Monday, June 22, 2009

The Vault Reviews: One Atonement by Yahadanai


One of what I feel is the greatest strengths of Reggae music and Caribbean music in general is often one of its greatest weaknesses in certain aspects. The Caribbean is a very ‘fractured’ or ‘scattered’ region but it’s the ONE region which is so closely associated with its music in the entire world as it is. I don’t think anyone these days specifically think of New York when Hip-Hop/Rap becomes the topic, for the very fact that, even within the States, Hip-Hop is so mainstream and so globally appreciated that it has become INGRAINED in the foundation of far more places. However, even though Reggae has indeed gone global, what is the very first thing that comes into your mind when I say Reggae? What is the first thing you think of when I say Soca? If your answers to those questions are anything other than ‘Jamaica’ and ‘Trinidad’ (or someone or something either from or VERY closely associated with those places, I.e. Bob Marley or Calypso) then I would say you probably fall into the minority on that response. I think that’s manifested in several ways and the one in particular in this case is that SO MANY TIMES so many of our artists can somewhat fall between the cracks and virtually disappear either locally or in some Reggae starved corner of the earth. This is so common that the running joke of ‘gone pon tour’ had developed for someone who hadn’t been heard from in quite awhile. Where’s Red Rat? “Him gone pon tour”. And, again, because of the scattered nature of our community and the extended communities where Reggae reaches HEAVILY and then not so heavily, sometimes an artist isn’t lost at all. For example, I STILL (unfortunately) find myself getting questions from people wondering the exact whereabouts of Shabba Ranking. However, if you live in New York and are relatively active on the Reggae scene there, you probably won’t have similar questions because he apparently performs there quite frequently. I also receive such questions about Patra. And sure enough, had you been at Sting back in December, you would know the answer. Terror Fabulous is another one you’ll often hear people wondering about; Chevelle Franklyn (she sings Gospel now and has been for quite awhile); Angel Doolas (still around) and even recently I found myself having a conversation with a Jamaican wondering about an artist he used to listen to a few years back who he thought had quite a bit of skill. That artist turned out to be Daddy Rings, a very STRONG example of someone who has taken advantage of the landscape of our music and has found the lion’s share of his audience throughout Europe. Even considering the landscape, usually there’s a pretty simple explanation of exactly where a particular artist has gone in Reggae.

Which makes this case all the more unusual. Rarely is it that someone virtually VANISHES and seemingly resumes their life as a normal and productive member of society despite sitting on a potential GOLD MINE of talent. Meet Yahadanai. I remember a VERY talented young Dancehall artist by the name of Regan who, up until last year, as far as my knowledge goes, had disappeared (turns out he actually has moved to Miami apparently and has been working there still at music). I mention Regan because for the past few years I had held he and Yahadanai in the same respects as both were obviously not only well talented but had some very nice associations as well. Regan at the time was part of Vybz Kartel’s rather fragile pack of overly mentioned artists and producers (remember Singa Blinga???) before eventually developing into what became the Portmore Empire. Regan was SERIOUS and would still be the most talented member of that camp and (following a name change) would go onto grab the attentions of Hip-Hop superstar Rick Ross who signed him up to his label, as Magazeen (and yes I will continue to call him Regan). Yahadanai? He has even more fortunate sets of circumstances as he gained the ears and attentions of the most powerful label in the world focusing strictly on Reggae music coming from out of the Virgin Islands , I Grade Records, headed by one well respected Laurent ‘Tippy’ Alfred. That alone has been enough to either start or spark the careers of such VERY familiar names as Dezarie, Army and even Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite and Tuff Lion and making such a link also opens an artist up to working with artists like such and more and more talents same way. It also is unique that unlike any of those aforementioned BIG names, Yahadanai isn’t even from the Virgin Islands, he’s originally from Guyana and (according to his bio) makes his home in New York but he apparently impressed Tippy and company to such a degree that they decided to take a chance on him and his talents. It paid off. The tangible result of the ‘risk’ was an album which was so universally hailed for its excellence that I hesitate in coming up with a COMPLETE unknown who had received such a warm reception musically speaking. The obvious connection would be Pressure Buss pipe (more on him in a bit) but I would even say that Yaha’s growing reputation back at that time would have even exceeded his soon to be superstar friend. The album, One Atonement reached the masses and introduced a POWERFUL talent in Yaha who was quite a bit on the understated and straight forward side. Unlike several other of the talents who would come through and around I Grade around the same time (like NiyoRah and Pressure in particular) Yahadanai lacked the overall ‘FLARE’ to his vibes, however, what he lacked in show, he definitely made for in SUBSTANCE (not saying Niyo and Pressure don’t have substance, they most certainly do). One Atonement was universally praised and at the end of the year of its release, back in 2004, it was present on nearly all of the year end ‘best of’ lists (mine of course was constrained by Amazon’s catalogue) and was, in my opinion one of the best examples of an album simply BLOWING UP from word-of-mouth and through the internet but it was also so appreciated by the hardcore heads also (like yours truly). Why? Consider One Atonement one of the greatest Reggae ‘TEASES’ of all time as before disappearing, what Yaha left us with was special.

So what was all the fuss about? Yahadanai’s ULTRA simple style of chanting was so refreshing and given the BEAUTIFUL backdrops he had at his disposal from the hands of Tippy Alfred and the venerable Tuff Lion, he made One Atonement the best album it could possibly be and MAYBE the best album I-Grade has EVER released in its nearly decade long history. Getting things started on one of the finest debut Reggae albums I’ve ever heard is one of the songs here which has really gained a following throughout the years and is definitely one of the signature tunes from the project, the very uplifting and downright GORGEOUS Rise. I could seriously name a few dozen Reggae artists who could sing a tune like Rise but NOT ONE of them could make it as strong as Yaha does. And, again, the musical piece on the tune is so strong and it aids Yaha in delivering his MIGHTY opening. Next up is Wadada, a tune which I maintain (and maybe me alone) is even stronger than the opener. Between the two songs you really get a sense of Yaha’s style as an artist (being more of a ‘spiritual’ lyricist as opposed to a ‘natural’ one (think Luciano as opposed to Bushman)) and to my ears it shines brighter on Wadada a STRONG tune praising His Majesty. The tune almost finds Yaha assuming more of a straight djaying/rapping style but its one which he so easily adapts to the tune that you simply barely notice the difference. What you will notice, however, is the HUGE tune, without a doubt. And closing out the opening for Yahadanai’s One Atonement album is the simple brilliance that is Gratitude. I almost HAVE TO call this one, one of the album’s biggest tunes simply because it’s really helped a couple of people I know through some really difficult situations as it reminds us all to just take a step back and be GRATEFUL for what you have and have available to you before you make a fuss. As Yaha wonderfully says, “Gratitude. . . And don’t you gwan rude”. Big opening!

As I said Gratitude was a tune which I know a few people (two in particular) really needed to hear, the balance of One Atonement, however, features more than a couple which I, in particular, needed to hear. The major one for me and my choice as the album’s finest is the SPARKLING Best Thing which is a combination featuring Pressure Busspipe. Its very interesting because I remember listening this tune and not really being able to tell the two apart vocally and its not a problem these years later. What hasn’t changed, however, is the MASSIVE nature of the tune which implores the men to really take care and NOTICE there women. It hit me (and my wife) on so many levels that I commonly refer to it as full on pre-marriage counseling for us. Best Thing was HUGE and you know you agree if you’ve heard it. The tune which sequentially just precedes Best Thing on the album, Light, is another tune which has stuck with me throughout the years as it kind of serves as a ‘guide’ through dark times for the masses. Even though the song speaks in more social terms like poverty and oppression and such, I used it for more emotional purposes and that goes back to my thought that it is Yahadanai’s style to do more spiritual material which makes it easy to translate his vibes to such a platform even when he’s not going in that direction lyrically. Chant Out is another one which hit me and is another combination, featuring Cruzan Abja, himself an I-Grade artist. The vibes on this one are as SMOOTH as they are fiery as the level headed Yaha blends seamlessly alongside the more edgy vibes of Abja. The result is a tune which is as lyrically powerful as it is easy on the ears. And, of course the title tune which is SO BEAUTIFUL and SO POWERFUL. If you asked me of a record to best explain what is Yahadanai’s music, I’d point to the title track even more so than the two opening tracks on the album named after it. This song has the stereotypical CLASSIC VI Reggae sound (that kind of streamlined one-drop) but it also builds so nicely and you really have to listen to it to notice that its actually faster than it seems. Of course, the message is also NECESSARY as Yaha drops so many poignant lines (my favourite being, “its not the blessing but the vibe/thought within”). HUGE tune. Lastly, the song on One Atonement is Mosiah Chant which features a clip from the IMMORTAL Marcus Mosiah Garvey himself. Yaha’s point with the tune is to ensure that His knowledge is passed on to younger generations and we, here and now, NEVER forget his name and more importantly his contributions. We won’t. The balance of One Atonement remains very high such as through both Things They Do which points out the corrupt and NASTINESS in corrupt society; the almost INCREDIBLY slow Roman Soldiers which will take more than a few spins to grow on you but when it does you’ll recognize it, just as I do, as one of One Atonement’s best tunes altogether. As the album winds down, you’ll find NO dip in terms of quality. On the obligatory Mama song, Mama’s Love, Yaha offers a very moving tribute to mothers all over the world (and incidentally, Jalani Horton from Bambu Station plays the WONDERFUL organ you hear on the song). Then comes the LOVELY tune Babylon Toy which is a song rather casually burning Babylon to ASH! Make Sizzla and Capleton call for a fiery death to corruption everywhere on earth - Yahadanai will simply heart its feelings (which may be even more effective actually, brain over brawn)! And ending matters on Yahadanai’s One Atonement is a dubbed out version of the opening song, Rise. That song definitely sounds a bit different, I’ve heard it described as Middle Eastern, and its dub is more or less a showcase for longtime collaborators Tippy and Tuff Lion and with Yaha’s vocals mixed in here and there, I think it’s a powerful ending to this POWERFUL album.

Overall, although I have heard one or two tunes from him since (all of which have been BIG), I think its VERY interesting that, by my research, out of all the artists who have EVER released albums on I-Grade Records the only one who is still with a single album release is Yahadanai. The rest either went on to record again (be it for IGR or another label) like NiyoRah, Army and Dezarie or had already had projects out beforehand like Danny I and Army. That’s a REALLY interesting fact (if it does prove to hold up) when you consider just how well regarded One Atonement was. Yaha’s absence from the scene, despite such a strong group of circumstances and despite such a WONDERFUL development of Guyanese talent like Natural Black, Ras Mac Bean, First Born and most recently (the similar) Arkaingelle, is downright PUZZLING. That being said, he definitely created one of the most memorable pieces of that SOLID pack with One Atonement as it might just be the best single album from any of them I have EVER heard. One Atonement is recommended for fans of Roots Reggae, new and old. Like most of I-Grade’s catalogue it remains in circulation (and has even gone digital) so pick it up and join me in keeping an eye and two ears out for Yahadanai. If he never comes back full time, it’ll be a crime. AMAZING! GO GET IT!

Rated 5/5 stars
I Grade Records
2004


6 comments:

  1. I really loved your opening paragraph and the way it segued so nicely into the first few sentences of the second paragraph - which essentially encapsulates the subject matter of this blog post. I’m a big reggae fan from Hawaii, and we have our own unique reggae scene there so a lot of the names coming out of the Caribbean aren’t very well known in the islands, unless of course they’re really big and/or old school names (i.e. Bob Marley, Bambu Station, Midnite, Niyorah, etc). However, about five or six years ago my friends and I came across Yahadanai’s music and instantly fell in love, especially since his lyrics were so potent with relevant substance, expressed through powerful vocals. Every now and then I’d find myself scouring the web to see if I could find more music from this artist, and unfortunately found nothing more than the One Atonement album. I’d always wondered what had happened to this artist and if he’d ever come out with a new cd but obviously couldn’t find any answers. It’s nice to know though that I’m not the only one curious to know if there was more out there from Yahadanai, and I had hoped that from reading this blog post I was going to finally find out what happened to this artist. But I guess we’ll just have to live with the mystery of it for now and enjoy what has been given.

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  2. Wonderful comment Justyn, thank you my friend. I guess we're on the same situation because I also, every few months or so, find myself DIGGING online to see if he may've popped back up somewhere with SOMETHING and I will definitely continue to do so.

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  3. Right on, well let me know if you ever hear of anything, and I keep my ears peeled too!

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  4. It's been another 2 more years now, any word on Yaha?

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  5. Nothing at all to my knowledge.

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  6. Big ups yes! Yahadanai one atonement is one of the best albums ever. I've been waiting over a decade for more but I can still turn up one atonement for meditation. Beautiful article for a disappeared legend. Respect

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