Tuesday, May 7, 2013

'THANK YOU!!!': A review of "The Race" by Malika Madremana

For nice things! Though it certainly had a very large pair of shoes to fill, 2012 is turning out to be a very good one for reggae fans , particularly all fifteen or so of us who actually pay attention to albums. It's been good. And while I could go into the biggest of names who have already made appearances this year and those who are set to do so shortly (on May 28th), today we're going to hail a very welcomed personal surprise for me and someone who has just made my 2013 listening experience a much, much sweeter one. Previously making a similar contribution, for me, earlier this year were the likes of Ras Army and, especially, Lion D. Army is definitely one of the most respected artists from out of the Virgin Islands and while his new album, "Dredlocks Time" may not have been the most popular set of the year, it was wonderful for me and is still growing. Similarly, Lion D's KNOCKING "Bring Back The Vibes" album was a fantastic followup to one of the better albums that I’ve ever heard and I was well happy to see a great general response to that one as well. And there have been others, but I don't know that the mere existence of any album through the first four months and week of this year has brought as great of a smile to my face as the album from one of our more 'elusive' favourites did - the wonderful and captivating Malika Madremana! Be it making some of the most captivating Roots Reggae music that you'll hear from anyone (more on that in a second), singing a healthy backup for several of my other favourites, having a really, REALLY cool name or just being a very nice person who even honoured us with an interview from a few years back (before I realized that I was… really bad at interviews), Madremana has been someone who has managed to stay on my radars and do so effortlessly. That was despite the fact that she hadn't exactly been the most active of names in the studio and while you would hear from occasionally on projects, it had now reached a point where it was more than six years from the last time that we had heard from her on a full album release. Well we know that all good things do come to end, but apparently bad ones do too and look who's back! DAMN! 
"Healing" [2005] & "Elixir" [2007]
 Previously, Malika Madremana had pushed a pair of albums a few years ago. The first was "Healing" from 2005 - an album which I will ALWAYS remember, if for no other reason than it carried what was rather easily one of the best songs I've ever heard, 'Just Jah'. The entire album was nice as well and it placed her difficult-to-forget name in my brain permanently. A couple of years on she would test my memory (and I would pass), as in 2007 Madremana would reach with her sagacious sophomore set, "Elixir". That album came via GreenSphere Records who, in that same calendar year, would also do albums for both Ras Attitude and Ras Batch which would feature starring contributions from Madremana and, also, her singing a great deal of backups as well. She's really been involved in some great moments and 2013 now brings a particularly one great one for her. 

Malika Madremana and Big Cup Music now invite You and I to join "The Race". While the two previously mentioned albums featured the work of Blaak Lung (biggup Blaak Lung - new album "Signs Of Change", in stores now) with whom Madremana was most closely associated with musically, but things have changed over the past couple of years or so. In 2011 the singer of Puerto Rican heritage would appear on a record from a band called Dub Vision which [I THINK] is the backing band of the venerable Don Carlos, called "Counter Attack". I remember being SO excited to see that she had a tune on that album 'Child of Israel', because it may've been the first new song that I'd heard from her in a couple of years or so at that point. Obviously I wasn't the only one who was pleased by that union as a David Lodge from Dub Vision is the maestro behind the new album, "The Race". I consider myself a patient person and I am, but I was SOOOOOOO happy to see this album materialize. I have been waiting on it, whatever "it" was going to be -- new album from Malika Madremana -- for six years and, going into it, I am very happy for its circumstances. Furthermore, and most importantly, a new album offers a new opportunity to enjoy and experience the magnificent music of Malika Madremana again. If you haven't listened to a great deal of her output in the past (SHAME ON YOU!), as I said, Madremana has a style which is so infectious and so dazzling that she makes a genre which is often regarded (incorrectly in my opinion - the greats, inherently distinguish themselves all of the time) as somewhat template-based and formulaic, seem so far from that. Also, as I've said in the past, she is a terrific writer and as someone who has heard song after song saying the same damn thing in the same damn way, it's very refreshing to hear someone who not only can offer a unique perspective and opinion on certain topics, but even where she may hold the prevailing opinion, Madremana can always be depended on to have a fascinating and often thrilling way of delivering that message to the masses. The full result is someone who I feel is appreciable by any type of fan, new and old, and I write these things and try to give as precise of a recommendation that I can and hopefully I'm accurate, but I can now confidently say that if you're the oldest and most jaded Roots Reggae fan on the planet, you'll like her work. Similarly (actually not similarly), if you're fully new to the genre, you'll also be able to find something in what she does so well. Want an example? Let's take a listen to her new album.
'Good People' single [2013]
The first thing you notice about the tracklist of this album which may actually be a problem isn't a problem at all and, actually, at the time when I first saw it, I didn't think it would be. There're ten songs on this album and it has a running time of just over forty minutes. Yes, when it's complete you want more (and even if she made an album with two-hundred songs on it, you'd still want more), but this isn't a 'thin' album. Malika Madremana is someone who can accomplish a great deal in such time and does throughout the album. Also, every song here is very good (AT LEAST), so it definitely appears that it went through some fairly meticulous planning before arriving. When "it", the brand new album from Malika Madremana, "The Race" does arrive it does so on the strength of one of its mightiest moments, 'Mi Deyah'. I know this song, or at least a version of it by the name of 'I'm Prepared', from somewhere and the updated piece is full on magical!

"I was there when Columbus spread diseases
I was living in swamps with leaches
I was listening to Garvey's speeches -
To receive the message of my Fathers teachings
So what can you bring to me I haven't seen yet?
You can't do nothing to me that I ain't seen
No disease
No bullets
No pain

I'm still here
Yes mi deh ya!
And Madremana ain't going nowhere
Many will drop out, but I'm here to stay
I feel like I got scars from thousands of years

Now I'm here again by the grace of my Father -
Rastafari send HIS children to the nearest and farthest regions -
Of the earth, to replenish the youth with truth and rights
Message of salvation
So hold on!
We almost deh ya!
Hey Jah Jah children got nothing to fear
No man, no woman, no demon could take away the love of Jah Rastafari keeps us near
So evil beware
We got the fire of Jahova in wi stare
No dutty business, no wicked betrayer
Just Jah by our side

BOOM! GRRRR! The song opens things with an unexpected, but wholly appreciated and LOVED bite and edge to the album musically and in terms of its direction. I could take this one in so many different directions because it speaks on so many of them, particularly the Afrikan Diaspora and how oppressed people have maintained throughout history, but in any case - whatever you take from it - 'Mi Deyah' is MAMMOTH (but there is one song on this album I like even more)! Next up is the first single from "The Race", 'Good People'. I really like the 'nature' of this song and its premise and it really illuminates what I meant when I said that she has a really unique perspective on specific topics. This song is interesting early because instead of pointing out what is WRONG, Madremana does cover it and does acknowledge that things are not perfect, but she points to what is RIGHT in the world. There are still so many good people who will help you and good situations you can thrive in despite your current situation ["Don't believe the world is doomed"]. It is that intelligent marriage of acknowledging the bad, but highlighting and supporting the great which really made me a fan of this song and I think it will do the same to you. So! After telling us that she hasn't gone anywhere and that she knows so many good people, Malika Madremana needs one more thing during the opening kilometer of this race - she needs 'Someone to Dance Wit' (DUH! What else would she need!). I have to say that some of the most fun I've ever had has been in dancing by myself, but dancing by myself has never been as fun as this song which came as a complete, but an entirely welcomed surprise to my ears.

"I gotta call up on a Friday afternoon about a dance -
My girls were trying to bring me to
I took a chance, something I really never do 
But it had been so very long -
Since I had chilled
I work so hard to pay the bills and I was thrilled
To be kicking it in the party on the real 
On the real
And it was so nice
I checked, the sound system's right
The place is packed up tight
I'm in the spot tonight
And I'm looking for some fun
It's Friday night
The moon is shining bright
Over the party lights and I'm looking for someone right

Now I got money in my pocket and I got family all around
But there is one thing that I am missing 
I hope he's somewhere to be found

When you hear this song, you are going to want to dance with someone! It may or may not be Malika Madremana (but it probably will be, though by the end of the song she does find someone, the kind of lion she likes, to dance with, so it does have a happy ending), and it surely won't be me, but be careful, don't hurt yourself and have a good time. The song is excellent and a fine changeup of the vibes on "The Race".

Still, to my opinion the finest moment on the album is the tune for which it is named after. 'The Race' is absolutely spectacular! I was very interested in the direction of this song (especially because it is the title track) and it did not disappoint in any way. The song is like a historical/social commentary which takes its name for the "race" as in 'human race' and how some people have actually turned it into a competition and, subsequently, have ‘false-started' - leaving the rest of the world behind. She embraces the sporting aspect of the foundational idea and expands on it BRILLIANTLY!

"Red flag!
Whistle or something!
Referee - ain't saying nothing
How can we catch up with something so far?
We're trying so hard and crying 'false start'!
Stop and restart the race!
Hearts can reset the pace!
Don't you know haste makes waste
Trip and end up flat on your face
You're disgraced
Cheaters never take first place"

That song is going to open a lot of eyes and I'll tell you - if you have never heard of Malika Madremana and want an idea of exactly what she is capable of, your journey here starts at 'The Race'. BOOM! The fascinating 'Let Mi Lion Roam' rounds out the first half of the run and while I definitely don't know for sure, the song seems to be a personal one for Madremana. It is based on being on the outside of the situation where she has someone who is unfairly incarcerated and how it affects those at home and what she goes through in trying to be helpful in the situation. Though it may or may not personal to her, it is entirely relatable and she eventually broadens it out and makes sure that the masses are able to find something familiar in several very clever ways.

We've reached the halfway point of "The Race" and head home beginning on another sharp and DEEP turn, 'Invisible Beauty'. Give me a minute with this one: Okay, first of all I think the song is ultimately about unity and stripping away things like 'race' [ethnicity and skin colour] and seeing the inner person for what they are. On top of that, this is a GORGEOUS piece! Sounding like an amalgam of one part Roots Reggae and one part Zouk, the beauty of 'Invisible Beauty' is immediately apparent, however, should you dig a little deeper, the gift you receive for your troubles is an even better song and one of the best here. Next up is the autobiographical 'Jah Is Wit Me'. Here, Madremana outlines what not only brought her to the musical world, but what [WHO] guided her in the direction of making the type of music that she does. Though fairly serious, I really enjoy what seems to be a loose type of feeling which is exceptionally clear on the tune's second verse where things just brighten up and you can literally HEAR the smile on Madremana's face while she is singing! 

"Now check it, something happened to me around age ten
One night I had to face a spiritual awakening 
And ever since that day I wasn't the same again
Now check it, some my call it 'blessing'
Some say 'it's a burden'
To have a conscious mind and a healthy wisdom but -

Things slow down a bit on the lovely and poignant 'Love Is Easy'. This song, as its title does suggest, is so simple and so straight forward and I think that is a quality which so much helps its presentation. If 'Love Is Easy', then it shouldn't take you through a great struggle to explain it to me and this very calming, yet powerful, piece really captures that moment very well. 'Tradition' finds Madremana giving honour to those who came before her and paved the proverbial way as well as the historical and present effect it has had on those so fortunate enough to be able to encounter it at some point in our lifetimes (Yes! She made a song about You and I). 

"Now I'm a sing my songs of culture
Yes, I'm a sing my songs of love
Like Jacob Miller, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley did, when they were singing to us long ago
Jacob said "forward ever and a backwards never"
We hold the riddim steady, keep the lyrics so clever
Can't sever - Jah children from righteous endeavour
24/7 culture we deliver
Not going to switch, even a little bit
No star, we got to go through with it
No war too big - we can conquer it
Our love can conquer it

Just follow we tradition
Tradition -
Stand for truth and rights and hold the under derision
Cause their mission's division
Rastafari stand firm
Sing ya song

Keep on coming like waves on the ocean
Like clouds, forever floating, many hungry minds are open
And the food that they're open for is word, song and spoken

BOOM AGAIN! BOOM UNTIL HURTS! The song is respectful, but it is also Roots Reggae revelry of the highest caliber and one of my favourite songs on this album and I won't be alone in that (if I am it says nothing about me and everything about the rest of you). Finally is 'Miles & Miles' which is only ninety seconds long and is as much of an instrumental as it is as a vocal song. Dub Vision is a band and they give a fine showcase of what they can do on the fittingly titled closer of "The Race", 'Miles & Miles' which also does have relevance as a lyrical performance because Madremana never wastes a track, especially not one as fine as this one. Also, speaking of instrumentals, I think that might be my only critique of this album. Mixing in a few, two or three, and maybe some dubs would have added to things in my opinion. And with someone as skilled and versatile as Malika Madremana, even the vocal dubs which're very popular these days would have been really good.  
Malika Madremana
Overall, “The Race”, as any, can be a tedious one. Malika Madremana can definitely challenge a listener, but she challenges us a good way. She wants you to come with an open mind and prepared to learn and prepared to ask questions and participate (if I recall correctly, she is, or at least used to be, a teacher). But at the same time, it isn't exhaustive and fans of her music, new and old, are likely to appreciate the mental workout. I do also want to make connections because 2013 has been a fine one for females in Reggae music. To date, the two best albums of the year, "New Name" and "Better Tomorrow" have come from Jah9 and Etana (with Queen Ifrica still to come). "The Race" is something on that level. It is also, to my opinion, the single best piece of work of Malika Madremana's career. Here, we find everything that she used to make a fan out of me pushed to a higher degree and now it's your turn! Pick up her new album, "The Race" today and enjoy what is sure to be one of the year's finest. Very well done!

Rated: 4.70/5
Big Cup Music
CD + Digital 

Review #437

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