A political and socially minded offering that’s packed full of dub bliss
Tom Dibb
17:42 26th August 2020

Toots Hibbert, and his Maytals, are nothing short of rocksteady royalty. Since his career began back in 1962 he has been at the forefront of ska’s growth throughout the world, with the 1973 release, Funky Kingston being revered as a classic of the genre. Now, he’s back with his first album in ten years, Got To Be Tough. A political and socially minded offering that’s packed full of dub bliss.

Opening up proceedings is, ‘Drop Off Head’, kicking things off with a crunchy guitar sound that introduces that classic heart-warming rhythm and beat. Hibbert’s vocal delivery sounds youthful and energetic, which mixes wonderfully with the horns that are the focal point of the track’s hook. ‘Just Brutal’ follows on and sounds as if it is straight out of the Nile Rodgers Funk Playbook. This marks the first introduction of backing-vocalists to the album who help give a distinct warmth and soul to the vocal hooks. This is also when the political nature of the record comes to the forefront, with the specific lines tackling ‘victimised brutality’. Hibbert’s frustration is summed up in the bluntly poetic line, “I don’t know what this world’s coming to”.

The title track again showcases the deep-rooted political nature of the record. It’s a slower number, and plays a more downbeat tone but maintains a danceable groove. The repetition of, “Our youth are getting slaughtered,” within the chorus is brutal. It is, simply put, Hibbert’s wake up call for the masses.

‘Warning Warning’ gives a good dose of that classic Trojan sound. Big drum beats compliment crisp and clean rhythm guitar. It highlights just how influential the group have been in crafting this iconic sound, and just how well they can do it today. This sound is again on full display in a cover-version of Bob Marley’s 1977 classic, ‘Three Little Birds’, this time sung with Marley’s eldest son Ziggy. It’s a much faster pace than the original and incorporates more aspects from the 2-Tone ska scene - it sounds more like The Specials or The Selecter, than the slower, groove-based Marley.

Closing the album is ‘Struggle’ with one final plea for unity. Against a backdrop of exquisite funk and rocksteady, Hibbert lays out his want for the future. “To stop the fighting, the shooting and the killing…we got to find a way to stop it.” It conveys a powerful message and one that needs to be made loud and clear.

It’s evident to see in Got To Be Tough, that Toots and The Maytals have not lost their relevancy in their near-50 year career. Politically minded, brutally honest but maintaining the heartfelt and soulful nature of rocksteady and ska, Got To Be Tough calls the world to task, and has them dancing all the while.

Got To Be Tough is released on 28 August 2020 via Trojan Jamaica/BMG. 

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