Monday, January 21, 2013

Modern Classics Vol. XXXVI: "Feel Your Presence" by NiyoRah

"Feel Your Presence" by NiyoRah [I Grade Records/Denkenesh Records - 2010]

NiyoRah is easily one of the most talented artists currently on the scene in all of Reggae music. Throughout the years, from first hearing his talents as part of the Star Lion Family, up until now, the Dominican born, St. Thomas grown singing chanter has developed into an absolute powerhouse of a talent, capable of doing anything necessary on a track and, at least for me, is currently in a very small group from whom greatness should be expected every time he does something musically. 
Fortunately, he's yet to disappoint. Now three studio albums deep into his career, Niyo has, as far as I'm concerned, already turned out two classic releases. The first was 2006's colossal "Purification Session", which was such a powerful and wholly unforgettable piece that had he not even come close to equaling its levels throughout the rest of his career, it would have been strong enough on his own to have anchored a still very solid catalog. However, four years later, NiyoRah would finally deliver its successor and, once again, make many people happy by serving up another potential classic. Previously, all of NiyoRah's album work came via I Grade Records, who were once again on board of the new project, but musically the new album saw the artist working much with the venerable Jamaican producer and musician Andrew 'Bassie' Campbell, as well as displaying his own label, Denkenesh Records. The album would be fully comparable with its predecessor and even, arguably, exceed it in some aspects. NiyoRah reached golden levels again in 2010 when he pushed the second of what just may prove to someday be an entire catalog of albums packed with undeniable classics. "Feel Your Presence"

The Music

#1. 'No Guts No Glory'
I've had so much fun throughout the last nearly three years in listening to this tune and going through and coming up with various purposes for it and every time I hear it, even still, I think I find myself not only finding yet another 'route' to its meaning, but enjoying it as well! These days, I look at 'No Guts No Glory', the opener for "Feel Your Presence", as being a song which really is one which is a praising tune, but of an extremely clever style. What I think Niyo is saying is that no matter who you are and what you have done in your life and with your life, if your intentions are righteous and you want to make a change, there is a way and there is Someone, who wants to help you. 

Best Lyrics: "It is the people who make the damn choices. Just voice your opinion, let me hear your voices. It is the people who have dem upful vibes yah, no matta how di government ah gwan wid all dem hype yah. It is the people who make the true decisions. We're not going to be no lamb to slaughtered through dem inquisition. It is the people who know about this poverty, so then it means that we are closer to, oh yes, His Majesty. It is the children weh bringing back di wisdom of the ancient day, of di ancient bass and skin drum. It is the children bringing back di power OF HOW BABYLON GO MELT AND FADE AWAY IN LESS THAN AN HOUR!" [BOOM!]

#2. 'Bruk Down Barrier' featuring Jah Mason

Even on paper, a tune featuring NiyoRah alongside Jah Mason still kind of makes me smile, even without thinking of the actual track. That "track”, of course, 'Bruk Down Barrier', was everything you hoped it would be and even a little more with such huge talents combining on a single tune. This song had such a great level of energy and intensity, but it wasn't just a show of fire and flames there was more than a little significance in the message as the Mason and NiyoRah came together to call for change on a massive scale in the world. Excellent.

Best Lyrics: "Dis ah nah uzi pon di lap ting-ting. Fiction acting ting. Poor have not ting-ting. This ah di youth dem pon di block ting-ting. Pon di spot ting-ting. Round di clock ting-ting. It hit dem hard when wi drop ting-ting. Lyric attack ting-ting. By di back ting-ting. A King Selassie got mi back ting-ting. Forward! Babylon caan stop dis ting!"

#3. 'Feel Your Presence'

Don't you know? My favourite tune on "Feel Your Presence" is and has always been the title track because it so wonderful builds an unmatched combination of the absolute heights of sonic appeal (this is a beautiful song), with an equally attractive message. These days I'm so interested in how plainly straight-forward the song is. Besides the chorus, which is always the case, there isn't one aspect here which so glaringly stuck in your mind. Instead, the ENTIRE SONG becomes that moment. It's something which stays with you, in full and it hasn't left me and remains, easily, one of the best songs I've ever heard from NiyoRah. A straight-forward masterpiece!

Best Lyrics: "Don't you know - Life is a blessing from The Most High! It is electro-magnetic, with The Father, I'm going to keep a close tie. From San Francisco to the big apple, changes will occur in the whole sky. So spread the info to every chapel: Loving from good people, no it won't die. Now I feel your presence again. Whoa Jah! Now I feel your essence again. Whoa Jah! So take me, liberate me, educate me. I'm asking you. Oh pleas Jah" 

#4. 'Capture The Moment'

'Capture The Moment' is, essentially, a song which wears its message on its proverbial sleeve because it tells you what’s standing behind it with its title. It is a wonderful tune about really taking advantage of what you have and making the best of a moment (every moment). It's not that simple, however, because of the way that we arrive at that conclusion is through a social commentary of sorts and it is one built in such a way to provide a forthcoming happy day and an opportunity for people to "capture the moment". I hear this song now and I really focus in one line in its chorus: 

"there is a way to go

I look at that and I don't hear exclusion. What I hear is actuality. I don't think NiyoRah is saying that everyone CANNOT go to this much better 'place' and this much better way of life, I think he's saying that everyone WILL NOT go. Some people would rather remain in the nastiness and the road is too narrow for them and they probably don't even care. For everyone else, however, "there is a way”. What a gorgeous song. 

Best Lyrics: "There is a way to go, but the way is narrow. Love today, love tomorrow. Capture the moment"

#5. 'Close Call'

I've grown to appreciate 'Close Call' slightly more than I did originally in the time from since first hearing it. The song is one outlining how much herb is fought against and mistreated and hated by the system and the course people have grown through in which to protect and preserve it. But it's much more specific than that and Niyo really puts together, well, different situations to illustrate his prevailing point and it's a great song. HOWEVER, and I'll go back to this later, surely, what now stands out, particularly in this moment with this song, is just how OVERWHELMINGLY talented the artist can be. There is not a thing you would want from a Roots Reggae artist that NiyoRah is incapable of, including this tune which comes off so naturally and effortlessly, but I'm of the mind that it probably didn't take a great deal of time for him to do. It's just an organic level of talent: Talent doing… what it does. 

Best Lyrics: "Close call, what a close call. Still mi have faith cause a Jah weh know all. Close call, oh what a close call. Marijuana must legalize after all"

#6. 'Turn Around the Garrison'

I've grown to take 'Turn Around the Garrison" as really being this nicely broadened tune which applies to so many different areas of life, which makes it a social commentary, with the pieces about the military really being wholly applicable to oppressive, society, in general. Because of that, this is such a lyrically impressive and accessible piece and I haven't even mentioned the sound of it yet. As soon as it comes in your head is moving, you're smiling and really feeling good. It has both of those areas covered and covered completely. 

Best Lyrics: "Turn around the garrison. Make it conscious! Make it conscious yeah. We are all Afrikans who were divided and spread out"

#7. 'Backbone'

Speaking of sounding good and make you smile and move, check the very clever 'Backbone'. NiyoRah declares his woman, and good Women in general, as the foundation [the "backbone"] of the family life and the household. It is somewhat expected, in terms of what it is, but you don't expect the song giving thanks and praises to the wonderful Women of the world to sound like this. 'Backbone' definitely has something extra to it making it expected, but far from excessive. 

Best Lyrics: "In our yard, youths are running bout, just playing in the trees. Unconditional love is all I have, giving I the sight to see. Royal I-ness, my love, my dear, you are worth so much to me. When the music play, let us dance all day and raise the frequency"

#8. 'Round the Track'

'Round The Track' is definitely another social commentary on "Feel Your Presence", but it is a bit darker and grimier piece which really gives it this very interesting and unique edge to the vibes. A couple of other really interesting aspects about this song (three actually) - The first is that the riddim may just be the single finest on the whole of the album. It is fantastic and, even more impressive, it so wonderfully matches the vibes of the tune standing in front of it. Clearly Bassie Campbell and company knew it so you get this dazzling continuation of the track long after Niyo's vocals have come to an end. Secondly the 'presentation' of this song is also excellent. I speak on it occasionally, but it is so nice and refreshing when an artist not only can sing or chant or deejay or do whatever it is that they do, but it is another entirely when they link up their projection and delivery, in terms of the mood, with what they're saying at the time and it isn't just the same emotion coming through when you're singing about atrocities going on in the world and when you're singing about… some woman who you met last night and will never see again. And lastly, 'Round The Track' just may be the finest lyrical effort on the whole of the project, which is saying a great deal. 

Best Lyrics: "They give us sneakers and jocks to build up their own stocks. Have us working on clocks, then they feed us rocks!" 

#9. 'The Day the Dollar Died'

As its title would suggest, 'The Day the Dollar Died', is very much an economical commentary on the state of monetary affairs of the world. This song, maybe more than any other on the album has really grown on me considerably from around first hearing it, because it such an all encompassing tune. Yes, it has a subject and it sticks to it (which is a great thing, of course), but it takes that subject and steers it in so many different directions and categories. One of the most interesting is NiyoRah adding in how the respecting and empowerment of Women is so important to the monetary system. He wasn't the first to make such a claim and he wasn't the last, but I don't know and I don't think that I've ever heard it expressed in a song to such a FINE detail. 

Best Lyrics: "Cool off beyond di hundred. Up inna di million and still nuh done dread. But mi nah go worry, prophecy dun said: Robber robbing loaves ahgo get di crumb bread" 

#10. 'Propaganda'

'Propaganda' is another piece which has given me nearly three of years of enjoyment in breaking down and analyzing. In its specific case, it isn't so much of an instance of trying to seek a single unifying statement of the song, because this one is just so 'free' that it has several and it ultimately goes in a many different directions. Some of those directions are entirely exact and some are broader, but when you stick them together, not only do they work as a unit, but they excel as well. Listen to this tune and notice the wonderful building of intensity and how the riddim, almost like it has a mind of its own, almost seems to KNOW when to back up a little and give Niyo more room to shine (the track is almost losing its "MIND" at the end of the song) (no behaviour!) (NONE!). In doing so, they both shine on one of the biggest tunes here. 

Best Lyrics: "Di ghetto youth dem powerful, can't you see? Farmers bringing food in from the far country. I see my people full of loyalty. The Emperors and the Empresses in royalty"

#11. 'Stolen Legacy'

I'm no longer of the thought that the single most prevalent idea behind 'Stolen Legacy' is the Afrikan Diaspora, although it is clearly a part of it and it may, in fact, be at the center of it all in terms of the intention of the song. The tune is more of a social commentary, but it is one with one ear firmly tilted toward the present and the other just all tightly pressed towards the past. They have a common ground, fortunately, and it exists not only somewhere in the resulting song, but in its quality as well. 

Best Lyrics: "Shot caller, tell mi what's the reason why you're not on the frontline, fighting yah war-a. Big baller, tell mi what's the reason why these fools take advantage of the poor with the dollar. Damn coward. The oil it is the blood of the earth, still you pump gallons out every hour. Eyes open. You tried to fool the people, but we know what's up, from you must be joking"

#12. 'World Jungle' featuring Sugar Minot

The next tune, just like everything else he touched, benefited so greatly from the presence of the legendary Sugar Minot, who joined NiyoRah on 'World Jungle'. The message here was a powerful one and an inspirational one at heart, at least in my opinion, but listening to this song now, it is SO entertaining. Between the two of, Sugar Minot and NiyoRah make a downright thrilling track which you can listen to the lyrics and get a very powerful bi of incentive and motivation from, and you can sit back and just enjoy for the sake of being great music. I've done both!

Best Lyrics: Sugar Minot"Trodding through the jungle, got to find some fruits that’s good for the soul. Cause some things weh look nice fi eat a poison and will put you inna hole. Got to find the waterfalls and the cool, cool stream and pray that no alligator nah come pon di scene”

#13. 'From Since When'

Baby Cham (look at the connections I make for you people!) had a song from a few years back called 'Conscience' which was (MAD!) a tune which really just had so much common sense at work that it's remained one of my favourites from the DJ and a full-on masterpiece. At the core of that tune, and its intelligence, was an acknowledgement that people were going to nasty things. They've been doing from there were human beings to do it and they were going to continue. HOWEVER, what Cham said there was that for even those people, they had to have some type of line they didn't cross, but they did anyway, which made things all the more fucked up. Why do I bring up 'Conscience'? Because I now find 'From Since When' to be of a somewhat similar foundation. Do what you do, you're going to do it anyway. But if you endanger innocent people and especially YOUR MOTHER ("for money!"), well then I don't even think a song like this or any other piece of sound, manmade or naturally occurring can help you. 

Best Lyrics: "Shot a lick. Shot a bust. Man a scramble. Murdah! Through dem lost inna gamble. Now di whole district inna shamble. Was it worth it fi cut Mama circuit?" 

#14. 'Indigenous World'

I am 100% certain that I am the only person who hears this song and IMMEDIATELY begins to sing a song called 'Shake Babylon' from the most underrated Zebi-Lion from out of Grenada. The two were the big highlights from Bassie's excellent Drum Melody Riddim (also featuring Winston McAnuff, King David, Emperor Mangasha (big tune) and others) (in stores now) (pick it up) and have really become linked in my head. For his part, NiyoRah delivered more excellence on which to end "Feel Your Presence" and 'Indigenous World' finds him shunning the more modern occurrences and fully embracing and then praising the natural aspect of the earth of life. 

Best Lyrics: "Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Great is the precedence of King & Queen. Dash away calamity. Dash away that scene. EVERYONE, WITHIN THEMSELVES, IS A SUPREME BEING. Deep within your walk is a true entity. Life over death is the real reality. Try your very best fi come out of misery. Righteousness to Jah is satisfactory"


Listening back to this album now, I don't quite remember it as being as specific as it actually was. I do recall, however, being almost overwhelmingly impressed by it from a lyrical aspect and I now think that it may have been that specificity (I LOVE that word), precisely, what made that impression to me and I still regard it as being such an impressive and IMPORTANT album from a writing point of view. Throughout the album, particularly on songs such as 'No Guts No Glory', 'Close Call' and even the closer, 'Indigenous World', NiyoRah really grinds things down to a powder-like detail in order to really make his point as vivid as it could possibly be. 

"The youth weh buss dem gun fi fun and ah mek blood run, Jah carry dem home
The poor princess weh sell her body fi money, Jah Jah carry her home
For I have been a victim of -
My environment and ignorant thoughts
But my intent is genuine
So be a better man than I have been"

No guts no glory 
Become the fullness of the story
No guts no glory
I am the only one who knows me
No guts no glory
I'm a Rasta not an OG
No guts no glory
From the Black dust I rise

The elders weh no have nobody fi care dem, Menen carry dem home
The wife weh lose her husband inna war, Jah Jah carry her home
For we have been the victim of -
Mind controlling pharmaceutical drugs
But like a lotus growing through  the mud-
I & I rise from the thorns and shrubs"

That becomes a fantastic challenge for a listener! Obviously Niyo isn't speaking of these particular people in these particular situations, alone. Those are not the only people who "Jah carry home", but it is up to the listener, who may not be in one of those situations and may not know anyone like them, to find themselves in there somewhere and to use them as examples of the wide variety of people for whom there is help -- including You and I. 

All of that speaks to what I feel is THE, or at least one of the main points behind this album. It is an album hoping to increase a sense of self-awareness within the listener or, at the very least, fortify or reinforce what is already there. So many of the tunes on the album are pieces speaking of the ways and goings of the world, but just as many of them are of what WE can do to change or attempt to change those ways. I go back to the piece from 'Capture the Moment' that I highlighted in speaking of the song. 

"There is a way, to go
But the way, is narrow
Love today, love tomorrow
Capture the moment"

"THERE IS A WAY TO GO, BUT THE WAY IS NARROW", is such a wonderful thing to say in a song like this. What NiyoRah is saying, as I said, is that there is a place if you're intentions as righteous. It will require some work to reach and everyone will not go, but YOU make sure that YOU are there. And I listen to so many of these songs and that's what they have in common to a large degree: It is the examination of the role of the individual, the listener, the subject, the whoever, in society and what they can do to change things and help make the world a better place. So, while you can, and I still do, look at the album's title and think of a more spiritual point of focus, I very much now look at it, also as a statement: [You] feel your presence. I also look at the album behind it as an amazing one and a bonafide Modern Reggae Classic

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