The Meditations are among the most beloved and respected harmony trios to emerge from the roots era of reggae during the 1970s. In 1999, they returned better than ever with Ghetto Knowledge
, their first album together since 1992 and their first with Easy Star. The group was formed in 1974 by three talented singers and songwriters: Ansel Cridland, Danny Clarke and Winston Watson.
At the time the group was formed, Ansel (from Westmoreland) had been recording with The Linkers, Danny (from Trenchtown) was a member of The Flames, and Winston (also from Trenchtown) sang with Lloyd Parkes and the Termites. In the early 70s, the three friends made the rounds auditioning for producers. They would often provide back-up singing for each other; which led to a number of singles recorded under their individual names but featuring all three. In 1974, their most enduring and popular song to date, "Woman Is Like A Shadow," was recorded by the group at Channel One, though it would not be released until 1976.
In the interim, Dobby Dobson recorded a series of singles with the group: Winston's "Woman Piabba" and Danny's "Babylon Trap Them" and "Rome." "Woman Piabba" was number one on Jamaica's charts for a few weeks. Ansel released "Tricked" in 1976 under the name Ansel & The Meditations, which went on to be banned on the radio, thus becoming a big hit. This opened the door at last for the release of "Woman Is Like A Shadow." When "Shadow" became an enormous hit and solidified the growing reputation of the group as an exciting and talented roots trio, demand grew for a full-length album. The three individuals settled on the name Meditations for all future releases.
Their first full-length record, Message From The Meditations
(1977), collected their singles of the previous four years. This was quickly followed by Wake Up
in 1978, which continued their streak of strong harmonies and roots anthems on songs like "Fly Natty Dread" and the title track. Also in 1978, the group worked with legendary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, recording "No Peace," "Think So" and other songs at the fabled Black Ark Studio. These songs were included on the highly popular Lee Perry Arkology
box set that was released in 1997.
In 1977, The Meditations came to the attention of reggae's most famous artist, Bob Marley. He heard in The Meditations echoes of his own group, The Wailers, when they were first starting out. He tapped The Meditations to sing backing vocals on a number of songs, including "Blackman Redemption," "Punky Reggae Party," and "Rastaman Live Up." He also invited them to open the historic One Love Peace Concert in April 1978, where they shared the bill with Marley, Peter Tosh and others. The Meditations also provided background vocals for a number of artists including Gregory Isaacs, Jimmy Cliff and The Congos (for most of the legendary Heart Of The Congos
album which was re-released by Blood & Fire in 1997 to great acclaim).
In 1980, The Meditations completed their third album, Guidance
. This record was to be released by Marley on his Tuff Gong label, but he had become sick with the cancer which would eventually kill him and had left Jamaica before the release could happen. This left The Meditations with no choice but to finish production and put out the record themselves. This experience taught The Meditations to be self-sufficient and handle their business by themselves as much as possible, which benefited them greatly in the years to come.
1983's No More Friend
marked the first time The Meditations recorded an album aimed at the dancehall. Produced by Linval Thompson and backed by The Roots Radics, the album featured a heavier and more danceable beat underneath the usual beautiful harmonies of the group. "Having Fun" (known as "Carpenter Rebuild" when it was released in the U.K.) was a Jamaican and British hit. Lloyd Bradley, in Reggae On CD: The Essential Guide
, wrote: "...this remains one of the best examples of how roots can come to the dancehall and everybody go home happy."
After a few more singles (including "Quiet Woman" and "Reggae Crazy"), the group split for a while during the 80s. Ansel began recording singles as Ansel Meditations, while Danny and Winston continued working together as The Meditations, releasing For The Good Of Man
in 1988. The group re-formed in the early 90s and released The Return Of The Meditations
in 1992. About this phase of the group's existence, Virgin's Guide to Reggae
wrote "Resourceful beyond the limits of most bands, The Meditations rode out the dancehall era. They remain revered ambassadors of rasta reggae, and retain much goodwill in America today." They have toured the U.S. and Europe regularly since then, appearing at the first ever Reggae On The River, as well as making well-received appearances at the Vermont Reggae Fest and Heartbeat's Culture Tour in 1996 (with Michael Rose, Sister Carol, and Derrick Morgan). A greatest hits album (Deeper Roots
) was released in 1994, and a collection of early material (Reggae Crazy
) followed a few years later.
In 1998, they recorded "Jah Music" for Easy Star Records' debut compilation. The song was a favorite on reggae radio and the collaboration with Easy Star led to the release of Ghetto Knowledge
in 1999. Ghetto Knowledge
bears all of the trademarks of a classic Meditations record: gorgeous harmonies, beautifully written songs and cultural lyrics. Many of the tracks had been written in the 1970s and 1980s but had never been recorded for release before. This disc established The Meditations once and for all as one of the premier vocal groups in Jamaican history.
Easy Star continues to work with The Meditations. In 2000, The Meditations recorded "Run Away Heathen" on the Thai Stick Riddim. It appears on Easy Star Volume Two: Dancehall Culture
. In 2003, The Meditations added vocals to Dub Side of the Moon
, voicing "Eclipse." They collaborated with the Easy Star All-Stars again on Radiodread
, singing "No Surprises."