I kicked off my day yesterday buying Vic Ruggiero’s latest solo release— a digital download of ten recent collaborations he recorded. The usual Ruggiero-album suspects pop up, including the inimitable Ari Up. Four songs in (“Sex Education”), she’s blessing a Balkan brass track with her inimitable Jamaican toasting-style vocals. On paper, that juxtaposition sounds bizarre. But if anyone could make that combo seem like it was meant to be, she could.
For the last decade, Ari Up’s been a part of my musical vocabulary, largely because of her collaborations with Ruggiero and his band, The Slackers. On 2002’s The Slackers & Friends, a compilation featuring legends like Cornell Campbell, The Congos, Glen Adams, and Doreen Schaefer, Ari’s “Matey Exterminator” stood out as one of the most unique and interesting cuts on the record. No small feat, considering that surrounding roster. And in the years since, I’ve heard her on bootlegs of their live shows. It’s something I’ve come to look forward to– hearing her unexpectedly pop up on tracks with them.
So, naturally, hearing her jump out of my speakers over that brass-band dancehall track brought a huge smile on my face. I definitely didn’t expect to wake up the next morning (today) to a message from my cousin that Ari passed away yesterday at a too-soon 48-years-old after battling a serious illness. Time to do that thing we all tend to do when one of our favorites passes, and play some of their music– The Slits, New Age Steppers, Lee Perry, Mr. Ruggiero. Find something she sang on, and play it loud today.