Early 2002 the European tour of two of Jamaica's exciting Dancehall acts, Ward 21 and Mr. Vegas, took off in order to promote their brand new albums - "Mentally Disturbed" and "Damn Right!" - both released on Greensleeves Records in the second half of 2001. After having played at a packed VK in Brussels on Sunday February 10th, the artists, musicians and tour management crossed the Dutch-Belgian border to bring real Jamaican dancehall vibes to Eindhoven. So, on a rainy Monday evening we got to the Effenaar at 8.30pm and just chilled for almost an hour listening to a fine selection of modern roots and dancehall tunes - including an occasional dubplate special - played by Danny Pepperseed's "Ovadoze" Sound System. By the time the three piece backing band came on stage the place had been slowly getting crowded, however not sold out. First to take the stage were the four members of Ward 21. Great hype and overall very talented outfit Ward 21 comprises Marvin "Mean Dog" Henry, Andre "Suku" Gray, Ranaldo "Rumblood" Evans and Kunley "Kunley" McCarthey. These four crazy but really cool guys - as I experienced when talking to them after the show - are outstanding, not only as performing artists but also as musicians, writers, engineers, DJs, Sound System operators and producers. So, let's get to the story about how they actually have come together.

Andre Gray aka "Suku" began in 1985 as a Sound System Operator for "Road Sonic" after doing this for some time he felt the need to advance in this field and so in 1995 after been introduced to King Jammy as a Sound System operator by Mark Henry (now his colleague) and King Jammy's son Christopher "CJ" James, Suku started to operate "King Jammy's Super Power" and from there became even more interested so he advanced to the Dub Cutting Studio. Late 1996 he advanced even further working as an assistant engineer in the Recording Studio and was promoted to senior engineer in 1998. While recording artists he would have ideas of sounds he wants to hear on some of the recordings, so he started creating and came up with a couple of riddims, "Hot Lava", "Swing" and others. In the same year he came up with the killer riddim "Bada Bada", which received rave reviews. With over some 40 cuts on this "Bada Bada" the group and not just "Suku" gained popularity within the music community.

Ranaldo Evans aka "Rumblood" started by fooling around his friend's sound system "Street Fighter" in 1996 while still attending school. He went on to pursue a job but his friend Suku took him to King Jammy's studio where he would just fool around from time to time. By this time he was under the watchful eyes of King Jammy and one day he called him and said he should start working in the Dub Room, and was hired as a Dub Cutting Engineer. "...From there it was all young blood around the King and we just started experimenting and came up with some crazy music (hilarious commentaries on everyday happenings)."

Kunley McCarthy aka "Kunley" - born on the 22nd of July 1975 in Kingston - did all the things he could including operating sound system, "Road Sonic", a member of Fab Five road crew, Policy Data Entry Clerk, Disc Jockey at major night clubs and more. He was introduced to King Jammy by "Suku" as a Sound System Operator, after playing the sound for a few weeks he was invited into the Recording Studio as an apprentice engineer by the man himself King Jammy. While learning all aspects of the art and correcting artists while recording them he got into the habit of writing songs and from a personal experience wrote and recorded one of the wickedest songs, "Haters", on the "Badda Badda".

Mark Henry aka "Mean Dog" was born in Kingston in 1970. King Jammy's Studio is located on the same road where he lived. In the 1980s, he would frequent the studio because its usually full every day with all the top artists and a studio carry a lively vibes and that's what Mark loves. In 1994 when he started operating "Bug Striker", King Jammy got to know his potential and invited him to join his sound crew as one of the selectors. After been on the sound for a while, he was then invited into the Recording Studio where he was an Assistant Recording Engineer. From there he went onto the Dub Cutting Studio. In 1996 he started touring with Bounty Killer as Assistant Technician/Engineer. In 1998 while recording artists and helping to arrange their material, he became more interested in recording and hooked up with and became a member of Ward 21.

When asked about the development of Ward 21's musical style, Suku states..."Jamaica is close to the US, so it's no problem to listen to the hottest music from over there. We especially enjoyed listening to hip-hop music and thus it really became our main influence. So, it's obvious that our music is strongly based on hip-hop." And indeed, compared to Jamaican acts like for example T.O.K. and the Innocent Kru, it's Ward 21's yardcore dancehall hip-hop that can be regarded as the most extreme and innovating form of Jamaica's Dancehall music today. How they create a Ward 21 piece? "...Sometimes a tune is written by one person, but on the other hand it can also be done by two or three or even all four members. It strongly depends on the vibe!" Meanwhile their potential has also been recognized by the namebrand Jamaican dancehall stars who started crowding round King Jammy's famous Waterhouse studio since Ward 21 have been let loose at the control tower. It enabled them to record such well anticipated artists like Sean Paul, Elephant Man, Mad Cobra, Merciless and Degree, to name a few. "...Although we really enjoy working with every single artist, it's teaming up with Spragga Benz, Lady Saw and Mr. Vegas that brings a special vibe." They have been doing a lot of shows in the US - mostly for Jamaicans - before they came to Europe for their first extensive tour. Asked about the difference between the US and Europe, the first reaction was "It's really cold here". But then regarding the audience "...So far, we've experienced that the people here in Europe party harder!" And then it's already time for the crew to leave the place as their coach is about to depart. So, let's go back to where it all started...showtime!

The Ward 21 crew fully lived up to expectations, which were raised high among many people in the house. From beginning to end they did a tight show. Their stage performance was truly wicked and very entertaining, and they really gave the people what they wanted, namely a well balanced selection of their finest and best known efforts including "Haters", "Don't Push It", "Five A Day", "Judgement Day" and "Bloodstain". Besides the hard-hitting riddims it was Ward 21's clever, layered vocal arrangements that made a serious impression. Every single member busted his part of the lyrics with such an astonishing timing that they either must have been rehearsing this over and over again or that it really comes naturally! Guess it's the latter.

Now it was time for Mr. Vegas to take the stage. As often happens when artists perform live, the band warmed up the audience by playing intros of Mr. Vegas' best known tunes before the artist started singing and appeared on stage. To say Mr. Vegas made an energetic entrance is the least. The youth bounced and jumped around in front of a really excited audience, meanwhile singing one of his hit tunes.

Problems with the sound of the mic forced him to "take it down low" and it was obvious he wasn't very pleased with that. But then the problems were solved and he continued working his way through such tried and trusted tunes like "Sucky Ducky", "You A Di No. 1", "Tiger Bone", "Hot Gal Today", "Duppy Durex", "Di Position", "Heads High", "Nike Air", "She's A Ho" and "Rise", mostly in between addressing himself to the audience and sometimes seeking for clues to announce a next tune. Not only with his music, but also in that way he kept the people entertained and involved. Besides his own songs Vegas came up with some reggae covers including Bob Andy's "Too Experienced" (although Mr. Vegas most likely will refer to Barrington Levy's version), Bob Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low", Dennis Brown's "Revolution" (after he had introduced his veteran bass player who has played in the band of the sorely missed "Crownprince Of Reggae"), and a song from Mr. Vegas' most favourite artist, the late Tenor Saw. Showtime ended when both Mr. Vegas and Ward 21 came back on stage for an encore. They paid tribute to reggae music in general and Garnett Silk in particular by performing Garnett's "Skylarking" (originally a classic Studio One tune from Horace Andy). After artists and musicians had left the stage "Ovadoze" Sound System with roots singer Taffari performing "live" on the sound kept the vibes flowing into the night.

Article: Mr. T. Photos: Surprize
Note: Some info on Ward 21 has been taken from their website. www.ward21.8m.com

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