In April when Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin hit the road for a three-week United States tour, he did so solo. It was the first time he took the stage alone as Israel Vibration.
Wiss performed in Arizona, Texas and California with the Roots Radics Band, which has been synonymous with the roots-reggae group for over 30 years. In August, 2022, co-founder Cecil “Skelly” Spence died from lung cancer at age 69; Albert “Apple” Craig, another original member, who died in 2020, had left the fold in 1997.
For the shows early this year, Wiss was accompanied by two harmony singers. While admitting it was a bit strange performing without Skelly, he did not feel out of place.
“Mi nuh feel nuh way, ‘cause when wi start out it was three lead singer inna one group. Dat show sey, di three of wi have di ability to tek di front. It get to di point where one man left di group an’ wi go on run di programme same way. Di difference now, mi not doing harmony again, me alone dey dey now, but mi have some daughter who work wid mi,” he said.
He expects to start an even more extensive tour next April, but is busy completing an album he and Skelly started producing in late 2021. They worked with drummer Aston Barrett Jr. and keyboardist Tyrone Downie on the initial sessions which saw the duo recording three songs.
It is unlikely the set will be finished in time for the upcoming tour, but Wiss stressed the importance of recording new songs to expand Israel Vibration’s legacy.
“Di music is connected to di people an’ they have something to do with di music, ‘cause they get motivation from our music. Our lyrics come in like food fi di heart an’ di soul; encouragement not to do bad tings, but inspire dem to move forward,” he said.
Officially formed during the early 1970s, Israel Vibration is a reggae success story. The members met while patients at Mona Rehabilitation Centre in Kingston, Jamaica where they were being treated for polio.
Wiss, who hails from rural Trelawny parish in western Jamaica, was struck by the debilitating disease before his second birthday. At the Mona facility, they discovered music, particularly harmony groups like The Wailers, The Paragons, The Melodians and The Heptones.
Their first recording sessions took place at Channel One in the mid-1970s, but those songs were never released. They next met Hugh Boothe, a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, best known for producing Fred Locks’ anthem, Black Star Liner.
He produced two songs by them, Bad Intentions and Why Worry for Orthodox, a label owned by the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They were available on dub plates and played exclusively on Jah Love, one of that organisation’s labels.
Why Worry would be released as part of Same Song, their first album. The title track of that set, produced by Tommy Cowan, was their breakthrough in 1978.
Israel Vibration moved to the United States in the late 1980s. Their career took off globally through a fruitful association with RAS Records, an independent American company owned by Gary “Dr. Dread” Himelfarb.
RAS produced Strength of my Life and Rudeboy Shufflin’, their biggest-selling songs.
By Howard Campbell