Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Prime Example: A Review of Montego Bay by Queen Ifrica

I would say my case is very similar to pretty much all youths who grew up around the time I did in the 1980’s and 90’s in Jamaica in that we all at least entertained the notion of becoming a music artist at one point or another. Coming through a place which is probably the most musical place in terms of how much is produced against how many people there actually are, for a very young an impressionable person you simply can’t escape the allure of what has to be regarded as one of the (if not THE) most fascinating professions and lifestyles in the entire world, that of a Reggae artist. In my time probably the most influential artist that there was, was Beenie Man at that exact time (although, through the course I followed, I would probably say Buju Banton had more ‘literal’ influence on me, that was, of course, pre-Sizzla time). Beenie Man, along with a few others such as Spragga Benz and General Degree and even Shabba Ranking, to an extent, so fully PERSONIFIED what the Dancehall was and as someone at that young age, so FAR removed from the glitz and glamour of that world for the most part and virtually ‘tucked away’ in St. Ann, seeing that type of stuff was highly addictive and attractive. There were also others such as the aforementioned Buju who DIRECTLY played two different roles for most people who listened to him as he went from next superstar Dancehall bad boy to young and downright REGAL Rastaman almost over night and ESPECIALLY Mad Cobra whose tougher than tough persona almost gave him a super-hero appeal to me; who I also looked up to and wanted to be like when I grew. I would definitely say that with what we had at that time, in terms of Dancehall, we were better off than a youth growing in Jamaica today being influenced today by the same glitz and glamour as all of the lights simply tend to do is blur the sights of the ever present gun. And when you think about it in terms of time, there have been very few suitable role models to emerge in the Dancehall over the past decade or so and even some of the older ones (such as Mad Cobra and Bounty Killer) have become even HARSHER to keep up with the times than when they first bust. In fact, the only one who comes to mind right now would probably be Assassin who gets more and more impressive day by day. HOWEVER, that being said, I would honestly say that in terms of Roots Reggae music, the landscape of artists seems better for the youths today than even when I was growing because as dark and downright NASTY place as the Dancehall has become, it seems as if certain aspects of the Roots spectrum have become less cloudy and objective than they were and we have seen so many nice figures come through that system CLEAN as a representative to young people of what righteousness can do for you, directly and indirectly. Of course the add-on to that is that young people don’t typically have ears for Roots music.

Maybe they’d listen to a woman. In retrospect, when I was growing up there weren’t very many, if any at all, HIGHLY SKILLED female Roots Reggae artists and that has been a rather glaring void in the landscape of Roots Reggae. How times have changed! Last year VP Records brought to the international spotlight one Roots ENCHANTRESS from out of August Town named Etana who was about as SPOTLESS as an artist that currently exists in any genre. They didn’t wait very long at all to offer up the logical follow-up as they signed an artist by the name of Queen Ifrica whose popularity has grown within the same last three or four years as Etana to a degree where she can no longer be ignored AT ALL. Queen Ifrica is simply one of the most powerful, classy and mature artists in Reggae today and she offers an arguably even more solid role model base than does probably all of her male counterparts. ‘Together’ with Etana (indirectly speaking, of course) Queen Ifrica has DEFINED what it means to be a modern Roots Reggae artist for the Women and not only that but has also stood as a nice model for the guys as well as she fully exemplifies what exactly a successful Rasta Empress can be. Ifrica’s own rise to prominence comes with just so much interesting material, not the least of which is that her father is Ska/Reggae legend Derrick Morgan or the fact that she was allowed to the opportunity (which she earned) to grow under the wings of longtime Reggae veteran Tony Flames and his Flames Productions outfit for whom she has maid steady hits in recent years and been a highlight of the Rebel’s AMAZING Rebel Salute show. She has also had the opportunity (which she has also earned) to voice for some of the prominent and simply BEST producers in the world and has scored hits for so many of them as well. Back in 2007 Rebel and Flames Productions released Queen Ifrica’s debut album, the very well received (and packed) Fyah Muma which was one of the better Reggae albums of that year and featured almost all of her big material up to that point and although it was quite difficult to track down for many international heads, it ended up doing quite well (and is now widely available digitally) and it and the material since its release has garnered the attentions of VP Records, the largest Caribbean music label in the world, who signed up the Queen and now delivers her much anticipated sophomore release, Montego Bay. This album has been one of the most talked about and look forward to since they announce the signing of Ifrica and just like with Etana’s The Strong One album last year, VP Records now delivers an album which will DEFINITELY satisfy the anticipations. Montego Bay is an album which, may actually be stronger than Fyah Muma, despite being just a bit more than half its size (which is the ONLY problem I have with this one). The album has a focus to it and more of a DIRECTION which was missing in the somewhat lumped together project that was Fyah Muma (Flames also ‘lumped together’ an equally large release for Rebel himself at the same time, the wonderful I-Rebel). Montego Bay is STREAMLINED and modern Roots magic in its slightly too brief time.

If you haven’t actually had the opportunity to listen Queen Ifrica at this point, I struggle to find an artist to compare her to. The most immediate comparison, of course, would be to Etana or Tony Rebel, but I would say that she most reminds me of a female version of someone like Junior Kelly or maybe even Fantan Mojah as she definitely has quite a bit of versatility and EDGE to her vibes. And speaking of Mojah perhaps no other artist on the current scene would be more pleased by what Queen Ifrica draws to open her sophomore album Montego Bay, the intro. T.T.P.N.C. The tune is a PURE Nyahbinghi chant and one advanced for the popular Pitfour Nyahbinghi. From a technical side, what it actually is a mix of traditional Rastafari chants (one in particular) and biblical Psalms. YOU WON’T FIND A MORE BEAUTIFUL THING ON THIS ALBUM. Period. I get tears in my eyes listening to this chant! I’ve heard variations of this one before (the base of it is a chant called Every Man Have To Know which the Queen has wonderfully revoiced as ‘Everyone shoulda know’ to be less domineering, perhaps, and more inclusive of the Mother) but never voiced by a female and CERTAINLY never one so talented. I have to call it the best ‘tune’ here, its amazing it will wear you out before you even get started really. MASSIVE! The next tune up is the title track and a BIG one at that. The talk about this album beforehand was that it was going for a livication to Montego Bay where Ifrica was grown (I THINK she was born in Kingston) and this was the tune, which I’ve never heard before, just to do that directly. After a very odd and movie-ish type of beginning, the tune ASCENDS somewhere into the stratosphere and becomes one dusty sounding piece of laid back GENIUS and gives a tangible and necessary view of an area often associated with tourism and such, but very full of vibrant culture, for better and for worse. Another big tune. Closing out the opening to Queen Ifrica’s Montego Bay is one of the best tunes on the album and one which was featured on the album’s pre-release EP (Road To Mobay), the HUGE herbalist anthem, Coconut Shell. This tune, for Flames, is just WICKED! It has some old school type of madness going on behind it (you’ll notice a high-tech and souped up version of the famed Satta Massagana riddim) and it features Ifrica grabbing the straight forward DJ style which typically backs her bigger tunes. No exception here! Big opening.

The aforementioned EP, Road To Mobay, was interesting because it featured three tunes, which ended up being a rather generous quarter of Montego Bay. The second tune present here from that EP follows Coconut Shell, the inspirational and UPLIFTING (and just SMOOTH) Lioness On The Rise. This tune, we knew already because it is one of the biggest tunes on Penthouse’s recent Automatic riddim. The tune is a NECESSARY vibes about the Women in the business and in life in general making their way and not being ignored anymore really and if you think about it: How powerful a message is that to send to young Jamaican girls and girls everywhere really? Big tune (“Call me by my name!”)! The other tune on that EP was, of course, Daddy on Kemar McGregor’s BIG 83 riddim, which was a MASSIVE hit for her awhile ago and it speaks to an often ignored subject, child molestation. You could have built a nice EP from any combination of any three tunes on Montego Bay really. Yad To The East is a HEAVY tune in praise of His Majesty over Truck Back’s Springblade riddim. The song has an almost indefinable ‘rough’ vibes with it as it almost comes off like a feminine version of what Capleton does with the long lyrics style if you ever catch him in live performance as it SO EASILY seems to just roll of her tongue. And the message is heavy too, so definitely tune in further than your almost assuredly ‘foggy’ enjoyment of the tune on the surface. Although it was absent from Road To Mobay, having now full arrived at our location, the album’s official first single, the lover’s tune Far Away is present full on. The tune comes across Jamplified’s SWEET Movements riddim and essentially ‘takes the place’ of her last big lover’s tune, Below The Waist (which I think VP was right for NOT including on Montego Bay), to which it is definitely comparable in terms of quality. Don’t Sign I think will be largely underappreciated but it’s such a nice idea for a tune, as Queen Ifrica warns all to be careful when dealing with official things and simply be sure to read contracts and other documents before you sign them and yourself into them (over the old Movie Star riddim). Producer extraordinaire Don Corleon (and Alaine) linked Ifrica to voice their nearly PERFECT Secrets riddim and with it she tells all nasty and corrupt individuals to Keep It To Yourself before flying down Jamaica and you just need to hear the song as it is another which you need to FOCUS because that riddim is angelic! Calling Africa was one of the tunes which I hadn’t heard AT ALL prior to reaching Montego Bay and when it first starts in I was kind of hesitant, but it grew on me definitely especially when Ifrica jumps in. the style here is STRAIGHT DJ and alongside of some very involved backing singers (who are excellent), Queen Ifrica gives a very ‘funky’ and addictive tune about the Motherland of earth. She loads up the singing voice for the next tune, In My Dreams which I think might be ready for American R&B radio RIGHT NOW (of course it won’t get that opportunity) and is a very nice lover’s tune. And Queen Ifrica, somewhat predictably (becoming more and more common these days), ends Montego Bay with a sublime acoustic set, Streets To Bloody. The tune is (DUH) an anti-violence piece and a lovely song, you could just picture her sitting and singing it alone. Excellent way to end things on an excellent note from an EXCELLENT artist on an EXCELLENT album.

Overall, here’s the thing: in my mind I add about two tracks or so (one of them would definitely be Dance Floor) just to get that number up and having been spinning Queen Ifrica CONSTANTLY for a couple of years now, I know she has the material, either brand new or already loaded. However, for what it is, Queen Ifrica’s Montego Bay is MASSIVE. The incredibly hardcore heads (and I’m one of them) MIGHT complain about the lack of new material but I’m not. The comparison to Etana’s The Strong One is obvious and to that I’ll say that it’s at least as good as that one which proved to be an almost consensus Reggae album of the year 2008. Montego Bay is one best Reggae albums you’ll find in the first half of 2009. And coming after big recent drops from the likes of Buju, Sizzla and Jah Cure, that’s saying a great deal. In the grand scheme of things Queen Ifrica is on her way to perhaps leading an entire generation of young girls and boys as an EXCEPTIONAL and inspiring figure. If she keeps making vibes as she has and as on Montego Bay, she might even start inspiring incredibly jaded, old men. Like me. AMAZING! GO GET I!

Rated 5/5 stars
VP Records

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