Friday, April 13, 2012

'iLike': A Review of "iSpaniard" by Bunji Garlin

Show me! While I'm certainly not someone who is a fan of every genre of music, I would like to think that there is something from everyone of them that I'd be able to appreciate, when they're done at their absolute respective bests. I would assume that this would apply even in the most remote instances of something that you'd literally never catch me listening to. An example of that would definitely be Classical Music (a genre desperately in need of a new name). I have a really difficult time differentiating between 'Opera' and 'Classical', and even determining if such a distinguishing is appropriate, and I'm also currently wondering if I can actually mention the Three Tenors in here somewhere (I just did) - I'm pretty much completely ignorant to the craft and a quick search reveals that its only practitioner with whom I am surely familiar has been deceased for nearly two hundred and sixty two years. Still, you just can't deny how spectacular and dramatic some of that music can be when you hear it and nor can you deny that its vocalists, whoever the hell they may be, have some of the greatest voices the world has ever seen from anyone. More glaring still is something which will always be on my radars to a degree, French Hip-Hop. It makes me nauseous, it makes my stomach hurt, but again, in certain instances (called Ol' Kainry), I can manage sometimes. So if I can sit through stuff like that, which basically puts my immediate health into question, imagine just how powerful something may be for me if I actually liked it even when it isn't exceptional to its genre. With that being said, there're very few performers in anything (not even just music) who, when they are at their best, their art form, is at its best as well. They may not be as consistent as some of their peers (biggup Sizzla), but when they really tune in, the quality of their output ceases to be a matter of opinion and it becomes undeniable that they are truly amongst the best of what they do. I could mention to you several names in Reggae where things are so very cluttered, but I think that, in any genre or subgenre that we deal with, the clearest and obviousest [- not really a word] is definitely Trini Ragga Soca ace Bunji Garlin who, within the scope of the music that he does, is far and away its master. 

from "The Black Spaniard" to "iSpaniard"

Garlin specializes in what is, usually, a grimier and rougher brand of Soca music which is Ragga Soca, the most agitated offspring of a torrid love affair of Soca and Dancehall. With well established and, in some case, star names such as Skinny Fabulous, Problem Child, the techno-talented Ms. Alysha and others bolstering the style, Garlin isn't without company, but you won't find anyone (including the names I just mentioned), who don't look upon him as its definer and because of that, for the time being and for the foreseeable future as well, it is his to do with what he will. One of the most attractive features of Ragga Soca is that, like Dancehall, it lends itself to be more lyrically oriented than Soca's frenetic 'jump & wave' and it just so happens that lyrics are Bunji Garlin's calling card. Tear down the confines of something like genres and he currently reigns as one of the most scathingly talented engineers of the spoken word which is THE highlight of his music when at its best. 

Thankfully, looking back, while he did take a pass on Soca Monarch, Bunji Garlin didn't take the season off altogether in 2012 and, instead, he probably had one of his better and most consistent years, full on, over the past few. So fittingly, he's FINALLY chosen to followup with an album, his first in four years, "iSpaniard". Previously, Garlin was reported to have an album on deck by the name of "I Am" which has yet to arrive and we've had to wait a few extra years for it to arrive from his last release, 2008's "Fiery" (I should add that Garlin had gone seven or eight years consecutively with an album release up until that point), its proven to be worth the wait. "iSpaniard" comes in with a bit of a mind to the future and an almost science fiction type of display and, most succinctly, it finds the artiste having, at long last, joined some of Soca's other biggest names in its presence on the digital medium. Over the last year or so we have seen the likes of Machel Montano, Destra Garcia, Shurwayne Winchester, Nadia Batson and other Trini lights availing most of  their respective catalogues (and in some cases, ALL) through the digital medium and although it took him long enough and a little longer, Bunji Garlin has also now jumped on board and thankfully he hasn't abandoned the CD either. This is a very big deal and hopefully he [and all of Soca] continues to further his very technologically advanced music through the digital side and, eventually, makes his entire library of albums (and this is NINTH by my count) (which is probably wrong, it's probably his twentieth), some of which are very difficult to find (particularly, "The Chronicles", which I do actually own) (WHAT!) readily and instantly available to people in . . . China. What our friends in Beijing missed out on this year from Bunji Garlin, as I said, was one of his finest in recent memory. What really struck me, and I'll elabourate on this in just a second, was how VERSATILE his material was. Garlin is someone who, largely through his longevity and familiarity, has very much assumed an identity. He's a fire breathing, rapid fire and brimstone type of vocalist capable of rhyming on just about any topic of his choosing at the speed of light. In 2012 he was that again, but he was also a bit more and its on a full and most vibrant display throughout the single best Soca album I've heard in 2012 thus far, "iSpaniard". Let's play!

'Tun Up'

Within the seventeen tracks you're going to find on this album, you'll find such a wide variety of music that it almost seems as if Bunji Garlin did it by design to take on so many different sounds for this year. Theoretically, for someone like me who likes Soca as wild as it can possibly be, it doesn't make for a good album, but I was well pleased after making my way through this one. I'm confident you will be as well after taking "iSpaniard" for a spin and you'll start off with one of the real highlights of this album and one of the real highlights from anyone this year, the completely captivating 'Tun Up'. Within the seventeen tracks you're going to find on this album, you'll find such a wide variety of music that it almost seems as if Bunji Garlin did it by design to take on so many different sounds for this year. The one semi-consistent sound is, as I alluded to, an electric/futuristic one and even within that vibe, there is a great variance from song to song. Theoretically, for someone like me who likes his Soca as wild as it can possibly be (and that's one of Garlin's specialties), it doesn't make for a good album on paper, but I was well pleased after making my way through this one. I'm confident you will be as well after taking "iSpaniard" for a spin and you'll start off with one of the real highlights of this album and one of the real highlights from anyone this year, the thoroughly captivating 'Tun Up'. BOOM! This tune is just so cool, yet very involved that it goes beyond just being that kind of hype party song and becomes something that you really have to pay attention to because, as in all of Garlin's music, you're likely to miss something big if you aren't.

“Straight forward, I, stuck inna gear
Everybody have dem drinks popping up here
Most expensive, least popular beer
Ask if mi waah some, mi tell dem mi nah care
All that mi waah si is hands up in di air
All mi waah si is dem rags up and appear
Straight from di front, to di back, down to di rear
Everybody put di rags up cause wi no care
I dun tell dem dat I pay de cost
2012 dem caah throw mi off course!”

Next in, things get crazy on a tune that I've been of very mixed emotions on from the very first time that I heard it, 'Irregular'. On hand, the tune is yet another dazzling display of words from the linguistic volcano that is Bunji Garlin, but on the other . . . Hopefully "swag" season is dead, because I just can't take it anymore (someone please! Please make another fucking daggering song to distract me!). We go even harder on the next tune which, basically, is my favourite tune on "iSpaniard", although I'm going to reserve that distinction for another tune based on awkward sentimentality. 'Born Ready' is MAD! The Studio 758 helmed track is pretty skeletal at times in a sense, but even the riddim playing by itself with just 'dabs' from Garlin is BRUTAL! And that's all before he jumps in fully committed to a track which was one of the best from anyone in 2012.

'Born Ready'

As I said, you're going to get a lot of electric intensity from "iSpaniard" and while such songs, typically, aren't my favourite, some of  them work here. None are more 'fully functional' than the pair which kick it off, 'Cosmic Shift' and 'So And So'. The former took a bit of growing on me before I really began to enjoy it (surely I was thrown off by the title and then the opening sound which makes you think a full disco, circa 1987 is about to break out), but you have to focus on what is being said there. The same could be said for the latter, but that tune is SO powerful that you can enjoy it in more than a few different ways. MAD! Later, Garlin still wants his rum in the morning (or whenever else he can get his hands on it) and we get 'Alcohol', which isn't a favourite of mine here, but I find myself liking it just slightly more and more on each and every spin through. You'll also check 'Going On The Road' which features Garlin alongside the boys from 3Suns and up and comer Sir Skarz. The vibes on this are a definite changeup - it's a song which is both kind of boosted up, but laid back at the same time (incidentally, a trait very typified by 3Suns when together (they've all gone solo now and are credited here as individuals, Ace, Menace and Crym) and at their best). It's also kind of messy, which is a good thing this time. Revelation joins Garlin on the solid 'Roll It', which has kind of a free and active Poppish feel to it. It is a very accessible song. And wrapping up the album is another highlight as oft Bunji Garlin sparring partner, Beenie Man and Trevor Off-Key chime in on the pounding 'Carnival Is Our Life' ["could be a slimmy or a fatty, wi nah waste nothing. Wi nah go run from gal cause wi dun press di brave button"]. The song brings the intensity of the highest degree . . . And then Trevor, as his name would suggest brings it back ooooold school right in the middle of the song for a large piece of complicated brilliance of a tune.

The balance of the album gives up some complete gems in some cases and a whole heap of others definitely worthy of several listens. To my opinion, the best of them all is 'GIFT of Soca'. The song is actually kind of Jazzy, but what I like so much about it (and 'Cosmic Shift' also) is just how it represents how well Garlin has always been someone who stands up for the art form. From I Wayne losing his mind and calling Soca "devilish", through 'Fiery' and everything, you definitely have to respect someone who, regardless of who is actually doing it, stands up for the music itself and consider this tune a living and breathing badge of honour for that! The very next tune 'Mash Up [The Saga]' builds on that line of thinking and ramps up the force several notches also. Somewhere in Grenada Mr. Killa is playing the hell out of this tune and he's not the only one. The song takes Soca music and directs it not only to people like You and I, but to some of Garlin's fellow musicians as well.

“To all the young ones coming in this game
Don’t be unprepared and make ya ownself shamed
Everybody want to get dem tips and fame
You cannot rise to de top by mashing down man name

Some of you have tune on radio, getting thousand wheel
Look how good the nation, and the people feel
When ya tune leave radio and it live on stage show 
Yah better mash up dat stage fi real!

Mash up de party, let dem rag kick like karate
I doh care if you over forty!” 

The tune also has going for it another one piece of crazy chaos from 758 (somewhere in there is a pan which is just push it even higher). And speaking of "even higher" -  the very existence of 'iRagga' and it's presence on this album makes me look pretty fucking smart in my opinion (even though I most certainly am not).

“Pon mi first intro
Pon mi very first song
When de verse weh mi write, pon di very first one
People waan hail mi like I was de first man to di Ragga Soca -
But I’m not de first one
[‘Ragga Soca, you is not de first one?’]
Tell me how de hell mi was de first one!
How much artist it have just touch de version?
[‘Tell me how much artiste just touch de version’]
Amount of Ragga Soca artist dat it have full 25 bus for de excursion 
Wid a line from here dat meets de Persian 
So my youth I’m not de first one
The problem dem have is de explosion didn’t include dem
It’s an exclusion -
Of people who can’t tolerate fusion
And thinking that this thing is confusion” 


'Shawty' w/Ricardo Drue

Kerwin Du Bois, who features on every single Soca album from this year, didn't forget to stop Bunji Garlin's studio and the two team up for the excellent 'Runaway' (which sounds so much like David Rudder's 'Oil & Music' tune to my ears) which is kind of an exotic vibes but picks up so nicely. Singer Ricardo Drue guests on 'Shawty' which isn't necessarily a favourite of mine, although the riddim is very impressive, but my Wife likes it (and did the very first time she heard it), so that should tell you something. Also check the spiritual vibe 'Bless U', which is quite nice as is the Calypso-ish 'Go Hard', which is actually a remake of a very old Calypso track, which finds Garlin, again, picking up something forgotten, dusting it off and giving it back to the masses again on the Precision Productions (who does a bit of work here) track. And lastly, the Reggae remade old school ode to the ass, 'Bam Bam', is another really cool selection on "iSpaniard" and one which steps up the versatility again. Really nice song.

“We all know the front is superior
But the perfect wining exterior -
Is the part dat attached to de back -
We all like to call de posterior
Trinidad, Jamaica or Syria 
Once de bumpers meet di criteria 
Man will order bumpers inna dance like dem in cafeteria!” 

Bunji Garlin

Overall, like I said, it's a very good album . . . But I think it's a little better than I gave it credit for being initially.  Soca is always a little different than Reggae or Zouk and especially now because coming off of listening to pretty much nothing but Soca music for a couple of months, it's pretty easy to find things that you LOVE and that you cannot even stand - It's very polarizing music - but taking it out of that set and that moment, really good songs get better and you're able to appreciate CONSISTENCY more and more. That's the prevailing quality on a full display throughout "iSpaniard", an album which while I don't think I'm prepared to call it the best of Bunji Garlin, isn't far from it either. And as I said in the premise of this review - I think there is so much here for people who enjoy an assortment of different styles  and not because it's an album SO aimed at being a 'crossover' project, but because for what it is, it’s very strong: An excellent Ragga Soca album. Well done and now hopefully someone can give us "iSilverSurfer" or something like that. 

Rated: 4.5/5
Ian Alvarez Productions
CD + Digital
{Get everything you need in Soca at}

Review #350

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