Friday, June 3, 2011

'Keeping It Going': A Review of "New Horizon" by Ras Zacharri

It’s not unusual at all and, in fact, it’s actually quite a large part of ‘the game’ - Having an artist attempting to continue to carry hype following a big and breakout effort. However, usually “effort” is referring to a big tune or maybe a big couple of tunes in certain instances, but these days it’s fairly rare to run into occasions when we have someone trying to follow up a big album when they weren’t previously extremely well known - even if it is their debut. Of course, You and I deal with albums so situations like these, although pretty rare, are of great interest to us. Looking back and trying to come up with a comparison (because that’s what I do) is difficult in this instance and ultimately I’m drawn back to an album from an artist who we spoke about not too long ago, Takana Zion. In 2009 the Afrikan chanter would attempt to chase his wonderfully received 2007 initial set, ”Zion Prophet”, with his sophomore project, ”Rappel Á L’Ordre”. Prior to the first album, I don’t think that I’m too out of line in saying that Takana Zion’s wasn’t a very well known name in Reggae circles, big and small, but all of that changed, and to a great degree following its release and he’s subsequently gone on to become, arguably, one of the most talked about Reggae performers the continent has EVER produced. As I said in the review of his latest album (”Rasta Government“, check it out), Zion benefited a great deal from the media covering his album who spread it so nicely that he had simply become hard to ignore in many respects. I’m also drawn to a few other cases such as that of Pressure Busspipe’s which is entirely more difficult to look at because he was someone who had already become a favourite of mine and many others and was already to be regarded as one of the VI’s biggest young lights prior to reaching the highest level the music has to offer in the company of Don Corleon and ‘Love & Affection’, with the album named after it. Still, in looking for a very fitting comparison piece to what is coolly and currently going to be happening with the solid Ras Zacharri remains somewhat difficult. Following an album which didn’t exactly ‘take over the world’ or ‘change the game’ or ‘take it to another level’, or some other bullshit like such, but definitely did create a big stir in Reggae music, Zacharri has returned to see if he can continue and build upon the foundation of deserved hype and once again recharge his audience while seeking a “New Horizon”.

I have a bit of an ‘up & down’ type of a relationship with the term and concept of a ‘Reggae underground’, given how our music is viewed where most mainstream fan might consider anyone outside of . . . Sean Paul, Shaggy . . . To be underground, but in retrospect, if I am to apply such a ridiculous term (and I am), I think that I can faithfully say that Ras Zacharri’s fine introductory album, ”Herbs Man” from 2009, was an underground smash (that nasty, nasty cliché literally HURT to type). Again, while it didn’t rise to the highest levels in terms of the music, in general, it did place the chanter in a very unusual category of having an album which would receive such a strong amount of critical praise and did so for an artist who was largely an unknown. If you think about it, such circumstances don’t occur very often as I said, but when they do, as in the two examples I offered, they’re ‘generally’ for an artist who isn’t Jamaican - and Ras Zacharri is.

"Herbs Man" - 2009

Also interesting in Zacharri’s case is that he is, reportedly, the nephew of controversial Reggae superstar, Buju Banton, and while this was known, in some respect (that he was of some relation to Buju), it wasn’t a fact on which ”Herbs Man” was largely presented to the masses and I can’t even say that the media covered it that well either. Instead, it seems as if that album became such a big success based on the MUSIC (!) and was subsequently a predominately fan-promoted win for Zacharri (especially in Europe apparently) and it was that way almost immediately, making his an even more unusual situation. The album, from my perspective, was also very good and although I may not hold it in as high esteem these days as I once did, it doesn’t take a very journey through the piece to realize that it remains top notch Roots Reggae from 2009. So, in those respects and in a few others, ”New Horizon” definitely has big shoes to fill and what will be even more interesting to see is just if this one, too, gains a similar foothold with fans and goes on to do similar things which will make Zacharri, potentially (and how weird does this sound?), an artist who holds a standing of being actually able to push albums on the strength of his music and the people who enjoy it kind of promote it for him! Listening through the album, I don’t think the quality of the material here will be any problem as he once again manages to deliver a very straight forward modern Roots Reggae set, but as I said when initially listening to Zacharri’s music - there’s just something a bit different about him and ‘straight forward’ in his case may not mean the very same thing as it does in the cases of many of his musical peers. There’s just a very hard to described (even with my downright dominant vocabulary) framing, and maybe pacing, to his vibes which really helps to give his music a high degree of individuality. When looking outward to a broader audience who may often look at Roots Reggae as a template-based genre of music, I think that it is very refreshing to hear a vocalist on some random track and while he, ostensibly, does absolutely nothing which would make you think he’s going out of his way to ‘change things up’, he does just that with his natural style (more on that later). Ras Zacharri’s latest release proves to be just as interesting as his first.

Just like the first project, this album comes via Shem Ha Boreh Records which is a label which, as far as I know, is best known for their work with this artist. Also, if I’ve read the press release correctly (which is entirely unlikely, although they do appear in at least one of his videos) (and apparently we might be hearing from them again soon when the new album from Elijah Prophet reaches!) then a great deal of the material here was actually produced by Achis Reggae favourite, The Uprising Roots Band, which is absolutely outstanding and would also be indicative that the music here is top notch throughout - and it is. Also, I should mention that between these two releases, the chanter hasn’t exactly been dormant and has released at least semi-steady stream of singles over the course of the past couple of years. Ras Zacharri is keeping steady with his new 12-tracked release, the impressive ”New Horizon” and looking to keep the fan receptions and reactions very high. The first tune on the album, ‘Jah Inna Mi Heart’, should help with that in a major way as it EASILY stands as one of the album’s finest moments (maybe even the second best tune on the project).

“Even when mi hungry pon di way side
Rastafari protect wi from slide
Moses get di power and a sea him divide
Pharaoh si di flex and haffi run and go hide
Wid di wicked man mi neva tek no side
No homicide, mi seh no suicide
Wicked man si wi and dem haffi walk wide
Cuz a Jah ah guide!”

The song, like the vast majority of the good songs on the album has a very nice and free-flowing sound to it and that riddim is just CRISP which all goes to form one excellent sounding opener. The next tune up, ‘Just A Rastaman’, is similar in terms of being very loose sounding and a very free style of vibes and, to no surprise, it’s also one of the better tunes on the album. Here, what I really enjoy, from a lyrical point of view is how ‘personally broad’ (if that makes any sense, any at all) Zacharri takes it. What he says are things which exemplify the upstanding ways of Rastafari and HIS children in the world and the type of aura which is brought along, but he does so in a way which isn’t going to SPECIFICALLY talk about himself and only himself, instead he acts as a representative of the wide reaching culture and it’s a very interesting track if you really tune it in. ‘Praises’ is a tune which goes against the grain a bit because it’s far more rigid than most of the class of this album, but it clearly resides amongst them. This track is a praising tune (DUH!) and one which is just HEAVY over this big and fitting, majestic sounding composition, espousing on the strengths and virtues of His Imperial Majesty. All in all, a very big start to this one.

'Righteous Ones' featuring Earl Sixteen

Looking back on the ”Herbs Man” album, one may not remember (and by one, I mean “me”, of course, before taking a look back for the sake of this review), that it featured Ras Zacharri alongside some OUTSTANDING talents. Appearing on that album were the likes of Luciano, Gregory Isaacs and even Natty King, yet while the names on ”New Horizon” aren’t going to rival those in terms of popularity, once again he manages to bring in some truly quality lights with which to record on this album as well. The biggest of them all certainly (and coincidentally) is Earl Sixteen (new Earl Sixteen album, ”The Fittest“, in stores now), who delivers an expectedly big effort on ‘Righteous Ones’. I just LOVE the vibes around this tune, even sans the vocals and I think that it would’ve made an excellent instrumental to include as well. As for the vocals, however, of course Sixteen sounds amazing as he almost always does, and he makes a very strong pairing with Zacharri. This tune is more oriented towards the youths as it says, essentially, that it’s full time for them to come and be the leaders of the future and live righteous and POWERFUL and EMPOWERING lives. It’s not the type of big and flaring tune either, but the messages comes through just as easily. Big tune! Next is underrated veteran vocalist Mark Tenn who may even have a finer tune than Sixteen’s, with the social commentary that is ‘The System’. Tenn is quality and while I don’t know a great deal of him, occasionally he steps forth with big output and this is his biggest in quite some time to my memory as he serves up one of the most compelling choruses on the album.

“The system needs to change
The people can’t cope these days
No money, no financial gain”

The piece also has more of a dynamic vibes to it which makes it very catchy and maybe a potential single as well. Speaking of singles and hits, ”New Horizon” pinnacles with a previous hit single, the MASSIVE ‘Pagan Eyes’ which is its final combination track - This one featuring devastating Gwada chanter, Tiwony (new Tiwony album, ”Cité Soleil“). Even apart from appearing on this album, this song has been growing on me a lot as of late because I’ve been well spinning it, having previously appeared on Tiwony’s 2009 album, ”Viv La Vi” (although it was curiously absent from ”Herbs Man”). The tune is just a mighty piece of modern Roots Reggae which crosses cultures, crosses languages and links together two big voices at or near the absolute heights of their respective powers. My only complaint about this one, actually, is that its been two years now and they’ve both released new albums . . . I mean . . . sequel?

'Pagans Eyes' w/Tiwony

When I saw the title of ‘Herbs & Spices’, I well figured that it was the album’s obligatory herbalist tune and it somewhat is, but it’s a pretty odd song actually (but in a good way), because it’s also a social commentary to some degree and it’s an inspirational tune as well - all at the same time. Also, the [presumed] concept of the title is one which seems to come and go throughout, making it lyrically incredibly wide-reaching piece and one which someone like me is certainly ENJOYING the ride through comprehending. After that is another pretty good tune and one which is familiar in one aspect. ‘Free Up Time’ actually appears on the same heavy Rootdown produced riddim which backs ‘Big Money Bag’ from Achis Reggae favourite, Smiley. This song is one which calls for the immediate changing of the guard (the ‘free up time’) and although it isn’t the most lyrically striking track here, it does have its moments.

“You oppress for so much years
And all dem si is just blood, sweat and suffering
Dutty wata, settle in di guttering
Instead of school, all you build up penitentiaries
So you control how many centuries?
Making war pon both side of the fences
Physically, mentally controlling
In pursuit for vanity

Free up time
Dis a free up time
Got us inna bondage for a very long time
Free up time
Diss free up time
Repatriation is a must”

Also do check the BIG ‘No Bad Mind’ which comes in much later down the line, but just as the first album ended in a couple of instrumental tracks, ”New Horizon” does as well as the vocal of this tune is followed by a dubbed out version of its sterling riddim (both of which are highlights on the album).

'No Bad Mind' & dub

Lastly are the two tracks on the album which I didn’t really enjoy too much, the title track and the love song, ‘Can’t Get Enough’. The title track is the acoustic tune here and for me it would have actually been so much better as a tune completely sans instrumentation. The backing here is basically unnecessary (and I think we should have more a cappella tunes on albums instead of the compulsory acoustic piece). ‘Can’t Get Enough’ also seems to be more of a tune filling the need of a love song instead of one which is actually compelling. The chorus is . . . (damn I hate to say this) pretty bad and it just doesn’t create a lasting impression (and I know I’m an old and jaded man, but I did play for a couple of women who did have a similar reaction as I did). Those two tunes, however, certainly aren’t enough to drag down an otherwise nearly stellar piece.

I alluded to this earlier briefly and I though that I’d come back to it. In terms of comparison, I think drawing one (or several) from Ras Zacharri to formidable Guyanese chanter, Natural Black, isn’t without sufficient grounds. The two may not sound very much alike (although they sometimes they may), but they both have styles which are ever so slightly and coyly different from most of their peers after you dig beneath the superficial levels.

Overall, I’m not blown away by this album and you can argue whether or not it tops the first album, but to me, when I go back to the premise of this review, I think that ”New Horizon“ is a very APPROPRIATE follow-up. Like I said, ”Herbs Man” wasn’t an album which caught fire through the media, but through the fans largely and because of its musical value and this one isn’t a great deviation from that. It’s incredibly solid throughout, there’re a few twists and turns and it sounds very good on a sonic level (which may have a great deal to do with the fact that whoever sent it to us (I believe it was the fine people at Shem Ha Boreh) sent us such a fine quality - 12 tunes at 454mb). So, what I’m thinking and hoping is that the album will reach a similar fan base and have an even greater subsequent success. If that should happen that we may have to stop considering someone like Ras Zacharri in this odd categories and begin to consider him in far more lofty ones - Such as one of the future biggest names on the scene.

Rated: 3.75/5
Shem Ha Boreh Records
CD + Digital

Ras Zacharri @ Myspace
Ras Zacharri @ Facebook

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