Friday, March 12, 2010

"So Happy To See You": A Review of Genuine by Bescenta

Because, like you, I am a fan first and foremost, of this wonderful musical art form and then a fan of the makers of it, I’m always very happy to kind of see somewhat of a ’random’ artist reach the level to where they are able to successfully have an album released internationally. This is the case even if I’m not the biggest fan of the artist or I haven’t been greatly calling or hoping for an album from them, because in the end, I believe that such occurrences are SO important for the music itself. In other, more ‘mainstream’ genres, the range of artists having albums is so wide (and seemingly ever widening), that hardcore fans of a particular genre can often see names of artists, from their own hometown no less, who have just mystically and magically signed deals with a label and are now (teenagers still) releasing an album. Of course that’ll generally coincide with a video release and a press campaign which we also see in Reggae, but to be perfectly honest, with the exception of someone in the most REMOTE corner of the world, I’m not very often confronted with an album, or the news of a forthcoming album for an artist that I’ve NEVER heard of AT ALL. So, within those parameters, like I said, when someone who is somewhat random or ‘unlikely’ has an album, I’m generally very very happy for them and for the music as a whole. As a reference in the recent sense, I look at someone like Virgin Islands chanter Ras Iba. I don’t think that the world was (at least not knowingly) STARVING for an album from Iba, but when we got it in Matsahyel, it was so impressive that it definitely opened things up for him and if it continues to make strides, I don’t think his next album, whenever it comes, will be a surprise and it will well be looked forward to. Another nice example would be Perfect, who is currently riding high with successes from his most recent album drop, the BIG French Connection for Sherkhan and Tiger Records. Again, if that album didn’t exist (and the WICKED singles which led up to it), do you think the demand is so high that someone MUST do a Perfect album (especially after that . . . thing that was the Karma album) and SOON! I don’t think so. Bigga Haitian would be another nice example with his Sak Pasé album. And there’re so many other albums which I would like to see released from artists even a step down from those (in terms of popularity of course) - names like Kulcha Don and Steve Machete and Marley Campbell and Emmanuel Stain - that I feel would be so nice if they would ultimately reach the point where people worldwide could have access to their (NEW) works instantly as on an album.

St. Andrews native Bescenta would be the PERFECT (no pun intended) artist to fit in that category as well. I’m not even close (at least I hope I’m not) to being one of the strong chanter’s biggest fans, but with that being the case, I cannot even begin to tell you just how happy I was to see that not only did Bescenta have an album forthcoming, Genuine, but that it was seemingly being promoted VERY HARD by its company, Uplifting Music (who apparently authoured the press release for the album to say something along the lines of this release being “the most anticipated Reggae album of the decade” or something like such) (can’t blame them for trying, not at all) (and then again, they never said by whom was it so anticipated) who I was familiar with because they had also done a similar thing just last year with Terry Linen’s album A Better Man. They threw a release party in Jamaica and everything and Genuine was officially launched and done so with quite a bit of lustre and I absolutely LOVE that part of it. So, who is Bescenta? His name has been one of a dozen or so, here and there, who make up a very SOLID level of artists in Jamaican who aren’t necessarily at the top of the game in terms of their popularity, but they’ve definitely been around long enough and have had enough in the way of HITS and just solid output that they’ve more than well earned any type of accolades that they’re going to receive at any given point. Bescenta, in particular, has kind of been nomadic in his career, linking with various producers (most notably a personal favourite of mine, ‘Computer’ Paul Henton quite a few years back), scoring a number of hits along the way (and he also spent time with Vertex reportedly). He’s also had big tunes with those previous excellent producers (biggup Computer Paul) and Bescenta had a nice combination with established singer/chanter Warrior King, ’Holy Words’, which appeared on the BIG The Biggest Reggae One-Drop Anthems 2006 album (which was probably his ‘coming out party’ internationally as Bescenta appeared on no less than three tunes on the forty track compilation, the most popular annual Roots Reggae compilation in the genre). And all of that was before linking with Uplifting Music International, a company which has been quietly familiar to me for a couple of years or so and who obviously has helped to take his career to ‘the next level’, as evident by this release. UMI has also worked with Terry Linen, as I mentioned, and currently you can scoop up two of their riddims digitally (both, like this album and Terry Linen‘s through the fine people at Zojak Worldwide), the very fine Imoka and the WICKED techno bouncy Africa riddim albums. In terms of his actual style, I’d say that Bescenta most reminds me of someone like a Chuck Fenda or a Khari Kill - an artist who is ostensibly quite rough and harsh in his approach and vibes, but there’s definitely a easier and more laid back side to his music as well (more on that in just a minute) which he’s still working on sprinkling in. Said harshness and “sprinkling” is on full display on Genuine, an album which has largely had a pretty good response from what I’ve noticed early on. So the question of course becomes is it really good? Despite a few rocky moments (one prevailing one in particular), the album ultimately does impress and in typical fashion for Bescenta, to my opinion.

Okay, there’s a somewhat ‘strange’ or unusual trend I see on this album and it starts with the very first three tunes and shows itself almost every time a similarly vibed tune runs up. Bescenta’s REAL strength, at least in my opinion, is making these big and sprawling cultural and social anthem-like tunes which thankfully dominate the album. His tones and lyrics are outstanding in that arena and he also has a very nice melodic command as well. That type of command helps his love songs, but those tunes, for the most part, fail to reach the heights of his more socially conscious releases. Well, a VAST education in exactly what I mean is present to start out his brand new debut album, Genuine, from the US based Uplifting Music International, in the form of the first three tunes. The first, the title track, is quite good actually as it makes such a good usage of Bescenta’s melodic proficiency and is really just a nice and SMOOTH vibes that is borderline hypnotic at times and well captivating. Things then take a considerable step back in my opinion as Bescenta links with [Natasha] Stream (who I guess is a UMI artist now, after spending time with House of Hits) on the tune ‘So In Love’. This is essentially an unremarkable R&B tune for all intent and purposes. It never actually rises above the level of being corny (Bescenta at one point declares himself Stream’s (metaphorically speaking, of course) (at least I think it’s metaphorically speaking) “love making machine”) and it’s not impressive at all. While things definitely take a step up in terms of quality with the next tune, ‘Number One’, by comparison to the tune before it, it’s not very impressive either. It is just almost completely unremarkable and is the type of tune you wish had been left on the cutting room floor for Genuine. And to keep that line going for just a second, thankfully Bescenta only revisits the love song theme twice more on the album with ‘Heart Beat’ and ‘Fridays’. Both are largely unremarkable (although the chorus on the former is very nice), with the latter being named so because Bescenta “met this girl at TGI Fridays” (he also mentions “Stella“ getting her “groove back“). He clearly has inclinations to work on that type of vibes and maybe he can work with it more and improve, but thus far, the sweet and romantic song is clearly not one of Bescenta’s strengths as an artist.

NOW! You’ll contrast that with some of the actually remarkable and truly OUTSTANDING cultural and social material on this album and you find Bescenta’s GENUINE strength. Right from the very beginning, you get a tune like ‘Too Much Killings’ a former hit for the chanter and a SIGNIFICANT tune on the album. The tune speaks of violence, not only in Jamaica, but worldwide and does so in a very poignant and STRAIGHT FORWARD manner (and I’ll go ahead excuse the ‘live effect’ given to the tune which is very strange). That tune is followed by a next in, ‘Calm Dung Yuh Nerves’, which is even stronger. This one is BIG and lyrically perhaps the single most impressive selection on Genuine altogether. It urges the masses to just maybe take a second longer and think about what we’re doing before we go and do something which may not be the best course to take and it works SO WELL, seriously don’t miss this tune. Staying with the socially aware tunes, check two tunes running back-to-back in ‘Hungry Lane’ and ‘Happy Days’. The former chimes in over the BIG aforementioned Imoka Riddim and so nicely speaks to the many people on the streets of the world who’re literally starving, as he says, “food ah waste inna Zion and some still nah have none”. ‘Happy Days’ has a very nice and nearly spectacular vibes surrounding and although it takes a minute to pick up, when it really gets going, it speaks on the struggle of living in the corrupt system and really in the middle of this tune (and in the middle of the album altogether, you REALLY begin to hear the quality of Bescenta’s work. This is BIG material. Also check the obligatory herbalist tune, ‘Fields Of Greens’, produced by veteran Clive Hunt, it’s not one of my favourite pieces here, but it’s in the process of growing on me mightily (crazy crazy riddim on that tune). And speaking of obligatory, check ‘Oh Mama’ (you know what that is) a decent enough piece, which gets better as it goes along, but isn’t anything earth shattering on any level. And lastly on the purely social side is Bescenta’s final vocal on the album, ‘World Is In Trouble’, with its very nice and old school sound. This is another of the real highlights on the album, the tune is a few years old, but probably one of my favourite pieces Bescenta has done to date altogether.

Still, it is ultimately the few mainly spiritual tunes on Genuine which I feel make up the album’s absolute class. You’ll hear the tune ‘Believe In Yourself’ (produced by Loyal Soldiers) (biggup I-Wayne), which is an ‘agitated’ and very harsh inspirational type of tune. It is the type of song which, although isn’t one of my favourites, is quite demonstrative of what Bescenta’s style can do for him, there aren’t very many artists, even ones perhaps similarly equipped in terms of talent, who can make a tune like this. Then onto my four favourites - First is the high-powered ‘Fari Ah Work Hard’. This UMI produced tune definitely has social ramifications within, but it centers itself around Rastafarians (particularly young ones) coming through and bettering themselves and their (OUR) families to the extent of it showing CLEARLY that these are young people with strong heads on their (OUR) shoulders. Big tune. Next in is ‘Give Jah The Praise’. Ignore the rather clichéd title (I know), because the song is very strong actually. “Remember words like ‘thanks’ and ‘please’ they rarely use them in times like these, Bescenta says on the tune which should give you a nice idea of the direction of the tune. Having written now quite extensively about one Messenjah Selah, I can definitely say that is a very Selah like tune as Bescenta takes the ‘blessings’ of His Majesty and manifests them, in the tangible sense, through simple things like manners, common sense and LOVE. It is a very nice tune and if you’d like to call it THE best, I won’t kick up too much of a fight. There’s also the very curiously titled ‘Fire Inna Di Heavens’, also produced by Hunt. This GORGEOUS tune is kind of ‘green’ one, speaking mainly to the beauty of the surrounding world and how it is important to often stop and take notice of just how wonderful things are. I could sit here and take this one into so many different directions, but I won’t and instead I’ll say to just REALLY pay as close attention as you possibly can with this one, because it is very DEEP. And then there’s ‘Fari A Whole A Joy’ across the previously mentioned Africa Riddim, my choice at the very BEST tune Genuine has to offer. First of all, I love that riddim, it is sublime and seamless! And on top of that Bescenta just delivers such a wonderful message of how His Imperial Majesty and His children are here to just bring up the love and bring up the good spirits in the world. It’s not as FULL as some of the other tunes and it isn’t even the best composed, perhaps, but music like this just makes you feel good and so good that it’s the top ranking piece here, without a doubt.

Also be sure to check both ‘Alright’ and ‘Reggae Music’, which just speak to the potency of this wonderful music and its vibes and just how effective it can be! There’s also a bonus track on Genuine [‘Don’t Rush Me’] which is sang by Stream over the same riddim as the title track, which I won’t spoil for you here.

Overall, I definitely want to reiterate how nice it is just that an album like this exists. As I said, I’m not the biggest Bescenta fan in the world and although he definitely is popular in some circles, I don’t know that the call for an album from the chanter at this point was just so astronomically high that it ‘HAD’ to be done, but who cares! An album from him at this point in his career, with a history like he has had and gestation period which was well fruitful and is now over, is just a GOOD IDEA. Bescenta is what he is at this point and what he is, is on full display on Genuine. But will you like it? I think so. Certainly the album isn’t one I’d label as GREAT, but it is very solid and very well done. Uplifting Music International is creating a nice name for themselves and I’m really hoping to see them maybe get up another artist (like STEVE MACHETE), on this level and throw a similar promotion machine behind them. As for Bescenta, Genuine is an album which will appeal to new and older fans of the music alike (and maybe even Hip-Hop heads to a degree), with its kind of rough around the edges appeal - Just like Bescenta himself.

Rated 3.75/5
Uplifting Music International/Zojak Worldwide

1 comment:

  1. Hey I just want to thank you for supporting the reggae scene. It is very important and relevant to give some internet exposure to this music, because most of the times, TV channels don't care about it.