Still Unconquered: Israel Vibration

Roots uplifters grace Flamingo Cantina tonight

The 1980 dub companion to Israel Vibration’s 1979 genre treasure Unconquered People
The 1980 dub companion to Israel Vibration’s 1979 genre treasure Unconquered People

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the pale man scouring End of An Ear’s underrated reggae section stopped his incessant flipping, flashed a broad smile, then hoisted a used LP in the air like Moses with the stone tablet. Forgive my over-reaction. Long had that record resided on my wishlist: A dub version of Israel Vibration’s 1979 LP Unconquered People.

An image on the album’s back cover, young Rastas on forearm-crutches crossing a street in Kingston, speaks to the group’s fascinating origin. Cecil “Skelly” Spence, Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin, and Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig had been crippled by polio and met in rehabilitation clinics. The Jamaican harmony trio thus came together in 1970 and, eight years later, cut a lasting mark into the roots reggae scene with their classic debut The Same Song.

The following year, Israel Vibration evolved musically and socially with Unconquered People. Issued on Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong imprint, it features performances from many of the reggae sovereign’s Wailers, most notably the lifelong rhythm section of bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett and his brother Carlton “Carly” Barrett on drums, plus keyboardist Earl “Wya” Lindo. There’s also genre legend, dub producer, and melodica savant Augustus Pablo on piano. The same year as Marley’s Afro-political Survival, featuring “Zimbabwe,” Israel Vibes increasingly flexed social confrontation on songs like “Mr. Taxman.”

The appearance of Unconquered People’s dub companion took on a fateful premonition quality when days later Israel Vibration popped out at me from a Flamingo Cantina concert listing. For tonight, as a matter of fact – Tuesday. The group, now anchored by Skelly and Wiss, played Austin’s reggae headquarters in 2007 and Austin Reggae Fest in 2011. Flamingo owner Angela Tharp has a penchant for booking ragga legends (the Meditations are scheduled there for Sat, Nov. 25 with Clinton Fearon opening), but this offers a tremendous opportunity given that Israel Vibration, five decades on, remains a mainstage draw at reggae gatherings worldwide.

Anyone who’s seen Israel Vibration repeats the same superlative: the most uplifting concert ever. As such, tonight’s show is a must-see since everyone needs something good for their soul these days. And maybe, just maybe, there’s some vinyl at the group’s merch table.

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