Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Time & Timely': A Review of "Paris Is Burning" by Derajah & The Donkey Jaw Bone

Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I'm pretty damn upset that we didn’t get our annual dosage of veteran UK singer Lloyd Brown this year. Typically, somewhere in the middle portion of November is a reserved block of time for 'Mr. Brown' to bring forth his latest creation, but this time around we'll have to wait until February and, like I said, I'm not very happy about that. Following a pretty good stretch of releases which included pieces from the likes of J-Boog and Warrior King, things have just slowed down to a large degree, making for one of the least memorable final quarters of any year in recent memory in terms of Reggae albums with just a handful of standouts and a Lloyd Brown album would have looked damn excellent leading into the madness of January. But, before we say goodbye to 2011 completely, there're a couple of nice pieces to have a look at and today we look at one which is probably going to be a 'sleeper' of sorts for the entire year altogether.

We can always make room for STRONG Roots music, no matter how it registers and while, looking back, 2011 hasn't exactly been the fittest example of it, we have definitely had a nice collection of big and uplifting album releases this year. Arguably THE best album of the year, Etana's still top ranking "Free Expressions", was such a project, as were several other tall pieces from the likes of The Uprising Roots Band, Luciano, Danny I, most recently Midnite of course and several others. Within that type of a group are tiers and variations of the genre and when you look at Etana and Luciano, for example, you're REALLY dealing with an ultra-refined type of vibes. It sounds like something which was planted in the grown years and years ago and was only displayed when matured by nature. Though I love it so much, obviously - this isn't that type of stuff. What we find ourselves having a listen to today is a GRIMY and rough around the edges brand of modern Roots Reggae music, far closer to someone like Ambush than to Luciano or even Danny I. Theoretically speaking, such an album could possibly capture the attention of someone like You and I and push a mighty album as we wrap up 2011.

"Inna De Yard" [specifically the installment with Derajah's work]

And that is precisely what occurs on "Paris Is Burning" the surprisingly already much-celebrated release from veteran Jamaican chanter, Derajah. This album is straight forward DUSTY and MUCKY Roots Reggae. It isn't the type of project people latch onto from seeing it on the schedule and ostensibly actually, it doesn't seem to have much to distinguish itself from . . . Literally hundreds of others projects and dozens from this year alone. HOWEVER, that being said, what it does have going for it is that where it actually matters - musically - a case can be made that this album quickly proves to be one of the better albums of the year. If you are completely unfamiliar with the name, Derajah - He made his biggest progress a few years back on the retrospectively very successful and popular "Inna De Yard" series with Earl 'Chinna' Smith (I've never written a thing about any of those albums, but for something which I haven't mentioned, we've gotten quite a lot of messages about them). And it wasn't as if he was all over the series, to my knowledge he only had a single tune or two, but that was all it took and even back then, Derajah was in the process of generating a nice buzz for himself. A few years on and while he certainly hasn't been the most active of names by any stretch of the word, what he has done is continue to maintain his following which has lead up to the moment of "Paris Is Burning" - and album which I think was much more anticipated than anyone would have imagine - or maybe that's just me. Whatever the case, I've been very happy to see the album not only well covered, but well received as also and it follows, for me, very nice instances like last year's "Genuine" album from Bescenta, as a project which you wouldn't think would receive as much attention as it ultimately did which is very good for the genre. In Derajah's case specifically, clearly it's helped him more than a little that he's made a substantial name for himself in European Reggae circles. This album features the chanter with Donkey Jaw Bone which is a very esteemed and respected band from out of France who he apparently linked with while involved with "Inna De Yard". The meshing here of artist and backing is very interesting because, as you'll notice here at certain points throughout the album, Donkey Jaw Bone is very straight forward and often PRISTINE in their work and, as I tried to establish, Derajah is so coarse as an artist that you almost get the feeling at times that if things just suddenly got a little more crazy, he'd be right at home. That's only in terms of the vibes and the delivery. What becomes crystallized very early on during this flame show is that lyrically speaking is EXACTLY where band and vocalist cross one another's paths, respectively and it is the other small crosses here which give "Paris Is Burning" its sound to me. So, while a superficial spin of the album might not yield an immediately gripping sonic experience, a few listens down the line and what was missing initially becomes very evident. The album comes courtesy of a label that I've NEVER heard of, Chapter Two Records. This is very worth mentioning because the imprint behind "Inna De Yard", Makasound, is no more (they also did work with Takana Zion, who we looked at earlier this year), so perhaps Chapter Two may be someone to keep an eye on for the future. That is, of course, after you manage to pry your attentions from this album which, after COPIOUS amounts of listens sprouts into a very strong release.

Listening to Derajah and trying to draw some type of comparisons vocally, I'd probably say that he reminds quite a bit of well talented Vincy born singer/chanter, Ossie Dellimore. They both have this kind of 'loud' tone to their voices and while Dellimore does go more in the way of actual singing than Derajah, who chants more, they definitely sound similar and both also have a very impressive and free nature to their vibes as well. Derajah comes to free-up a bit of thinking and consciousness in his listeners on his brand new debut album, "Paris Is Burning" which gets up and flaming on the HUGE title track. The tune is a pure social commentary which draws the backdrop of Paris, but is clearly one aimed at the entire world. Most striking here is, as I alluded to, the interesting marriage between vocals and riddim. Derajah attacks it full on, but the riddim - very MOODY and somewhat spectacular - is awfully elusive so what you end up with is almost the two running next to one another initially, but more spins bring them together and do so in a devastating fashion with one of the album's finest tunes. Another big big composition from Donkey Jaw Bone underpins what is my own personal favourite tune on the album, 'Bun Dem To Rass'. Until much later on in the album, this is the best sonic experience to be had in the earlier stages of the album and it even is kind of 'fun' to a degree, but the real star is Derajah's verses which are some of the finest I've ever heard from him.

“Siddung pon mi cornah and bun mi spliff
Di highest grade marijuana a dat mi sip
Di system lick a ghetto youth wid some long fyah stick
Bookam! Bookam!
Then a peer blood start pitch
It wasn’t a pretty sight so mi tek weh mehself
Cuz - A fi mi life and mi ah protect mi health
The people dem seh dem waan justice

“Election time - a peer hits and doubts
Constituency money yes, it spend out
A peer guns and bayonet
Di ground - dem stay in it
Wid blood, any politician it send out
That’s why mi tell di youths dem fi keep di peace
Dem ah deal wid Jamaica lak di Middle East!
Rastafari set I free!
Congo, Bongo seh Tafari set I free!”

MAD! The song is one of powerful imagery and lyrics and it was at this point where I kind of began to link Derajah to another flaming artist, the lyrically dominant Lutan Fyah. It would take more listens to his work to solidify him on that level, but Derajah does draw similarities in that direction. Next up is a familiar track, 'Oh Yeah Yah', which was his tune from the aforementioned "Inna De Yard" project. This version has been re-recorded with a bit added in the way of pace and obviously someone wanted to give it more of an edge than in its original form. I can't quite say that I favour one or the other at this point, but this is clearly another big tune.

Along with 'Oh Yeah Yah', "Paris Is Burning" does manage to offer up a few other familiar moments. The tune 'My Sista' is another. This song originally appeared on the Ruff Times Riddim from a few years back (big riddim, also included pieces from Lutan Fyah, Luciano and Mikey General), but it has also been redone and this time a little slower actually. The tune is clearly a very personal one for Derajah as he speaks, very openly, about the tragic death of his own sister. We definitely love when artist write tunes from the heart and it cannot possibly get more sentimental than on this tune. On that same note, although not familiar to my eyes and ears is a later selection by the name of 'Mario' which, again, speaks on a death of someone in Derajah's life. The song is just BIG!

“Mario, I’m so sorry yow
You are not here for us to play cards and domino
Even though you have passed, you have not been forgotten
In my heart, Derajah still carry you”

Between those two songs, you can see just how much passion Derajah has for not only this album, but his entire musical life. Well done! And getting back on topic, the other tune on the album which I recognized from previously is the WICKED 'Set Di Pace'. You'd know this one from the KNOCKING Godfather Riddim and it doesn't appear as if it has been relicked for the album, but if it has, it's been done so minimally. This one is just infectious and is sure to have heads rocking around the world, while also offering up a very important message.

'Ghetto Youth Falling Out'

"Paris Is Burning" isn't short at all on crucial messages, it's practically built on them and in a very Reggae-centric type of way. It doesn't get more on target and more straight away than on the song which is sure to capture a great deal of attention, being the only combination on the album. 'Run Run' features Derajah alongside the legendary Big Youth. Interesting here is that, reading through his bio, Derajah used to be known as 'Jah Youth' which is also a former name of Big Youth and the two apparently linked quite some time ago. This tune is just a COOL track and while it goes through its motions, eventually it just latches on to the listener. 'Ghetto Youth Falling Out' seems familiar for some reason to my ears and it's another nice song. In this case, we have another song which so excellently exemplifies how nicely you can take these riddims and place it with Derajah's edgy vibes. This track just right in seamlessly and it really is one of my favourites by album's end. Even stronger is a step-up tune, 'Righteousness Just A Flow'. I call it a "step-up" because that's exactly what it discusses. Everyone needs to better and when we do - righteousness just a flow.

“Well wi haffi fifififit
Well mi haffi physical
Fyah mi ah spit spit spit
Well mi seh it natural
Congoman so slick yeah
Moving very surgical
And we don’t have to go to dem hospital
Have wi owna place
Selassie do di medicals
Haffi have di faith
Inclined well spiritual
Nuff a dem ah waste
Dem order fi burial
Dem nyam too much meat, no herbs
Never flex ital”

The composition on this one is CRAZY, it's probably the single best riddim to be found here and just a big song! Another sizable sound is found on 'Work'. The very first time I heard this one I thought that it sounded like something from out Tuff Lion's catalog and that's saying a lot. The song, itself, is pretty simple - Derajah basically just pushes everyone to bite down and do the hard work that's necessary in our lives and to be able to enjoy the rewards for it as well. Both 'I Rastaman' and 'Did You Know' strike in on spiritual notes. The former clearly has some help of sorts and I'm not completely thrilled by the tune, but it's growing on me (that riddim . . . Damn!). The latter, however, mines GOLD. It is a lushly vibed tune giving praises to His Imperial Majesty with Derajah going in a slightly biblical direction, but also going back and echoing sentiments expressed on 'Work' as well. As I always say, I love when a truly talented artist/writer can combine the spiritual with the tangible and that's exactly what happens on this song. And lastly a Roots Reggae album after the year 1995 or so would just be . . . Kind of naked without a ganja tune and the one on this album, 'Herbs Is For The Service of Men' has been been working on me a great deal as of late. I can still confidently say that it isn't amongst my favourites, at least for the moment, but were you to ask me a month on from now - I'd probably have a different opinion!

Derajah & The Donkey Jaw Bone

Overall, I'd like to run with that last thought just a minute. In NO WAY AT ALL, unless you are a great deal more intelligent than I am (and if you have the knowledge of a rock, you probably are), should you listen to this album one time and pass judgment on it, be it good or poor. It just isn't the type of album that can be taken in, in that way. I'm not going to go back and say that it's on the level of "Random Midnite Album" as far as how long it may take to fully 'crack', but there's just so much going on in these thirteen tracks that something will be missed somewhere if you don't give it a great deal of time. Because of that, I'm going to recommend this album, primarily, to more experienced listeners of the genre (although a lot of newer fans will probably buy it, thinking that it's Capleton on the cover). "Paris Is Burning" is an journey of an album conducted by an artist in Derajah who seems to have really found what he does well. Listening to him synch that up with what Donkey Jaw Bone does well makes for a big release and a well needed kick in the ass of late 2011.

Rated: 4.35/5
Chapter 2 Records
CD + Digital

Review #342

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