Sunday, April 22, 2012

'With Friends': A review of "Meditation" by The Nazarenes

The concept of unity and uniting are ones which are very often explored in Roots Reggae music and always have been, for the most part. Be it in the completely broad sense of 'bringing the people together' or uniting for some specific purpose or another, it's definitely become one of the foundational topics of discussion for the genre, no matter where it's gone. Now, with that being said, one of the most interesting aspects of unity in Reggae music, in the functioning sense, is just how the actual music, itself, tends to form quite unusual and unexpected bonds - giving us, as fans, not only great music and potentially great music, but also providing music makers with such a wonderful opportunity to musically trade ideas, cross cultures and cross talents - making the massive Reggae listening world much, much smaller. This is a type of unity which isn't spoken about, generally, in song, but it's also a type of coming together and for the purpose of the actual music and we've seen stellar results over the years. A very, very fitting example would be one from just last year when well respected Guinean born chanter, Takana Zion, reached Jamaican soil to vibe his most recent set, the very well received "Rasta Government" album. For that project, Zion would also collaborate with the legendary Capleton and, that would become a very large tune, 'Glory', and just an excellently conceived situation and he wasn't the first one either. Also in the not too distant past several other African born artists such as Tiken Jah Fakoly, Lyricson, Black Dillinger (biggup Black Dillinger) and who knows who else have done similar things and achieved big results over the process. So on the surface what we have here, in the form of the most itinerant brothers, the Nazarenes (born Noah & Medhane Tewolde). The duo was born in raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (during the direct reign of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I) into a family of Eritrean roots (I've suddenly become really interested in geography and can now name all fifty-four African countries in about three minutes) (just thought you'd like to know that). They have, however, honed their musical skill via traveling throughout the world, particularly Europe - currently living in Sweden, I believe -, and now the Nazarenes are performing their own LARGE piece of unification with their brand new album, "Meditation"

 Just a few years back, the brothers made an appearance on one of the finest Roots Reggae compilations you'll ever hear, "Joyful Noise", which brought together artists from all over the Caribbean and all over the world (obviously) for a project which would subsequently prove to be MAMMOTH. At the helm of it all was I Grade Records, the dominant label in Virgin Islands Reggae music and apparently Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred and company were so impressed with the Nazarenes that they decided to do a full length album to go with that first tune, 'Everlasting'. This is interesting alone, as over the past couple of years, if you want to talk about bringing people together, no one has done it better in Reggae music than I Grade. Last year they released "Kings Bell", which featured the finest of the Virgin Islands, Vaughn Benjamin/Midnite, working alongside the venerable Andrew Campbell in Jamaica. And back in 2010, they did the same with otherworldly gifted Virgin Island grown, Dominica born singing chanter, NiyoRah for "Feel Your Presence", and that same year the label also released "Black Gold", the solo album for US born 'Soul Roots' singer, Toussaint. So for them, it's pretty much 'business as usual', but this project does mark the very first occasion that I Grade has worked on a full-scale album release with an African act.

'Food' & 'On My Way' digital single EP [in stores now]
No time like the present. "Meditation" becomes the fourth album from the Nazarenes, following their 2001 debut, "Orit", "Songs of Life" from three years on and, most recently "Rock Firm" from 2008. I can remember first hearing of them and noticing just how well regarded they were. Certainly not too many people had actually heard of the Nazarenes, but it seemed as if many of their fans were almost instantly fervently passionate followers. For me, their music fit into something which was, quite honestly, just beyond me at the time, As I've gotten older (I was nineteen or twenty when they released their first album) my ability to appreciate more MATURE music has gone up (now, I'm just old) and my tastes have definitely changed because, listening back, I really missed out on some very big material with their best work to my opinion (at least for another week or so), is definitely "Songs of Life" which may even be worthy of 'modern classic' consideration. So for me, even on a very basic level, this album, although I wasn't expecting it before last year or waiting for it at all, was really a big deal because it prompted me to go back and now really have a vault in three albums of music to catch up on. Leave it to I Grade Records (along with the Zion I Kings) to do that, unifying me as well, and presenting the Nazarenes to the masses in 2012. Like I said, the group inherently makes a very mature and WISE form of Roots Reggae which may not be as flashy and immediately attention grabbing on the superficial level in terms of glowing melodies and things like that. But for the listener who takes his/her time and is patient and 'meditates' on what they're hearing, YOU are going to love what you hear on this one. The Nazarenes' style meshes so perfectly with the label's creations that it almost sounds like they grew up on them and by its end, "Meditation" reveals itself to be a HEARTY piece of Roots Reggae unity. How exactly does it do this? Press play. 


One thing that stands out immediately when I got into this album is just how AMAZING it sounds. I'm not talking about the quality of what I hear, but really just in terms of HOW it sounds - it's going to be one of the best sonically 'gifted' albums that I've heard in a very long time (probably the single best from Chezidek's goldmine, "Judgement Time"). That's even a bit more unusual considering that some of the music here is already familiar, but I don't remember it sounding this clear and . . . Beautiful. That's definitely something which will take a good song and make it even better and when you pick up "Meditation",  the brand new album from The Nazarenes, you're going to get fourteen songs which are, at least, 'good' and made just a little better by virtue of being crystal clear. The first example you get is on the album's title track which gets us going on the album named after it. This tune is pretty much precisely what you'd expect it to be: It's a chant and a prayer giving thanks for the new day, asking for guidance and really outlining what is to come. The two things that standout on this one are, again, the fact that it sounds absolutely stunning and that's in spite of not being able to completely follow because part of the chanting is done in Ge'ez (biggup well written press releases!), an ancient Ethiopian language. There's a great deal going on musically here as well and just the intro for the album rather quickly becomes a favourite! Next we have another big tune in 'Food' which, with another by the name of 'On My Way', was actually featured on a digital EP release which reached back in late February (a nice and exceedingly often event in Reggae music). The song, as part of its charm I suppose, is very blunt in the way it's written because it's a message aimed at world leaders for the most part and what it so basically says is to not be distracted by so many different other things and to GIVE PEOPLE FOOD! That simple! It does go deeper than that, and "food" can really be taken as a variety of different things, but the prevailing sentiment is to stop creating this to hurt people and to help them. BOOM. As for the heavy 'On My Way', which comes in a bit later on "Meditation", that song has so many different things going on. From the really aggressive vocals (tapping into some Junior Kelly at times) to the really LARGE and urgent vibes of the tune, you really feel like something important is going on and although it really took me awhile to really grasp it, because it's somewhat broadly written, it is a beautiful song as well. 

“Now I can see
Now I can feel
I see crystal clear
Open up the gates of Zion!
Open up the gates of Zion!”

The first half of the album also features a couple of tunes which are sure to get your attention, 'It's Too Late' and 'The Lord Said'. The songs are the two combinations on "Meditation" and, not surprisingly, I Grade has managed to pull in two very large talents to work with the Nazarenes. On 'It's Too Late' the brothers team up with Spanish Town's lyrical wizard and an always favourite of ours, Lutan Fyah, who is his typically impressive self on his bits (and pieces). 

“Mi seh the hustling caan cease
No time to kick back, relax and get you mind at ease
Hey deh in this judgment time, mi know di meek shall be relieved
Di wicked ahgo stumble under Rastaman feet
Selassie I sit up in di mercy seat
Some destruction when dem check seh dat a safety and peace
Di beast!
Mi sight dem all no stop screech and eat
Yah wealth caah save you -
Signature nor receipt” 

For the biblical 'The Lord Said' ("my covenant is with thee"), which may be even better, things come full circle as the most ubiquitous Vaughn Benjamin from Midnite (had an album in January and it's April already! Anytime now Mr. Benjamin) makes his presence known in his signature style. The song is another one in which so many different things are going on and while I won't call it "chaotic" necessarily, with the different vibes mixed in, it certainly sets a stage for the characteristically unorthodox genius of Benjamin and it's easily one of the best moments on this album. Filling out the first half of the project are another couple of highlights including my single favourite song on "Meditation". First is 'Mother' which is borderline brilliant at time. The title word is one used in reference to the African continent and the way it's done is like an acknowledgement of/apology for wrongdoings of the world towards Her. The lyrics of the song can also be taken in the more terrestrial sense - meaning, She who gave birth to me - and I thought was such a nice thing to do because you can really here just how interchangeable they both are at times. And you may call me distracted for this, but the best song that I heard during this project is the related 'Mamy Blues'. If you can get through this one without singing "nobody knows what I did today . . . ", then you're a much better listener than I am (biggup Toussaint). Just as on 'Mother', this song also is one which is observing the many injustices done to Mama. In this case, however, where "Mother" was Africa, "Mamy" is actually the entire planet. 

“This is specially dedicated to our Mother Earth
Our universe -
Which is constantly abused by Her own children” 

The piece is a bit more skeletal, on the surface, than some of the other songs here, but what it really has well is a great deal of emotion which, for me at least, really takes it further than any of them. Oh and did I mention that I've fallen madly in love with that riddim and were it not for the fact that I'm already married to the most wonderful thing to ever walk this planet - I'd probably propose to it - and I'm not even joking ("Only me! Me and The Most High").


The concluding half of "Meditation" continues to build on the mighty foundation laid by the former. The tune which leaps off the paper, looking at the tracklist, is definitely 'Everlasting', the tune from the aforementioned big "Joyful Noise" set. It had been awhile from the last time I'd heard this tune and having another opportunity to enjoy it (and you know I had a great time going back through that entire album for 'research' for this one or whatever you want to call it) a little while on, it's still an excellent track. The riddim, the Flying High, is still as glowing as its ever been and the Nazarenes used it to show that despite the comings and goings of all of these things thought to be great, the only one who is eternal and everlasting is His Majesty and His work. 'Get Together' is another tune very likely to generate a big interest and it also fits nicely into the premise of this review. This is the changeup for the album, it's almost Poppish and I'm certain I recognize the melody from somewhere. The message is one of coming together and uniting people regardless of walks of life, religion, race or any other thing people look at as being differences between us. The Nazarenes a clever step forward in the typical way you hear songs like this going when they go into just how wonderful the day would be when we've taken these differences and made them celebrated commonalities amongst us. And speaking of "clever", you have to check out the almost overly simplistic tune, 'Alive'. Basically this song is about enjoying the experience of life and everything that comes with it and, like I said, it just doesn't get more up-front than that. 

“Every step that I took has its meaning
And every move that I move has its purpose
What is there for me is there for me
And what is not for me then its not meant to be

Here I am!
Here I am!
Here I am!

'Destiny' is a song I also really enjoyed even if took me about ten listens or so (and it did) to totally grasp full on. The sound is a complicated one, but if you take your time with it, it develops into probably one of the more lively pieces on "Meditation". What I REALLY like in this instance is how the song very much is a statement of a conclusion. The ultimate ending on the album is a good one, but for me this song does such a good job of directing the course of most of the music you’ll hear on the album to a common point or a common destiny. The dubbified 'Politrickcians', while not amongst my favourites here (although it is growing), is a decent piece and it benefits to a degree from the excellent acoustics present throughout the album that I mentioned. It sounds so nice that it's going to catch your ear and you'll probably like it as well (ask me about it again in a month or so). I do really enjoy 'Lonesome Lady' and it's kind of old school set. Although it's kind of a drearily vibes, I take this one more as an empowerment for women who might find themselves in terrible situations. It says to take responsibility for your part in your situation and to really aspire to change your own personal scenery as much as possible. And lastly is a tune which came down from glory (what!) the excellent 'Love JAH'. As I said, I think that 'Destiny' does really place a perfect bow on the package that is "Meditation", but that isn't to say that the closer is lacking in anyway - it's probably better than 'Destiny'. It's very straight forward as the title would indicate and maybe the MOOD of the song is what helps it also as does the sound because it is exquisite! 

The Nazarenes
Overall, while the condition is obvious, should you fall into the category of individuals most likely to appreciate this album, I can't see very well how you wouldn't. "Meditation", and the music of the Nazarenes in general (and music of I Grade Records, for that matter), is best appreciated by the more mature fan of Roots Reggae music. Not saying that a newer/younger fan won't get ANYTHING out of it, because the sound is so great, but I think that the more experienced fan is the one for this album. YOU, if you are such a listener, will get a lot here and, just like I did, presumably be able to enjoy that ultra crystal clear sound. On every album and every project when you have a producer[s] and an artist[s], you'll have a kind of a meeting of the minds and what comes from that is the magic (or the garbage in some instances), but it's an even more interesting arrangement when you bring together people from such different paths and experiences. That's what "Meditation" is - A genuine and well done product of tangible unity in Reggae music. 

Rated: 4.45/5
I Grade Records/Zojak Worldwide
CD + Digital

Review #352


  1. totally thoughtful, detailed, and coherent review and apprecilove from Bro. Achis- as reggae lovers have come to expect.

    fabulous cover art by the illustrious Ras Terms

  2. Thanks for the nice words and thanks for reading Fadda Rootz