In terms of his commitments to a strictly-roots outlook, an unwavering belief in Africa as a true homeland and upholding the iconic status of Marcus Garvey, Culture's Joseph Hill ranks with Winston Rodney (Burning Spear) as one of foundational reggae's mightiest spokesmen.
Though he's among reggae's most recognizable voices, Hill began as a percussionist in the Soul Defenders, one of the in-house bands at Clement Dodd's famed Studio One. It was also there that he took his first steps as a vocalist, singing lead on "Take Me Girl" (under the name the Neptunes) and the repatriation anthem "Behold The Land."
Hill's cousin Albert Walker proposed the idea of forming a full-fledged vocal trio, and with Kenneth Dayes and Walker harmonizing behind Hill's eloquently urgent leads, Culture (briefly known as the African Disciples) was born. Their initial tracks were laid at the studio of Joe Gibbs, who produced their early singles and their landmark 1977 debut LP Two Sevens Clash. That album, with its militant/spiritual air and rock solid consciousness, ranks alongside works from the same era by Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Israel Vibration and the Mighty Diamonds as a defining moment in the Rasta/reggae connection. After two more albums with Gibbs, the group moved on to Sonia Pottinger's High Note label, cutting such enduringly crucial discs as Harder Than The Rest and Cumbolo.
The trio went its separate ways in the early '80s, with Hill releasing Lion Rock under the Culture name. They were back together in full force by 1986, and subsequent albums like Culture at Work, 'Nuff Crisis and Wings Of A Dove brimmed with the same strengths as the early years: percolating riddims, heartfelt songs (penned mostly by Hill) and robust harmonies. Dayes left in 1993 and was eventually replaced by Telford Nelson. That one personnel change aside, Culture has remained a constant in reggae. Their albums have been released and/or re-released by various labels (Shanachie, RAS, Heartbeat, etc.), but any Culture disc is sure to be loaded with unwavering Jamaican roots vibes. A couple of recent in-concert offerings (Cultural Livity and Live In Africa) showcase the group's onstage muscle, and their latest studio album, 2003's timely World Peace, has them sounding as blazingly righteous as ever. - Tom Orr, Courtesy Global Rhythm Magazine: www.globalrhythm.net