Jack Scorpio is not a man to lavish praise on just about anyone and he’s certainly not one to endorse tunes that are not, to put it in yardspeak, “in his category”. Three decades in the business, a battle-scarred, seen-all, heard-everyt’ing dancehall veteran, a top-shelf producer, sound system operator and studio-owner, Jack’s unquestionably a man whose roots run deep (all this of course might be news to people unfamiliar with the convoluted histories, the rules and the rankings we take for granted in the REGGAE WORLD – the only world we’re concerned with in the following treatise! But even the dancehall-uninitiated and all other Johnny-come-lately’s might have come across Scorpio’s name one time or the other... and if only while scanning the producer’s credits on Gentleman’s “Journey To Jah” album!). To witness Jack Scorpio’s facial expressions when he first encountered Seeed’s bangin’, brass-driven “Water Pumpee” riddim over a powerful car-stereo was therefore a sight to behold: first there was an audible gasp followed by a stunned drop-jaw silence, before his head started bobbing, a huge teddybear grin lightened up his face and the big man found back his voice...
“A who dis?”
“Yuh serious? German dem a come from?”
Right. Berlin to be more precise.
“An’ dat music never record a yard?”
“Bloodcleet! A lie yuh ah tell!“
Jack Scorpio isn’t the only one runnin’ his mouth ever since “’bout dem foreign man showin’ the yard massive a trick or two”. David Rodigan, a self-confessed Seeed fan since album No. 2, felt it prudent to arm himself with a special of “Music Monks” before flyin’ out to Wuppertal to clash with former Killamanjaro selector Freddie Krueger. And there is another story with a quirky little twist, that of Jamaican ace producer Chris Goldfinger enquiring at Greensleeves (of all places!) who that “wicked hungarian or suppn’-speaking” reggae band was that blazed out of the speakers when he switched on the video channel in his London hotel room. Aiiight, we’re done with the large-ups for now. Time to get into our inevitable once-upon-a-time-in-bloody-Berlin segment before y’all forget you’re reading a bio, compañeros.
Founded in `98 and gigging from early `99, Seeed might be aptly described as a product of multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Berlin and the city’s burgeoning, club-based dancehall scene that came of age at around the same time. Much of the initial attention the eleven-piece unit managed to grab was down to the hyper-energy whipped up by that terrible threesome splitting vocal duties between them – Pierre Baigorry (aka Enuff, half-french), Frank Delle´(aka Eased, half-ghanaian) and Demba Nabe´ (aka Ear, half-guinean). But – truth be told! – it wasn’t smooth sailing from the word “go”. Dabbling with a lot of competing influences and absorbing a range of cross-fertilizing musical backgrounds from hiphop to plain ol’ stinkin’ rock, Seeed – at least in their very first incarnation – was supposed to be, believe it or not, a gumbo-styled street-carnival marching-band, big truck in tow manned with a sound-engineer mixing and dubbing an assortment of drums, bass, guitars and horns live; sort of a New Orleans-second-line-with-a-caribbean-boom-bap-in-the-trunk type of experience. Sounds kinda quaint in the 2K6, granted. But that concept was buried as quick as it was devised. “In the end reggae turned out to be the lowest common denominator”, offers Pierre Baigorry by way of explanation. “So you could say we established ourselves as a reggae band... well, kinda. After a while dancehall just asserted itself. Me, my brother (Seeed drummer Based) and (former Seeed DJ) Illvibe championed that sound first and sort of imposed it on everybody else. Getting gradually more exposed to cutting-edge dancehall in clubs and at reggae-parties, the other’s just had to follow. I mean, for anybody who’s involved in the creation of music it’s impossible to dislike dancehall. Quote that! The layout of this music might be devastatingly simple. But the directness of the production and the aggression of the vocals pushes you over immidiately once you hear it boomin’ out of a big sound system.”
Establishing themselves first as a live act with supportig slots for visiting Jamaican supes like Buju Banton, Seeed soon mustered a repertoire of old-school reggae classics like “The Tide Is High”, “Chase The Devil”, “No, No, No” and “We Seeed”, the latter a re-vamped “Police & Thieves”. Today Pierre calls songs like these matter-of-factly “crowd pleasers”, noting dryly that in Germany, France and Spain people are still swept off their feet once the band tears into those tried & tested covers. But it was to be their original material that payed the highest dividents. Propelled by the runaway success of their turbo-charged turf-anthem “Dickes B”, Seeed’s 2001 debut album “New Dubby Conquerers” notched up sales in excess of 150.000 units. Translating the kinetic exuberance of their live-act on record, the band managed to blend their unashamedly roots-rock retro-integrationist flavour with a hi-tech dancehall bottom, the off-kilter flows and slang-tangy rhymes of the three E’s bouncing across the beat peaks in a mad rush.
Summer 2003 saw the release of their sophomore joint “Music Monks”. This time state-of-the-art dancehall swept the board, the band breaking somewhat with their trad-reggae template, customizing a glossy, highly produced sound. More in sync with current Jamaican standards, they also started to “voice” Jamdown artists on their new crop of riddims. A surprisingly lucrative spin-off, as their “Water Pumpee” riddim (now christened “Doctor’s Darling”) was to prove. Taking off first was Tanya Stephens with her blistering No. 1 reggae single “It’s A Pity”, with Sizzla, Luciano, Capleton, General Degree and Michael Rose giving her a run for her money. Mrs. Stephens, Sizzla and Degree also rip-roared across the loopy “Pharao” riddim, whereas Jamaica’s “energy god” Elephant Man left his unmistakably lispy voice-prints on the “Electric Boogie”. Finally, preceding their Red Bull of a new album – unceremoniously titled “Next!” – Seeed’s recent “Rodeo” riddim was once again saddled by the usual suspects, Elephant Man, Degree, TOK, Lukie D and Wayne Marshall being amongst them. “Next!” firmly consolidated the band’s dancehall base with only the lead-single “Rise & Shine” hitting a rock-hard one drop groove, marked by a scratchy delay-guitar, drunken horns and a soulful sing-songy guest-appearance by Cee-Lo Green of Atlanta’s infamous Dungeon Family (that loose rap coalition that includes members of Outcast and Goodie Mob).
Today, with three certified gold-albums under their belt, the scale of Seeed’s success is truly mind-boggling. Touring major venues up and down the Country and topping the bill at many high-profile festivals around Europe, the band managed to sell out even the type of olympic-size theatres usually reserved for all those stadium-rock bores y’all love to hate (peaking with a show at Berlin’s Wuhlheide in september 2004 in front of a capacity crowd of almost 14.000; for the record: this being a single Seeed show, not a big reggae festival!). They also made their presence felt at England’s prestigious Glastonbury festival, one of the most memorable performances the band cares to remember. Still Pierre takes the all-too-obvious trappings of “pop stardom” with a pinch of salt. “We have no illusions about being an act with a mass-following in Germany”, he reasons soberly. “Kids buy our records, secretaries, everybody. Little kids in particular... they adore Seeed, cherish us for our German lyrics, queue up hours before show-time, tripping over each other to get closest to the stage.” (Something this writer can testify! Quite a common sight at Seeed concerts are hordes of de-hydrated 13, 14 year olds passing out in the front-rows and then discreetly whisked off on stretchers by a veritable army of red cross paramedics!).
As for “adapting” their act for international audiences, Pierre is all too keen to clarify his own take on the matter. “There’s people around who get a little exotic milage out of interpolating a few snatches of, say, Spanish or Indian in the mix. We decided to keep a few German sound-bites, in an ID sort of way. But I wouldn’t want to listen to a Portugese reggae band struttin’ their stuff in Portugese. It’ll bore me silly. That’s why we felt compelled to do our lyrics over in English. General Degree helped me to render mine into straight English. I didn’t ask him to turn them into Patois. I’d be acting the fool if I would sing like I’m born and bred in Jamaica.” (At this point it’s worth mentioning that percussionist Alfie Trowers is the only Seeed member with the distinction of true Jamaican ancestry!).
Pierre is willing to concede that there is an element of untranslateability that might throw a wrench into inter-cultural comprehension. In other words: stripped off their (s)language, a vital component of Seeed is missing. That sense of place, that idiosyncratic tossing-about of different accents, that brash, street-smart snottiness that almost screams “fat B” in your face, as Seeed prefer to dub Germany’s capital city – all of that is just very difficult to make transparent in another tongue. “To us that means we have to emphasize our own peculiar musical qualities even more. When it comes to staccato flows and sheer furor I can’t compete with the likes of Elephant Man. So I’m not even tryin’. And that goes for all of us. Matter of fact, I think we sound positively un-Jamaican. We’re annoyingly meticulous about every arrangement, we’re spending an excessive amount of time crafting memorable songs. That’s something that’s lost in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Jamaican dancehall these days. Songwriting is just not as high on the agenda as it once was. So for us to bring our production and writing chops to the table is the only way to get people to say: `OK, I’ll buy that!´
Having had the opportunity to vibe in Jamaica while producing “Next!”, Pierre is quick to acknowledge the respect he gets from the yardcore but remains somewhat aloof, steadfastly harping on his band’s unique identity. “We’re not tryin’ to beat the yardies at their own game. Gentleman is a mass phenomenon in Germany, but outside of this Country he operates within the confines of the traditional reggae market. He might just collect his girls and fly out to a reggae festival in California or in Jamaica, supplies any given back-up band with a list of riddims and represents to the fullest. But that shoe don’t fit us. We’re tryin’ hard to be different. With S eeed you’ll need the whole band, not just the three vocalists to get that specific sound. There’s fifteen of us if you include the dancers and Olsen, our man at the mixing console. All of them contribute. You’ll need the horn-section, the costumes, the showmanship. I mean, we burn a lotta money on lights and clothes. I myself like the idea to get knocked over by exciting visuals. Jeans and t-shirt, man – that’s just not on. Ours is an altogether different experience, a different sound esthetic, a different vibe. We’re a live band, first and foremost. That’s our main asset. Live we can bring the ruckus and lock off almost any other act, reggae or non-reggae, I’m sure.”
© Ulli Gueldner 2006