Monday, October 26, 2009

The Vault Reviews: A Different Age by NiyoRah

Out there right now somewhere is an artist who’s honing his/her skills. You’ve never heard of them at all and in the not too distant future, in some way, shape or form, you’re going to come into contact with their music and it’s absolutely going to blow you away. You’re going to effectively become a lifelong fan of this artist. You’re going to tell everyone you know about how great they are (a lot of them are going to disagree with you) and you’re going to spend a lot of money on their albums and concerts. I know because it’s happened to me hundreds of times over the years, it’s happening to me now, it’s going to continue to happen to me and there’s nothing I can do about it, not even a little. Like I said, it’s even happening to me right now. I don’t know if I’m there yet (I’m inclined to say maybe not, but maybe I am), but there will most certainly come a point in the very near future where Dutch standout Ziggi will be able to release virtually ANYTHING and have room immediately made for it on my speakers. The young chanter has been in the ZONE, to my ears, ever since dropping his most recent album, the outstanding In Transit, and should he continue his WICKED ways, I’ll be a fan in every sense of its ‘fanatic’ origins. Ziggi, along with others with whom I’m at a similar stage of appreciation, such as Busy Signal, Lyricson and reigning Vincy Soca Monarch Skinny Fabulous (and there are others, biggup Malika Madremana and HOPEFULLY Ras Indio), will presumably join the ranks of my absolute favourites. They’ll follow a group of my most recent ‘additions’ to the list in the last few years such as Queen Ifrica, Tarrus Riley and Etana; and before that, a whole heap of artists from out of the Virgin Islands such as Pressure Busspipe, Ras Attitude and, of course, NiyoRah. Pressure has since gone on to establish himself and his name as a Reggae STAR, Attitude is in the process, in my opinion, of doing exactly the same (and I do believe he’ll ultimately get a similar opportunity as Pressure has had with a super producer like Don Corleon) while NiyoRah, for his part, may just have the most POTENTIAL of ANY artist I have ever heard from out of the VI. Especially at this point, even with some of the more recent efforts I’ve heard from him (some of which weren’t entirely impressive), you can almost SEE Niyo’s skill each and every time out. He also (amongst that trip with Attitude and Pressure), at least in my opinion, has the most unique style. Pressure definitely breaks the ‘standard’ VI mold because he comes well within a more Jamaican type of style and Attitude reinforces that to a degree, but ultimately goes in a different direction because he is a simply DIVINE singer when he chooses to be. But NiyoRah is something else, he’s a singer, he’s a straight forward DJ and, in my opinion, he’s one of the very few TOTAL PACKAGES in terms of vibes that we have in Reggae music today.

Definitely the most interesting thing in my opinion about learning of a new artist (at least one who is new to you), particularly in the case of a young artist, is watching that artist progress and develop their skills and that certainly has been the case of my perception of NiyoRah. His last studio album, Purification Session (which came a ridiculously long almost four years ago now), was OUTSTANDING in almost every way and one of the best albums I’ve heard since the turn of the century (and had I not written a review for it this year, it would definitely be a candidate for a Modern Classic feature) by far. And since then, as I said, Niyo has continued to impress, although there have been some soft spots here and there, to my opinion, the eventual third album he’ll deliver at some point (2010???) would potentially be a LANDMARK type of a project for the still young veteran based in St. Thomas, born in Dominica. However, NiyoRah’s (wonderfully titled) Purification Session wasn’t his star. That came within the same Star Lion Family as Pressure Busspipe and others such as Ickarus and Kimbe Don (more on them later). That unit of St. Thomas artists would lead into a couple of releases from the entire camp (From The Heat in 2002 and the EP Brighter Days from the following year) and the first of that bunch to strike out on his own would be, of course, NiyoRah, who not only had a debut album in A Different Age, but had it with one of THE holiest of holy grails in terms of Reggae labels in the VI, I Grade Records. That alone was a big deal as it afforded him not only the most promotion and publicity any VI artist could hope for (inside of the VI), but it also opened Niyo’s music to the likes of I Grade Records label head Laurent ’Tippy’ Alfred and musical genius Tuff Lion, which is a literally immeasurable ‘asset’ to have going into ANY album, especially a debut and particularly for a young artist (where your producers and musicians seemingly know EVERYTHING there is to know about making a song). The results on A Different Age would definitely support such a background of details as, although it CLEARLY was not the quality of album which would come a year later in Purification Session, A Different Age was an album was simply LOVELY! So nice was it that, again, it propelled me to a point where more than four years later I’m well still listening and definitely I’m not the only one as since it’s release (and it wasn’t a SUDDEN shift at all, it gradually became this way), NiyoRah’s, out of literally DOZENS of artists’, popularity has steadily risen to the point of making him definitely one of the more recognizable figures in Virgin Island Reggae today. A Different Age came as the ‘earth’ portion of I Grade’s outstanding ‘Fire - Earth - Wind’ promotion of a trio of releases in 2005, alongside Ancient King’s Conquering Sound (fire) and Army’s Rasta Awake (wind). Well, in retrospect, perhaps there’s a reason why I Grade IMMEDIATELY had NiyoRah back the following year for the followup, because they, like me, recognized that A Different Age was the best of that very SOLID lot.

I think perhaps even more than Purification Session, which as I said, is better, this album really shows off the very interesting lyrical style of NiyoRah. I’ve always maintained that he is an artist who is so woefully underrated as a lyricist because he often writes these rather veiled and two (and sometimes three) tiered tunes which often come off sounding far more simple than they really are. On this album, such an idea is on full display, but only to the most observant of listeners. Submitting itself first for your observation and approval on NiyoRah’s very first album, A Different Age is, in my opinion the album’s finest tune altogether and a STRONG representation of his lyrical ability, the DIVINITY which is ‘Light Of Jah’. MAN! This tune has helped me and certainly many a listener through x-amount of tough times and dark days and I could happily spend quite a long time analyzing its content. The tune, in my opinion, seeks to ‘shed light’ on the temporal existence of His Majesty, but it does so with very kind of celestial (yet UNIFYING) concepts, which, at least for me, reach critical mass when Niyo says, “How could the sun rise and you never saw the light of Jah? The Emperor.” The tune, throughout, is absolutely wonderful and, although the vibes on Purification Session had a much edgier type of vibes for the most part, in terms of quality - Light Of Jah would have seen nearly NO equal on that classic album. HUGE opening. Charged with following up that sensational tune is ‘Angry Mother Nature’, which has an almost melancholy type of vibes to it and a VERY simple style of delivery from NiyoRah, but in my opinion it works so nicely, expounding on the opener, as having now identified who HE is, the chanter now outlines the disasters which await for the ultimate disobedience to HIM and just general mistreatment of the world. Lastly in the opening bit is a bit of flare and FUN when Niyo brings in the HEAVY ‘Fullest Confidence’. There may literally be HUNDREDS of lyrical gems on the very free-flowing tune and I love how it comes through over this wonderful 1970’s R&B vibed riddim which makes it even that much more curious and definitely one of the main attractions on A Different Age.

Speaking of “curious”, there are two tunes right in the middle of the album for which the word is a perfect description, ‘Sandy Weekend’ and ‘Positive Herb’. I’m sure Sandy Weekend is kind of corny. I’m just sure it is. And as for Positive Herb. . . I don’t even know what it is, but there is something very unusual about this tune. I LOVE THEM BOTH! Both of these tunes are easily two of my favourites and I sometimes find myself singing either one very randomly, for no reason at all. You will too. Also standing out on that first half is the moving tune ‘Mama’s Son’, which may or may not be very personal for Niyo and is again, so brilliantly written, that I would imagine that upon presenting it to ten different listeners, one might get (at least) ten different descriptions of its overall meaning and origins. I also have to mention ‘’Clowns Around Us’ which features a seemingly frustrated NiyoRah observing the things he sees around him and he’s now gone to the point of not even thinking these horrible and corrupted people can’t even be SERIOUS about what they’re doing and are little more than clowns. A very interesting idea. And you’ll also almost certainly be drawn to ‘ROCK’ which features fellow Star Lion Family members, the aforementioned Kimbe Don and Ickarus. The tune is an ode to St. Thomas where they’re from (Rock City) and, in my opinion, was probably just put together to have a big combination featuring the group and were that the case: Mission accomplished (and Don steals the show in my opinion). The second half of NiyoRah’s A Different Age takes a decidedly more slow and tempered vibes by comparison to the first half. The title track here, I recall, interested me to a great degree and throughout the last few years, I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually gotten closer to TRULY overstanding it. Where I am now, however, is looking at it as Niyo’s comment on change, but, even more so on CONSISTENCY. It seems as if he goes out of his way, at times, to highlight those things which don’t actually change (VERY similarly to Danny I’s ‘Unchangeable’), like Love, Change itself and of course, His Majesty. HEAVY HEAVY tune. Speaking of HEAVY, you don’t get much heavier (or better in general) than the HUGE ‘Black Smokey Mountains’. Despite the rather intimidating title, the tune, at its core, is one of Afrikan pride and joy. Niyo just takes the listener on one helluva journey in arriving at the point (even name dropping the Virunga Mountains), with one of the album’s finest tunes. The downright SAD sounding ‘Twisted Atmosphere’ is another selection which tips the scales. Again, despite the title (and the actual sound of the tune), this one is a pretty straight forward social commentary, albeit a nearly EXCELLENT social commentary. ‘She Said’ is just WICKED. It is a tune for the loyal and well respectful Afrikan women of the world and, more specifically, the type of connection (on pretty much every level you could think of) made within the confines of a (healthy) relationship. I also downright APPRECIATED the very introspective and inspirational ‘Thinking About My Life’; and ‘Concrete Jail Cell’ which I truly do hope more than just a few individuals in that situation have had the opportunity to hear, I’m sure it could definitely give some well needed inspiration to them. ‘Perfect Timing’, on the other hand, is one DEFINITELY for me. I’ve actually taken a saying from early in the tune, “all righteous words are an expression of one final destination”, and added to my own personal lexicon and the balance of the tune is just so well done that basically STRUTS to near the head of the class on the album. And lastly is the LOVELY ‘Reality Check’ which serves as almost a ‘pop quiz’ at the end of A Different Age to make sure that you’ve been paying ample attention. The tune basically poses several very straight forward (but interesting) questions, almost as if to say, ‘I’ve told you what you need to know, now how will you apply it?’ I don’t know if that was what NiyoRah and company had in mind during the composition of the tune (or if Tippy and company had it in mind when they decided to make it the last tune on the album), but where it is, even though it isn’t amongst my favourite tunes on the album ostensibly, where it occurs on A Different Age, Reality Check is nearly perfect.

Overall, I think it’s interesting to look back at A Different Age especially now, considering what NiyoRah has become and in doing so you kind of see more in the album than I did the first (several) times through. A Different Age, isn’t the kind of free flowing and EXCITING brand of Roots which Niyo now delivers and, as I said before, one of the most interesting things is definitely seeing tat level of development and progression within a young artist and NiyoRah’s path has EASILY been one of the most interesting to observe. Still, what you hear throughout A Different Age is more than SOLID material. It isn’t the vivid and colourful version of the artist you hear just a year later on Purification Session, but it’s a kind of more serene and less ‘risk-taking’ type of a vibes. Still, whenever NiyoRah speaks musically at this point, it’s worth paying attention to. And when he spoke on A Different Age, while certainly ‘different’ than he does these days, it was still worth paying attention to and a FAR more than fitting foundation for what he has become.

Rated 4/5
I Grade Records

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