Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Could Really Get Used To This: A Review of Rising Up by Lutan Fyah

As much of a blinded, partial, selective memory having and, at times, downright ridiculous Sizzla fan that I am, I simply have to give credit where it’s due. Back at the time where I had just began to listen to the lyrics wizard from August Town, there were, of course, the ever present others such as Luciano, Capleton and Anthony B (most notably) who, musically speaking, simply wouldn’t ‘allow’ me to ignore them AT ALL. You also quite a few others in Roots Reggae who, either not to such a degree consistently or just temporarily, held my attention and my respect as artists, such as Determine and Bushman later, all of these artists definitely made an impact on me and to an extent, will always. Things, however, flat out changed as the planets realigned and, in my opinion, under a very similar set of circumstances, a next artist by the name of Lutan Fyah has seemingly taken the same musical position in my collections once occupied by a younger Sizzla Kalonji. Lutan Fyah just brought CHANGE without seemingly trying to do so and that would have been (and it was) a very similar thing I would have said of Sizzla back in 1999 or so when he was a applying a downright DEVASTATING texture of melody to the once mechanical Roots Reggae scene. And while that same aspect of melody has been the once which has proven to be most elusive for Fyah to date, he has, for the last couple of years shown himself to be quite capable in that area and I would argue that, in the future, there will come a point where it’s not thought of as a not so strong aspect of his game (because right now, at least to my ears, it really isn’t a question and hasn’t been for the past two years or so). The BIG musical similarity between Lutan Fyah and Sizzla, of course, would be their EXTREME level of lyrical ability. Right now, I would consider Sizzla to be the greatest lyrical Reggae artist of all time (again, refer to the very first sentence of this review) as, at his absolute strongest points, he conjures up these three and sometimes four dimensional words which literally, by means of ‘comprehension time’, can take a four and a half minute song and stretch it to a day’s worth of material. Lutan Fyah is rapidly approaching that level, albeit with a bit of a different style. Fyah’s lyrical approach is far straighter forward than Sizzla’s and my appreciation of it is largely based on his ability to situate real life situations metaphorically and, again, full on. It kind of reminds me of (but not to the same degree) how I tended to separate a Luciano tune from a tune from the similarly voiced Bushman; Where ‘The Messenjah’ was almost exclusively spiritual, Bushman had a far more worldly approach. Between Sizzla and Fyah, I’ve LEARNED a great deal and for me, personally, that’s the heights of music appreciation.

But, of course, the similarities don’t end with the spoken word. Although Lutan Fyah hasn’t received the local hype which was waiting for Sizzla when he originally broke through (which he definitely still enjoys) or internationally speaking , Fyah has seemingly taken up the mantle, which Kalonji previously ‘enjoyed’ (I GUESS) as being the POSTER CHILD of having multiple album releases in a given year. There was a time, as recent as a couple of years or so, when Sizzla fans would be virtually inundated with his releases worldwide and would have to pay quite the coin just to keep up with ‘the new Sizzla album’ (whatever it meant that week), and while I certainly was such a fan (and was BROKE often back then), I do have to confess something: I miss those times. And while since then, Sizzla’s music (and that of others like Luciano and Anthony B, who also flirted with overexposure) certainly hasn’t suffered, in terms of popularity, it would just be so nice if in 2010 we could get five COMPLETELY random (and legitimate) albums from the artist, for old time’s sake. While that remains to be seen, Lutan Fyah has quietly been building his own VERY SOLID catalogue to the heights with two albums already done and set out in the calendar year 2009, African Be Proud and he LUSH Justice. The two pieces were numbers eight and nine (altogether), respectively, in his career by my count and we surely didn’t have to wait very long for number ten as now there’s yet another release, the third of the year for Lutan Fyah, Rising Up. This album not only continues a nearly MAGICAL trend of consistency from the Spanish Town chanter, but it also continues a rather odd trend for him as well: Two of Lutan Fyah’s albums, Africa and the live effort, Live In San Francisco were released via the same label, 2B1 Multimedia Inc., while ALL of the other eight come via eight different labels! Well, adding their names to the (SMART) list of companies to work a Lutan Fyah release now is the relatively fresh St. Catherine based Kickoff Records (with the fine people at Zojak Worldwide handling things digitally), ran by the on Cecil Halstead. What a name and what a coincidence as, were you trying to ‘kickoff’ your label, a wonderful idea you would have to push out a Lutan Fyah album and get a bit of international attention as, definitely on that front, Fyah is currently enjoying what is arguably one of his biggest years to date as well. Rising Up is VERY interesting and, although it doesn’t sonically come off in much the same fashion as the Justice album (this one is more kind of melodic and ‘loose’ where the Justice album was wonderfully downright unforgiving and HEAVY at times),I’m going to make the comparison anyway. Between them both, it takes a minute to REALLY get what’s going on and for that reason, like most of Lutan Fyah’s music (save for the majority of the African Be Proud album, of course), you might not want to make this your very first foray into Reggae music. HOWEVER, if you’ve already crossed that bridge then you will potentially LOVE Rising Up. It is CLEVER and deceptively well done, as Lutan Fyah continues his absolutely SENSATIONAL rise to prominence as one of Reggae music’s finest wordsmiths of all time.

I had, incidentally, come across the work of Kickoff Records before getting with Rising Up. The label apparently is the homebase of the very promising songstress, Empress Robertha. On top of that, Kickoff is apparently releasing Robertha’s debut album, Solid Ground, simultaneously alongside this piece, so definitely keep an eye and two ears out for that also (and their future endeavours. What your ears need to be on first on Lutan Fyah’s brand new album, Rising Up from Kickoff Records is a song which simply lets you know IMMEDIATELY exactly what you’re dealing with on the album! The tune ‘Family Effort’ is one which gives BIG praises to the family unit as a whole, not the Mother alone, not the Father alone, but BOTH and does so absolutely brilliantly on a song which is just so important in my opinion and sounds delightful coming through over Kickoff’s enchanting Step Up Riddim. You know that ones a big start. The very familiarly vibed ‘Haunted’ (on the Side Kick riddim) steps in next and does so as the very first of four official combinations on Rising Up, this one featuring fellow Spanish Town artist, the up and coming Mega Flex (who needs a new name). Mega Flex has begun to make a noise and a name for himself and he does a very nice job alongside Fyah on the tune which is essentially a social commentary and, again, I’ll tell you to listen to this one more than a couple of times, as the chorus was quite annoying the first time I heard it, but it eventually grew on me and did so delightfully and check the stirring fast lyrical back and forth between the two artists later on the tune (and I’m WELL looking out for Mega Flex in the future also). Completing the opening for Rising Up is arguably the biggest tune of the initial three (which is saying a lot), the downright DAZZLING ‘Mirror’. This one is vintage Lutan Fyah as he speaks to several subjects, with the prevailing one being the identification of self and the world around us and how we interact with it. The tune tells all to take a look within (in the ‘mirror’) and analyze WE first before proceeding, which is a very powerful message and vibes likewise on what quickly becomes one of the album’s finest pieces altogether.

Rising Up REALLY begins to rise as it goes on; there is a stretch of about four or five tunes right in the middle where you just almost feel overwhelmed if you’re really paying attention. It just so happens that, to my opinion, the very first tune of the lot proves to be the best of the entire album as ‘Birthright’ is simply MASSIVE! You literally HAVE to hear this second verse and I won’t spoil it for you, but I have to mention that some of the individuals mentioned include Amerigo Vespucci, POPEYE THE SAILOR MAN, SCOOBY DOO and, of course, PINKY & THE BRAIN! And it’s isn’t comical. That’s all you need to know, the song is a HUGE call to action! The tune which follows Birthright, the similarly vibed ‘Brave & Bold’, almost made me question my choice of best tune of Rising Up because it just has so much DEPTH in its sound and message which is a BIG inspirational and uplifting one for all children of Afrika. The tune ‘Judgment’ is a changeup here and one which took more than minute to grow on me definitely, but I like it! The song has a more aggressive and basically Dancehall vibes, but, as always, you need to pay more attention to WHAT is said, rather than how it sounds as Lutan Fyah calls down all type of judgment and destruction on those who stand against righteousness and promote corruption. Things keep rolling with ‘Mystery Babylon’ which is BIG! The song is another combination for the album, this time featuring Kickoff’s own Empress Robertha (it also appears on her album, I believe). This song is just so nice, Robertha is definitely an artist with a big future, and she well accompanies Lutan Fyah, who is at his educational best on the tune and really I’m tempted to call it the best tune here again. Based on the title alone, I almost immediately knew that ’Not For Us’ was a tune carrying on the vibes of Birthright, in the sense of being a tune of supporting and ultimately RETURNING home to Afrika. As Fyah says on the moving chorus for the tune, “Down here is not for us, we don’t know who to trust. Come mek we exodus”. Indeed! Going back, there’s a big and jovial sounding earlier combination, ‘Children Love’, across Kickoff’s Victim riddim, which features smooth voiced veteran, Little Devon. This song is one for the kids (DUH), but Fyah also speaks to parents and doesn’t do so condescendingly, as if WE’VE been doing a bad job, but does so with a tone which is very hopeful and promising and if you’re at all familiar with Little Devon, you know that his voice inherently makes this joyous and positive and the two make a very nice vibes together for one of Rising Up‘s more SWEET vibes. As the album winds down, the vibes stay quite high and typically CONSISTENT for Lutan Fyah. Check the downright Zouk-ish ‘No More’ which, at its start, had me thinking I was about to hear a lovely Creole voice creep up on and give me a Zouk song, but Fyah (and his backing singers) instead uses the very simple piece to give what is essentially a very straight forward chant. No More isn’t necessarily one of my favourites on Rising Up, but it is a VERY interesting piece to say the least. The delightful ‘Jah Love’, on the other hand, is BOTH very interesting and one of my favourites. It is, more or less, the title track for Rising Up and it also provides us with a BIG punctuation for Rising Up as Fyah says, “Can’t you see I’m rising up? I bet you never heard of Jah Love.” And you make sure you pay special attention to the lyrics there also, although I really shouldn’t have to remind you of that at this point should I? While Jah Love is the final original tune on Rising Up, officially closing shop on the album is a remix of the earlier tune, ‘Mirror’, this one featuring the ever present (brother of Charlie) Ricky Chaplin and, although I still prefer the original, this piece is very nice and a very nice close for the album. I ALWAYS like to see Chaplin’s name associated with anything and especially with actually voicing a tune (on a riddim, the Cool Breeze which I believe he actually built) and he and Lutan Fyah end the album on a very high note indeed.

Overall, I always end a review of a Lutan Fyah album trying to rank it, in comparison to his other releases and I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’m simply going to say that Rising Up is a BIG album and it may be even bigger than I’m giving it credit for because, as I said, you REALLY need to pay attention here. Further than that, to actually compare it, I would have to say that Rising Up is one of Fyah’s lyrically more impressive outings (which is saying A GREAT deal) also. Yes, of course we wish it were longer and maybe had another combination with Empress Robertha, but you’ll have a hard time telling me AT ALL that Rising Up isn’t top notch work. The album once again finds the ever active Lutan Fyah absolutely delivering some of the finest messages in all of Reggae and while I don’t know if I’ll ever get two completely separate releases from Sizzla again; apparently it’s Lutan Fyah’s ‘turn’ and I’m not complaining at all.

Rated 4.25/5
Kickoff Records/Zojak Worldwide

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