Thursday, March 24, 2011

Modern Classics Vol. XXVI: "Real Rebels Can't Die" by Nereus Joseph

"Real Rebels Can't Die" by Nereus Joseph [Sirius Records - 2009]

Simplicity definitely does have its place. Just a couple of years back now, in the midst of clear and obvious winners from the likes of Sizzla Kalonji, Tarrus Riley, Queen Ifrica, Lutan Fyah, Buju Banton, Jah Cure, Ras Attitude, Pressure Busspipe, Lloyd Brown, Gramps Morgan, Anthony B. and others, there was an album from an unexpected source which didn’t have the gleam or the buzz surrounded it that the efforts from those very popular artists generated - But it was better than all of them in my opinion. The St. Lucian born Nereus Joseph isn’t one who has sought out the spotlight very much in his career (at least not any more than his chosen profession inherently offers) and he didn’t seem to do that here, yet he managed to, VERY straightforwardly, serve up one of the most FULL and FULFILLING, heavy Roots Reggae albums of the past twenty years or so. And when you look into his history - Thirty years spent on the UK scene, not being the most active of names, but well being one of the most SOLID and dependable to push quality vibes - Perhaps his arrival on a project like this wasn’t to be so unexpected after all and perhaps it was his peers who released albums amongst his and not the other way around. On this album he didn’t do anything which was ‘groundbreaking’ and he certainly didn’t go about revolutionizing a genre or anything like such and the album would, ultimately, fit into the category of ‘less is more’. What Joseph did do, however, was to, maybe forever, place his name on the radars of people like you and me with a project which, although it went largely underappreciated, is truly a classic. ”Real Rebels Can’t Die”.

The Music

1. ‘Real Rebels Can’t Die’

The title track for ”Real Rebels Can’t Die” is one which has intrigued me from ever since I first heard it. On one hand, the vibes here are somewhat strange with a heavy old school R&B type of sound with the saxophone and everything and it’s the type of thing people like me throw around the word “soulful” in reference to (slowly discovering that I hate that word) - But if you actually listen to what is being said, it’s CLEARLY a very Afro-centric and Reggae-centric type of song with Joseph calling upon the works of the likes of Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey and His Imperial Majesty as THE role models to be followed. That’s no R&B song I know, none at all.

Best Lyrics: “Moses was a rebel who lead the children out of Pharaoh’s land. Bob Marley used the music, yes, to elevate our minds. Marcus Garvey, he is the elder who prophesized the coming of the King - Jah Rastafari”

2. ‘Fundamental Principles of Life’

The title of this STUNNING tune pretty much sums it up excellently. The song finds Nereus Joseph speaking amongst the ideas of living which should just be NORMAL to most people, but are some which seem to have a hard time being followed and adhered to (I.e. of the ‘live and let live’ variety). Wrapped up in here somewhere, also, is the idea of bringing people together which almost seems to be a kind of ‘side-effect’ to what will happen if people just begin to live upright (and mind their own damn business) (I added that last part).

Best Lyrics: “Some would say I’m an extremist in my views. Living in this universe, it’s love I choose. So live as one and let love flow in harmony. Try to tell them, but they don’t overstand”

3. ‘Make A Stand’

To my ears (and maybe only mind) ‘Make A Stand’ does a very fine job of following the tune which precedes it because what it does, lyrically, is to begin to take the concepts of ‘Fundamental Principles of Life’ and put them into action. This very powerful tune (one of my personal favourites, particularly these days) brings many of these things together and then takes them to “the streets” and into the faces of the oppressors, wherever they may hide.

Best Lyrics: “Will you stand for justice? Will you stand for human rights? If your heart is willing, like a soldier, join the fight”

Dennis Alcapone

4. ‘No Peace’ featuring Dennis Alcapone

Joseph taps old school Dancehall DJ on the antiviolence track, ‘No Peace’ and listening back, while I’m not too surprised at how well it worked, I think that it worked better that I even gave it credit to previously. On one of the simpler selections on an album not short on very straight forward numbers, the two make a pair which, again, although not surprising at this point, is just so well done. Alcapone’s mere presence also gives the tune a nice bit of a classic ‘feel’ on its on and you’re left with the feeling that, had this one arrived thirty or even forty years before it did, they’d still be singing this one in the streets.

Best Lyrics: Nereus Joseph - “We need a unity so love could last eternally. So everyone could live in peace and love and harmony. Cause every family deserve a chance to see the children growing not war and poverty”

5. ‘Send Them A Message'

What really stands out to me on ‘Send Them A Message’ is definitely the lyrics of the song. The acoustic-highlighted riddim works on a very minimal level (meaning that it almost is just kind of there to direct attention towards the words). Joseph paints a somewhat sad picture, but he brightens it up, unsurprisingly, by adding Jah to the equation - There’s a point near the middle of the tune where he begins to sing about His Majesty and the song just kind of EXPLODES right behind him and you can well see him pushing the song with big lyrics and emotion well intact (always a damaging pair).

Best Lyrics: “There must be something wrong when, in their hearts, no love is found. They try to fake it. Soldiers all around trying to stop this spiritual war, they just can’t control it. No. Trying to test my patience, keeping me under surveillance right here. Jah He is my guide, always by my side, so I will have no fear”

6. ‘Kultural Herb’

Nereus Joseph essentially reaches the levels of people such as Luciano and Ras Batch on ‘Kultural Herb’ - As artists who sing ganja song with a nearly overwhelming sense of commitment of emotion to it. This definitely isn’t your standard and ‘obligatory’ herb song by itself, it’s much much more. It’s kind of a rub-a-dub type of song also as the riddim here (a remake) is downright syrupy and I can well see dance floors packed (with very little space in between people) when it drops.

Best Lyrics: “Well youth man - No follow Johnny example. No. Mek babylon turn you inna sample. With dignity and principle, RASTAFARI IS MY ROLE MODEL”

7. ‘Africa For Africans’

This tune begins a WONDERFUL two tune stretch (actually it continues what turns out to be a WONDERFUL 16 tune stretch, to be completely honest) and it does so by giving honour to the most Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and one of his famous quotes, ‘Africa For Africans’. I won’t dwell on this too much in the synopsis (at least I don’t think that I will), but I think this song is THE one which kind of crystallizes what I feel is the prevailing message here because it just kind plops topics such as PRIDE and STRENGTH and REPATRIATION right in the listeners lap and forces you to deal with them if you hadn’t caught on to what was going on with the previous six selections.

Best Lyrics: “Oh mothers of the Gambia, mothers in Kenya too - Bringing forth the youths of the future, may Jah smile on you”

Jah Mirikle

8. 'Rastafari Lives' featuring Jah Mirikle

Although 'Rastafari Lives' isn’t my absolute favourite tune ”Real Rebels” has to offer anymore, listening to it for the first time in quite some time I definitely got a small rush and taste of what I originally (and still do) heard in it. ‘Rastafari Lives’ is a total St. Lucia mash up as it features Joseph alongside the up and coming Jah Mirikle (who, at last check, was working with Curtis Lynch, Jr. and the boys and girls at Necessary Mayhem these days, to my knowledge) on a SWEET praising track. While Mirikle hasn’t gone onto the MASSIVE successes I would have hoped that he would by this point, he was WICKED on this tune, making a dominant duo with Joseph in the name of His Imperial Majesty.

Best Lyrics: “No matta what dem play, no matta who dem pay, nah put me trust inna dem system anyway. So when dem ah betray, di innocent dis way, Jah people still living up, dem nah go go astray”

9. ‘One Love Tonite’

Once again - On ‘One Love Tonite’ is a song about a rather serious and Reggae-normative topic which manages to display itself in a very sweet and slow-dance type of package. The tune is actually about unity and bringing people together and sharing things . . . But it isn’t the kind of song one would, ostensibly, imagine it to be. It doesn’t sound like that. What it is, however, is this cool and sleekly placed together piece of Roots Reggae and just a BEAUTIFUL experience of a song on the album.

Best Lyrics: “ . . . more more love, don’t you fight. Cause it’s Jah love that I’ve got in my heart, tonight”

10. ‘Grounded’

Things shift back closer to the ‘Reggae-center’ on what has become my favourite song on the whole of the ”Real Rebels Can’t Die” album, ‘Grounded’. This tune, along with another that I’ll tell you about at #15 are the two which have stayed with me over the past two years or so, so much. In the case of this one because, very much like ‘Africa For Africans’, it just SCREAMS out pride and being proud for what you are and doing so in the name of His Imperial Majesty. But I think that it also speaks to those who may walk a different path in life, but are on the same road - Showing this GLORIOUS huge picture which is not to be missed.

Best Lyrics: “I’m grounded, as a Rasta youth, can’t be fooled by the constant doubt in babylon. Seek knowledge and know the truth. Don’t believe what you hear about the Rastaman”

11. ‘Shield & Armour’ featuring Benjamin Zephaniah

The sublime ‘Shield & Armour’ links Joseph with veteran Dub Poet, Benjamin Zephaniah on another of the album’s main attractions. This song is another which definitely makes its greatest contributions by being a very simply vibed tune and one which absolutely delights the senses in the process. What I take it from it a little while on, besides the sonic appeal, is how Joseph and Zephaniah kind of cast this wide reaching ‘umbrella’ of sorts which isn’t only Rastafari, but is the whole of Afrika and placing them together (the concepts and the artistes) makes for one MIGHTY piece of song.

Best Lyrics: Benjamin Zephaniah - “Blessed too be the singers and players of instrument who chant down colonialists and slave driver. Blessed are the conscious who nah deal wid slackness, knowing Jah is wi shield and wi armour”

12. ‘Meet You In Zion’

The lovely old school vibes of ‘Meet You In Zion’ very much follow those established on ‘Africa For Africans’ and ‘One Love Tonite’. Listen to this song and tell me what you’d think of it as an instrumental. What you’re likely to hear (you - Heavy Reggae fan) is a love song. But this song is, basically, a social commentary. Where sonic appeal meets powerful message - There you’ll find a great Roots Reggae song (and you’ll probably find a copy of this album as well).

Best Lyrics: “Meet you in Zion, we can all be there. Sharing Jah love without no fear”

13. ‘Inner City Youths’

Here we have another tune which is primarily an antiviolence track, but one which is specifically geared towards the youths. ‘Inner City Youths’ is a HEAVY track and from the first time I heard the album, I designated it as one of my favourites (and it still is) and it is so with room to spare. The tune well demonstrates something which I’m sure to speak on in closing - Nereus Joseph (or whoever writes is song) is one dynamic lyricists.

Best Lyrics: “Inner city blues has got dem head confused because nothing that is good make the headline news”

14. ‘Warn Them’ featuring Selah Collins & Afrikan Simba

The UK based Selah Collins and Afrikan Simba help to add flames to the mid-tempo sizzler that is ‘Warn Them’. The tune takes much more of a forward and aggressive approach than most of the others on the album and with the various voices, that is to be expected and I think it’s a pretty nice addition from a lyrical standpoint. As the tune goes along the vibes catch up with their vocalists as Selah, Simba and Joseph pay a word to babylon that its end soon come.

Best Lyrics: Nereus Joseph - “That’s why we haffi bun them, for Jah truth, they can’t deny. Let us run dem in dem jacket and dem tie. Satan sen dem, but we see all the tricks they try”

15. ‘Ancient Monarchy’

LOVE IT! As I alluded to, ‘Ancient Monarchy’ and ‘Grounded’ have become the class of ”Real Rebels” to my ears. This is another one which just tugs at the nerves just a bit (TEARS!) and while I do admit that it’s probably quite funny when Joseph drops in it on “through King Solomon, you’ll see the light” and I LOSE IT (!), but for me this song reaches on that level and while I may be the only one - It is SO strong and gives a MAMMOTH praise to Afrika and His Majesty.

Best Lyrics: “. . . but our hearts and minds, they cannot win. Coming out of Ethiopia, HAIL THE BLACK KING”

16. ‘Make A Plan’

'Make A Plan' live

And finally (this one didn’t take too long to write at all) (for some reason I remember it taking me like days and days to do these things) there’s ‘Make A Plan’, one of the most FULL sounding Roots pieces on the album sends us out with another BIG and mighty tune. In retrospect, this one was a very fitting way to end things, because it’s another straight forward and simple MASTERPIECE of a song. It’s a story, it’s an inspirational piece and it’s just a real winner in every way and one of the best songs on the album.

Best Lyrics: “Make your plans for tomorrow, got to have something to show. No time to waste, inna dis yah place, you reap just what you sew”


Okay, while I usually wrap up ‘Modern Classic’ features by summing up what I think the album is really trying to say - It’s main sentiments/messages - I thought that I’d take this one in a bit of a different direction.

Still, just to fulfill what I usually do: I think it is quite clear that the main focus of Nereus Joseph with ”Real Rebels Can’t Die” is to attempt to form some type of pride and dignity and self-esteem amongst people of Afrikan descent. I look at tunes such as the title track and ‘Africa For Africans’, in particular, I think that it’s really evident in those cases. I also look at how, as I mentioned, he places these certain figures, Marley, Garvey and Selassie, along with others, and uses them as role models. On the opener, Joseph almost seems to be saying that these are individuals who have set the standard for greatness - Their reward? Immortality - You can do that too! You won’t find more prideful and proud Afrikans than these people and look what is has gotten them. And for me that’s a very powerful statement and when you look at other tunes which speak of unity (a very consistent and active topic on the album), to my opinion that’s something which something which places a more current face on this idea. ‘Fundamental Principles of Life’ is very powerful in that regard because you see these concepts which are very old and you can still apply them today - And that’s definitely something you’d want to have in a role model.

As I said, however, I didn’t want to spend too much time on that (I could continue writing for that for a few days without ANY problem). What I do want to conclude things here with is SIMPLY by saying why I enjoy this album to the degree that I do, because while I do pick albums here which people don’t hold in as high regard as do I (and that’s no problem, everyone (THANKFULLY) has different tastes, even if they’re similar) I rarely pick an album such as this one which was widely accepted and applauded, but not as much as I have and particularly not, as I mentioned, in a year which was absolutely LOADED with powerful releases from big named artists.

For me ”Real Rebels Can’t Die” was such a powerful release for many reasons, but the greatest of them all was simply its INTELLIGENCE. This is, arguably, one of the ‘smartest’ albums I’ve ever heard and I wouldn’t be too surprised if Nereus Joseph, himself, was a gentleman who literally oozed intelligence and maturity - I’d actually be surprised if he wasn’t such a person. The way it set itself up was just so straight forward and so ‘powerfully presumptuous’ (and I mean that in a good way) that it struck me on a very high level. What I mean is that - Nereus Joseph (and rightly so, in my opinion) seems to assume his audience to already have attained a certain level of intelligence and maturity before the first track even drops in and when you take that outside of a live performance (I.e. a performer assuming the audience will react when he/she instructs them to do something or to even assume that they will be familiar with the tunes presented) I think it’s a great thing! The artist here CHALLENGES the listener -- ‘I challenge you to know that these are the fundamental principles of life’ --

“Let’s make a plan, even though we come from -
A different land
Respect your brothers -
Although we have a different culture”

In that specific instance there, the song kind of seems to offer a ’refreshers course’ of sorts before moving on to more immediate and future concerns going forward. It’s not like he’s saying it to you for the first time - He expects you to have already known that and the fact that it isn’t more constantly and consistently shown in the world is clearly distressing to Joseph. If you take that same line of thinking into a more ’colourful’ turn, you arrive at the slightly more exigent ’One Love Tonite’. The song is actually veiled as a love song or a slow dance song, but it just uses that sound and those vibes to throw in, as a said, a very “Reggae-normative topic”. The appeal here, obviously, is to just listen to the tune and appreciate its very high sonic appeal and in doing so it is ‘relegated’ to being juts a love song or another dance song, as I said, but when you listen to what is being said, this tune goes to entirely new level and does so seamlessly. It comes through with no tricks, no smoke and mirrors, and no gimmicks and Joseph clearly assumes you’ll catch on (and you should).

'Ancient Monarchy'

And finally I’d like to mention the type of general praising song that the singer does throughout the album. They’re all, for the most part, very straight forward also, but to my opinion they’re done so with a direct reason. If we look at, in particular, ‘Ancient Monarchy’ and ‘Grounded’, what you hear in those songs is education - It’s Nereus Joseph teaching the listener - Nothing more nothing less. By saying that it kind of goes against what I’ve been saying - How can I presume you know something and then teach it to you??? But watch this! The presumption in this case is the assumption of the presence of PASSION in the listener. This is a much greater type of passion than that which would lead you to pick up an album or to just grab a digital song - This is the type of passion which, when present, makes these seemingly straight forward tunes GREAT! They’re both EXCEPTIONAL songs and when passion to learn about these subjects from Joseph is present - They become even better. And, to contrast, you’ll listen to ‘Rastafari Lives’ which is less of a taught subject of a song and there is no presumption of passion because the way that tune is vibed it has no problem creating passion of its own.

”Real Rebels Can’t Die” was also very polished and well carried out and crafted, but all of those things go without saying in my opinion because of the class of the artiste. What took it to the next rank and made it truly great in my opinion was that it challenged the listener to step up his/her proverbial ‘game’. You can’t listen to this album and be able to appreciate it in the same way that you can most others (even most others of the same type). So as I said, while it wasn’t ‘groundbreaking’ or anything like such, what the album was very strong - one of the strongest from anyone in quite some time and a bona fide Modern Reggae Classic!

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