Sunday, July 1, 2012

Modern Classics Vol. XXXIII: "Africa" by Lutan Fyah

"Africa" by Lutan Fyah [2b1 Records] 

So we recently got a message from a reader who had a main question to his letter. He also had a few nice tunes to drop off - a little new Sizzla Kalonji, little Tiwony - but what he really wanted to know was why a certain album never made it to a "Modern Classic" status, even though I had once clearly did everything but crown and designate it as such. I thought the answer to that question was pretty obvious. The album in his question had eight-hundred songs on it and I didn't feel like writing it. Sure, that's a pretty good reason today -- in my later years, but looking back at the ridiculous pace that we once kept around here (and are now doing it again, if you haven't noticed this week) it was rather surprising that this album, even if it took two days to write (and it will), had never received the highest 'honour' we give to an album around here, even though it so clearly deserved it. Maybe I had changed my mind, he wondered. 

I haven't. To date, we've featured a wide variety of albums in this series and we're still going in new wonderful directions. Today's subject, first of all, was a double-disc release, featuring THIRTY songs in all. Also, it was a compilation in the purest sense of the word for one artist. There was no flow to it, it was a different song after a different song after a different producer after a different producer - nothing in common besides the star. And because of that, looking back on it, it was almost a 'greatest hits' styled release, but one which was very much in motion and involving. Also, it came from a label in 2b1 Records [now defunct] who had made their name, wonderfully on releasing live albums from predominately modern acts. Lady Saw, Everton Blender, Capleton, Luciano and even I-Wayne, Chuck Fenda and the artist we deal with today, had released live LP's through the California based imprint (and if I recall correctly, at the time they packed up, offerings from both Ky-Mani Marley and Turbulence were also in the works). They were extremely useful and, quietly, one of my favourite labels. HOWEVER, despite being very much a 'niche' label, one of the few times they stepped outside of their usual path and took things in a different direction, they managed to deliver a collection of songs from one of the most powerful and intelligent artists of the era, Lutan Fyah, which will not soon be forgotten. Today we take a look back at an album which is truly in a class of its own - "Africa"

{Biggup our friend from France}

Disc One

1. 'Never Once'

Lutan Fyah gets us started on the first disc of "Africa" with  the SPRAWLING and SWEET social commentary, 'Never Once'. Listening to this tune now and while it's been quite awhile from I last heard it, I can't help but smile throughout the tune. Typically not the most gifted craftsman of melodies, this tune featured a version of the Fyah well precision pointed lyrically and ENTERTAINING as well.

Best Lyrics: "Never once in my life, I found time to settle down. Never once in my life, this time I won't play around"

2. 'Rasta Set the Trend' featuring Morgan Heritage

BOOM! This one has remained on my radars definitely as Fyah and the Morgans came together to create magic on 'Rasta Set Di Trend', a song which very much has not only gone onto become a sizable track and a signature one from this album, but also a one which, arguably, is a mark of Lutan Fyah's entire career. Talking of making impacting music which is also pleasing to the ear - you don't get much more of either than on this HUGE tune giving praise to His Imperial Majesty. 

Best Lyrics: "Wi seh a livity a dweet and a it ah tek di street. No bodda watch dem and dem friend, a Rastafari set di trend. Righteousness wi live and talk. Wi and hypocrite no walk. No bodda watch dem and dem friend, a Rastafari set di trend. Life wi fi exalt and some guh tek up gun talk. No bodda watch dem and dem friend, a Rasta set di trend. Heritage and Lutan Fyah put a fyah pon vampire. Remember my friend, a Rastafari set di trend!" 

3. 'What A Woe'

'What A Woe' is a song which although I probably haven't spun it in few months or so ago, I can remember maybe a couple of years now having an afternoon where it literally stayed on repeat for an hour and played through itself about twenty times! I was stuck on this tune that day! TODAY, I'm not stuck on the track which is a MIGHTY social commentary, but if it and I happen to have another day together in the very near future, I wouldn't mind at all. 

Best Lyrics: "I no listen dem talk on di TV screen. The media is a mess, against di truth dem blaspheme. Di city become polluted, yet dem seh di grass green" 

4. 'End of Days'

Lutan Fyah looks around the world and he's not enjoying too well what he sees. I could call 'End of Days' another "social commentary" but it's so much more! I LOVE this tune and I think I, me personally, am giving it the credit it deserved. It's a lightening bolt of a track and one of the greatest on this entire set. Surely we can correct ours ways because "mankind is drifting, wayyyyyyyyyy". 

Best Lyrics: "Sponge Bob in the living room, polluting the meek. The children grow to be freaks and geeks!"  

5. 'De La Vega'

At the time this was a pretty big deal because "Africa" became the first official album which carried the Fyah's ruling track about his hometown in Spanish Town, St. Jago 'De La Vega'.  The House of Hits steered track did a MAJOR damage when it initially reached and even now is probably one of the chanter's biggest hits to date. On a substance side, it was still huge and 'worked wonders' for the artist - and continues to. A modern classic of a song. 

Best Lyrics: "What about the love and liveliness and clean livity? Good health and tight family, that is what we need to - liberate us from poverty" 

6. 'Save the Juvenile'

'Save the Juvenile' was another sizable hit for Lutan Fyah at its time and it was BEAUTIFUL! So many times you hear tunes done for the upliftment of children and they kind of live on clichés and maybe not very direct statements and they don't make a great deal of progressive sense. That wasn't the case here. This song was forward thinking and RESPECTFUL and accepting that the listener just might be of an age and intelligence where he/she could comprehend the urgency 

Best Lyrics: "Educated for a better tomorrow. Now dem totally dilated inna pain and sorrow. Dehydrated. Drunk and paro. Nuff get x-rated inna Sodom and Gomorrah. CRIME RATE ESCALATE LIKE DI KILIMANJARO! Why di leaders dem nah do nuttin for you? Show di youths dem to be straight like an arrow. Teach dem to put away dem ego" 

7. 'Mek It So Hard'

This set, now, sounds so dynamic and inviting, I'm wondering why it isn't still one of my favourite older tunes from Lutan Fyah. Here we have a song in 'Mek It So Hard' which has, essentially, faded away and was a 'casualty' on the "Africa" album. However, if you spin it ONE TIME, I can assure you that it's a fact which will disappoint as much as it does me right now because this song was and remains a special one. 

Best Lyrics: "How dem mek it so hard. Hey, babylon full of bandulu and fraud. They mek it so hard. The system mek it so hard. Dem have the ghetto youths dem inna tenement yard" 

8. 'Pretty Woman'

Like I said, the album is a pure compilation, so you'll see almost nothing in the way of congruency or seamlessness. It's all just kind of thrown together! For example, what we have here is a SWEET SWEET love song, 'Pretty Woman', thrown in the midst of social and spiritual tunes. It's ridiculous. It makes no sense. But DAMN this is a nice song! 

Best Lyrics: "Even though we are perfect stranger. Know nothing about you but I love your behaviour. So let's take some time to get to know each other. If it was ordained, let's come together. Hey, you keep blushing with your smile, you keep me gazing, girl I wanna feel you in my arms when it is raining. You never play no games with my mind for it's no fake thing. I wanna give you my love, woman don't you keep me waiting" 

9. 'No Matter What the Crisis' featuring Midnite

Al.Ta.Fa.An. guides what was [I think] the second combination featuring Lutan Fyah alongside Vaughn Benjamin (after 'Stay With His Majesty), and they landed it on the eye of a needle. This thing, at least for me, has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger as it has aged. Despite the glitter of the next tune up, and it is nice, this is the best combination on all of "Africa" and I might not put up a great deal of a fight if you wanted to say that it was the best tune altogether. 

Best Lyrics: "Standing up on a principal of defeat fi teach fi see it. Aspiring to a social pedigree outta region sell out fi eat. The dem turn round tell di whole world bout seh dat yuh week. Trying to be acceptable unto The Lord, a human being" 

10. 'Move Out' featuring Natural BlackTurbulence

If I told you that here was a tune featuring Natural Black, Turbulence and Lutan Fyah I think you'd have something in mind which would be a great deal different than what 'Move Out' 'turned out' to be (did you see that???). This song was stringed out and skeletal and fragile . . . But it was nice. And you keep listening . . . And suddenly it's kind of intense. And suddenly it's developing into something which moves closer to what you were expecting in the first place. A most underrated track - better than a lot of people gave it credit for being - even me. 

Best Lyrics: "It seems sometimes we've lost our way. The sun will shine for us today. And even though  they've gone astray - move out. Go ahead and achieve your goal. Rise and take full control" 

11. 'A Dat Mi See'

What you didn't get on the prior track, you well get it on the fiery Star Trail produced 'A Dat Mi See'. The Fyah has noticed that certain things aren't lining up too evenly in his eyes, there's a double standard going on in society and it's pissing him off. Hear this song, REALLY hear it, and he'll tell exactly what you need to hear. 

Best Lyrics: "Nuff youth give up and seh dem nah reach far. Badmind spill over fi di house and car. Seet deh now, they fighting an internal war. Hey, this big time material scar"

12. 'Africa' featuring Sly & Robbie

She's got soul. Lutan Fyah heads to The Motherland for the album's title track, but makes a quick stop in Baltimore, via the legendary Sly & Robbie who lay the legendary riddim for a tune which has definitely grown to be one of my favourites from the chanter. The song is . . . a Mama tune, that's what it is, but instead of giving honour to the woman that gave you life, the Fyah turns his affections and appreciations to the Land. The song is absolutely brilliant, it's a bar of gold, it's perfect and arguably the greatest piece of its kind in the modern era -- at least.  

Best Lyrics: "Her beauty comes naturally, she no need no cosmetology. AFRICA! She's the very heart of my physiognomy. She freed my soul with blessing and liberty. HER NAME IS AFRICA!"

13. 'Mightier Than Them'

Here we have THE song from both discs on this album which was and remains my single favourite tune on board. Not only that, but I'm surely not alone as 'Mightier Than Them' has subsequently gone on to be one of Lutan Fyah's most well regarded efforts and one of his biggest hits to date. Of course that has something to do with the fact that it carries Danger Zone's infinite Jamdown Riddim (which would also steer hits from Jah Cure, Ce'Cile, Morgan Heritage and Chezidek), but if you listen to this song, which is as powerful of a testament of Rastafari as you're going to hear from anyone from the turn of the century or so, somewhere in there Lutan Fyah LOSES IT! It's like he jumps off the paper with the lyrics and starts just delivering his heart, his entire being to the song. The results showed as he ended up with a track which, as the title would suggest, was virtually without equal. BOOM! 


14. 'Slowly But Surely'

The syrupy sweet Groove On Riddim from Voice Stream backed the strongest love song on the first disc of "Africa", 'Slowly But Surely'. This tune, somewhat surprisingly, has not only aged well (not surprising), but has become quite popular since its musical 'prime'. It's also well regarded as one of the finest love songs of Lutan Fyah's catalog to date. Listen to it. It won't take long for you to figure out why that is.  

Best Lyrics: "Gimme a chance, just to know you better. Then I woulda show you that you worth more than a valuable treasure. Whatever we share I coulda never give another! So let's get together. Then I no care what they say to you about me. I know that I'm free. They just don't really want us to be. But all eyes will see!"

15. 'Gun Thing' featuring Inner Circle 

And to wrap up the first disc of "Africa" Lutan Fyah taps the legendary Inner Circle (actually I have that backwards) for the HEAVY antiviolence number, 'Gun Thing'. This song would also appear on IC's compilation album from a few years on, "Blazzin' Fire", where it would do quite well (on an album which also featured input from Damian Marley, The Morgans, Anthony B, Junior Reid, Buju Banton and others), but on this album, it was a star for the time and yet another reason to look up that tracklist and get excited.  

Best Lyrics: "Too much gun thing. Nobody have time fi loving. A man and man a just ah fighting. Shoulda one love my bredrin" 

Disc Two

1. 'Season of Love'

Ostensibly, if you tell me something about a tune referencing something along the lines of "four seasons of love", I'd probably roll my eyes and get some immediate and urgent cramp in my small intestines. But if you played 'Seasons of Love', which starts off the second disc of "Africa",  in its place. I don't think I'd be nauseous at all. Here you have, despite its COMPLETELY sappy title, one of the most clever love songs that you're ever likely to hear. 

Best Lyrics: "And even in the spring time, and di flowers dem blooming. I got di lovin girl to fix up your tuning. Autumn come around, no man nuh know you wear my crown. And yuh gonna be homeward bound. And even win the winter get blistering cold. Then I've got the energy to soothe your soul. Lovin in abundance, keep you warm from the cold. When the changes of time come around"  

2. 'Too Much Suffering Kids'

The Fyah once again turns his attention in the direction of uplifting the youths of the world on the next track, 'Too Much Suffering Kids'. This one is a bit more typical than the MASSIVE 'Save The Juveniles', at least at first. Throughout the song you start to get a different view of the scene from Lutan Fyah and by its end you've the feeling that you've just heard something a bit more serious than the very soft vibes of the tune would have you to believe. 

Best Lyrics: "It's all about dem psychological intimidation. Every man wanna be the phenomenal one. Yes inna dem faculty is a mind-control education. Whoa what a bam bam!" 

3. 'Is This the Way'

The still STERLING Cruising Altitude Riddim from Rootical backs the just as beaming 'Is This the Way' which is just a HUGE tune, now looking back. I think that if you took the title into consideration and then heard how that might be applied to this stunningly beautiful riddim, you might be of the mindset that what you were ultimately going to hear here would be a love song. Maybe you're right to some degree, but not in the more traditional way. Lutan Fyah loves the world and the people in it - he's tired of seeing it and them being treated so badly. 


4. 'Be Real'

The very colourful and fucking OUTSTANDING 'Be Real' was appealing for a few different reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it utilized a cut of Dennis Brown's fine A Little Bit More Riddim, but it also focused on some really unjust practices in the world and how they've DIRECTLY made the world a worse place for the masses. What I'm really taking from this one these days is the level of commitment not only made to the subject of the tune by Lutan Fyah, but the also to the SKILL involved with making it sound this good! 

Best Lyrics: "Hey, the kind of respect that brings longevity. They teach us wrong and right - a damnation livity. Burn dem guilty play-fight negativity. More love inna di ghetto community" 

5. 'Outa Line'

The Taxi Gang returns to bless 'Outa Line' with another HEAVY and special foundation and Lutan Fyah blesses it right back with one of the biggest tunes on either half of the project. I'll speak on this more in conclusion (and I'm getting closer and closer - ten more to go), but it's a song like this REALLY, which makes me call Lutan Fyah such an authoritative writer. The man, at the absolute height of his powers cannot be denied. He's one of the greatest lyricist of all time. 

Best Lyrics: "This music, bigga dan dem weh think dem begin it. DEM SPEAK DI WORD, BUT MI SI DEM AIN'T LIVIN IT"

6. 'Dem Still A Search'

And it didn't stop with the last tune. Speaking of big lyrics, you have to have a listen to a tune which I think I may have just forgotten about to some degree. 'Dem Still A Search' is HUGE! The song finds the Fyah speaking on so many who try as hard as they can (whether knowingly or unknowingly) to defile or besmirch Afrika, but for some reason they can't find the final piece of the puzzle to do it from a historical point of view. This is a proud moment on this album and really a PILLAR if you want to take it directly to the record's title. MAMMOTH! 

Best Lyrics: "Dem waan turn Ethiopia inna tourist resort. Dem come a Axum, yet still dem caan find di Ark" 

7. 'Trodding Alone'

Itation Records (remember them???) built the LUSH Show Love Riddim which backed the sublime 'Trodding Alone'. If I recall correctly that riddim hadn't dropped a very long time before this album and at the time I was still very much enjoying it (big tune on that riddim, 'When Your Time Is Up', by Norris Man & Pressure Busspipe), so this turn gave it even more life on my players. Listening to it now, however, I'm thinking that it's probably time I gave it another week or two. Big tune. 

Best Lyrics: "Hey no one knows what this life hold. Yes, inna dis episode corruption becomes so cold. We must learn to exercise full control. Yuh disobey you set yourself back tenfold. Mi bun graveyard, skull and bone"

8. 'Rising' featuring Chezidek

The curiously vibed 'Rising' was at least the second combination Lutan Fyah did alongside . . . the curiously voiced Chezidek and it showed. While this tune, a very Poppish type (and definitely something you wouldn't expect between the two), was VERY odd and is still is, it was bad and it remains kind of buried in "Africa" and forgotten and that's unfortunate, because if you block out the vibes of the tune (if you don't like them and I'm assuming that you probably don't) - what you had left was very good. 

Best Lyrics: "See dem coming with dem plastic smile! Rasta go bun dem dutty life! Tell dem no ramp wid Selassie I! Dem ah cry tears like crocodile!"

9. 'She's Got Soul'

She's still got soul. Calling 'She's Got Soul' a 'Mama tune' is a little misleading, because if I do say that, what I put into your head probably isn't anywhere near what you're going to hear on the tune when you roll it out. This is easily one of the most DETAILED and SPECIFIC such songs that I've heard from anyone and although it isn't the type of piece which leaps out at you, or sticks well, coming back to it now, I can't help but smile as I remember the smallest piece of what I must've felt when I first heard it. 

Best Lyrics: "Yes I know, she's got soul. From one thing to another, she's still my Mother, worth more than diamond and gold" 

10. 'Up In Your Face'

'Up In Your Face' may be one of the most AGGRESSIVE love songs around. It features the Fyah holding the approach that the title says in front of the object of his affections. Just listening to how this song is built now, you can well see how unique it was and still is for today. But uniqueness, alone can't hold an attention, especially on an album with two hundred other tunes, it was also a very high level of skill involved on top of it. 

Best Lyrics: "Girl I'm your lion, you're my Princess. Hold my commitments and my interests. Trod the journey of the fittest, show no weakness. Tell the world seh a nuh money mek ya meekness. No touch the flesh, mi tell yuh first cut is the deepest. Ya worst enemy is the friend which is the closest" 

11. 'It's All In You'

This refreshing composition is one aimed strictly aimed at uplifting and inspiring the masses and it performs well in both aspects. It also avoids being the type of LAME motivational speaker-esque piece as well as 'It's All In You' kind of falls in line with an old Jah Mason tune by the name of 'Keep Your Joy'. What I remember so vividly about that track is the Mason saying how your happiness, first and foremost, was your responsibility. On this song, that's the same thing Lutan Fyah suggest and he takes it a beautiful sentimental step forward by adding to it the notion of your happiness being even better when it comes from you, exclusively.

Best Lyrics: "Hey for too long now they've been up in my face. Yes, they try to push me over, want to lay I to waste. But the strength of The Most High, love and grace - Who teach I and I the principles of one away. Dem try fi diss mi down, seet deh now mi sink dem deep. But for what life is worth, dem dun sell out cheap. Dem no soul but yet still dem waan reap. It's not over til it's over dem caan destroy di meek" 

12. 'Watch Over Me'

Hearing 'Watch Over Me' on this album doesn't really do anything different for me these days.

Because I never stopped playing it. Between this song and 'Mightier Than Dem' and a few others, "Africa", at least to my ears, made its finest impact. This is the partial signature of this album and it's one of the best fucking songs Lutan Fyah has EVER done. 

Best Lyrics: "I burn out dem flattering lips! Dem aim fi shoot, but di gun dem stick. Man ahgo drop dem inna di grave weh dem ah dig. None a dem [!] can stop di Rastaman from live! Hey, mi hear some badmind talk, mi just guh zip dem up. Hey, di fyah dun spark, mi nah kick dem up. Pay dem no mind because di devil dun trick dem up. And if dem gwan too bad man ahgo diss dem up. Hey, mi hear seh dem ah walk wid dogs [nightmare duppy]! Hey, inna dem closet fulla bone! Hey, but The Most High dun protect my soul, MAN AH RALLY ROUND SELASSIE I THRONE!"

13. 'I Love Everything About You'

Was I the only one who'd forgotten that this song was on this album??? 'I Love Everything About You' [which actually featured an unaccredited Sophia Squire] is THE best love song on the whole of "Africa", it's also one of the best love songs that Lutan Fyah has ever done and the brief history from its 'birth' has treated it like the big tune that it was. So sweet, so cool, so colourful as well. Call it whatever you like! It was straight forward and a big moment for couples only. 

Best Lyrics: "Mi love it when yah play inna mi locks. Mi love di rub a dub inna di morning, non-stop. Hey, mi love yah smile, yah pretty eyes. Mi love yuh compliments. Then roses for my woman, I'll send" 

"Yuh love it when mi play inna yuh locks. Yuh love mi rub a dub inna di morning, non-stop. Yuh love mi smile, mi pretty eyes. Yuh love mi compliments. Roses galore from mi baby ever since" 

14. 'Red Alert'

BOOM! When I first put this album up to listen to it for the sake of this post, I focused in on 'Red Alert' because it had been more than a few minutes from the last time I'd heard it and I started singing it to myself ["a ting called redddddddd alert!"]. This song hasn't been completely forgotten, but it's not looked upon as well as I think it should be at this point. For me, it's a highlight from "Africa" and while I won't say that for Lutan Fyah, in full, it's one of those pieces which, under proper circumstances, just shines out as the artist calls out and carves up filthiness wherever he finds it! 

Best Lyrics: "Some ah seh dem want a slice as well. Inna dem gangsta paradise, hey dem living inna hell. Some willing to take a life, inna corruption dem ah dwell. A birthright dem come yahso fi sell" 

15. 'Set The Children Free'

And finally (not really because I skipped two songs and now have to go back and do those too) (great strategy), 'Set The Children Free' places a pretty bow on a package which is one of the favourites of anyone ever so fortunate to receive it. Jam 2's stunning Bloody City riddim, rightfully so, is best remembered for having played the role of supporting track behind I-Octane's MASSIVE 'Holding On', but it also did so well in tracing this heavy chanting tune which, despite its title (and chorus), was really an all encompassing and very impassioned call for change.   

Best Lyrics: "Tell yuh it's di young and working aged face di pressure. All dem crazy bank loans neva make things betta"


Lutan Fyah
Okay, because this album was kind of thrown together (I actually know something really interesting about how it was compiled, but I don't think that I can share that with you!), I think that it's pretty impossible to attempt to find some type of prevailing theme or statement that Lutan Fyah was attempting to make on "Africa". Anything that I would come up with, ultimately, would just be a bigger statement on his career, as a whole. However, that doesn't mean that there isn't a conclusion to be reached. 

What I've taken away from this album, a few years on now, is just how popular it was and still is. Again, 2b1 Records was very much a label which focused on doing LIVE albums, so you wouldn't think that a different type of a piece of work that they did would, somehow, reach the heights that this album did. When the smoke clears, despite the fact that Lutan Fyah had an album for VP Records ["Healthy Lifestyle"] and another one, which was actually better than this set, for Greensleeves ["Phantom War"], a very strong case could be made that "Africa" is his most high profile release to date . . . For a label which didn't stick around too long after it was released. That's damn interesting in my opinion and it's something which possibly will become a record which will eventually someday grab up descriptors such as 'Landmark' and the likes. 

Personally, while I do acknowledge that part of it (obviously), I also focus on just how well it displayed Lutan Fyah's talents. You can say whatever you want for how popular it was or wasn't, but it's hard to take a project featuring THIRTY tracks from an artist at the respective height of his powers (and he still is), who is already popular and is also one of the most consistent faces in the genre (in my opinion the Fyah went a solid three or four YEARS without dropping a single bad verse) and to not look upon it as something like a regular album. Not only that, but it's also very difficult to attempt to qualify a piece which is just a few years old and the artist is still well within a similar scope of when he did it (as of this writing, Lutan Fyah dropped a new album, "Truly", just yesterday). But, given the trajectory of where "Africa" started and where it is today, you can already see things aligning in its favour. While not completely seamless, there're a few misspellings here and there and obviously thrown together, "Africa" was a potentially IMMORTAL showcasing of one of the best currently doing it. It was also a bonafide Modern Reggae Classic!