Time and continuous, ever-so-sincere effort has begun to seriously fold Harrison “The Professor” Stafford into the very reggae legacy he has so strenuously honored during his time in the reggae spotlight, and his new album release called One Dance pulls his mission one step further.
The helium-voiced frontman of the now internationally famous northern California reggae band Groundation has made it his life’s work to bring the very originators of the reggae sound, spirit and ideology out of their unjust obscurity, and into the 21st century spotlight; going all the way back to his days teaching a self-designed history of reggae course at Sonoma State University, where he also studied jazz and formed Groundation.
He has included on Groundation releases time-honored roots vocalists like Don Carlos, Cedric Myton (Congos), Apple Gabriel (Israel Vibration) and Pablo Moses among others. Through his Rockamovya and Professor Crew projects Stafford has brought legendary reggae musical originators like Horsemouth Wallace, Flabba Holt, Obeah Denton, Dalton Browne, and many more, to a new and appreciative generation of worldwide reggae enthusiasts. As the Professor Crew, those legends lay down a cozy quilt of gentle and powerfully precise reggae backing for Stafford’s heartfelt and rootical yet intellectual vocals, evoking in many ways the soulful and thought-provoking output of such ‘70s reggae lions like Carlos and Moses themselves, not to mention Yabby You, the Congos, the Gladiators or the Twinkle Brothers, all of whom come to mind during a One Dance listen.
Stafford and the Crew are touring this year to support the One Dance release, featuring music also from previous Professor releases Throw Down Your Arms and Madness. The tour coincides with the recent and long awaited release of Stafford’s decade long documentary project called Holding on to Jah, shedding light on Jamaican, reggae and Rastafarian culture through the words of several reggae pioneers and historical video footage. Director Roger Landon Hall even adds lead guitar to Stafford’s autobiographical gem from One Dance called “California.”
It seems Stafford himself is beginning to recognize his own deserved place on the authentic reggae timeline, as he is much more comfortable with putting his own name and face on the One Dance project, his grinning countenance gracing the cover. He is no longer hiding behind a slightly anonymous “Professor” moniker, but has his name spelled out boldly just above his cover shot. The CD cover itself has kind of a Rastaman Vibration canvas motif look to it, and like the Marley epic, even features a track at least partly inspired by a famous speech, this one from ’60s free speech activist Mario Savio, called “Young Dread.” The title track sports a vintage instrumental sound without sounding dated. The 1976 Marley classic really cemented the Marley identity into the worldwide mindset, and Stafford’s One Dance could serve a similar purpose, despite being a somewhat brief album, featuring just eight tracks and three dubs.
The greatest success of the album can be found in two areas that are much deeper than any personal career development aspects and are certainly more important to Stafford himself: the sheer sonic beauty of the album, and the way that beauty brings true roots reggae music in to the present, not as just a well-done vintage genre or historical homage, but as a definitive essence of reggae itself, relevant not only to the times and ears of the ‘70s, but alive, present and important to all as we move deeper into these modern days.