Saturday, June 30, 2012

'To A Higher Standard': A review of "Children Of Jah" by Midnite

There comes a point in a musical journey, hopefully, when you have to recognize that things have changed. For better or for worse, if you make music for a long enough period of time, you're likely to come across a moment when you notice that maybe there aren't as many people talking about you or coming to your shows, or maybe there're considerably more. That's the actual tangible case, as for the more figurative, you may also notice your name coming up more or less online or through other mediums. This is getting older and this is getting more and more popular. While I can't imagine that a sudden stage show boom, for the audience size in attendance, has occurred for Midnite, I can say over the last year they're starting to tune into one of the last bastions of Reggae music over which they previously did not exist a great deal. The media. The Virgin Islands' finest may just be the greatest case of 'word-of-mouth' popularity in Reggae history. They (why do I keep saying "they"?) seemed to become more well known despite years and years of media apathy (probably a bit more like confusion to be more accurate), but when the ultra active entity kicked up something special in 2011 all of that seemed to change. Of course I'm referring to the "King's Bell" album which, in retrospect, was probably one of the most discussed projects in all of last year and it's still being talked about to a large degree for an album of how old it is. Now, I'm fully confident that such a shift has effected the face of Midnite, Vaughn Benjamin, to any degree. I don't know if he's noticed it -- maybe he's doing more interviews these days -- and I'm certain he doesn't care, but maybe someone very important has taken notice. The labels. The "King's Bell" album showed for the first time in quite a long while that "MIDNITE" could be promoted and done so effectively. That album came via I Grade Records who have a fine history of getting the word out about their work, but I think it says something really powerful that arguably THE most popular release of a catalog which is well over forty albums deep arrived just last year and you're thinking about doing an album to go into that same vault nearly a year on.

It says that you can do better. Back in January Midnite did release an album, "In Awe" they're first of the year and they're first post "King's Bell" and it was business as usual. The label on board of that one, Fifth Son Records, didn't take an extra step in putting it out there and I'm sure it still did well because . . . It was a Midnite album. And to my ears, as someone who doesn't live and sleep Midnite's music, that album was very strong and has subsequently been an underrated set even by the band's more hardcore supporters. But even then I was damn curious to see if and when Benjamin and company returned to their most fertile ground over the past few years, had anything changed.

Midnite & Rastar Records
It had. By my surely incorrect and completely inaccurate count, "Children Of Jah" becomes the seventh album of the extremely and immediately fruitful Midnite/Rastar Records link. The first one (to my knowledge), "Better World Rasta", only reached back in 2007, which means that over the last half decade, Rastar and Midnite have been doing some SERIOUS works together. So much so has that been the case, that you now almost exclusively identify Rastar Records with Midnite. In the midst of a several thousand albums or so, you wouldn't have the other way around, obviously, but if you're seeing, hearing or even thinking of something related to Rastar Records, surely Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite aren't too far behind. Because of that, at least in my opinion, and when combined with the fact that Midnite, in general, just release a great deal of albums, when you get to that Midnite/Rastar album, it isn't given a great deal of attention. I even think that's true, comparatively speaking, in regards to heavy fans of the group - That next Rastar album certainly will be loved and respected (we are talking about Midnite, whose fans wildly love just about ANYTHING they do all the time, without whisper of a question), but it won't be as anticipated as some of the other stops Benjamin makes along his most curious nomadic musical journey. However, if anyone were to have the benefit of changing things up with a new Midnite album, it would be Rastar Records. They've done two albums in the same twelve month period (and by "twelve", of course I mean, less than twelve) (more like six-eight in some cases) on more than one occasion and will probably do it again. Also, if you check the immediate history, just prior to "King's Bell", what you'll find is that the most talked about Midnite album occurrence came in late 2010/early 2011 when the "Treasure" album reached from Rastar Records and there was a bit of talk around it because it was the very first VP Records had done anything with and taken any type of an interest in Midnite and that album was distributed by the label. But besides that, really, it's been business as usual for Midnite/Rastar. That was until "Children Of Jah" stepped up. I'd first heard about this album being an EP (I think I even saw a cover) and that may have even been from last year. Then you look up and there's so much noise about it and it's still not out (and Midnite albums, not that I know of, typically don't get DELAYED very often if at all) and then there's a SWEET video about a month or so ago, then a cover and then FINALLY the album. Curiously and maybe even strangely, the album which seems to have false-started in some way, may have just become one of the more anticipated Midnite sets in recent times. But is it all warranted??? Let's find out. 

While "Children Of Jah", the full album certainly took its own unique route to fruition, the music which builds it isn't anything too far out of the ordinary and you really didn't expect it to be. Of the many things I admire of the man, definitely one of the greatest is that Vaughn Benjamin's approach is one of his own. If he changes a damn thing ANYTIME, you know it's something that he was full on board for, if not even his initial idea and if you enjoy Midnite's more typical sound, you'll find not a thing to complain about on this one. That includes the opening selection which gets things going on the album, the outstanding 'Must Say' I'm going to go into this further in just a second, but there're some REALLY exceptional tunes on this album and this is definitely the first of them. This thing is BOOMING!

“English or parlez-vous Français
Ises to The Lord upon the throne -
His Majesty 
Igziabeher I must say” 

And when the song actually develops, it becomes this big and vast vibes which is an excellent start! Next is a song which I'm very much still working on building a direct thought of, 'Incline'. You'll probably hear this tune and be surprised when I tell you that I listened to it maybe six times and got completely LOST in that riddim. Ostensibly it maybe nothing too special, but it is DEEP and I find that listening to it over and over does nothing but reveal more and more nuances to the vibes. As for his part, Benjamin pulls it in about as broad of a spiritual direction that you'll hear from him (probably anywhere), but still gets a strong message across. And the n the third song from "Children Of Jah" takes no prisoners! 'Supply & Demand' is MAD! 

“Leaders of man and teachers of stand and covenant and supply and demand, a dragon -
Demanding a tribute from the population
Demanding all the first fruit from the generation
A monk lost his famine inna deeper meditation 
Chemical and never prescription” 

The tune is one BRILLIANT social/economical commentary to my ears and as it grows into this furious, head rocking, snarled Roots tune which GOT ME! I found no greater tune on this album and, at least recently, 'Supply & Demand' ranks alongside 'Black Mamba' and 'In Awe' as some of my favourite pieces of late via Midnite (the three best tunes from the last three albums). 

'Children Of Jah'

I do not know exactly what will be the general response to "Children Of Jah" as of yet, obviously, but I found myself, much like on the "In Awe" record, being continuously impressed by what I was hearing! It won't go down as Midnite's finest moment, I'm convinced of that, but this is album is far closer to the head than the tail in my opinion. The album's title track has received a great deal of attention and it also was the highlighted piece in the aforementioned video. When you really start to get into this song, you see it's another winner. Vaughn Benjamin speaks on so many things which are to the greatness of, or perceived greatness of man, and he does so in a way of saying that 'these' are elements of our bloodline which leads to the Father ["we are the children of Jah, look what our hands can make"]. And he does this for great positivity and a great destruction as well. You have to really sit down and take this song in, it's absolutely brilliant. Another tune which seems to have garnered a great deal of early fan appreciation is 'Carboniferous Land'. Again, it should take you awhile to work through this song (I'm not very intelligent (AT ALL), but in my own defense, I think I can break down a tune fairly decently these days, I've had a great deal of experience), but if/when you do there's such a healthy and powerful respect for the type of work involved in 'simply' writing something that sounds like this and to place it in a way where a straight message can be taken from it, on a historical note in this case.  

“You can see that Jah is orderly from the spatiality of the tree
The roots and the crown in the periphery measure similarity 
You can see the laws are orderly from the spatial boundary of the sea
Deep down under is an unknown galaxy
You can see it, the creation is in order naturally” 

I also really enjoyed 'Bad Man Trade' which also builds itself on a historical notion like 'Carboniferous Land'. It's not as strong to my ears as that tune, but it is quintessential Vaughn Benjamin just like it. This one goes so direct in its line as well, you're getting a university level education from Prof. Vaughn Benjamin. And the teaching only stops on this album when "Children Of Jah" reaches its end. It does reach that conclusion in the wonderful hands of the devastating 'Nothing Restrain'.

“Dem study ya weakness, study ya strength, study ya vulnerability
Dem come come, siddung pon ya rights and siddung pon throne hereditary
But if you look in a likkle deeper you see the whole hierarchy
Fueled on nepotism, dominating desperately 
Well Solomon Throne and David House Yahoshua entrance be
Tell dem di ruler of disparity waan siddung equality 
Federal throne and territorial municipalities
Celebrity no supercede over substance you see
Never before in the world have run up so much deficit we
Exhibitionist overboard, over sensuality 
Know fi generate a cash you haffi narrate more money 
Is di plan you ah tell dem seh so ‘see more, feed me’ 
A approach from desperate directionally 
Breaking T-A-B-O-O every
Know seh generous pride and shame and Negus sensitivity” 

The tune is one which is DIRECTLY freeing up the knowledge ["knowledge covering the earth now!"] and nothing shall be restrained. 

'Pride & Shame' is another one which really caught my attention and kept it through about ten listens and I could probably say the EXACT thing about that MASSIVE tune which follows it, 'Ana Manakin'. The latter (and the former) (and every other song on the album) is just a CHALLENGE! You well have to prepare your mind to listen to that tune properly, while the former brings a bit of sonic appeal before quickly ascending into the big tune that it is. Both are highlights here for me and two of the finest moments this album has to offer. The album's penultimate track is the obligatory Mama tune from this album . . . But it almost doesn't feel like it. I can't imagine many people will go crazy for  'Always True' (those who don't go crazy for EVERY Midnite song, if you do, I'm not talking about you, have fun), but I thought it was sublime. It's a very complex song for Mama, but Benjamin arrives there by saying that no matter where you go and what you do or what is done to you, it's always the case that your Mother is your Mother and she's done for you what she's done and is to be respected for doing that. 'Just To Live' is another big set and it precedes yet another one in 'In The Hands of Jah'. That song is nearly massive in the way it is arranged. It's a spiraling connection, at least it was for me, but Benjamin finally fulfills on the meaning of the title in the song. There's also 'Senseless Event' which is, as of this writing, steadily growing on me. This one is about as specific of an antiviolence song as you're going to hear done and it's also nearly special. Finally check the grandly titled 'Take It To Your Soul Faithful and True'. I was on this tune from the first listen (and I actually thought it was the single best creation on the project for awhile) and I still am. When Benjamin does broadness, it's still far more pointed than just about anyone else's output. So, here we have this brilliantly SPRAWLING tune from him, but it's completely focused at the same time. The result is one excellent spiritually helmed directed space. 

Overall, after going through this album, I'm left thinking two big things. The first is that, when taking a step back from it, it's a better album than I thought it was going to be. "Children Of Jah" isn't the best Midnite album I've heard and I don't know that anyone is going to say that it is for them either, but it's still very strong and it’s best songs would stand favourably on just about any of their albums in recent times, including "King's Bell", in my opinion. The second thing dominating my thoughts in reference to  this record is just how straight up it is. I am going to recommend this album, but I'm only going to do it to more experienced fans of the genre and of Midnite. If you're looking to get to know them better, you might not want to make this your very first purchase. Also on that note, lyrically it's . . . traditional Vaughn Benjamin and if you don't know what that means well then, again, this may not be the album for you just yet. If you do, however, then I'm convinced youll like it, just as I did. I'm not the greatest of Midnite heads in the world, so I like to think that when they impress me, I can confidently say they'll get more of the casual fans interested as well - and here, they will. "Children Of Jah" won't have a quarter of the hype surrounding it that "King's Bell" did and still does, but at least it's obvious that someone is trying. Rastar Records does their best work in pushing an album which is easily one of the finest Midnite/Rastar combinations to date. Very good. 

Rated: 4.20/5
Rastar Records 
CD + Digital

Review #374


  1. I agree for the most part but even I'd your a first time midnite listener I highly recommend this one in particular for its intellectual vibes much respect to midnite for they're blessings hah Rastafari......

  2. Great your review!
    "Children of Jah" is a huge release!

  3. Blessings, blessings to Vaughn, i have read where u refer to him as Prof. Vaughn Benjamin. I can only add that he as well is a Prophet, if u follow the words in Carboniferous land u'll note that "every calamity comes from disorderly" Massive, Massive.