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Meditating Again

The career of the Meditations has mirrored the rise and fall (and rise again) of the roots-reggae style this vocal trio so passionately espouses. But singer Ansel Cridland insists that reggae's recent resurgence is only partly responsible for his reunion with original members Danny Clarke and Winston Watson after more than a decade. The key factor, he insists, is the excitement exhibited by the latest batch of reggae fans.

"I see the love of new people for the group," he testifies. "Everything's just happening up here again. All the youths that weren't around the first time are getting into reggae now. Them a younger generation who never know the real reggae--but they will now."

Indeed, many fans of the Meditations' silken tenor harmonies weren't even born in 1973, when Cridland quit a band called the Linkers to form what has become one of the genre's best-known three-pieces.

"I met Danny when he came to the studio to play melodica on one of my solo songs," Cridland recalls. "And Winston, him just come up to me one day in the ghetto--but the first time I hear him sing, he wasn't ready yet. His voice was, like, off."

Nevertheless, Clarke and Cridland agreed to act as vocal coaches for their eager protege. "I see that he was very much interested in learning," Cridland notes. "So I said, 'Here is what I will do. When I come home in the evening, I will rehearse you. And when I'm not there, Danny will rehearse you." The crooners also practiced harmonies together by singing along with Curtis Mayfield favorites.

A year later, with Watson's voice developed to a fine pitch, the Meditations went to Channel One Studio to make a demo. Among the cuts they recorded was "Woman Is Like a Shadow," a tune that would become their biggest hit. But because their producer wasn't fond of the track, two years passed before anyone heard it. "Tricked," a politically scathing number worlds away from "Woman," eventually put the Meditations on the map, but it, too, had to overcome formidable obstacles in order to reach the reggae-buying public. "When 'Tricked' was released, they didn't want to play it on the radio because the lyrics spoke of troubles in the ghetto," Cridland points out. But as has so often been the case in pop-music history, attempted censorship turned into good publicity: The Meditations were asked to perform a lyrically intact version of "Tricked" on an influential television program hosted by Desmond Elliott. "In the morning, it was the big talk," Cridland says. "Everybody was talking about a group that come out on television called the Meditations. Everybody say they sound like the Wailers and was interested in us."

Federal Records soon signed the Meditations to a recording contract. But when the combo's first album, Message From the Meditations, came up a bit short, Cridland convinced Federal to add "Woman Is Like a Shadow" to the platter's song list. As Cridland tells it, "That just paved the way for us. 'Woman' sell 30,000 copies in one month."

"Woman" could not have been more different from "Tricked." With lines like "Never let a woman know how much you care/'Cause they will do things to hurt you/Do what you can for them/But not too much," the ditty suggests a Caribbean precursor to The Rules. As such, it appealed to another devout Rastafarian with a known weakness for women.

"Bob Marley heard 'Woman' when him was in London and say, 'Where you get them lyrics?'" boasts Cridland, who penned the composition. "Him also say we sound just like the Wailers." Marley subsequently offered Cridland and company back-up singing duties on such classics as "Rastaman Live Up" and "Blackman Redemption," an invitation that only enhanced their reputation. Subsequent Meditations albums, including Wake Up and Guidance, became international hits.

But the good times would not last forever. Following Marley's 1981 death, interest in roots music began to flag, as did the Meditations' interest in recording it. But Cridland claims that the factor most responsible for the band's 1983 breakup was "politics. I lived in Jamaica at the time, and people was scared for them lives because of the political climate. It was so turbulent back then: people being burned in front of their gates, people coming in the night shooting and that kind of thing."

Clarke and Watson were sufficiently frightened to relocate to New York City. Only Cridland remained in his homeland. "I wanted to stay in Jamaica because I never like it here at all," he admits. But during the Nineties he reconsidered. "The political situation run red in Jamaica again, so I decide to make a sacrifice. I don't want to leave my kids down there and have someone shoot them."

Shortly after Cridland arrived in New York City, the Meditations got together again. Since then, Heartbeat Records has issued a pair of albums by the outfit, Return of the Meditations and Deeper Roots: The Best of the Meditations. But despite the enthusiasm with which this return has been greeted by the reggae community, all has not gone smoothly; Watson is absent from the Colorado leg of the Meditations' current tour, and his wilting resolve has prevented the act from releasing any new material. As for Cridland, he admits to suffering from homesickness. But there are compensations. "What keep me going now is the fun and the fans--and the kids," he reveals. "Them both always so enjoyful."

The Meditations, with Pablo Moses. 8 p.m. Sunday, March 9, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $15.75, 443-3399 or 830-

 
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