Monday, December 10, 2012

'The General!': A review of "African Story African Glory" by Mikey General

And another one. 2012 has been and should go down in history as being one of the finest in recent memory in terms of Reggae album releases. Both quality and quantity have been extremely impressive and I cannot think of a year which has had such a potent mix of both of those cases, making this one, truly, one of the most impressive and one which hopefully has brought many new eyes and ears to the genre, because we have had such fine music. This has been the case from 'top to bottom', so on one hand you have very huge and popular sets from the likes of Busy Signal, Sizzla Kalonji and I-Octane, while on the other we've seen just as strong efforts coming from lesser known, but extremely capable talents such as Sahra Indio, Denham Smith and our new favourite, Reemah. There have also been projects from artists on every step in between those and, even as we still have another three weeks or so of the month, there're still fine releases coming down (biggup Jah Cure). Now, with all of that being said, I look back at the year and I'm so pleased to see a healthy amount of albums having come from artists who, personally, have had such a great impact on me and continue to, even though they may not be THE most well known, they are great favourites and mine and, thinking back, they've all managed to turn in stellar releases. Of course the two most obvious here would be Ras Batch and Mark Wonder who, respectively, turned in great albums and two of three perfect records I've heard this year in "Know Thyself" and "Working Wonders". While the entire Reggae listening world may not have gone crazy in anticipation or even in actually hearing these albums, if you read my work to any degree, you know very well that I have and have done so even before their release dates (and names) were set. Batch and Wonder are HUGE artists for me and neither one of them would disappoint. I might also include someone like Rebellion The Recaller from earlier in the year with "In This Time". That album may have garnered more attention than either of the other two, but still RtR isn't such a household name in the genre and I, personally, very much looked forward to and appreciated his next effort and still do right now. But like I said, we aren't finished. In an almost embarrassingly fantastic turn someone else who the genre may not be pausing for at this very moment has jumped up with a new release and he has grabbed almost ALL of my musical attention in just a few days' time.  
Mikey General
Mr. Mikey General, over the past few years, has definitely become one of my favourite artists. And much like in the cases of people like Yami Bolo and even Glen Washington to an extent (and I guess you'd also add Lloyd Brown to that lot), I've become a fan at such an advanced stage of his career, but it… just took me awhile to mature to the point where that was possible. These days, pretty much anything the singer does is going to get at least a little look from me (and definitely a mention) and while 2012 had been a nice one for him (big single, 'King Selassie I Alone' for ReggaeLand and you know about 'Work' with Uwe Banton, on his new album, "Mental War"), I had no idea what he was working on for December - one of the most beautiful surprises of 2012.
Also from Qabalah First Music
Why not do a new album??? From the moment Bredz (biggup Bredz), told me of its existence I've been all over it (even though it took him another whole day to send it) (WHAT!). "IT", of course, is the brand new album from Mikey General, "African Story, African Glory", which becomes his very first in a couple of years - from 2010's fine "Born To Rule" set. Like that album, at least partially, "African Glory, African Story" comes via the General's own Qabalah First Music imprint (which makes one Michael Taylor [bka Mikey General] the executive producer, along with Lloyd Stewart) (incidentally, the co-executive producer on the last album was a Jepther McClymont [bka Luciano]) and this time in conjunction with Unique Star Sounds. Throughout there have been several of Mikey General's albums done on Qabalah, including the very strong "Spiritual Revolution", the aforementioned 'Born To Rule" and others. The label, just like its creators (and if I recall correctly, QFM is actually owned by both the General and "spiritual brother", Luciano) has exercised much in the way of quality-control in its existence and although they aren't the most active (obviously), whenever they do bring something, it is going to be at least very good and probably better. For me, I guess I would say one of the main things which reach me in listening to Mikey General's music is how powerful and easily transferable his conviction in his words are. There're so many artists around today and throughout history who are very accomplished at conveying passion for their topics and you know many of them, but not too many at all sing songs in the way which would tell you that their music, so directly, is an extension of the way that they actually live their lives. Obviously this is a trait which is always well present and prevalent in the music of the aforementioned Luciano and I suppose that is one thing out of many which the two have in common and why, in so many ways, their careers and music have been so intertwined with one another's. Today, however, we specifically look at Mikey General (I was somewhat surprised to see Luciano not amongst the guests, but the General does link some top notch talents here more on that in second). It isn't that he needed the help either, by its end, "African Story, African Glory" proves itself to be amongst the artist's finest releases to date and a wonderful present (TO ME!) to help wrap up what has been an incredible year. Let's get to it!

I don't think that such an album is forthcoming, but if it is, this isn't the one. You won't find anything in the way of a grand deviation (or much of a deviation at all, actually) in what you've come to expect from the singer from over the years. The music here is his typically brilliantly uplifting, spiritually conscious and observant and excellent modern Roots Reggae music, with an ear towards the old school as well. "African Story, African Glory", is an album largely comprised of both previously released tunes, from many different sources as well as new songs (at least to me) and getting us started, following an intro, is a tune which is new to my ears on this album, but one which I am unlikely to forget anytime soon (if ever), my favourite song on the album, the STUNNING 'Unbelievable'

"It's unbelievable!
The blessings Jah Jah send us everyday
And it's inconceivable!
That Jah love us even though sometime we stray

I can't count the times - 
Must be a billion and ninety-nine
When I've been out of line
But when I look behind, I know I'm sure to find
Jah love so warm and kind
In our human capacity, we fall short of the glory
But Jah in HIS divinity, looks past our inequity
And I give thanks that Jah is not like man
Or else not a single soul would stand! 

And it's unbelievable!
The blessings Jah Jah send us everyday
And it's inconceivable!
That Jah love us even though sometime we stray

It is HE who has made us
We owe it to ourselves to be like the tree that is planted, oh yes
When all else will fail, Jah mercy will prevail!
One love, perfect dimension, oh yeah!" 

This song… this song did things to me! I've said it many times in the past and I'll say it again today: There is a definite quality in making music which not entertains and educates, but just makes someone FEEL GOOD and smile and 'Unbelievable' does all of those, as the General stands in awe (biggup Midnite) at the Glory of His Imperial Majesty. While I didn't recognize the album's opening song, the next is very familiar to my ears and hopefully yours as well. The ganja song, 'I Blaze', appeared earlier this year on the stirring "Where I Lead" album from Achis Reggae favourite, Toussaint. It was a big tune there and it remains so, a few months on, but I have to say that I was so happy to see it present on "ASAG". The thought of more 'traditional' fans of the genre (who are the vast majority of the people likely to encounter this album) being turned on to the music of the unconventional Toussaint is a big deal, so biggup Mikey General and company for including it on the new album (and like I said, it is a big tune). Next we have the clever 'Myspace'

"You can never know what I've been through  until you're standing in my place, my place
I don't advertise all my troubles and I don't put it on Myspace, Myspace
You can never see what I see unless you're looking through my view, my view
And if you think my life is easy, walk a mile inna my shoe, my shoe

They see me trodding, they think it is sweet
But I'm ah working hard to make ends meet
So everyday I've gotta hit those streets
To make sure my family got some food to eat
I got my dignity, I got my pride
And my emotions, I keep inside
And even though I'm swimming against the tide -
I take it all in stride" 

I took this song very broadly and not personal or restricted to Mikey General, himself. Because what I think that the main message here is to not overlook people, in general and not to think that your road has been harder or 'better' than someone else's because of how they may appear to you. Which is very profound message and one unlike any other on this album. Excellent song. 

Of the songs on "African Story, African Glory" with which I was already familiar, probably the standout (along with 'I Blaze') was the sublime 'Guide Me', which I think reached just earlier this year. The tune is a praising track across a Blessed B relick of a classic track. this one Is just wonderfully SIMPLE and straight-forward and a perfect example of what I meant when I spoke of the General's conviction of what he says. This is just him singing for The Almighty, You and I are just incidentally listening and good for us, but this is a song from a man to his creator. The mighty 'Innocent Blood' was another one I (kind of) knew of. This tune utilizes a riddim from last year, called the Sunrise Boulevard, via NCF Productions. When I heard it, I started singing a piece of a Turbulence song in my head and I eventually narrowed it down to where I knew the song from. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Mikey General's selection because it easily ranks amongst the very best that track had to offer (the same piece featured good cuts from Exco Levi, Kananga, Jah Vinci and others). You're thinking of it as an anti-violence song because of the title and you're correct, but this tune specifically looks at those who have already gone the course of eschewing the gun becoming involved through no choice of their own. This is a highlight here because it carried a heavy message and it also sounds amazing, sonically. Big riddim. The album's clear changeup 'Not Impossible' was also on a riddim which caught my ear, the Project X (the new one) from Camelbak Records, from not very long ago at all. I distinctly remembered this piece because Mikey General had a song on it and it was not, at all, the type of composition he normally deals with. This riddim was electric and almost Soca-fied, but it was pretty nice, just out of the field of what you would envision him on. Still, it wasn't a failure and it was an inspirational song and one which I'm sure the vocalist took with the thought of making a fun song with a great message and if he did - success. Ifa-Tunde [Aworeni] features on a decent single from last year which I know very little about, but enjoyed still, the social commentary and socially conscious 'All Over The World'. This song, although very much a 'flaring' type of composition, does take a few spins to really grab onto in my opinion, so don't pass a judgment, bad or good, from the very first spin because you'll probably change your mind at some point. I like it though. 

The album also contains a healthy amount of tunes which are new (at least to me) and which make up a great deal of the real class of "African Story, African Glory". A couple of them do leap off the tracklist to your eyes and definitely the first of these is title track (basically), 'African Story'. BOOM!

"Teach di youth dem an Afrikan story 
Tell dem bout dem Afrikan glory
Mek dem know they are Kings & Queens
Build up their self-esteem
Yow you better teach di youth dem an Afrikan story
Tell dem bout dem Afrikan glory
Let dem know they are Kings & Queens
And build up their self-esteem

Nah teach dem bout, Christopher Columbus
Oh, that guy deh only rob us
Don't teach dem bout, Marco Polo
Cause we don't wanna know
Because they distort our history 
Tried to make it inna mystery
But, we are from an ancient sea
Billions of years BC

Teach dem bout The Pyramids, that were built on the banks of the Nile
And about their ancestors who brought civilization thousands of miles
We developed agriculture -
Teach the world how to till the soil
If you don't believe what I say, then you check  the files"

Having been listening to quite a bit of Ras Batch these days, I can confidently say that this is the type of song Batch would LOVE (I think he'd love the entire album, actually) and I'm right with him there. Following that big tune is another one (which actually precedes 'Guide Me' in the finest trio on the whole of "ASAG") in 'One Bright Day' which is also exceptional. This is just a song where, again, the General marvels at the might of His Majesty and openly hopes that when it his own time that he will be prepared and FIT to meet HIM. I take this song broader (because that's just what I do) and connect it to the artist saying to the masses to try to live as well as we possibly can, because we too want to be prepared for our own "bright day". I went off course there, but the other song here which you'll want to hear immediately is certainly 'Yene Mar' which… just so happens to feature someone else who has done big works and a big album in 2012 ("Truly", big album), another favourite of ours, Lutan Fyah. If you're one of our more [semi] regular readers then you can imagine how my face might've looked when I saw a combination existed featuring Lutan Fyah alongside the General (and if you aren't and you can't, then just grab up a mirror, mine probably looked a lot like yours does now). The two do not disappoint and deliver an outstanding song for the beautiful women of the world. The tune just before, 'Empress', is another like-minded set which may not get much attention on this album, but YOU don't be one of those people who ignore it. It's very good. 

Rounding out "African Story, African Glory" is another nice strong three selections, one of which is absolutely golden. 'Take Me Away' [aka 'absolutely golden'], is a MAMMOTH repatriation tune which I wasn't really expecting here for some reason. 

"Won't you take me away to my homeland
Won't you take me away, right away
Won't you take me to sweet Mama Afrika
I don't want to stay another day
Won't you take me away to my homeland
Won't you take me away, far away
Won't you take me away from the plantation
I don't want to stay another day

Fore-parents wept, when they say the beautiful life they left
Take dem from di east and carry dem to di west
And take dem from di peace and put dem inna mess
Oh what a stress!
Fore-people vex, when they see their children living in stress 
Working for more and receiving less
Millions and millions were put to death
So wi haffi left" 

TEARS! If you wanted to make an argument that 'Take Me Away' was the finest effort on this album (you'd have a strong one), I couldn't disagree with you very much. This one is that good and a mighty addition here. Also check the sweetly vibed 'Don't Stress Yourself' which is (apparently a former single, but I didn't know this one prior to it being on this album) (dominating saxophone on this song) a very fascinating song, On it, Mikey General essentially says that life comes with enough stress of its own day-to-day course and you don't need to be adding anything additional to that. It is more in-depth than that (and it sounds much better than I just told it) (thankfully), but what I'm left taking from it is this kind of 'life-commentary' type of composition which, as I said, is very interesting and on top of that, the riddim is intoxicating and it features some of the best vocals on the whole of the album. Lastly, is another interesting piece, 'Pep In Your Step'. This song is less than two minutes long and probably was thought of as some type of a 'bonus track’ and it's a very strong one of those. It's a nice song in any case, as the General says to get up and do whatever it is that you're going to do ["you are the one who create yah happiness"] and definitely maintain yourself in your life.
Overall, in case I didn't make this clear (I did), "African Story, African Glory", as you expected, is a big winner. After going through it, I definitely want more, but I have the feeling that this one is the type which does 'develop' a bit and maybe even a couple of weeks from now, even before the end of the year, I'm likely to have bigger and different thoughts on songs and you know I'm well looking forward to that experience. Even before that, however, what we have here is an unexpected, but expected, wonderful album. I didn't mention this, but Mikey General has had a career which has seen him amongst the very most CONSISTENT names in the genre, so the quality of what he brings is almost never in question. It's just a matter of HOW good it is, not IF it is good. "African Story, African Glory" is the in the 'room' with some of his best to date and a joy to listen to for some of his biggest fans - like me. Very well done! 

Rated: 4.45/5
Qabalah First Music
CD + Digital

Review #406

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