Perfect Sound Forever


When roots reggae meets dancehall
by Eric Doumerc
(February 2008)

Chalice was one of the few self-contained bands to break big on the Jamaican reggae scene in the 1980's, growing along with the Bloodfire Posse and the Mystic Revealers, to stand comparison with Third World and other perhaps more famous acts. Chalice was a six-piece band who incorporated keyboards into a classic reggae groove, constantly innovated, and worked with the new dancehall singers and deejays.

The band's first LP, Blasted, was released in 1981, and contained the hit "Good to Be There" as well as powerful tunes like "A Song," "Praise Him" and "Night Fever." Keyboards, together with fluid guitar lines, were already well in evidence, producing an immediately identifiable sound. 1982 gave the band their first massive hit at home, "I'm Trying", a plea for the defence of reggae at the dawn of the 1980's.

I'm trying
To keep the music
From dying.

How do you feel
When the sounds of
The rockers a clap,
And your brother is calling,
Calling out to you ?

And how do you feel
When the sounds of
The riddim a drop,
And you sister is bawling,
Bawling out to you ?
They turned in a wonderful performance of this for the Live at Reggae Sunsplash album, which with renditions of "Night Fever," "Praise Him" and "I'm Trying", plus an inspired version of Bob Marley's "Three O'Clock Road Block," make this LP indispensable and give an idea of the band's impact in Jamaica. Just like Third World, Chalice was primarily a live band and their live recordings often transcend the studio versions. 1983 saw the release of Standard Procedure, re-released in 1984 as Good to Be There, which featured "Can't Dub" (one of their most popular songs) and the poignant "Children in Exile." But unfortunately, the LP contained a god deal of filler, and this weaker material led some critics to label the band as a "pop-reggae" act, not to be taken seriously.

The release in 1985 of Stand Up! should have silenced these voices, but international success was still not forthcoming, in spite of the highly danceable and powerful sound featured on songs like "Dangerous Disturbances," "Point Dem Finger" and "Wicked Intention." In spite of this lack of recognition overseas, the band remained very popular in Jamaica; at Sunsplash 1982 the band had the audience at Jarrett Park sing along to a medley that included "A Song," Desmond Dekker's "007" and Bob Andy's "I've Got to Go Back Home." At Reggae Sunsplash 1986, Chalice sang "Ital Love" and "Revival Time", two hits from that year’s LP Crossfire, and their rendition of "Revival Time," based on elements from Afro-Christian cults like Pocomania (known as "Revival" in Jamaica), was a crowd-pleaser. "Revival Time" works as a great reggae song but is also deeply steeped in the Jamaican religious tradition, which made it irresistible. In 1987, the American label RAS released a greatest compilation, Up Till Now; this is still, together the Live at Reggae Sunsplash LP, the most accessible introduction to the band's work.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, Chalice worked with dancehall artistes like Lovindeer and Tiger, and bridged the gap between roots reggae and more modern styles. Their 1990 single "Dance Hall Monic" was a joyous medley of hits by Tiger and other dancehall artistes like Brian and Tony Gold, going on to win the JAMI (Jamaican Music Industry) award for best arranged single. Chalice performed this hit at Sunsplash 1990 to massive crowd response, together with a version of "Watch Out My Children" by the Calypso/Soca singer Ras Shorty I. 1990 also saw the release of Catch It on the Rohit label, which featured a cover of Terence Trent d'Arby’s "Let's Go Forward." Chalice was first and foremost a live band, or a show band, equally at home playing roots reggae, soul, soca (in the 1990's, they played with the Calypsonian Denyse Plummer and did a version of Ras Shorty I's "Watch Out My Children") or dancehall, as is evidenced by their Sunsplash appearances and the hit they had with Lovindeer ("Pocomania Day").

Paradoxically, this versatility or technical virtuosity may have been an obstacle on the road to international success as marketing is an essential ingredient in the selling of reggae abroad. Maybe Chalice did not have the required 'dreadlocks and ganja' look that helped other, less talented acts to break through internationally. Although the band remained active in the 1990's until they split up in 1996, Chalice remain associated with the 1980's, with the post-Bob Marley era when roots reggae met dancehall to produce new combinations, new hybrid forms.

They have recently reformed, with new band members including the gifted guitarist Steve Golding and the lead singer Dean Stephens, and are planning to return to the stage. This is very good news for all reggae fans. For any reggae enthusiast interested in the links between modern Jamaican music and the Jamaican heritage, Chalice is simply indispensable.

It is fitting to end this article with a few words from "A Song", a number that the band used to perform to raving audiences in the 1980's:

I walk the earth a long time
And I've seen them all;
I watch the weak arise,
And I watch the mighty fall.
And though they try to rob I
Of I labour every day,
There's something in my sanity
They never take away.

A song, a song, a song
To make the whole world sing;
A song of love, a song of joy
Of everything.
A dream to make you realise
Life is real;
A song that every living man
Can feel.


Marriott, Louis. Who's Who and What's What in Jamaican Art and Entertainment 1996. Jamaica: Louis Marriott, 1995.

Reggae Sunsplash, Vol.1. Videocassette. Media 7.

Reggae Sunsplash 1990 - Variety Night Videocassette. Charly, 1990.

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