Saturday, July 17, 2010

Modern Classics Vol. XXI: "Back To Africa" by Harry Mo

Harry Mo - Back To Afrika [Yellow Hill Music - 2008]

Not that I went back and checked or anything, but I’m pretty sure that up until now, with very few exceptions, the albums which have comprised my selections of ‘modern classics’ have been the type of albums which are inherently pretty well known for one reason or another and that is, of course, a good thing. Our music is already pretty ‘obscure’ and ‘underground’, according to many, so how awful would it be that someone could actually do something undeniably GREAT and it go so woefully under heard by the masses. And while certainly I’ve done albums which may fall in that line, in the most literal sense (like Jah Mason’s ”Never Give Up”), they tend to come from artists with far more elevated profiles than we exactly what we have here (if you read this blog with any consistency, there’s literally a 0% chance that you don’t know of Jah Mason) as just back in 2008, the Dominica born, St. Croix resident Harry Mo dropped an album which didn’t come with very much fanfare, but for what it was, it was ABSOLUTELY FLAWLESS! There is no ‘okay’ or ‘decent’ tune on this album, the very worst one is at least ‘very good’. This artist fitted outside of the normal Midnite, Pressure, I-Grade link of the Virgin Islands, as far as big names, which made him even more remote and this classic even more intriguing. “Back To Africa“.

The Music

1. ‘Back To Africa’

Not too surprisingly at all, I DEFINITELY think that the title track for the album is very instrumental in overstanding the main idea of the album itself. Give this one even a somewhat cursory glance and you’ll surely miss that point, but even if you do, you’ll still be able to take this one in and enjoy it because even sonically speaking, it is a very powerful vibes and one of the best on the album. Still, the ultimate prize awaits those willing to pay a little closer attention.

Best Lyric: “Afrika - How we love you dear [Afrika. We love you.] - We feel your pain, we see your tears, we want you know we really care. And I man don’t care what next guy try. Underneath Afrikan skies, this is where my future lies”

2. ‘My Dream’

One day Harry Mo ‘awakes’ (not really) to find himself living in a place and a time where everything has changed. The world has become a much much better place as is expressed in the sentiments and the vibes of this wonderful tune. Of course, what it really is, is a social commentary and one of a very unique type as after figuring out himself in the midst of a dream, Harry Mo then goes about trying to figure out how and when will his dream come true, ascending from “fantasy land” - “I’m hoping my dream can become a reality”.

Best Lyric: “I’m hoping my dream can become a reality. Everyone living free, a better world for you and for me”

3. ‘Raging Storm’

This one is a bit of a paradox because on one hand, what Harry Mo is saying is that if you live dirty and you screw up, Jah’s ‘raging storm’ will come for you and rightly so. HOWEVER, on the other hand, he makes said “storm” sound SO GOOD that it almost becomes attractive (hell, I might like to be hit with such a thing) (in theory, of course). This tune, sonically speaking, may just be the most impressive of the entire lot on ”Back To Africa” and on the whole, it’s not very far from top honours either.

Best Lyric: “Scared to sleep on your bed [bed]. You crash out on the floor instead. Live big on stolen bread [bread]. And evidence that cannot shred. Now there’s a price on your head then you said, if you coulda run you woulda fled - From the storm that’s ahead, it’s coming down, with a raaaaaaaage”

4. ‘St. Croix’

Speaking of sounding good - Perhaps ‘St. Croix. Rock could be utilized in some way to attract a certain kind of, more educated, brand of tourist, because this is absolutely SPARKLING! So many times you’ll hear a tune about someone’s community and even if it’s in the positive vibes, what will happen is that the tune will come through with a bit of ‘toughness’ to it and while certainly Mo isn’t saying that St. Croix is this meek and quaint little harmless place, he presents in such a way in which you would think someone who LOVED where they were from and wanted to honestly display it in a good light would. Excellent.

Best Lyric: “Left outta East and mi headed down a West. Fish market massive, mi hear dem got the best. Up a Mon Bijou now dat a weh mi rest. Don’t need no gun, mi need no bulletproof vest”

5. ‘Jah In My Life’

TEARS! Just about two years on and despite having a grander appreciation for just about every tune on ”Back To Africa”, my favourite remains this HUGE tune, ‘Jah In My Life’. The song . . . Man this song just hit’s the proper chords and nerves in your body that you listen to music to satisfy and to twist. It’s just an ‘EXPERIENCE’ of a song which has been rarely matched in my own music listening journey and subsequently, I’d describe it as one of my favourites from any artist at any time. Moreover, it’s yet another powerful piece in comprehending what is, in my opinion, the prevailing message of the album and even if you have to listen to this thing a billion times to really get it out - My advice to you is to get started on that, as soon as possible.

Best Lyric: “Can’t let no weak heart vampires of pestilence come ruin my confidence. Than you Jah - I’ve got my evidence”

6. ‘Enough Is Enough’

Aluta Continua. Harry Mo is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore! This song is, essentially, an expression of that thought as Mo has tired of listening to and hearing the excuses of the powers that be of why things can’t get better or why it’s taking so damn long. Despite Mo’s very laid back demeanour, you really get a sense of urgency in the tune as he eschews that normal vibes and puts a bit of ‘rigidity’ in his tones at times here which definitely adds to the vibrations of the song.

Best Lyric: “We make the music for the sole purpose of Jah. With the spirit have to rock and never stop. We give the message in the music with no flaw. Remind the people of Jah universal law”

7. ‘Show Her Love’

Wouldn’t it (and won’t it when we get there) be so nice if we got to the point where songs like ‘Show Her Love’ became useless because every man KNEW to at least TRY to treat his woman well. Until we get there, however, there’re tunes like such on which Harry Mo gives what should be ‘Relationship 101’ for most guys and he does so in a way which, even apart from that, seeks to build up the confidence and the esteem of the Afrikan woman, which will also help in some situations as well. One of the album’s best.

Best Lyric: “Ain’t she the one who raise the kids and fulfill your physical needs? A Royal Empress from Zion don’t need no dog, she needs a LION!”

8. ‘Positive Vibration’

This one is pretty broad and largely encompassing in terms of its subjectry, but over the time I’ve come to take one dominating message from it which is CLEANLINESS. Not in (just) the hygiene sense (although that is surely included), but in the spiritual and the mental senses as well. The actual word used is “positive”, against “negative”, but to my opinion it’s used is a kind of anti-contaminator - A detergent of sorts. Harry Mo is saying ‘I am a Rastaman, I am upstanding’ and if you deal with dirty things then stay from around me. BIG BIG BIG tune!

Best Lyric: “Tell you it’s a Rastaman Vibration and it’s positive. So back weh with your folly situation, we nah deal no negative”

9. ‘Mystic Man’

‘Mystic Man’ follows SUPERBLY the tune before it because it continues a message of being generally upstanding by Harry Mo. This one, by contrast, is a bit more specific as it touches on a few different topics, but it mainly deals with being upstanding and being CONSIDERATE of others as well as oneself which is most important. These things, according to Harry Mo, involve others such as being mature (“so you say you cannot dig our vibe and even say you don’t like our style. Thank God we’ve grown a lot, we’ve learned to deal with that”) and being patient, thus walking the way of the Mystic Man.

Best Lyric: “Some will love me, I say that is great. And some will hate still we feel no way. Even my enemy, I greet with love, not hate”

10. ‘Solution’

This LOVELY piece of a song is the type of vibe which I so constantly refer to - It is a song of action. Too many times we get used to listening to this beautiful music and forget that it is, many times, urging us to some type of action and we get used to not doing a damn thing about it. While Mo doesn’t directly go there, he infuses the punchline of ‘Solution’ as seemingly saying that we need to go about FINALLY making some type of ultimate solution to these problems so often addressed in these songs and I definitely couldn’t agree with him any more.

Best Lyric: “Meditate. Concentrate. And maybe we could penetrate - All illusions and confusions, contribute an opinion”

11. ‘Ragged Road’

If you listen to ‘Ragged Road’ closely what you get out of it is that it is a very large praising tune in the name of His Imperial Majesty. It’s kind of a song which preaches solidarity with His Majesty as Harry Mo basically says that he’d rather take the hard road and sweat and bleed and make the sacrifice with His Majesty, rather than to take the easy way out without HIM. It also should be said that just listening to this SERENE vibe is just pleasurable to the senses as well, making it yet another strong example of a place where entertainment smacks right into education on ”Back To Africa”.

Best Lyric: “The road of the Rastaman is the good Samaritan. The road to righteous travel - Mysterious we unravel”

12. ‘My Pride’

Of course I cannot remember now what my first thought would have been, but I’d like to think that the riddim on this one most certainly impressed me to no end, because it is absolutely GORGEOUS! It may just my favourite on the entire album, but in any case it’s right up there (and there is an all too brief, but dazzling, display of the riddim near the middle of the tune about twenty seconds long). As for the tune itself, it speaks about humility and knowing when you’re in a ‘no-win’ situation and how it essentially becomes foolish (and WEAK) to engage in such battles - Not letting one’s sense of pride overcome one’s own (hopefully) good common sense (“I’ll come back tomorrow“, Mo says).

Best Lyric: “You see, the battle flag we waving - Ites, Gold and Green! Every city, town and country - Flying in the wind. With searching you will find out who is the Lion King. Fire when he reach the scene”

13. ‘Ithiopia‘

I’m pretty confident that quite a bit (if not all) of this album was done following a trip made by Harry Mo to Afrika and while there’re many references to The Motherland on the album (“Back To Africa”) (duh), none are probably more glaring than on the sweet ‘Ithiopia’. While very laid back and serene, you definitely get a very celebratory vibes from the tune which I’m pretty sure is Harry Mo looking back at the good times had and the great things he encountered during his visit.

Best Lyric: “I love your mountains, rivers and lakes. Ancient temples. The King’s Palace. Mosques and churches. The King’s Highway. Beautiful people - There’s love on every face”

14. ‘Natural High’ featuring Volcano

Harry Mo saved a bit of flavour for the final tune on the album (although on an album like this, I wouldn’t have all minded if he would’ve just taken a tune and lost his entire mind on it, although that’s not his style) and displays it by bringing in St. Croix fiery chanter, Volcano. This is an artist who (has two albums to his credit) certainly hasn’t received much publicity in his career, but to date he’s proven himself very solid and ‘Natural High’ is another example of just that. This tune is one which is an ode to the music itself - Saying that the music is what actually give you a ‘natural high’. Anyone who has REALLY listened to the previous thirteen tracks is going to have a very hard time saying otherwise.

Best Lyric: Volcano “I’m a naturalist; I’ve got to hold my natural vibes. It’s a struggle out there on this musical 9 to 5”


An Afrikan State of Mind. That’s the first thing I thought when I had come to my decision (which didn’t take a very long time) of what I believe to be the main point of ”Back To Africa”. I think that given the type of music we have here, it’s just easy to look at it and start drawing the type of lines to repatriation and Marcus Garvey and so forth and while that certainly is applicable (as is the likely trip that Harry Mo himself had made) I don’t think that just that is the point of the album. I think Mo is using the term ‘Africa’ as more of an adjective than a noun - Africa is a FEELING, not just a physical place and in that aspect, there is so much here which makes sense, even the title track which seems to speak more of direct lineage and direct repatriation IMMEDIATELY opens with that sentiment:

“Little song called ‘Back To Africa’
In heart and in mind”

And later on there’s:

“And I man don’t care what next guy try
Underneath Afrikan skies, this is where my future lies”

That second piece is interesting because it seems to suggest some type of RELIEF, as does the entire song, but this passage in particular specifies it to a great degree. In this instance you can connect it to maybe someone bothering you and then looking to Afrika as a space of relief or as a space of PEACE from that type of madness. Of course the second song, ‘My Dream’, is built around an entire mental concept and is chockfull of such concepts of a mental Afrika:

“When will my dream become a reality
That day when our leaders rise and compromise
To hear Jah people cries”

I shouldn’t have to make the connection to give you an identity of the “fantasyland” that Harry Mo is dreaming about in the tune because it is most certainly Afrika and his idea of what he wants Afrika to be. More importantly, I think it’s very interesting that he doesn’t (and if he does, he doesn’t stress it) even mention the place by name because it even furthers the idea this magical place (whatever and wherever it is) as a relief from what he sees around him and experiences. Similarly, I’m drawn to the later tune ‘St. Croix Rock’, which has a very interesting position as it’s somewhere between this kind of utopian odyssey Mo experiences on ‘My Dream’ and a more tangible piece such as the title track and at the same time it is very appreciative of the state that it’s in:

“Culture people you’re proud and you’re free
Gwan rule your destiny”

This tune is a strong APPLICATION of the idea of Afrika. It literally picks up a chunk of it and drops it in St. Croix. An interesting thing about that, the vehicle (how it gets from Afrika to St. Croix), is explored on the album’s finest tune (although it should be pretty obvious at this point), ‘Jah In My Life’:

“I feel pleased, cause I’ve got Jah in my life
My spiritual life
I feel a breeze, because I’ve got Jah in my life
My musical life”

If you take that passage and connect it with almost any bit of the verses:

“See I give thanks unto Jah
Is HE who guides my way
Is Jah who see I each and every single day
So I give praises to God
He never let I suffer, Jah love I true and proper
Can’t let no bad man, no bad woman break my mind”

You start (or you should) to see a the ULTIMATE connection here I’m trying to make because once again Harry Mo seems to be dealing with RELIEF. ‘Jah take me away from this foolishness’ is what I’m getting and on that particular song it isn’t as if he’s calling or hoping that it MIGHT happen, he’s standing devoted to the fact that it is happening in his life and in every aspect of his life! That is a VERY powerful song and if you take that thought that ‘JAH’ = ‘AFRIKA’ for the album, my idea of ”Back To Afrika” comes in as clearly as ever.

The notion is that ‘Afrika’ is a mental concept. It is an emotion. It is a state of being. And, at the end of it all, you need not be IN Afrika to FEEL Afrika! And it goes on to tunes like ‘Show Her Love’ which is ‘I’m treating my Woman like Afrika‘. ‘Ragged Road’ which is ’I’m walking in the way of Afrika’ and there’re are others as well. Even the title - Sub it out, "Back To Africa” = ”Back To Righteousness" BEAUTIFUL! And I’ll remind you that it comes from an artist who you may’ve not even paid a proper attention to or even knew about very much. An artist, in Harry Mo, who in 2008 gave us this absolute gem of an album, ”Back To Africa”, A BONAFIDE MODERN REGGAE CLASSIC!

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