Thursday, June 21, 2012

'Echoes': A review of "The Chant" by Sizzla Kalonji

Standing on the road to perfection. When it comes to actually ranking or rating an album or an artist or a song, I like to think that I have some type of subconscious, but consistent, scale of reference hidden somewhere way back in my mind. Depending on the particular genre in question, I think that I can somewhat ask myself something along the lines of 'but is this better than that?' - "that", of course being something on my scale which, to me, has shown itself of such an amazing quality that I will refer to it/him/her as prototypes of that particular genre - PERFECT examples. For an actual event of this the easiest one which comes to my is the case of a modern Roots Reggae compilation. From now indefinitely looking forward, my place of reference begins with "Joyful Noise". If you want to do something special, do that! Similarly, I have heard unblemished Dancehall music, it exists in prime level Beenie Man and a version of Lady Saw at her vintage best in the late 1990's/early 2000's when she would absolutely destroy a riddim. And should you want to make an impact on me by making an insane level of frenetic Soca music, you'll have to see Destra, Fay-Ann Lyons or Bunji Garlin - that's what I'm expecting from you. And, in the scope of Roots Reggae music, the scale of comparison is and will always be Sizzla Kalonji. Not only that, but in terms of being musically "perfect" in the sense of an absolution [irrespective of genre], for me at least, Sizzla is prevailing scale. If you want to be without flaw doing any type of music, the first thing I do in my mind is to compare you to a vintage and prime level Sizzla Kalonji who, in that state, made a brand of music which was full-on genius. Around here we deal with a lot of words and lyrics, obviously, and I can fully say that, even today, listening to some of the best of the chanter, I'm still hearing and noticing idiosyncrasies which are making words revered as being TIMELESS, even that much more without a designated era. He also had a grandly developed sense of melody which made that music entertaining as well and, as I've said in the past, Sizzla made music which changed an entire genre and it changed my life. At his very best, in my mind, this man has no musical peer.  

Sizzla Kalonji & Dr. Cave
And sometimes we can go back. Through years and years of doing . . . other shit, I've gotten to the point where I'll happily listen to almost anything Sizzla does and not really care too much if it's awful. I'll review it (maybe) or talk about it and if I think that it's bad, I'll tell you - no big deal. HOWEVER, I go into just about every song and definitely every album hoping that the vintage level Sizzla Kalonji, who I'll still continue to maintain is somewhere in there, will make an appearance. He's done that a few times in recent years on songs primarily (especially a few times last year, pinnacling on a fine album release in "The Scriptures"), but his first album of 2012 figured to be a more conscious shift in an extremely familiar direction. 

"Caveman Culture Sound Vol. 1" [2009]
"The Chant". This album was very interesting because it once again featured Kalonji going in the direction of doing a full album for one of his earliest mentors and good friends, following 2009's fairly well received "Crucial Times" for Homer Harris (and I guess you could also add the sterling "Ghetto Youth-ology", for the Firehouse Crew, to that as well). This time he's linked up with 'Dr. Cave', Everton Moore, with whom the artist made some of the initial moves in his musical career and who definitely played a large role in giving us the bonafide legend as he exists today. "The Chant" was far and away the most discussed of Sizzla's two albums for early 2012 (and one EP), the other being the very solid "In Gambia", and it has also become one of the most talked-about out of the entire giant vat of wonderfulness 2012 has given us. This was partially due, in my opinion, to the background of the project which was reportedly (just like its 'sibling') hatched during a tour of Afrika (duh!) which inspired Sizzla to do fantastic work and there you have an album recorded partially on the continent and in Caveman Studios. The project is also officially released via Afro-Jam Music from out of Germany who has gone to the excellent stages of actually placing it out not only on vinyl, but in a TRULY WICKED move, they've also released a CD/Vinyl combination package of "The Chant" which offers you the . . . Album on . . . CD and vinyl (just in case that wasn't clear in anyway). So obviously they had big things in mind when they placed it on the shelves and although the reaction that we've seen has been quite mixed (get ready for more mixing!), like I said, there has been so much buzz surrounding this album that one would  think, ostensibly, that it has provided for at least the hope of a commercial success. Also, both Caveman Studios and Afro-Jam came together to put out "Caveman Culture Sound Vol. 1", a STRONG compilation which would not only include nice efforts from the likes of Mikey General, Lutan Fyah, Norris Man and Fred Locks, but also two selections from Kalonji which would ultimately appear on this album. That piece was probably one of the more overlooked compilations over the past few years, considering what was on it, but I would imagine that it, too, was getting another run following the release of "The Chant". As for me, as I said, my own main personal interest in this album, besides the fact that it's a new Kalonji album which is far more than enough to get my attention ("new album" will generally work on me), was in hoping that we'd get a chance to hear that most brilliant of vintage Sizzla Kalonji being that he was working with someone who, essentially, helped to create that artist. While we clearly didn't get that, in full, what we did get were flashes of 'him' and his most devastating of abilities and talents. Let's take a listen. 

"The Chant" album announcement

While I was definitely hoping for something in particular from this album and maybe even expecting it to a degree, you don't really start listening to an album like "The Chant" and imagine that you're going to hear a noticeable shift in direction or focus from Sizzla. First of all, in having several thousand albums, there aren't many topics that he hasn't covered that he cares to talk about at this point and you also don't figure to get . . . "Addicted" from a Sizzla/Caveman link either. So, the tune which gets us started on the album, the sublime (albeit a big strange) 'Chanting Rastaman', was entirely predictable. This tune is probably just a small amount of BITE away from being a great one, but for what it is, a fairly broad spiritually charged social commentary, it's more than good enough to get things steered in a proper direction. The course it does set is in is in the way of the sweet 'Jah Made It Possible', a tune which I probably listened to somewhere around a dozen times COMPLETELY enamoured with its fantastically simple riddim before I even got around to the song's actual lyrics. 

“Jah made it
Jah made it
Jah made it possible
Jah move it 
Jah move it
Jah move all obstacles” 

Of the several statements I'm left with after taking in the whole of this chant, this is probably one of the longest living and most significant. The song is exactly what the title would indicate it is and although, again, it is rather broad, it's broad in an all-encompassing sense and clearly not in the lack of focus manner and it's also one of the finest moments on the album. Things go even higher on the next track up 'How Come', on which Kalonji features alongside Jah Seed from out of South Africa (I believe Jah Seed is originally from Zimbabwe). This thing is HEAVY! The song has an inherit immediate attraction because Seed is someone whose voice simply refuses to abate and it subsequently goes on to become one of the most dynamically vibed selections on the album. 'How Come', to my knowledge, originated on Seed's album from a couple of years back, "No Surrender, No Retreat" (which shouldn't be too difficult to find should you want it) (and you might) and it's a beautiful creation. The tune, at its core, speaks to the lasting qualities of a people and does it in a SPLENDID fashion and definitely biggup Jah Seed. The album's other combination which comes later on, is the album's obligatory herbalist track, 'Smoke Marijuana'. This tune features veteran Wippa Demus and singer Halloway. It's not my favourite song on the album, but I will say that this may've been a lot of fun if it were a solo track or just with Demus - there's just too much going on here, ultimately. 

Beginning at it's second track, to my opinion "The Chant" really picks up a fine pacing which it holds for quite awhile. 'How Come' is a big tune as are the FOUR which follow it. First in that quartet is 'Put Away The Weapons'. This song is instantly noteworthy because it utilizes the Soul Rebel Riddim for a message which is a little antiviolence and a little spiritual upfulness as well. 

“Put away the weapons yah
Wi no really deh pon weh dem deh pon yah
Babylon only waan you fi war
Babylon no waan di youths dem shine like star

Wi no come fi destroy, mi only come fi build
Hey babylon I tell yah seh be still
Hey babylon you mek di blood dem spill
I tell yuh di guns only mek a kill
Pretty Black Woman yeah she birth yah soul
True babylon, dem no worthy soul
Children ah listen to my words and all
That’s why babylon ah try hurt yah soul” 

Speaking of spiritual food (biggup Natural Black) (WHO!) (biggup Khago too, the most recent graduate of the prestigious Leonard Bartley School of Making Friends) (how one manages to have problems with BUSHMAN, Sasco and Sizzla in the span of a few weeks is just remarkable) (Queen Ifrica - you may be next!) (I digress), the next two selections on "The Chant" (which I continuously call "IChant" for some reason) (biggup Bunji Garlin) are both of the tunes which featured on the aforementioned "Caveman Culture Sound Vol. 1" record, the bright and bouncy 'Zimbabwe' and the STERLING 'Hungry Children'. It's the former which has probably gotten the most attention of the two, largely, I suspect, because of its very controversial back story, but it's also a nice song as well.

Her weh mi seh
Chant, plant and pray
Hear weh mi seh
My love is with you everyday

Clean up di city
Clean up di place
Black people you gotta beautiful face
Babylon only want to see di people go to waste
Babylon only want to see you shamed and disgraced
Community service: Protect di area
Everybody play ya part
Share and care yah
Nurses, doctors start to prepare yah
Get rid of cholera and malaria”

Still, I think it's the latter which is the stronger of the two (it was also the best song on the "CCSV1" album). The riddim, the tune itself, everything here works in a damn near PERFECT and blissful marriage of the vibes. 'Hungry Children' is a POWERFUL piece and were I not COMPLETELY devoid of even a marginal amount of common sense (and I most certainly am), I would call it the album's best. 'System Crash' which helps itself to even more of the greatest vault in Reggae music, this time for the Rat Race Riddim, is also an excellent tune, albeit a pretty strange one to my ears. There's a point on the chorus of this tune (which is its best part) where I just fell in love with it and while that surely has more to do with the riddim than the full song - who cares!

Sizzla Kalonji at Caveman

'Look What's Happening' doesn't get the same type of respect from me, but I don't hate it as much as it seems many others did. It's average in just about every conceivable way to my ears, but average Kalonji is still quite fascinating. An example of that is clearly present on 'A She Mi Love', which is a mess and sounds like something which didn't make the cut on the "Hosanna" album - but I can't stop listening to it. I've tried to, but I just cannot. There is something about that song which just keeps my attention all over it. Had no such problems, at all, with 'Something Special', on the other hand but (and watch this), it's probably a better song than 'A She Mi Love' in every single way! 'Something Special' lacks a kind of outstanding quality, but it's a solid, simply and not overly ambitious (something Sizzla does occasionally) love song. And "The Chant" comes to its end with its namesake which is a clear highlight on the album named after it although it did take me a few spins to arrive at that thought. It's a song which definitely picks up the pace and the quality throughout its duration and by its end you have one significant selection. 

STILL! For some ridiculous reason my ears grabbed 'Love Selassie I More'. TEARS! Ten years from now I'll probably (be old[er] and stupid[er], I might not even remember the chorus on the song, but these days, I can't hear a BLIP from this track without smiling a smile as wide as the terrain of my face shall allow! I LOVE this song! I can't help it!

Sizzla Kalonji

Overall, there're so many things I want to say about this album (thankfully I'll forget most of them after doing the first one, however), but I think that the biggest is its actual nature. NO! "The Chant" isn't the greatest album from blah blah blah and blah blah and it isn't Sizzla at his absolute best. It isn't even close in either of those aspects. But I think it is a step in that direction and I think it may even be a step closer than "The Scriptures" album, which was CLEARLY and wholly better than it in my opinion. And I think it's also a little better than most people gave it credit for. I don't see this album being one which gets appreciably better with time, it's not at all hard to 'digest', so I don't see people waking up in five years suddenly in love with it, but I do see it as a nice album. Furthermore, this album also kind of put me in the mindset, personally, of just how I view this man's music. I don't care that "Welcome To The Good Life" was terrible. I don't care that this album could have been better. I don't even care that currently Sizzla is going back and forth with forty people in a . . . I don't know what you'd call that (one dispute produces two hundred songs from twenty-eight people, ALL of them are AWFUL, every one of them), it doesn't bother me at all. Sizzla Kalonji has made some truly immortal music and I don't see THAT being diminished full-on anytime soon and definitely not ever for me. "The Chant" isn't amongst that most elite class to my ears, but I think that it is enough of a sign to think that something which IS isn't very far away. 

Rated: 3.80/5
Afro-Jam Music
CD/LP + Digital

Review #369

1 comment:

  1. I've warmed up to this album & Sizzla's music in general. Well maybe I've just warmed up to everything more these days. I feel it.