Nicholas Laraque
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Nicholas Laraque

Kingston, Jamaica | Established. Jan 01, 2019

Kingston, Jamaica
Established on Jan, 2019
Band World Reggae

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Music

The best kept secret in music

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"Soldiers Shaped By Music"

Skatalites members Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore (trumpeter) and Lester Sterling (saxophonist), as well as musical mentors Winston 'Sparrow' Martin, Victor Hemans, and saxophonist Nicholas Laraque, are just a few of the more popular musicians who honed their skills in the armed forces like the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).

It is not that many of them did not learn music prior to enlisting in the army or training to become a police officer, but a select few received greater opportunities to study music while serving. First recruited as soldiers, police officers, or members of the protective services, band members of the JDF and JCF are sometimes sent to the UK and the USA for formal musical training.

Sparrow Martin, who was thought to be particularly disorderly and was sent to the Alpha Boys' School (now Alpha Institute) told The Sunday Gleaner that learning the French horn, drums, and trumpet and to read music became possible while he was in the now 90-year-old military band. "It was a strict sort of training and really give me a chance, and now I am at Alpha applying the same training. Some of the boys in the music band have transitioned into the military band. For me, the decision to join the military band after school was because of the classic music marches," Martin said.

He also served as a member of the constabulary band before creating the Sparrow Martin Band. "I wanted to get to know, other types of music like jazz. At that moment, musicians like Charlie Binger, Val Bent, Sonny Bradshaw and Frankie Bonitto sparked my interest. I worked in the morning at the military, left to explore and be back in camp before 12 a.m.," Martin continued.

Laraque, who still plays for the likes of Beres Hammond and Stephen Marley, said: "At one instance, I was doing more combat stuff, never thinking that I wanted to pursue a career in music. I used to be the type of person that says, 'what is that noise', but now it is a constant healing thing for me in some way or the other." The saxophonist is known for holding long notes and impeccable breath control and says that "with a pattern to practise something over and over it, soon developed". This is partly owed to the training received as a military musician.

The three JDF bands - the Regiment Band, the Military Band, and the Pop/Dance Band - are all part of the JDF's focus to train officers and expose its members to Jamaican heritage. The music, as part of Jamaica's culture, makes it all the more interesting for members to continue educating youth, in particular aspiring young soldiers, through their performances.

Warrant Officer Class 1 Albert Hird, military band director, and his brothers, Corporal Errol Hird (a saxophonist for Beres Hammond), Lance Corporal Patrick Hird (percussionist), and Ian (music teacher) were wards of the state but found a voice within the JDF and are repaying by acting as mentors. Hird hopes to start a career in music technology entrepreneurship after leaving the service. - Jamican Gleaner


"Stephen Marley Debuts 'One Take Acoustic Jams' Album: Exclusive"

Eight-time Grammy Award winner Stephen “Ragga” Marley -- who is currently on an acoustic tour across the U.S. dubbed An Evening With Stephen Marley (through Nov. 17) -- will release an acoustic album, One Take Acoustic Jams, on the Marley family’s Ghetto Youths International imprint. The 11-track album, recorded in the living room of Stephen’s Miami home, will be available on all major streaming platforms on Nov. 12 but premieres exclusively below. One Take Acoustic Jams features unplugged renditions of songs from his previously released albums, alongside well-known and obscure gems by his father. Stephen sings lead and plays guitar and percussion on One Take, accompanied by Javaughn Bond on bass, Ranoy Gordon, guitar, Nicholas Laraque, saxophone and clarinet, and Craig Taylor, bass drum and percussion.



“It was just a jam at home, but we set up two mics, that’s why it’s called One Take, because that’s how it was done, in one take,” Stephen told Billboard, calling from Milwaukee, WI, late last week. “We didn’t really plan for an album, so everything is in there, the mistakes too,” he laughed, “but we liked how it sounded so we decided to release it. It is definitely a good vibration, putting something different out there.”

The second son of Bob and Rita Marley, Stephen began playing guitar as a child, following his father, whom he recalls had his acoustic guitar with him at all times. “The guitar was his go-to instrument, he was always strumming away at it so being around him, I saw that the guitar is really at the heart of the music,” he stated. In the summer of 1971 Bob Marley traveled to Sweden to write songs with American singer Johnny Nash for a film Nash was starring in; Nash was managed by the late Danny Sims who signed Bob to his first international publishing and recording contracts. The only music ever released from Bob’s Swedish sojourn is an informal recording of the reggae icon playing his acoustic guitar, delivering stripped down renditions of future reggae classics by The Wailers (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer) included on the 1992 Marley retrospective Songs of Freedom box set.

Forty-seven years after the acoustic recording of his father was made, Stephen Marley’s organic jams sound like they could have been from the same session in Sweden, if augmented with flute, clarinet, saxophone and drums. Of all the musical Marley scions, Stephen’s raspy, emotive tone is most reminiscent of his dad’s, a similarity that’s further enhanced by One Take’s spontaneous, minimalist approach.

The album opens with “All Day” originally recorded by The Wailers for their 1973 album Catch A Fire. “All Day” wasn’t included on Catch A Fire and remained unreleased until the early 1990s; Stephen’s deconstructed version brings a meditative intimacy to the song. Digging even deeper into his father’s catalog, Stephen reworks “Hold on to This Feeling,” by Bob and Rita Marley, a 1970 cover version of Junior Walker and the All Stars’ soul hit “Gotta Hold on to This Feeling”; Nicholas Laraque’s fluttering clarinet in particular conjures the jaunty early reggae rhythm of Bob and Rita’s rendition. Another excavated gem “Real Good Time” is an obscure song even among Bob Marley’s devoted fans because it has never been released. “That was one of the songs my father was working on, but he didn’t get the chance to promote it because he passed (May 11, 1981) but there’s a 1980 recording of him rehearsing it that you can see on YouTube,” offers Stephen. The audio quality of that 1980 recording is muddied but Stephen’s unfettered treatment here, intertwining chiming guitars and sonorous drumming, complemented by a jazzy saxophone break, heightens the song’s haunting melody and words, which go much deeper than the title suggests.

One Take Acoustic Jams spans selections from Stephen’s solo albums (all four have topped the Reggae Album chart) including the title track from the 2008 Grammy Award winning Mind Control, a powerful cautionary tale against “propaganda and lies, is a plague in our lives/it's mind control.” (Mind Control’s follow up, Mind Control Acoustic, won the Best Reggae Album Grammy in 2010; Stephen has received the Best Reggae Album Grammy three times as a solo artist, twice as producer of younger brother Damian’s Halfway Tree and Welcome to Jamrock and another three times as a member of Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers, the Marley sibling band formed when he was just six years old.)

“Iron Bars,” written about Stephen and Damian’s brief imprisonment for marijuana possession, rails against all injustices. The swirling flute complementing Stephen’s improvised lyrics and scat singing towards the song’s conclusion suggests the folk/rhythm and blues styling of the late Richie Havens -- it’s among One Take’s most riveting cuts. The powerful lyrics to Stephen and Damian Marley’s 2007 searing dancehall single “The Mission,” decrying senseless violence while urging the youths to have a plan for their lives, has even greater resonance in this raw format. The stripped down version of “Revelation Party” (taken from Stephen’s 2016 album Revelation: The Fruit of Life) reinforces the sentiment to never give up the fight but still enjoy life. Whereas the original (featuring Stephen’s son Jo Mersa Marley) felt celebratory, the delivery here is contemplative, almost somber, working toward achieving that elusive life balance.

“We struggle in life, but we have to have a good time also, this is what my father sang, ‘forget your troubles and dance’ and 'Revelation Party' is the same kind of song,” says Stephen. “When you share songs in their natural form, you hear them differently, so I just followed my spirit in making the choices of what songs fit this acoustic vibe.” The simple yet exquisite arrangements heard throughout One Take Acoustic Jams highlight the constructs of these exceptional songs and the synergy between the brilliant musicians playing them, but its essence lies in emphasizing the sacred spaces residing between each note. - Billboard


Discography

Made In Africa and 2 more…Stephen Marley - Revelation (Pt. 1 The Root Of Life) ‎(CD, Album)Universal Republic RecordsGhetto Youths InternationalTuff Gong006025276151892011Unit 3 (4) - In The Fields ‎(CD, Album)Born Free Records (2)BF 00622013Jamaica All Stars (2) - All Rudies In Jail ‎(7", Ltd)Cubiculo RecordsCR70032014Time RoughVarious - The Biggest Reggae One-Drop Anthems 2015 ‎(2xLP, Comp)Greensleeves RecordsVP RecordsVPGSRL70112015Jah Cure - The Cure  2 versionsVP Records2015Ken Boothe - Inna De Yard ‎(CD, Album)Chapter TwoInna De YardWagram Music33510322017Crying For LoveWinston McAnuff & Fixi - Big Brothers ‎(LP, Album)Chapter TwoWagram Music33589062018

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Bio

Before sharing stages with the likes of Beres Hammond, or recording with Stephen Marley, it's already in the footsteps of the greatest that Nicholas Laraque made his first steps into music. Too rebellious at that age for his father to handle, it is indeed when placed by court order at the historical Alpha Boys' School,  Kingston home administered by Roman Catholic nuns & reputed for forming some of the greatest Jamaican musicians of the 20th Century, that the thirty-nine-year old saxophone virtuoso first picked up an instrument - the rest is history. 

Rather, as the artist readies to release his first solo album, the rest is the story of how this young ward of the state shaped his exceptional musical sensitivity; from Laraque's first time hearing the Alpha Boys' Band in what would be his new home for the next few years, to his many impressive collaborations, each of these would mould the versatile and talented instrumentalist he is now recognized as.

It is as a flute player that a young Nicholas Laraque first joined Jamaica's Regiment Band, which they saw his amazing Talent and was selected by the Band Master  to study at the Kneller Hall Royal Military School Of Music. "While studying there, I heard someone playing a soprano sax. He was playing some Kenny G song, and I instantly fell in love with the sound of the instrument", remembers Laraque. Returning to Jamaica with a soprano saxophone of his own, young Laraque went on to playing the instrument in the Regiment Band he had reintegrated, until 2004, when he joined Skatalites trumpeter Johnny "Dizzy" More, Justine Hinds, Winston "Sparrow" Martin and Skully Simms in the Jamaican All Stars. This time, the rest IS history. 

Featured on Stephen Marley's Grammy-winning albums "Mind Control" and  "Revolution Part 1: The Root Of Life", for years now a member of the Beres Hammond Band, Laraque can always be found performing some venue around his home island of Jamaica on his "down time". At the age of 39, he has now taken on a new avenue through which to showcase his talent, perhaps the most daunting of all for any artist: his first album. 

The Jamaican artist is currently gearing up to release a brand new album of reggae souls, on which he invited some of the best musicians he has worked with over the years to play. Purely instrumental, "Definitive Sax" invites the listener into the intimacy of Laraque's personal musical universe, smooth, warm, yet complex, showcasing both the skill and sensitivity he has developed over years of performance and growth.