Friday, May 7, 2010

"No Rookie": A Review of Never Lost My Way by Ginjah

I absolutely love the fact that we’re kind of moving into this wonderful timeframe in Reggae music where we have so many artists who I think everyone has just become accustomed to referring to as ‘young’ and ‘up and coming’ - Who really aren’t that young and up and coming anymore. They’re more ‘normal aged’ and ‘already here’ and well, now it’s time to show and prove. It’s time to see who’s going to be the proverbial flash in the pan and who’s going to the type of artist that people like me write about for years and years to come. For example, I think it’s become kind of clichéd to refer to an artist such as Dancehall ace, Assassin, as young . . . Because that’s just what we’ve been doing from ever since he first came up as a disciple of Spragga Benz. Meanwhile the man is pushing twenty-eight this year and has a BIG history dating back longer than some of his peers who are years older. Similarly is Aidonia, who’s older than I am (and I’m virtually a geriatric at this point) and while he may still be in the process of distinguishing himself, at twenty-nine years of age and as a Dancehall artist, he has most certainly entered his prime years and has had long enough to become WELL comfortable in it. In terms of Roots Reggae music (which is why we’re here), we have the ‘big three’ of ‘young’ artists in Tarrus Riley, Etana and Queen Ifrica. Both Riley and Ifrica are in their thirties and Etana, while definitely young (either almost twenty-five or just twenty seven) in the traditional sense, her music has become part of the DIRECTION of the overall landscape (I.e. when Etana has a new tune, it is most certainly a big deal) and every time you look up, her musical age progresses further and further. So, instead of looking at this WONDERFUL crop of artists in terms of general age, I think we should just observe the fact it is THEM who are the here and now and ARE (not ‘will) ultimately the faces of the world’s most beautiful music. It is in that same ideology that I approach the artist with whom we deal today, the exceptional Ginjah. The very interesting singer has a musical history going back more than a decade at this point and really, when you look at the ‘up and coming’ (here and nowing) artists in the current landscape of Roots Reggae music, out of all of them, Ginjah is definitely one of the most interesting and also one who has reached the point in his respective career where it is DEFINITELY time to show and prove.

Thankfully he’s been having no problem doing exactly just that and continues to as one of the single most impressive artists I’ve heard in quite some time. I can remember hearing of Ginjah’s name quite some ago as a member of the legendary Beres Hammond’s Harmony House label. He voiced for Hammond (and with him, they have a big tune together by the name of ‘Rise Above’), toured with him and, presumably, just learned and took in so much from the legend that such an experience alone would have almost certainly made Ginjah’s a name to watch. And - Oh yeah, he’s also VERY talented on his own. He has quite the powerful, soulful and outside of Jah Cure and Chezidek, probably the most INTERESTING voice in Reggae today in my estimation and he’s used it over the years to craft some absolute GEMS of songs. Well hopefully now he’s well tuned up and ready to put his best foot forward as Ginjah now brings forth what is hopefully his very first of many album, Never Lost My Way. Having gotten his start at the highest level of the game working with someone like Beres Hammond, one would think that as far as actually doing the work goes, Ginjah would have nowhere to go but down in terms of quality, but he’s managed to put together quite a nice working relationship with the greatest Reggae producer in the world, Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor (who Hammond, himself, also works with), who helms the album for his own No Doubt Records and Flava McGregor Records. Incidentally, the label(s) which has been literally flourishing for quite some time now (thinking about three years really now) also recently released Revelations, an album for Gyptian and altogether, Ginjah joins a very strong cast of ‘characters’ which includes the likes of Sizzla, Luciano, Lutan Fyah, Turbulence, Chuck Fenda, Chezidek and others who’ve had albums produced by McGregor, but, at least to my knowledge, he joins only Gyptian as artists who have had the honour of having Flava produce their debut sets. The album (as you might imagine) is put together, for the most part, with various tunes from Ginjah on Flava’s RIDICULOUSLY lovely riddims, some very familiar and some not so much. I’m very interested to see the impact the album has as Ginjah’s fan base is almost totally full of hardcore heads (like you and I) and although he may not be very well known outside of those circles, within the very devoted crowd Never Lost My Way IMMEDIATELY becomes a big deal. I actually recall from last year the thought was that his debut album would come via VP Records (the news was circulating roughly around the same time as the news of Chuck Fenda’s ultimately wicked Fulfillment album which VP did release), however, I’m hoping that people like you and I will pay this album SO MUCH attention that it will become a big deal in terms of commercial success. The question before that is, however, whether or not the album is a big deal musically - And the answer is an overwhelmingly expected YES. The thing about the album, even going in, is that you KNOW what you’re getting into if you know the setup. Ginjah sings, he just does, Flava builds fantastic riddims, again, he just does - And while certainly those two factors alone aren’t enough for a success, when you dash in the fact that the two have already proven that they work EXCELLENTLY together, the results most certainly do not disappoint.

The album, and Ginjah’s music in general in my opinion, very much seems to be centered on the celebration of the music itself. Of course, Ginjah is a Roots artist, so what you’ll encounter are the typical socially and spiritually conscious efforts on the album, but he is in a very select group of artists in my opinion who’re able to convey a genuine LOVE for the music that they’re doing. If I am correct in my assumption then Ginjah most certainly adores the title track of his debut album Never Lost My Way for No Doubt Records, because it’s the finest tune on the album and perhaps the finest of his entire career to date. The song utilizes Flava’s TIMELESS Rub-A-Dub Riddim and it’s quickly in the process of becoming my absolute favourite tune on that beautiful riddim (perhaps unseating Fantan Mojah’s EPIC drop, ‘The Most High’). For me, this tune is all about dedication - The dedication of oneself to what you’re doing and the commitment of it as well. It is absolutely a STUNNING tune (and you simply have to take it to heart when the singer says, “when mi sing, mi no haffi rich. Ah no money man ah look after dis”). HUGE! Carrying the vibes further is a bit of a hidden weapon I’d say in ‘Time’ which features on Flava’s most recent composition, The Classic Riddim. This one was seemingly intentionally held back from the big batch of tunes on the riddim, as well as the subsequent album as well for the riddim. This tune is, ostensibly, a love song, but it definitely isn’t your stereotypical straight ahead piece and to my ears it kind of expounds on the virtues of PATIENCE, particularly within the parameters of a relationship, but by extension, life itself. It’s definitely another beautiful tune and . . . Good luck finding it somewhere else besides this album. A similar tune is ‘Solidarity’, Ginjah’s cut of Flava’s 2009 Ghetto Riddim. While I certainly have heard this tune before, it too was absent from the riddim’s album (both times it was released) and that’s unfortunate, because it is very strong. The tune is mainly an antiviolence piece, but it speaks on another, more broad, level as well - So it’s one thing to put down the gun, but it’s another to put it down and start living clean INSTEAD which is the point Ginjah seems to be making with the song and wonderfully so.

As I said, I think it’s very likely that Never Lost My Way is going to predominately draw the interest of heavy fans, however, if you’re a newer fan or just a recent deep listener of Ginjah’s the album also offers quite the ‘tour’ of some of his past work. Perhaps the biggest example of such occurrences (besides the opener, of course) is his previous MAJOR hit, ‘Music Alone’. I think it’s so interesting that arguably the two strongest tunes on the album both seem to celebrate music for the sake of the music itself. This particular vibrantly beautiful effort hails and champions the music as a healing element (because it is) and just a TOOL which brings upliftment, just like Ginjah himself. Also certain to draw a bit of special attention is the tune which immediately follows ‘Music Alone’, ‘Get Out Of My Life’. The tune rides a riddim thought certainly destroyed and left for dead by Etana’s MASSIVE tune ‘Free’, but Ginjah definitely pushes a lovely vibes for it as well. The tune isn’t a love song or a jilted lovers song (which is what you’re thinking it is), instead it’s a very powerful (and seemingly personal) social commentary, as the entity Ginjah wants out of his life isn’t some misbehaving significant other, but instead is POVERTY! This song is so well sung and although he doesn’t push h is voice as much as he does on other records, I would say that it is actually one of the better delivered sets on the entire album. And later we get two less familiar love tunes in ‘My Dear Princess’, which has a very nice jazzy type of intro before ascending into one SPARKLING tune; and then ‘One Of A Kind’, which is nearly spectacular and I don’t believe that I’ve EVER heard this song before which is a great thing and it’s one of the stronger selections you’ll find on Never Lost My Way altogether.

Still, the solid majority of the balance of the album is certain to be familiar in one way or another because of the riddim of the actual tune, but in this case, that’s definitely a good thing. *Exhibit A* definitely goes to ‘No Regrets’, which is downright devastating! I’ve never heard this tune and it rides a riddim, the acoustic version of the Drop It (I THINK), which Ginjah’s certainly familiar with (more on that in a minute), so it seems like kind of a bonus (A HUGE BONUS). Call it ‘touching’, ‘halting’, or ‘moving’, it’s all of that and easily one of the biggest tunes on the album as well (the man says “I have no regrets in life” and it’s just pausing!) (also check the probable lyrical biggup to Beres Hammond when he says, “Don’t watch the crowd, they’re always going to be loud”). Ginjah gets to take the full Drop It Riddim out for a spin when he reaches the very strong ‘Welcome To My World’. Again, this is another unconventional love song, although more straight forward than ‘Time’, you get the feeling that Ginjah isn’t merely inviting a special lady to his “world”, but he’s kind of speaking on exactly what that entails and the tune was one of my favourites on that riddim as well (after Beres’ ‘I Surrender’, of course). Check ‘Where Is It’, Ginjah’s cut of the Rock Steady Riddim also. This is a song which has grown in quality to my opinion over the past year or so since when I first heard it and it’s still growing apparently as when I first spun t on this album, it just sounded so FRESH, as if I hadn’t ever heard it or maybe just once or twice, as Ginjah literally goes out searching for the way things were supposed to be (“and anytime you see a ‘meal‘, it‘s a sawmill or a cane mill“) (BIG). ‘Day Dreamer’ is another bit of a blast from the past like ‘Music Alone’, as it comes through over the 83 Riddim (which you know as having backed Queen Ifrica’s MAMMOTH shot ‘Daddy’, amongst others). This tune is, essentially, about procrastination and stagnation. Ginjah (rightly) believes those things ultimately lead to negative acts more times than not and it’s definitely a relatable tune, even if you don’t find yourself doing negative things, perhaps it can serve as a well needed kick in the ass to get you going, as he says, “Lazy is the man who loves to sleep. How you ahgo find food fi eat?”

As Never Lost My Way winds down, we get even more strong selections such as ‘Prayer’, from the Sweet Riddim. This one was one of the very few tunes on that riddim (if I recall correctly), which didn’t make usage of the kind of ‘built in vibes’ it presented most artists with love songs. Instead, Ginjah makes a very powerful statement of praise to His Majesty and one which just may be the strongest tune lyrically on the album. And speaking of praising His Imperial Majesty, the tune ‘Jah Miracle’ [aka ‘Jah Jah Watch Over Me’] is another one doing just that, while riding the HEAVY Nyah drum driven Higher Priest Riddim. This one is definitely a bit more in the way of a traditional chant and it’s very powerful and it also helps to give a bit of colour to the album as well in my opinion. Flava also pulls out what is, in my opinion, his opus riddim, the Triumphant, for Ginjah and he lives up to the LOFTY expectations on the master class creation with a master class of his own with ‘Love Mood’. This song is just GORGEOUS and the very fact that the riddim is here is HUGE! It’s one of my favourite of all time by anyone and Ginjah’s is yet another strong addition to it. And lastly, Never Lost My Way closes up with the acoustic love song, ‘The One’. The tune is a very simple, yet fittingly very nice wrap to an album which finds Ginjah stepping up to the plate and knocking one right out of the park, with yet another tune giving love to the creation of the music itself and in a very interesting manner.

Overall, Never Lost My Way is indeed Ginjah’s time to shine and he definitely doesn’t blow it. Before this album in general and on various singles from other sources as well (especially ‘Desperate In Need’, his recent single for the crisis in Haiti), I’ve just always been impressed with the way the singer carries himself and it’s so refreshing to hear someone sing a song and at least seemingly, see them try to LIVE UP to what the song says. On top of that, as I said, the album comes across, at least to me, very much as a celebration or a display of the power of the music. It’s not very glossy, you won’t find a single combination on the album at all and while there’re certainly tunes which have different vibes (like ‘Jah Miracle’), you really don’t hear anything here which pushes the boundaries of the genre and that’s actually very refreshing in my opinion. Ginjah’s time is very much in the NOW and although, collectively, I think the assumption to call him an ‘up and comer’ will continue, but listening through Never Lost My Way I think it’s hard to make that case. The material here CLEARLY features an artist who has already entered his prime years, it’s just a matter of the rest of the world paying attention. Are you? I am. Very well done.

Rated 4.5/5
No Doubt Records/Flava McGregor Records

{Note: Want this album??? Of course you do. It is currently available exclusively at Flava's website -}

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