Saturday, 30th January saw UJahm play the Café Bar of trendy art centre, Nottingham Contemporary.

The Contemporary has seen some great and varied performers in its few years of existence, including the legendary free jazz of Sun Ra Arkestra, indie rockers Tindersticks, a la mode jazzers Polar Bear, and the powerful soul of Natalie Duncan.

UJahm, fronted by Shylaah Jean and completed  by Neckie (guitar), Chris Brown (bass) and Mark Bal (drums), are a reggae band who perfectly balance their celebration of old-school reggae with a unique modern urban style.

The band released their Trent Town Rock EP last year – the title being a take on Bob Marley’s Trenchtown Rock, with a Nottingham twist – which contains diverse styles, from ‘Wannabe’s upbeat rant at superficial gold-diggers, to the sun-drenched rocksteady riddim of ‘Lollipop’, which I suspect contains more than its fair share of innuendo.

Nottingham’s Contemporary Café Bar is a lovely spacious venue, and it gradually filled up to the old school reggae sounds of DJ Bluecat, and the talented support act Ashmore. It soon struck me that this was one of the most diverse gig audiences I have experienced, but then UJahm seem to have that universal appeal.

The band’s set began with a siren, building up to an atmospheric, brooding reggae groove, then burst into the powerful dubby opener ‘Pressure’. From there on, there was a mixture of song styles, incorporating old-school reggae, funky bass-pop and dancehall, although each retained UJahm’s sound. The set climaxed with ‘No Glitter’, a barnstorming drum’n’bass rant at gang culture, which had the crowd jumping with huge grins on their faces.

Shylaah Jean is a natural when engaging the crowd, and passed out lollipops to the audience during the show. UJahm are not like any reggae band I’ve seen before; there are elements of their music similar to other reggae acts, such as The Skints, By The Rivers and Hollie Cook, but UJahm seem to retain a unique vibe thanks to Shylaah’s hip vocal delivery, Neckie’s sparse yet creative guitar, and a rhythm section that you can’t help moving to. There are so many styles wrapped up in their music, you might ask are they even reggae in the true sense? Who cares? They have a style all of their own, and it obviously appeals to an enormous array of people.

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Words: James Green
Photos: Paul Boast