastafari, a rastaman of creation who implies five thousand years (and more) of human civilization into words, phrases, mantras and parables. Past, present and future merge in the deep insights and wisdom which he proclaims in the hundreds of lyrics he has written. The basics of the Bible, but also those from apocryphal writings and ancient philosophical works, are interwoven with the contemporary reality. From Seneca and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene to molecular science and economic analysis. From love, compassion and redemption to Macchiavelli, trigonometry and the power of the media. Everything and everyone is connected, through the years. In the wild luxuriant world of knowledge Vaughn Benjamin is an extraordinary guide, the man who opens the listener's eyes for wonders and miracles of nature, but also for the delusion and passions of the ignorant man.
Besides expressing himself through music, he also writes poems and has published a book of poetry in 2005 entitled "Kole Pekude: Word - Sound & Poems of Vaughn Benjamin (Midnite)", which contains more than 120 poems, ranging from song-length poems to 3 line masterpieces, most of them even more cryptic than Benjamin Vaughn's lyrics. The rich imagery, depth of content, word mastery, rebel spirit and freedom of thought within these works are as powerful as his recorded songs.
"Spice"

I see why they came back for the spices
to flavor the meet and the mingle
the names signed flatline
bland
Van Gogh for the heightened senses?
a fully decorated Massai
would spice the rigor mortis from the eyes.
                          
Vaughn Benjamin's electrifying voice seems an amalgamation of many great voices in reggae - soulful, chanting, edgy. The man's potent lyrical style and his brother Ron Benjamin's exquisite production, vocals, dub, arrangements, keyboard/bass musical directorship form the nucleus of Midnite's rootsy sound. The band weaves the cultural lyrics of "old skool" roots music with modern day experiences to create a unique listening encounter. Roots Reggae - naked and raw is an apt description for Midnite's musical style, in which they forgo the frills of extensive remixes, overdubbing and other musical refinements. Midnite's own productions are released on the Benjamin brothers' Rastafaria and African Roots Lab record labels. Midnite Branch I, a branch off of the Midnite tree made up of Vaughn Benjamin, Phillip Merchant and Dion Hopkins, debuted with the album "Cipheraw" (2003), which was followed by the albums "Geoman" (2003) and "Project III" (2003).
Throughout the years Vaughn Benjamin got involved in quite a number of collaboration projects. While Vaughn sings and contributes to ALL the productions that bear the name Midnite, his brother Ron has only contributed to a handful of the Midnite collaborations ("Assini", "Nemozian Rasta", "Eastbound" and a couple of others) The very first collaboration was with St. Croix based I Grade Records production/recording team that consists of guitarist/producer Laurent "Tippy" Alfred and bassist Kenyatta Itola. It led to the release of the "Nemozian Rasta" album in 2001. In the following years five more collaboration albums with I Grade Records were released: "Assini" (2002), "Vijan" (2003), "Let Live" (2005), "Jah Grid" (2006) and "Rule The Time" (2007). Regular Midnite musicians were only partly involved in the recordings for these albums. The next collaboration was with Ras L, a talented young producer from St. Croix who played keyboards and bass on the song "Old Robe" off of Midnite's "Assini" album. "Full Cup" (2004), an experimental album of hip hop roots production, and "Thru & True" (2006), more grounded in the roots tradition than its predessor with exceptionally heavy basslines throughout, were the results of this collaboration.

Then Vaughn Benjamin traveled to New Mexico to record with the Mystic Vision crew. Their first collaboration project "Current" appeared in 2005, followed by "New 100" in 2006. In that same year the Midnite-Lion Tribe collaboration album "Suns Of Atom" saw the light of day, a collection of mostly-live instrumentation roots reggae with some interesting twists, innovative use of horns, sitars, tablas and other unique instruments. The double cd "Standing Ground" was released in 2008, another project done in collaboration with The Lion Tribe crew. Recently, in 2010, Lion Tribe and Vaughn Benjamin picked up where they left off from "Standing Ground" and the third album "Momentum" was released. In 2007 he did a collaboration project with Lion I of Higher Bound Productions out of Grass Valley, CA. The release of their "Bless Go Roun" set, a full plate of mystical modern roots with outstanding production that is both ambient and heavy, was Vaughn Benjamin's sixth album release of 2007!! The 2010 released "Ark A Law", featuring some hard-hitting hip hop production by J-Will and Ishence, was the second album that evolved from this collaboration. Together with I Grade Records, one of the most fruitful collaboration projects was with Rastar Productions. Between 2007 and 2009 they released the following powerful albums: "Better World Rasta", "Supplication To H.I.M.", "To Mene" and "Ina Now".
Besides that Midnite's Vaughn Benjamin also did quite a few one-off collaborations. Actually the very first collaboration album was "Kayamagan" with Desmond Williams (engineer and co-producer of Thievery Corporation, and in 1993 an apprentice of renown engineer Scientist), which they recorded in Washington DC in between the albums "Unpolished" and "Ras Mek Peace". This album captures Vaughn Benjamin's word sound at a crucial, formative period at the end of the '90s. In 2007 a 13-track collaboration between Donny Dread and Vaughn Benjamin called "Aneed" was released by Groundbreaking Records. One of the other releases in 2007 was the very strong "Infinite Quality", which was produced by Lustre Kings, Zion High and I Grade. Together with Vaughn Benjamin they created lush and beautifully arranged contemporary roots reggae - with a heavy deep roots sound, but balanced with horns, flutes, live strings and other unique instrumentation. The following year they even released a dub version of the album ("Infinite Dub"). A collaboration project with an African artist was destined to happen, and so it did with the release of the "For All" cd, which saw Vaughn Benjamin teaming up with the legendary Senegalese kora player and producer Youssoupha Sidibe.

The good thing about teaming up with a variety of musicians and producers to do collaboration projects makes that Midnite has been able to change the vibes, although it's always deep roots music. So far it has continuously produced very interesting results and it's certainly one of the reasons that Midnite has managed to maintain to quality of their output throughout. Midnite is one of the most successful self-contained acts playing reggae in the U.S. -- where they consider them THE pre-immenent roots reggae group of today -- and also their fanbase in Europe is growing and they deserve that following. However Midnite doesn't hit everyone. Some of the reasons often expressed is that "they bring a depressing sort of reggae", "their riddims are really boring", "their very deliberate, minor key one-drop style of reggae doesn't appeal" and "I just don't get their vibe, it's too sinister".

Benjamin Vaughn

Midnite on stage.
On 3rd July 2010 Midnite did a show in the Petrol Club in Antwerp, Belgium. Freelance journalist, writer, reggae connoisseur and Midnite fan Karel Michiels aka Jah Shakespear wrote the following review (translated from Dutch):

This group does not have hits or common favourite songs, and also has no need to score for the public. It's just the overall lack of any ego that makes the group so pure, so authentic and intriguing. Of course, first of all Vaughn Benjamin as lead singer (or not). Not once he angled a compliment, or even talked to the public. He just looked, with an open heart and an open mind, completely in the moment, completely focused on his lyrics, smoothly skanking on and off the undulating riddims. He sometimes seemed to rock you to sleep, like a young rasta rightly remarked, not the sleep of tedium or boredom but a sense of calm, as in the arms of a parent or loved one. To suddenly wake you up again, not brutal but in harmonious dialogue with the band, which had the appropriate sound evolve from small and subtle to larger and louder, and back. Dub sometimes became Jazz licks with masterly guitar and keys, without ever ignoring the riddim. Time enough for a musical story to tell, because every song was a long drawn-out, longer than long, the longest tunes we've ever heard at a reggae concert. During more than 200 (!) minutes, Midnite has played only a dozen songs.

It also requires a great dedication of the audience, albeit rather mental than physical. The peace and serenity of the riddims do not invite you to do some wild dancing. The gentle movements that obtrude, even seem to work relaxing. At least my old bones and weathered feet have not protested, and that's a small miracle when a show lasts so long. It was the mental effort that drove some people early to the bar and the veranda of the Petrol Club, which I can fully understand. Indeed, you must be a bit crazy to remain standing on your feet for so long, to let yourself carry away on the trance of Midnite. You need to dare cross the border between reality and spirituality, between the mind (wonder what the hell got into you so unthinkingly to surrender) and heart (that yearns for connection with this extraordinary group). These are choices you rarely have to make in the average dancehall.

Being the singer it's obvious Benjamin Vaughn sucks the most attention to himself, but also his brother Ron (bass) deserves the highest regard and respect. He creates compelling riddims and (fragments of) melodies. He unrolls the red carpet for the others to walk out. And he sings now and then, a sentence, a word, purely instinctive, but so fitting that you wonder if he really knows all the texts of his brother by heart, even the ones he improvises on the spot.

Sometimes I was even able to sing along, "Rastaman Still Stand" and "He Is Jah", the two opening tracks (but much shorter) on the live CD of 2008. "Propaganda", "Mama Africa" and "Love The Life You Live", coming from the best distributed and perhaps best-selling record "Unpolished". For the rest I recognized a few riddims and passages of text but not the same way they were recorded in the studio. The last (and longest) song Midnite played I hear more or less again during the writing of this piece in "Give Her Her Due", a track from the new CD "What Makes A King?" (immediately bought of course). It's about Mary Magdalene and by extension all strong women. When she loves, she's a healer. With a heavenly appearance, celestial appeal. Yet another ode to women (particularly female nature) that Vaughn Benjamin addresses to the world.

And then it suddenly finished. It was already half past two in the morning, and I estimate that about 150 people have stayed there throughout the entire journey, went through all the intoxication, have experienced the whole dream. They will walk on clouds for days.
Article: Teacher & Mr. T
Sources: www.midniteband.com, www.viroots.com, www.reggae.be, www.youtube.com, riddim magazine, and the chatty mouth forum