Inna De Yard is back, with their best album yet! Following a long hiatus triggered by the pandemic, the much-loved acoustic reggae project makes a triumphant return with another heart-warming set of unplugged classics, titled Family Affair.
To fully understand the latest iteration of the project, let’s remind ourselves of the inspiration behind the series: Inna De Yard has always sought to capture the essence of Jamaican popular music by stripping reggae down to its core essentials. Through recording some of the music’s greatest singer-songwriters in a naturalistic setting, unencumbered by electronic instruments and contemporary studio technology, the project pays homage to the informal jam sessions that gave birth to reggae in the ‘yards’ of Kingston – that is, the communal outdoor spaces shared between families in the ghetto – like the famous ‘government yard’ in Trench Town where Bob Marley and the Wailers learned their craft.
Family Affair continues that tradition, and we consider this new album to be the finest Inna De Yard episode. Although the bigger stars like Ken Boothe and Horace Andy who passed through the Yard are absent, the new album evidences the skills of project’s longstanding vocalists as well as its new editions, the musicians displaying uncommon virtuosity with their instruments and the track listing allowing the group to explore some vintage reggae in their own inimitable fashion. As Inna De Yard continues its meandering journey, it demonstrates that the roots are still growing as the project becomes stronger and stronger.
The 13 songs that comprise Family Affair were recorded in just four days in the open air beneath the majestic Blue Mountains, joining stalwarts Cedric Myton, Kiddus I and Winston McAnuff with the legendary rock steady duo Keith and Tex and the equally illustrious Johnny Osbourne, the younger generation represented by Steve Newland of Rootz Underground, melodious chanter Derajah, and Winston McAnuff’s son Kush. Anchored by the pulsating rhythms of traditional nyabinghi drumming, Family Affair has a pervasive feel of jazz in its musical accompaniment as provided by some of Jamaica’s top session musicians, including guitarist Dwight Pinkney of the Roots Radics, veteran keyboardist Franklyn ‘Bubbler’ Waul, bassist Delroy ‘Wormbass’ Nevin, flutist Donaldson Bernard, Ziggy Marley’s trombonist Everald Gayle and guest saxophonist Dean Fraser, all expertly arranged by French saxophonist Guillaume ‘Stepper’ Briard, a longstanding collaborator of Sly and Robbie. The resulting sound is warm, welcoming, and intimate, emphasising the close camaraderie of Inna De Yard and the organic nature in which they work.
Inna De Yard was conceived in the early 2000s as a means of taking reggae back to its acoustic roots. Through informal jams sessions held in the front yard of guitarist Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith’s home in Kingston, a series of acoustic albums was cut with revered figures such as Junior Murvin, the Viceroys, Linval Thompson, and the Mighty Diamonds, together with upcoming artists mentored by Smith. The project was revived in 2017 for the acclaimed album The Soul of Jamaica, the collective’s live performance at the Philharmonie de Paris forming the centrepiece of events held at Cite de la Musique to complement the Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition; the self-titled 2019 follow-up and Soul of Jamaica documentary film maintained the project’s integrity, the group playing nearly 100 shows at venues and festivals across the globe in support of the work, the documentary screening in 30 countries.
Since the release of the last album, the Inna De Yard family suffered some losses, most notably in the passing of guitarist Bo Pee Bowen, trombonist Nambo Robinson, and Wesley Tinglin and Neville Ingram of the Viceroys; Covid restrictions saw the Jamaican music industry grind to a halt after the island was hit by high numbers. Thankfully, now that the pandemic has finally waned and Jamaica has begun its recovery, the collective felt it was high time to create a new album, stepping up to the plate to deliver new interpretations of some of reggae’s most inspiring musical gems.
On opener ‘Humanity,’ former Congos leader Cedric Myton adapts one of the best-known works of his comrade, Prince Lincoln of the Royal Rasses; Cedric also revisits the ominous ‘Days Chasing Days,’ which the Congos recorded in 1980 for CBS France, while Kiddus I reworks the foreboding ‘Fire Burn,’ which he first recorded in the mid-1970s. ‘Tonight’ and ‘Stop That Train’ were two of Keith and Tex’s most popular hits in rock steady, and here the duo give them a contemporary makeover; ‘Down The Street’ is a lesser-known beauty they first recorded in 1968 for Derrick Harriott, and the solo hit Rowe recorded for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, ‘Groovy Situation,’ is here delivered sensual and languorous. Randy Newman’s forlorn ‘Baltimore’ became a hit for the Tamlins after they adapted Nina Simone’s soulful jazz rendition; here the perennial favourite is given a powerful Inna De Yard treatment, courtesy of Johnny Osborne and Winston McAnuff. Osbourne also offers a beautiful remake of his Studio One signature tune, ‘Truth And Rights,’ and McAnuff revisits his meditative love song, ‘Sun Is Setting In The Sea’; Steve Newland tackles Bob Marley’s ‘Touch Me,’ Derajah updates the Gaylads’ ‘Africa’ and Kush McAnuff offers Rastafari counsel on ‘Come Away,’ adapting a rare song recorded by the Black Survivors for producer Jack Ruby in 1975.
Family Affair shows Inna De Yard to be in fine health, as distinctive, innovative, and relevant as when the project first began. Tune in and be humbled!