Friday, March 25, 2011

'Doing It and Doing It Well':A Review of "Skyfiya" by The Uprising Roots Band

When you do something really well, whatever it is, people will notice. We deal with music so much and I attempt to find so many ways to appreciate the vibes and make them interesting that, eventually, you learn to recognize quality in its most simple form. For example, I’m a Reggae fan. I don’t particularly like Hip-Hop, but obviously I am a fan of the arts of the spoken word. Therefore, when you take Hip-Hop and place it in the ‘care’ of someone clearly and extremely talented, it’s almost guaranteed that I’m going to be able to appreciate it and actually like it in some form (the prime example here being ‘One Mic’, by Nas) (big big tune). The same could be said of someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy Dancehall - You may think it’s too violent and just a wretched place these days (and in many respects it is), but if you too enjoy those same arts, then I think you’ll find it very difficult to not be, at least in some way, impressed by someone like Aidonia and his mastery of that craft. And you could very well say the same thing about a variety of different musical genres - I don’t like Opera music, but I’d be just simply wrong if I didn’t acknowledge how amazing the vocals are - The best in the world (outside of Jah Cure, of course). I don’t enjoy Heavy Metal either, but would I be very surprised if buried on some angry electric Rock song somewhere was one of the most remarkable guitar solos I’ve ever heard? Absolutely not. As I said, when you do something really well, whatever it is, people will notice. When you get into Roots Reggae, which is why we’re here, I think that things become even more apparent (although I am CLEARLY biased). Really well done Roots Reggae music has such a powerful, yet comforting and FULL vibes to it that, in my opinion, it’s a sound which can kind of transcend the music itself. What I mean is that it, even in the most stereotypical and clichéd sense, can appeal to such a wide group of people and amongst fans who do enjoy it; the music can be downright HALTING. To my opinion, it is that very concept which saw the Virgin Islands Reggae scene rise to prominence within the last decade or so. Primarily what they do is STRONG Roots Reggae and it really simmered to a boil and became impossible to ignore. Well, although unlikely, hopefully we’ll see a similar rise from The Uprising Roots Band who serve up EXTREMELY high vibes on their debut album, “Skyfiya”.

The Uprising Roots Band

The concept and actuality of a band existing as a single, self contained unit (one which is able to make music, write lyrics, produce and perform) is one which is pretty much a dinosaur in Reggae today and particularly in Jamaican Reggae, which is where the Uprising Roots Band is from. A very strong argument could be made, in fact, that it is the URB that is at the top of that pack in terms of the modern era with many of their peers being backing bands with a rotating list of members and lead vocalists, in particular. Furthermore, the band is truly regarded as a band by the masses, in that it is the unit, as a whole, which is more well known than its individual members (it isn’t ‘Blank and The Uprising Roots Band‘). I was pretty surprised to see that, upon doing research for the album, the lead singer of the group (who is also the drummer) is Rashawn ‘Black Kush’ McAnuff. Of course, his is a name which is, at least partially, well known because he is the son of Reggae royalty, Winston McAnuff. And that’s a fact which kind of fades into the background to some extent because, as I said, it is the band which is more well known than its parts. The elder McAnuff would certainly LOVE the vibes which are to be found on ”Skyfiya” (he probably is right now) because it is absolutely beautiful material and it is to no surprise as, over the last couple of yeas or so, the URB has been making quite the name for itself and taking its collective career to the proverbial next level. On a personal level, I first really began to take notice of the band when I saw that they had some type of working relationship with one of my lesser known favourite artists, Elijah Prophet (another very powerful and heavy modern Roots Reggae voice) (and one who has an album I hope we get a chance to get our hands on this year). I believe that link comes through Tru Musik Productions who actually releases ”Skyfiya” (and who would, presumably, also helm the Prophet’s release) along with DP&B Entertainment, as well as, of course, the wonderful people at Zojak Worldwide on the digital end. The album coming through wasn’t really too much of a surprise to me, but I wasn’t exactly expecting it and now that it’s here, what ”Skyfiya” ultimately turns out to be isn’t surprising at all. This project, just as its creators, is PURE Roots Reggae music. This is the type of music that is going to reach people who long for this seemingly ‘lost’ brand of old school and heavy Roots Reggae which has ‘obviously’ been forgotten or it just got up one day and moved to St. Croix. I won’t be on my soapbox very long at all, but if you are such an individual who goes out of his/her way to state just how “watered down” and “diluted” Reggae has become in general, then I’d really love it if you can pick up a copy of ”Skyfiya” and dig into it because you won’t get thirty seconds deep into the first track without hearing a vibes which will make you smile from ear to ear. Not only is the music hardcore and heavy Roots Reggae, but EVERYTHING about this album is as well. The group itself (even their name - Can you get more straight forward than ‘The Uprising Roots Band’???), their look, their subject matters, EVERYTHING. Predictably, the results of the album are sterling and clearly one of the best albums of the first quarter of the year.


Getting into the music and just briefly skimming through I noticed something which turned out to be readily apparent very early on and remained so throughout the album - There is a certain amount of ‘quality-control’ exercised here. Somewhat similar to what I remember saying about a Blaak Lung album - There are no bad songs on this album and there seems to be a level of quality which is not undercut a single time on the album’s thirteen tracks. The first of those on the new and debut album from The Uprising Band, ”Skyfiya”, also happens to be one of the very best as first we give thanks and do so exquisitely on ‘King Rastafari’. This is a ROYAL sounding song. It comes in with the big and blaring horns at the start and quickly settles into this COOL and just maturely vibed track which is absolutely sterling and a tune which, I feel, is very emblematic of what is to come. In the direct sense, what is to come is somewhat of a similarly vibed track (minus the big intro) and arguably an even stronger track actually, ‘Blessings’.

“I see you want to be evildoers
I will never go that way
So, I and I do the right thing
And let I blessings show

I blessings keep on growing each day
I and I blessings keep on growing each day”

The tune does take a few unexpected twists and turns (it gets really electric in the middle portions), but at its core it’s just another very strong and nearly exceptional praising track (which was screaming for another written verse). And then there’s the predicted BOOM for the album named after it, the somewhat Ska-ish ‘Skyfiya’. This one was one of a couple of tunes (the other song closes the album), which generated quite a bit of heat before ”Skyfiya” dropped and you won’t get half a minute into this tune without hearing why - It is GORGEOUS! Besides surely being one of the most sonically gratifying tracks you’ll hear here, it’s also very intelligent and there’s just something about it (and I say that despite the fact that it's basically an instrumental track with one giant chorus)! We often look for ‘star potential’ in artists and in people in general, but that’s also the case, in my opinion, in works of art and this song has star potential to spare! There’s something so special about this one and hopefully with the album, it’ll have even more of an opportunity to reach more ears because I think it could really help a lot of people (and I’ll elabourate on the concept of the song later because it’s one which I think is very powerful and very helpful to learning a bit about the mission of the URB).

And speaking of “star potential” I do want to make about ”Skyfiya”, on the whole: Too many times we see albums ‘like’ this one - Heavy Roots Reggae - and they fall into the category of ‘solid, but unspectacular’ and it is the ones which are both solid and spectacular which are TRULY great albums - this one is somewhere in between and very impressive. As I said, it establishes a particular level of quality and it never reaches below, but it does go WAY above it at times. Along with the title track (and the two songs which precede it on the album) there’re few others amongst the remaining ten which do just that also. Check the LOVELY tune which is sequentially up next, ’Brightest Light’.

“Uprise and live
On the brightest side -
Of life, think
On the brightest side -
Of life, eat
On the brightest side -
Of life, we drink
On the brightest side -
Of life, smoke
On the brightest side -
Of life, Ites
On the brightest side -
Of life, love
On the brightest side -
Of life, His Imperial Majesty and is The Most High

The brightest light shines from within
The brightest light Ites from within
The brightest light shines from the East
Rise from the East”

Another tune which I think is really going to do a major damage if given the chance is the tune uplifting for the wonderful women of the world, ‘Most Royal’ (even all the song names are HEAVY Roots Reggae). This tune I really like because what it does that you won’t see on many songs like it is to at least attempt to offer role model figures of great women throughout history for younger women to aspire to be like and to look up to (they even name directly people like Empress Menen, Empress Taytu, Yaa Asantewaa and others). They praise these historic figures to the highest and then kind of broadly give those qualities to women of the world who are doing righteous works as well. I REALLY like this tune (if you haven’t noticed) and it’s the type which seems destined to go overlooked, but I’m looking . . . With binoculars and a magnifying glass and a periscope and everything! The song which follows it, ‘Marcus Garvey’ is an additional potentially special track and a comparable one in that it, too, names historical figures of the world and sets them up as this standard to hope to be like. Of course, it does center on its Most Honourable namesake and the URB speak of his philosophies and relevance - Something which is always nice to do, particularly in the musical form. I can’t go around and deny the strength of ‘Positive’ either; although I will say that this song, especially, had to grow on me before I got to really enjoy it (the chorus of the song is very very strange), but it did and while I’m probably not as high on it as I am on the other songs I’m going to mention in this row, in a few weeks and a few dozen or so more spins, I almost certainly will be. And the final three songs on ”Skyfiya”, without exception, are all very strong and have something unique about them as well. First is ‘Shinin So Bright’ which is just such a FULL track that you have to take notice of it (unfortunately it’s also the shortest song on the entire album (and by at least half a minute too). ‘Krash Like Lightening’ is absolutely dazzling and one of the album’s best moments (I may even call it the third best song here after the title track and maybe ‘Blessing‘).

“Krash like lightening
Roll like thunder
The Uprising come fi break babylon ‘sunder -

And finally there’s the moving ‘Brighter Days’ the aforementioned previously heard album closer. This tune is probably the changeup, with the heavy Nyah drum and just the kind of melancholic delivery. The song, however, is VERY powerful and it’s no wonder why it was chosen to receive a push. Also, as you follow along you can kind of see it as developing right in front of you and going through several MOODS in accomplishing its mission.

'Brighter Days'

As for the balance of the album, as I’ve said (or at least I’ve tried to) there’re no bad songs on this album, so the remaining trio of tunes, while not as immediately gripping (although I am listening to one now and thinking about going back to add it to the rest), are also BIG BIG tracks. The best of them is definitely the obligatory and very ‘community oriented’ herbalist tune, ‘Steamers’. Besides the obvious, what’s being described in this song just sounds like a good time! Seriously - It’s just relaxing and holding a meditation which leads the URB into this sublime vibes. Next (literally) is the kind of funky ‘Know Yourself’. This one, in my opinion, relies on the cliché a bit too much, but it also well has its place and it earns it on the album. I also should say that listening to it now - I have more of an appreciation for it than I did when I first heard it. And lastly (I mean it this time) is the beautiful ‘Who Caan Hear’. Again, this one delves into the cliché route just a bit too much from a lyrical point of view, but it does get better in the verses. What strikes me most about this song is that it, like the opening pair of selections, just SOUNDS very important. There’s something you, Reggae fan, need to take notice of going on here and you’ll note that in your mind IMMEDIATELY.

Okay and with all of the songs covered directly, there’re three things that I feel inclined to mention which also go on throughout ”Skyfiya”.
  • The first, given my premise for this review, is hopefully going to be expected by everyone who reads it - The music on this album is outstanding! REALLY! If they wanted to re-release this one dubbed out or as a straight instrumental sometime down the road, I’d definitely be willing to slap another 3060 word review on that as well because these compositions are STUNNING at times (and I hate that word, but they really are) and my favourite is probably ‘Marcus Garvey’.
  • Secondly, I should also mention that there is quite a bit of spoken word on the album and it’s also very good. You’ll notice this on the opener and the closer and on other tracks such as ‘Know Yourself’, 'Brighter Days' and ‘Most Royal’.
  • And, as I alluded to - Definitely take notice of some of the song titles on the album. Three (actually four) in particular stand out because they use some form of the same word -- ‘Brightest Light’, ‘Shinin Bright’ and ‘Brighter Days’ and I also place the title track into this same lot because of what it speaks of.
“Rise up this morning
Hail the uprising
Great fyah

  • [Continued] The ‘fire in the sky’ is, obviously, the sun and the sun powers so many things it’s amazingly powerful and what the URB seems to try to do throughout the album and on these songs especially is to implore the masses to try to live up to these MIGHTY standards, set by the sun. It’s a really powerful metaphor if you think about it because on that very next tune after the title track, ’Brightest Light’, McAnuff makes sure all know that “the brightest light, shines from within” and that it also just happens to “rise from the East” (just like what???) and later on it “shines so bright” and when it does there’ll be “brighter days”. Also when you take that and connect it to the name of the group, you see this PERFECTLY rounded circle of music and musical ideology begin to develop which is so ridiculously fascinating to someone like myself and I’d be damn interested to see if continues to expand and grow in coming years.
Overall, if you can’t tell by now (DUMB!), I REALLY like this album. I think that it’s an excellent set from a group that could really do some major things in Reggae music if they stick around for awhile. With a project such as ”Skyfiya”, I typically look at it and say that it’s the type of thing that is best appreciated by someone who has more than a little experience with the genre and while that is the case here really, I do go back at how I set forth this review and I’m thinking that, largely based on the excellent musicianship, newer fans might have a chance with this one. The concepts and the SOUND are very Reggae-centric, but this one just feels so nice that it can cross into new minds as well, in my opinion. As I said, when you do good stuff, whatever it is, people will pay attention. When they pay attention to this album from The Uprising Roots Band, what they’ll find is not only top notch modern Roots Reggae from beginning to end, they’ll also have an album which is likely to garner serious considerations come December as one of the best Reggae albums of 2011. Excellent.

Rated: 4.65/5
Tru Musik Productions/DP&B Entertainment/Zojak Worldwide
CD + Digitial
The Uprising Roots Band @ Myspace
The Uprising Roots Band @ Facebook

1 comment:

  1. I have this album and it has gotten me through many of down days. Well done Uprising Roots Band!!