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Tena Stelin: An Unknown Reggae Legend?

Listening to modern reggae musics of any variety really becomes something of a trial as one stumbles onto acts like Sojah and whatever other hippie, trustifarians have been able to wrangle a group of players to tour with – John Brown’s Body excluded, of course.

Apart from the odd religious space those suburbanite rastas inhabit to the music impersonations they get off, there’s not too much distancing shows from minstrelsy. It may well be more troubling to straight society when it runs into these folks, but it has to be bizarre for musicians based in JA to come to the States – or anywhere – and find that a religion which sprung from that island nation basically utilized elsewhere as a subculture or a key to weed culture.

White folks with dreads have to be aware of this. But then again, they’re white folks with dreads. Whatever.

Saving modern JA musics from its being internationalized in a questionable way is a guy named Tena Stelin. It’s not likely a name one’s set to run into very frequently. The States have never harbored too many reggae related acts high in its charts. And seeing as the man’s first album was released in 1989, twenty years into a career seems like a long time to appreciate wide spread success.

His music, though, might actually warrant the attention. As opposed to his cohort – latter day dancehall stuff and electronic sounding nonsense – there’s a seventies vibe shot through most of Stelin’s music. It goes beyond his seemingly impenetrable positivity as displayed over the course of “Dub Optimist” from 2008’s Unknown Legends (Vocals And Dubz, Part One). Stelin still thinks “we’re gonna make it.” Or at least he sings that.

The album, his eighth since the eighties, sports as much instrumental time as vocal. It’s a balance struck between over politicism and dub styles. Of course, if Stelin chose to ramble on at length, his message might be obscured. Being curt isn’t always a bad thing. And perhaps the sparseness of his language makes the music more important while reserving his lyrics for important topics.

Trailing off into a stilted dub step, “Unknown Dub” comes off sounding like the Scientist coaxed Sly and Robbie into the studio. The focus on Jah continues afterwards, probably exciting all those college graduates with Bob Marley posters depicting the man getting high and smiling.

Regardless of who Unknown Legends might appeal to today in the States, it’s a decent entry into reggae’s ever expanding catalog. Is this the 21st century?