Great reggae has this timeless effect. It’s inspirational, empowering and moving. The depth of rhythm inhibits your body like a second heartbeat and propels you to get up and move. It shakes you up. It informs and entertains, and acts as a potent social commentary. Pama International aren’t unknown to enthusiasts out there, having hit the headlines in big way when they became the first new signings to legendary reggae label Trojan in 30 years in 2006. That simple sentence speaks volumes, but over the last decade and with six albums to their names already, the music speaks louder.
Pama International isn’t a band as such, but a collective of musicians led by bandleader Sean Flowerdew on organ and longtime collaborator Finny on vocals. Like the previous album Love Filled Dub Band, the core line-up of the band remains the same, including The Specials’ Lynval Golding and Horace Panter and Fuzz Townsend from Bentley Rhythm Ace. The album is co-produced again by John Collins who was at the controls when The Specials recorded their iconic swansong “Ghost Town”. The sheer pedigree of talent and experience on hand helps create not so much a soundclash, but a seamless coalescent groove state.
Pama Outernational is no straight-up dub reggae record, its influences cross the ocean, harnessing 60’s American soul and funk, but the sound remains firmly English. From the outset, you’d swear the album was recorded in the 70’s. The slow dub of “Equality & Justice For All” sounds like it could’ve been taken from the flipside of “Ghost Town”, capturing that same haunting and sinister quality. The strong harmonies and Stax swing of “Are We Saved Yet?” soars with an incredible sax solo but suffers from a premature end, the fate of several key tracks on the album. Many of the songs hover around the 3 minute mark, meaning they cruelly fade out just as you’re expecting them to amp up the intensity.
The pumping brass of “I Still Love You More” would find a perfect home on the dancefloor in some Northern Soul nightclub, and the raw emotion of “Still I Wait” exposes the ‘love in vain’ side of reggae that pulls at the heart, and along with the family struggle of “He’s More Like His Father” finds easy room amongst the party and politics. The album’s true highlight is in the slow soul skank of “What You Do Now” — a near six minute blue mood masterpiece that’s hidden away at the end of the album. The light-hearted and lightweight credit crunching song “Trade It All For More” may not be the best track, but it contains the core message of Pama Outernational — “I‘m not greedy/but I want more“. After listening, it’s exactly how you feel. Incredible stuff.