Easy Skankin'

Dreadlocked duo delivers a reggae old time

Crowds dance differently at an Israel Vibration performance. Blame it on the spliff smoke or the general state of mimicry into which Jah-praising singers lull their audiences through ceaseless call-and-response routines, but dancers at reggae shows inevitably default to skankin' like the dreadlocked bandleaders onstage. In the case of Izzy Vibes, this takes some limber limbs and nimble joints: Harmonizing duo Cecil "Skelly" Spence and Lascelle "Wiss" Bulgin tremble and sway to the pulse of backing band the Roots Radics using a tangle of crutches and braces. Both survivors of polio, the two elder Rastamen possess the most famous rudeboy shuffle in all of reggae — a full-body vibration that replicates the polyrhythms of the music, beat for beat.

Wiss and Skelly met the group's third founder, Albert "Apple" Craig, as children in the early '60s at the Mona Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica, a grim government hospital where the island's many polio sufferers were institutionalized. As teenagers, the three ditched the center, converted to Rastafarianism and began singing for change in the streets of Kingston. On the brink of starvation after years of busking, Wiss, Skelly and Apple finally scored studio time and recorded the hit single "Why Worry" as Israel Vibration, a name inspired by the lost tribe of Israel mythos central to the Rasta faith. By 1976's Same Song album (containing the classic lines "I scratch I nuts and then I say/Why worry when you can pray?"), the trio had become one of a handful of roots-reggae acts known outside the Caribbean.

After 15 albums and umpteen tours, Apple elected to pursue a solo career in '98, leaving Wiss and Skelly to keep the Vibes alive as a twosome. The group's pair of releases since then — Pay the Piper and Jericho — proved that the traditional vocal trio isn't the only format that propels reggae's cool runnings. "Israel Vibration is strictly roots and culture," Skelly says. "As long as Jah permits, I and I will keep bringing his message to the people."

 
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