Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Heart Ah Joy by Sabbattical Ahdah

In reference to Reggae, I speak often about the word underground and it’s kind of glorified mystique, especially in terms of artists. You could even stretch that to the whole of Reggae music as, I’m certain for quite a few fans worldwide, their initial affinity for the music definitely comes with a bit of, ‘I like this because no one else knows about it’, type of thinking. When you apply those circumstances to an actual artist, however, things change a bit because, while Reggae may be still considered some type of underground of niche genre of music, for ARTISTS, things can change so much because even the actual fan, the seeker of the ‘underground’ (whatever that means), will know of some of these names and faces about as much as someone who’s wondering what the hell is a ‘Reggae‘. Now. Typically what may happen in more popular musical art forms and in Reggae as well, is that an artist who is duly talented and whose popularity is growing to any degree, will go through stages of his/her career which will find that said popularity will ultimately grow to a point where you simply CANNOT refer to them as underground and, although there certainly are those who tend to kind of happily toil in obscurity (you’ll see this especially in Hip-Hop, where the ‘mix tape circuit’ will kind of sponsor certain artists for years, but even they will grow on that circuit), USUALLY an artist CLEARLY talented will see their statuses grow to a point where the term ‘underground’ simply will not fit (or they’ll simply find something else to do). But there are those who, for one reason or another, will remain on that same scale and for those of us Reggae heads so lucky enough to experience some of these BRUTALLY talented artists’ vibes, it can really be something which can match their far more well known peers. Now if you look into the various ‘havens’ for Reggae music, certainly they all offer their own such artists, but focusing specifically on the Virgin Islands here, BY FAR, my favourite ‘underground’, lesser known, but WICKED VI Reggae artist is and has been for quite awhile the one name Sabbattical Ahdah. I could run through names such as Ickarus and Kimbe Don and Rafijah (biggup Star Lion Family) and Ras Bumpa and others (biggup Empress Nyingro), but as far having a RAW talent, to my ears, amongst the lesser known VI artists, it all begins and ends with The Ahdah, as he has the ability with words to do with a prevailing sense of urgency, much the same things that you’ll hear in a more SMOOTH and downright calculated way from VI Reggae Master Vaughn Benjamin. Yes. The man is that good.

So what is it about the artist? Well, Sabbattical Ahdah may very well be the quintessential underground artist and, although there have been a few efforts to up his status (I’m about to talk about the largest one of those in a moment), he almost seems to actually LIKE being able to get his message out there strictly for those who are meant to hear it, even if they may not be such a very large group. His style is also one which is kind of ‘normal’, but not really. He pretty much just starts FLOWING as soon as the riddim drops. Like Benjamin, The Ahdah will also have moments where he either ‘outruns’ the riddim, or just completely appears to IGNORE it for one reason or another. Also, it is definitely worth mentioning that he doesn’t record very much at all (or at least it doesn’t seem as he does), BUT WHEN HE DOES! The man comes with just an INTENSE brand of fiery knowledge that even if you can’t follow along (more on that later), you simply have to pay attention and, ultimately, try to find a way to attempt to decipher this code if you are, in fact, a deep Reggae fan (and for the newer and casual Reggae fans who I’ve played Sabbattical Ahdah for, tend to have a kind of a perplexed reaction). The Ahdah tends to pop up here and there on the VI mixtapes/compilations I’ll get (he appears on a HUGE one coming next week), but for the most part, his isn’t a name which is as present as Benjamin, Pressure Busspipe or the likes and, just in my opinion, I think that’s a good thing because it offers Sabbattical Ahdah an air of mystery and, again, you DEFINITELY are going to pay attention to the artist when he has an opportunity to shine. His biggest such opportunity to shine came back in 2000 originally, when he released his first (and technically only officially released to my knowledge) full length album for the equally mysterious Iyah Ites Productions (who I don’t think are around anymore) and producer Ira Hewlett Jr. This album has well become a bit of a ‘cult classic’ for Reggae albums as, even though it was remastered and re-released in 2003 (which is the version I have and if you track it down, it’s also the version that you’ll have) it remains TERRIBLY difficult to find and the musical reward of locating it may just be well worth it. Sabbattical Ahdah, as I said, has a very ‘different’ type of flow where it’s almost like he’s charged by the meter and he’s trying to give you everything he has to give you before he runs out of time and it isn’t kind of vacuous, motor-mouthed material either, each tune on the unfortunately brief Heart Ah Joy, is PACKED full of knowledge and delivered in an almost inimitable way as Sabbattical Ahdah just flows through each and every tune, regardless of the riddim (or type of riddim), almost as if he were delivering a lecture at a university. The music here, while solid, isn’t exactly top notch (as you might have thought and never mention the fact that it was almost a decade ago now), but it well serves as a fitting introduction to a more than simply INTERESTING artist. Heart Ah Joy does ultimately succeed (again, despite its brevity) and does so largely on the fact that Sabbattical Ahdah, although standing in the shadows of several artists and probably several more to come (including Nyingro, who I believe is his wife), but show me the up and comer who has this type of UNDENIABLE SKILL!

As I alluded to, the production here certainly isn’t the GREATEST (it isn’t bad either, not at all), and it, for the most part focuses more on the type of minimalist vibes, where it doesn’t try to take away shine from the artist (which is weird considering the ‘other thing’, more on that later). When you take that fact and combine it with Sabbattical Ahdah’s natural style, the album has a kind of a dark and mysterious vibes to it also, which even more sets the stage for this underground sensation. Getting things moving on Sabbattical Ahdah’s album, Heart Ah Joy is, curiously, one of the more lively moments, ‘Rob-in-us Beast’. This song isn’t exactly what I would call LUSH, in the general sense, but it is definitely so for the Ahdah’s vibes. More importantly, of course, it’s nearly brilliant. The song speaks of the oppressed ultimately overcoming corrupt system and establishing a “perfect peace” and it certainly doesn’t do so in utopia and too perfect terms, but with a harsh bit of reality one would expect from someone so talented. The strangely vibed ‘Know Yourself’ which comes through next, is arguably an even stronger tune than the opener. As far as how it sounds, Know Yourself is an almost crawling one-drop and it backs a lyrical set from the Ahdah which goes EVERYWHERE. Ultimately if you pressed me, I would say that, despite the tone of the tune (which is largely DARK), Know Yourself is a tune about upliftment at its core, it just takes the listener on one hell of a ride in arriving at that point, to my ears. The final tune of the opening lot, ‘Earth Struggle’, is the best of the bunch to my opinion and definitely one of the best on the entire album. This tune builds on the first two and separates itself in going in the direction of directly addressing the struggle itself (instead of the opener, which spoke of things happening, but not in this type of detail). Sabbattical Ahdah even goes on a bit of controversy, but regardless on which side of the fence you stand on, on certain issues, you should still well be able to recognize and realize the power of this BIG tune which caps a very STRONG opening.

Out of all the tunes here (all twelve of them) (wow), two stand and have always stood above the pack in my opinion as they show the oddly talented Sabbattical Ahdah at his ‘curious’ best. The first of these, sequentially, is the very strange ‘Mah Joy’. This tune is one for the Empresses of the world and it’s vibed SO ‘off’ that you wouldn’t think it would be about such a topic, but, from the very first tone struck, you simply realize that you’re dealing with something special, both in tune and in subject matter. Then, checking in at the eleventh spot, is the finest tune I hear on Heart Ah Joy, ‘Meh Honor’. SICKNESS! With every increasing moment, Meh Honour almost appears to get angrier and angrier! And the riddim, which is barely even there at all, is absolutely PERFECT as the Ahdah gives MASSIVE thanks and praise to his ’honour’, His Imperial Majesty, on the best tune you’ll hear on this album altogether. The cast of ‘supporting actors’ on Heart Ah Joy, well helps the top pieces and do so very succinctly. The bets of that lot, in my opinion (even including the openers), is ‘I Vision’. I think I hear an old school type of vibes somewhere in here, but I’m not sure. What I’m well sure of, however, is that this one is a big tune which finds the Ahdah enjoying the world around him and wondering exactly how much even better said world could appear were it not for the death and destruction going on as well. The tune ‘Life’ took quite awhile to grow on me, definitely, but when it did, I now kind of recognize it as one of the better (not ‘best’) tunes on Heart Ah Joy and, who knows, it seems like the type of tune which would continue to grow and maybe when I’m forty, it’ll sound even better than Meh Honour and Mah Joy (did you see what I did there?) (did you catch that one???). ‘Blasphemer’ on the other hand, had no such growing pains with my tastes. The tune features the Ahdah alongside his Cruzan neighbour, the (even more underground) silky voiced Bobo Ites. This tune is easily one of the BEST here and I guess it’s a waste of time waiting for more from Ites, but I’d DEFINITELY be interested if he were to have (or had already) his own project. ‘Corruption’ is another nice piece for the album. This tune is an excellent example of the Ahdah’s style as you’ll find yourself having quite a bit of difficulty trying to identify the usually OBVIOUS chorus as he seems to just give KNOWLEDGE from the opening bars of the tune. Corruption makes way for an even stronger piece, ‘War’. The tune here is just MAGIC and definitely one of the best here. War, quietly, is one of the most sonically appealing tunes on Heart Ah Joy and when you combine that with the fact that lyrically, it is also amongst the best tunes, you know you well have a strong tune there as Sabbattical Ahdah slams out those who promote war, anywhere they may be hiding (crazy addictive one-drop on that tune). The curiously titled ‘Question The Concept’ is another very nice one sonically speaking. You can tell that fact almost IMMEDIATELY after the tune kicks in, it takes a second or two, however, to ascertain the fact that the tune is WICKED lyrically as well. That small stretch of three tunes right there, War, Question The Concept and Meh Honour is easily the strongest such bit on Heart Ah Joy and it includes three of the finest pieces of output and testaments to Sabbattical Ahdah’s tremendous sill level. That same stretch also sets the stage for the closer, the downright melancholy ‘Bless King Negus’. This tune might just be my LEAST favourite tune on Heart Ah Joy, but that isn’t to say (at all) that it’s a bad tune necessarily. The vibes here are just too slow and I don’t at all say that an artist has to do the same thing over an over again or should do that, but this one just barely moves at all and such a vibes doesn’t, in my opinion, allow Sabbattical Ahdah to put his best foot forward, although I wouldn’t mind hearing him develop that style a bit, just as I wouldn’t mind hearing anything from him these days. Anything at all.

Now, I mentioned this several times and I will describe it here briefly. Heart Ah Joy has a strange thing going on with the sound (at least on my copy). The riddims, as minimal as they are, sometimes outdo Sabbattical Ahdah, in terms of sound and it is the Ahdah’s style to kind of ‘mumble’ at times, so sometimes, you have to REALLY strain to hear exactly what he’s saying.

Overall (sound notwithstanding), even though you probably WON’T, should you have the opportunity to pick up Sabbattical Ahdah’s Heart Ah Joy, you have more than have my stamp of recommendation. Again, given Sabbattical Ahdah’s release schedule (or release schedule that you’ll be able to get your hands on), Heart Ah Joy has a bit of a collector’s item feel to it and in my own collection it definitely comes off much in the same fashion as Meshach & Wevolusion’s album Awake (and I just feel COOL for having it). Besides that (I’m smiling now) it’s also a (wide) GOOD album. From beginning to end Heart Ah Joy is a cool and brilliantly dark display of one of the more BRUTAL talents on the VI Reggae scene who seem to exist and THRIVE well off the radar.

Rated 4.25/5
Iyah Ites/S.P.M. Records
2000/Re.-2003



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