Wednesday, May 30, 2012

'No Sidekick': A review of "In Gambia" by Sizzla Kalonji

Still excited. As I currently look across the potential platter of Reggae album releases for the final seven months of 2012, I'm very intrigued and extremely optimistic. If it those months can collectively deliver even a half of what the first five did, then 2012 will prove to be the single most interesting year for Reggae albums in a really long time. It's just been that good and it may get even better if some of the big and talented names show up for the next portion. On my radar are people like maybe Agent Sasco, Batch, Saïk, Admiral T, NiyoRah and maybe even Lady Sweety and I'm smiling until my face begins to cramp up because of it (seriously, if Lady Sweety does an album this year . . . Just leave me alone. Don't call me, don't email me, don't have a question, don't do shit!). And you'll add that to a lineup which, as we showed you just a few days back, has been downright supreme - the quality and names of artists who have jumped in with projects for this year. It's all been amazing and hopefully it can continue. In saying that, however, and in standing here (I'm actually sitting down now), I can look through names such as Tarrus Riley, Busy Signal, I-Octane, Konshens, Midnite, The Nazarenes, Toussaint The Liberator and everyone else, but the one who shines brightest, and who always will at least for me (and at least until 2028-ish when my daughter becomes Soca Queen of the Entire World), remains Sizzla Kalonji. I don't care that I was super curious as to what a debut album from I-Octane would FINALLY turn out to be, or that Tarrus Riley just went and turn the vibes on EVERYONE unexpectedly and I don't care that Saïk may just break lyrical speed records with his next project or that I get to go and brush up on my general intelligence for Ras Batch's forthcoming work - it's all somewhat dwarfed by the fact that the guy named Sizzla did two albums in about a month . . . Again. It's like circa 2004 all over again and I couldn't be happier in terms of the situation itself and while I can't envision that this would continue for too much longer so I'm going to go ahead and appreciate it now, but can you imagine if he just started a very Midnite-ish release schedule of packing the early months of year after year with a pair of albums? 


That's exactly what happened in 2011 with the releasing of what turned out to be Sizzla's best album in a few years (and his first in quite in quite awhile at the time), "The Scriptures". THAT album, like several in his vast catalog preceding it, has seemed to pick up even more steam as time has gone along and, perhaps it has something to do with the SPACE surrounding it, but it probably has become one of his more respected releases in the last few years. But the interesting thing here is what happened next when a month or a few weeks later up jumped "Welcome To The Good Life". THAT album, also like several in Kalonji's vast catalog preceding it, was awful. It was really bad. What was very interesting about it, however (along with the fact that it even existed), was that it came via Sizzla's own label, Kalonji Records, with VP Records distributing and that's come around again as we look upon an album, again, on Kalonji Records with VP on board as distributor, which follows a far more celebrated release which preceded it by just weeks. And while things are clearly similar, wonderfully the most significant thing has changed: This album is pretty good.

"In Gambia". The story that you've likely (hopefully) heard many times before is that this album was inspired, concepted and conceived during a trip that Kalonji took to Afrika and amongst his stops in The Motherland was . . . well Gambia. Sizzla, never really being one in need of motivation to make music and also being someone who takes to making albums the same way most of his peers take to making singles decided that he'd make a song about his journey. Oh and then he decided that he'd add eleven more to it, wrap it up, add a shiny picture and sell it to people like you and me and I'm of the impression that the entire thought process probably took him all of forty minutes or so. The project did take a bit of time to reach fruition however as this album had been talked about for years (I think the tour was actually way back in 2008) and we saw the cover and, if I recall correctly, at least a partial tracklist with several months remaining last year. So, with that being said, I still don't think that this would be called one of the more 'planned' albums from Kalonji, insofar as he actually does "plan" any of these things to a great detail, but it has been in discussion for quite some time and I was definitely looking out for it. However, again much like was the case last year, you have a situation with this album being very much the SECOND album in more than just time. The other Sizzla album of 2012 (whose name I promised myself I wouldn't mention in here) was released first and it's become the more scrutinized and observed between the two, but I've seen such a wonderfully diverse group of opinions as to which was favoured. For its part, "In Gambia" was definitely the more varied of the duo, mixing in a few different styles and while I wouldn't call it 'WEIRD', it's more of a fun and less rigid type of approach to making music and that's obvious in the results. It should also be said that the other album which shall continue to remain nameless was inspired by a very similar voyage, so it's yet another piece of background information which is similar between two albums which will be linked together for as long as people care to pay any attention, but have two very different approaches. As for "In Gambia", for all of its uniqueness, it manages to impress virtually all the way through. Let's have a closer look.

Making a visit  
This project was reportedly at least partly recorded in Gambia before being completed in Jamaica and, most notably, DJ Karim from Stainless did a great deal of work on it. DJ Karim's is a name definitely warranting a great deal of respect and his own style, usually, is one very diverse so you can also well see his influence on the record. So! It's customary, at least that's what I've been told, by people of manners to welcome you when you arrive and that's exactly what Sizzla Kalonji does to get started on his latest set, "In Gambia" on the succinctly titled and WELL eclectic 'Welcome To Africa'. This song, for as strange as it most certainly is, is one which is going to grow on you VERY quickly. It's the big and flashy opener, but it's also a very poignant track which is calling ALL of the continent's sons and daughters back home! In next is the lovely 'Blackman Rise', which is a piece really calling for men and women of Afrikan descent to really just STEP UP! It's not much a complicated or expansive type of composition, it's largely straightforward, but in that directedness is a very strong tune. And completing the first few tracks on "In Gambia" is the HUGE sounding 'Woman of Creation'. While I'm not crazy about this one at all, its vibe makes it a definitive standout on the album and I'm pretty sure that I'm in the vast minority in my lack of grand appreciation for it. Still, it definitely isn't a bad song at all. 

For me, the real BOOM on this album comes right at the start of its second half. Much like the opener, 'Make A Visit', is pretty odd, but it's absolutely SATURATED in star quality in its destructive goodness. 

“Now when di plane, touch down
Di place, mash down
People ah, jump round
Music ah, bounce round
Dem start, drive round
Dem start, ride round
Some happy, some excited, some ah cry down
I’ve got di love -
Not just a handful
You see di powers weh di Rastaman ah pull?
If you lost di love mi got di Motherland full
Sizzla Kalonji rock it inna Banjul
Babylon ah get fraid!
Hotta fyah Rastaman ah blaze
People lights on, you fi si di motorcade
Emperor Selassie wi deh praise
Who God bless, mi seh no one curse 
Tell babylon righteousness come first!
Nobody get killed
Nobody get hurt
Rise up Afrika outta dirt - so reverse” 

With not much in terms of structure going for it, the tune delivers what has to be regarded as one of the finest verses this year (which you just read) and does so full on effortlessly describing something  You and I should have been on hand to see. And speaking of something nice to see and speaking of big verses there is this: 

“Everybody wanna know -
Where you get di style
Everybody waah you show  -
Di real profile
Hot like a wah?
Nuttin can spoil
Hail Mother Earth -
The Afrikan Child
Whole a dem amaze -
To how yuh dweet
Got di front page -
Plus dem ah seet
Clothes pon yuh back -
Shoes pon yah feet
Brag and ah boast -
One man yuh keep
One inna million - 
Same so it go
All a di man dem -
Love you so
Natural Mystic -
Same so you flow
You go tell dem dis - 
Nah bow down low
Pretty Black gyal -
Get all di money
Pretty Black gyal - 
Ain’t nuttin funny
Weh you get di blessin? 
Straight from yah Mommy
Money in yah pocket - 
Yeah well sunny”

The song, 'Gambian Girls', is another with a very strange vibes it (sounding like a HEAVY track, but turning out to be one for the girls). Sandwiching that song is another pair of some of the best material to be found "In Gambia" (did you catch that ???), 'Let It Grow' and 'Planet In Peril'. The former is the only combination on the album, this one featuring loooooooong time Kalonji spar, Congo Jesse Jendah. The former residents Xterminator (biggup Xterminator), link on a song with  HEAVY riddim which may have some ostensible Hip-Hop colours mixed in (it does), but you hear that KNOCKING track playing in there and hopefully you'll smile like I did - so big that your lips run into your ears. When all the talk of Sizzla in Afrika reached, wonderfully Jesse was involved in a great deal of it and for someone who has been involved as long as he has without getting what I think is his proper respect, he hasn't lost a step at all and I'm always looking out for big things from him. As for 'Planet In Peril' - MAD!

Tell dem every time seh a love a di solution
World leaders look a new resolution
Industrial companies ah cause di pollution 
Di people doesn’t like it, so wi cause a revolution
Babylon ah wonder what di Rastaman made of 
Just know Selassie I name mi ah praise up 
None of dem can stop di fyah mi ah blaze up
Cause every time you look you si di food price ah raise up
Kill out di boys and they kill out di girls
Destroy Mother Nature and they’re drilling up the Earth
Fighting for di power, through dem waah rule di world
None a dem no great like Selassie I The First
Nuclear warfare, nobody free
Babylon ah dump all a di rubbish inna di sea
Killing vegetation, no cutting down the trees!
Where are di birds and di bees?

Hey, make sure you answer when The Almighty call
Tell you every time babylon haffi go fall
Afrikan people, you gotta stand tall
Why is it di people dem ah suffer inna Somalia
The ozone layer been depleted
The Almighty works not yet completed
People all over di world been mistreated
Tell di people dem turn to God 
Do all the good and don’t do no bad
Everybody don’t love, you’re not happy, you’re always sad
Unite my people, live in love and be glad

Hey, Babylon ah drink blood lak a cannibal 
Nuttin no left, not even an animal
Babylon you caan test di Five Star General 
Selassie lead us perennial” 

This song turns out to be one MASSIVE piece of pissed off BRILLIANT social commentary and a highlight in so many ways for "In Gambia". The really cool 'Where Is the Love' and 'Branded African' wrap up the second half of the album. The first of these takes a bit of work and it still isn't one of my favourites here, but I don't have any problems with it and the latter turns up the flames again over a very curious riddim. This track really just goes to instill and enthuse some pride in the Children of Afrika (it reminds me of 'Shaka Zulu Pickney' by Tarrus Riley), with some really powerful words from Kalonji. 

Also check, 'Feed The Children', which is somewhat similar to 'Woman of Creation', with its large sound, but I do really like this song and I did from the very first spin. There's also another fine social commentary in 'Too Much War', which is a winner to my ears. This selection did require more than a couple of spins to really light up for me, but these days, I hear it as a mighty track and a glowing piece for the album. And lastly is 'Nothing Can Wrong' which is a song that could well be called 'controversial'. You'll hear it and decide for yourself, however, it isn't nearly damning as some of Kalonji's older tunes on the subject and I say that VERY loosely. 

Sizzla Kalonji

Overall, "In Gambia" definitely isn't an album which is going to revolutionize . . . Anything or be a landmark release by any imagination, however, theirs is more than enough room on my players (and hopefully on yours as well) for something that is just GOOD. It's very unconventional for the most part, but it's in that, nonconformity where the record really shines. You could also say that for Sizzla, himself, in his recent state, having clearly been given and fine tuning the gift of mastery over 'uniqueness' these days. "In Gambia" is an album which I'd recommend more to newer fans, but older heads who aren't quickly dismissive of something which won't be EXACTLY what they're looking for (not so jaded) should also be able to appreciate parts of this decent set it as well. But that's only half of it, remember there were to! What about the other, more discussed, album??? I'll tell you about that soon. 

Rated: 3.85/5
Kalonji Records
CD + Digital 

Review #363


  1. If I manage to free up some time...I would rather READ your blog than WRITE mine! Am I being too selfish? LOL

  2. And there're so many nice albums to write about right now!