Friday, May 6, 2011

'Funky Comfort': A Review of "What About Love" by Sara Lugo

Do you ever just get that feeling? After you pry your collective minds from the gutters in which they certainly now reside, the feeling that I'm referring to arrives when you find yourself in the presence of someone or something which, for one reason or another, just seems to 'click' with you. Be it the strange way people talk after going on a first date with someone they think they really like, seeing a movie or buying a new car, when you get THAT feeling, you know good things are on the way. Of course, this also applies to music (thankfully, otherwise this may all not make sense) (and it still might not anyway) and when you can actually HEAR those vibes, it's just something so special about that, that it's almost indescribable - but surely I'm going to try anyway. When it happens to me, YOU, my wonderful readers, are going to hear about it and hear about it to no end, because I make it a personal task of myself to make aware any and every one who may stop here and skim through anything that this artist, this album, this producer, this riddim, this WHATEVER at that time, is doing damage for me! For example, coincidentally it was an album released in March of last year by the name of "Long Journey" which would have me singing its praises for the remaining nine and a half months of the year, before ultimately declaring it The Best Reggae Album of 2010. And while many didn’t receive that album in the same way I did or on the same level, for me, it was spectacular. The prevailing vibe of that project was so strong that every time you really began to tune into it, and this is still the case, it offered the listener something new in the way of a message or some other little wonderful aspect which you didn’t focus on previously. One of the most interesting developments to occur along that journey was a certain 'stop' made along the way which introduced us to a seriously and most curiously talented new acquaintance of its director, The Great Naptali, by the name of Sara Lugo. If you are even a casual observer of mine and you didn’t know who Sara Lugo was a year ago, then you undoubtedly do now because, essentially, I've been speaking highly of her and her music for a year. But, if all of that went completely over your head, the young singer has just made a move which will ensure that I’ll have company on that, and in a major way, in 2011.

Sara Lugo EP 2009

So what’s the big deal about Sara Lugo? There are many. First of all, the German based songstress (who is half Puerto Rican) specializes in a very unique brand of Reggae which is just nice and serene and laid-back that you almost picture her singing her songs in a hammock. And I'll dive into this more in just a bit, but despite the fact that she rarely seems 'agitated' in making her music, she has a near master's level ability to convey EMOTION without stretching herself to any degree (and that’s a fairly recent point that I've come to appreciate in her talents - It's somewhat reminiscent (although on a COMPLETELY different level) of what Natural Black is able to do when at his best - expressing a wide array of feelings without changing his style or pacing very much). The result is a musical style which is absolute audio candy and that’s even before you get into what she’s saying and the messages in her music. Lugo's music gives me "that feeling". It is absolutely beautiful as she almost seems to combine elements of Jazz (more on that in a bit) and all the 'aesthetical' brilliance which I appreciate in something like Zouk music and place them into the confines of Reggae. And I'm not the only one who believes so as she has become one of the more actively recording European artists that I follow over the course of the past eight months or so, working with some of the biggest European labels (including Pow Pow) and I’ve yet to hear a tune from her which I haven’t enjoyed and enjoyed on a large scale (any day now with the Gentleman combination Sara Lugo).

Meet Sara Lugo

So, apparently I wasn’t the only one dazzled by her unique abilities and that leads us to the point where . . . I mean . . . what about an album??? "What About Love" becomes one of the most anticipated sets in the brief history of this blog and probably one of the most significant debuts from a European Reggae artist in quite some time. The album is helmed by Sara Lugo’s ‘main’ producer and someone who, as I’ve come to find out recently, is very well respected, Umberto Echo (who, incidentally, released his own album last year, a Dub set, by the name of "Dub The World" which remarkably features Dubbed out efforts from the likes of the aforementioned Gentleman and Naptali, as well as Steel Pulse, Buju Banton, Jr. Gong, Sly & Robbie and others) (so check that out, it’s not too hard to find). Also attaching their names to this project are Soulfire Artists and the same Oneness Records who released the previously mentioned "Long Journey" album. It should also be mentioned that in 2009 Sara Lugo (with Echo and Oneness Records) gave a bit of a test-run with the release of a self titled EP which they didn’t wipe out and is still available and is fairly crucial because it contained (kind of) two tracks (one of which, 'Mother & Child' is unlikely to be found anywhere else to my knowledge) which are not on the full album. So, with all the intangibles having been managed and my fascination (and hopefully, yours also) having been well flamed, the only remaining question of value is whether or not Sara Lugo can continue to deliver on her full and formal introduction to the world. It doesn't prove to be a great uncertainty, however, as it becomes immediately apparent that she is more than prepared to do just that.

Last year we met an artist by the name of Toussaint who introduced the world to his 'Soul Roots' which was this sort of wonderfully constructed, but organic, amalgam of Reggae and more traditional Soul music and while, ostensibly, Sara Lugo does the same thing with Jazz, her style, at least to me, is even a bit more different (shockingly!) (sarcasm). With the exception of one song on the album, her music is very much Reggae-centric - She is a Reggae-Jazz singer and that's so even when she's singing something outside of the traditional scope of the music, because her main and NATURAL style is one which is clearly bathed, rinsed and repeated in Reggae music. So, while you may listen to the album superficially and take from it the sense of it being a project with 'mainstream' aspirations and it may very well be, even when it does go in that direction, it doesn’t go too far. I don’t think she could FULLY step outside of Reggae music even if she tried (although if someone wanted to send her . . . Oh I don’t know the Leggo Meh Riddim, for example, or some random Jab Jab set, just to see what might happen, I'd be more than willing to listen). So the initial and surface concern that most of Sara Lugo's fans, who’re likely to be Reggae fans, won’t be able to appreciate to fully appreciate the album, in my opinion, is unfounded.

"What About Love" - Album Snippet

Something which clearly does have a definitive anchor is 'What Happened' the first song from Sara Lugo's LOVELY new album, "What About Love" (an album which deliciously contains EIGHT (and a half) songs which I‘ve never heard before). In essence, this is the title track for the album and it features the singer outlining what I feel is the prevailing message for her music on this album.

“What happened to the people?
And what, happened to the love?
Everyday we’re growing colder
And we just can’t - Just can’t get enough”

The song is a social commentary with spiritual overtones and the Jazzy piece is probably one of the best written tunes that I’ve ever heard her do. It’s also one of the best tunes on the album, altogether, and an excellent start. Next we have a tune which is, arguably, even stronger, the GORGEOUS 'Maybe'. The riddim on this track is absolutely stunning (and hopefully someone slaps a name on it and passes it around, if they haven't already) and someone was smart enough to just let it play as an instrumental for the final forty-five seconds or so of the tune. For her part, Sara Lugo seems to tap out her voice to its most beautiful fullest with some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard her do and she also does so with somewhat of an 'interactive' background as someone, probably Jahcoustix (another impressive young German artist to keep an eye on), chips in from behind the scenes on a tune which I wouldn’t be too quick to categorize as simply a ’love song’ because, at least in my overactive brain, it has a greater reach than just that. My choice of the album’s second best tune altogether is in next in the form of a song I had been anticipating spinning from the first time I saw the album’s tracklist, the INTELLIGENT 'Soul Chaos'. Where do I start? Okay, what I take away from the message of this big tune (another very Jazzy offering) is that she’s attempting to convey a sense of personal conflict and confusion and basically losing one’s place in the world and becoming stagnant. Now, when you go back to what I mentioned before - Her ability to push EMOTION in her music - Although the tune isn’t differently sang than many others on the album, it does have more of a discernible edge to it in my opinion. Still, the tune pinnacles at a lyrical point:

“Infatuation rules the nation
In the blink of an eye, you’re in the sky
Like Lucy with her diamonds, so many times
Searching for your soul-purpose and asking the why’s”

Surely Sara Lugo must've realized the power of the brilliant double-meaning of the spoken "soul-purpose" (as it's written in the album’s liner notes) when she wrote it. It can be taken as "soul-purpose" in the place of the more terrestrial 'sole-purpose' which takes us in a slightly different direction. You'll forgive me if I‘m the only one thinking in such detail, but I love this song (and I’m a nerd).

'They Know Not Love' featuring Lutan Fyah

Of the remaining five (and a half) songs on "What About Love" which are new to me, my eyes were most focused on the album’s first of two official combinations, 'They Know Not Love' which just so happens to feature the lyrical wizard that is Lutan Fyah. The Fyah also joined Naptali (more on him in a second) on his album so while his presence on this project wasn’t a total shock, it was a DAMN good occurrence as two of my own personal favourites link up to create a big tune. Like the opener, the tune builds on the concept present in the album’s title (and is at least similar, conceptually and lyrically to the MASSIVE 'Bombs of Love' tune, Lugo's cut of Pow Pow's recent Everlasting Riddim). Another pretty good and unsurprising piece as that these two make a very fine duo and the tune is an actual combination, apparently it was recorded with the two together and the two obviously vibed well to the tune of making one of the finest songs you’ll here hear.

“Tell me what’s the real reason -
For the looting, and the shooting and the killing
Everyday, mi see peer blood spilling
Hey, tell me what are they fighting for
Innocent dying everyday in the streets
Youths caught in the crime while the guilty walk free
Dis yah betta know: Dem no care bout you nor me
To be poor is a crime
What a penalty”
-Lutan Fyah from 'They Know Not Love'

The tune which precedes 'They Know Not Love' on the album, 'Nothing To Worry', is just all around impressive. Sonically speaking, it is exceptional and when you mix into the vibes that the tune is about as infectious of a praising tune to the almighty that you'll hear recently, you have a real winner there and maybe a future single as well. HUGE tune. Later on we get the funky 'One Of These Days' which is another social commentary in somewhat of a gloomy vibes. Here we also hear Lugo rapping on the second verse and she manages quite well. This is a song for which I’ll tell you to spend a bit more time on to really take in. It’s kind of complex, but in the midst of it is a very nice track. The same cannot be said, however, for the album’s final effort, the DELIGHTFULLY SAD 'If Tears'. Apparently the song is a tribute to Sara Lugo's Grandfather who has transitioned and if you take the exact same song, riddim and melody and all, and just plug in new lyrics about pretty much anything - It's a completely different tune and we're speaking of it in different terms. I’m someone who, respectfully, has always made it a point to celebrate someone in their deaths and although I'm generally in the small and ever-shrinking minority, perhaps Lugo, at least partially, applies to the same train of thought because this is no sad song, an emotional one, but not just SAD and wherever Sara Lugo's Grandfather is, I'm sure he loves this song and is playing it right now. And finally (not really) is the tune I alluded to which is the one to actually fall outside of the arena of Reggae music, 'Locked Away'. It’s a traditional R&B song and while I may not list it amongst my top favourites on "What About Love", it’s not bad at all and it’s very catchy (so catchy, in fact, that I‘m SERIOUSLY considering going back in time, five seconds ago and actually calling it one of my favourites). Even this song should be able to be appreciated by Reggae heads as, like I said, even it isn’t such a far leap in term of being outside of the genre, nor is it a big musical leap for the singer in terms of stretching her own style, at all (still listening and liking it even more).

'Rock Steady'

While you could probably come up with a pretty fat EP full of songs that Lugo and Echo didn't choose to include on "What About Love", they did sprinkle in three (and a half) very familiar tunes, one of which is my choice as the best she’s ever done. Most interesting, however, might be (the "half") 'Familiar Stranger' which appears in an acoustic version on the album. The tune originally appeared on Oneness’ still increasingly lovely Soul Riddim (and Sara Lugo's EP) and while it sounds different here, it may even pick up a bit of steam with a beautiful new coat of paint on this set. There’s also 'And They Cry', the combination with Naptali. I’ve reviewed this tune at least twice, so I'll keep it brief here - The song is excellent, these two above any other pair I’ve ever heard Lugo (or Naptali, for that matter) apart of, just meld together so nicely with their equally laid back approaches. There’s also the foot-tapping and head-rocking 'Rock Steady' which is about as close to a 'dance song' as you’ll hear on the album (should you want to hear such a tune which is more uptempo, check 'Wine Now' alongside another Achis Reggae favourite, Cali P) and is kind of a veiled love song. If you’ve never heard it, you’ll probably be too busy enjoying it to focus on what’s actually being said, but you can come back, it's not going anywhere. And finally (I mean it this time) is my absolute favourite tune on the album and my favourite song from Sara Lugo's entire catalog, the DOMINANT 'Part Of My Life'. The song comes through over the Design Riddim from some label that I forget the name of but am looking up now . . . Greenyard Records from out of France. This one combines everything she does well and builds on it, making it an all around GEM of a song. Perhaps it also manages to sum up things even better than I can as, presumably, this album is about to make her quite a few new fans and she fittingly says now, having conquered your affections:

“You’re a part of my life
I’m a part of yours
We are Brother and Sister
That’s sure, that’s sure, that’s sure”

The song is just about bringing people together and doing so in more of a personal way, but it also has very broad connotations as well which clearly makes it even more relatable to people such as you and I. And it's a beautiful thing - Seriously, if you don't like this song, LEAVE. Leave and never come back. Ever.

I also feel inclined to mention just how nice it is and how Sara Lugo's career, in a sense, is a testament to the power of this wonderful music. As I've said in the past (I think), she certainly isn't someone at whom you'd look as being a singer of any type and much less a Reggae singer. It just doesn’t make very much sense on the surface, but the fact that this music, in particular, sought her out and brought her to the likes of you and I is just so profound and such a wonderful piece of evidence to the power of music in general, but Reggae music specifically and I really hope both she and her album do very well (and they both shall).

Sara Lugo

Overall, yeah, I knew a year that I’d like this album and to no small degree either - It's outstandingly done. As I said, I think Sara Lugo's talents are more Reggae-specific, but clearly this is one which is going to touch more ears than those attached to the heads of Reggae fans and because of that, I would well recommend this to someone as their very first Reggae album. Again, Lugo's music seems very natural to her and nothing she does, regardless of its musical direction, appears to be forced in any kind of way, which is rare for an album having 'mainstream' hopes. At its core "What About Love" is a delightful and poignant trip through the mind of an artist who I knew had the ability to bring such a project and even more. Here is the ground floor of someone who could literally be dazzling fans for decades. So, to the rest of you: Meet Sara Lugo. Oh . . . And I told you so! Excellent.

Rated: 4.50/5
Soulfire Artists/Oneness Records
CD + Digital

Sara Lugo

{Note: Check out her cool site which is linked above and over there >}
{Note 2: Apparently the iTunes version of the album has a remixed version of 'Maybe' on it as well}


  1. Thank you for this review. I'm glad to have found out about this girl. Being from Hawai'i to see people from round the would have a love for reggae is awesome.


  2. I'm having trouble finding a button to follow you...I'd like to follow you but I can't seem to do it.

  3. Give thanks for the kind words Camie, I did some rearranging and I think I lost it! People still follow though, we're up to 39 now. I'll see if I can get it back yeah.

    Thanks again.