Thursday, January 16, 2014

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

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

NiyoRah has a definite skill: He makes great music. Previously, we proclaimed the second album of the Dominican born singing chanter, "Purification Session" to be the classic that it was and now it receives company in the form of his most recent release. Such a thing is always interesting for anyone with considerable talents, but in the case of NiyoRah it is even more compelling to look back at his albums, in particular, and hear just how far along he's come. On his initial release, 2005's "A Different Age", we heard an artist who, very much, exhibited a great deal of promise and was someone who seemed to actually be capable of fulfilling on that promise (which is really two different qualities - you'll hear someone who seems like they may very well have abilities but are, for one reason or another, virtually guaranteed to not reach high levels) (and you can name dozens of dozens of Dancehall DJ's who fit into that category) and, subsequently, he showed himself to be, perhaps even more capable than we initially thought and then he did precisely realize his potential on the mammoth "Purification Session". But of course, NiyoRah didn't retire and he still had work to date in following what was as perfect of an album that I've ever heard. 
"Purification Session" [2006]
So how do you top perfection?… You don't. If NiyoRah suddenly begins to do an impression of Vaughn Benjamin and he gives us four or five albums every twelve months and they ALL are fantastic, by the end of his career, "Purification Session" will be at least tied as his best album ever. It was just that good. But what you can do and what he has spent his career doing is EXPANDING. In 2010, NiyoRah would return with his third album which would see him with an even larger repertoire than before and he also expanded literally. Both "A Different Age" and "Purification Session" were done with the wonderful people at I Grade Records, but for his next set, Niyo would set his eyes on a different source. This time around he would link with venerable Jamaican producer, Andrew 'Bassie' Campbell, and he would also work on the album himself, via his own Denkenesh Records imprint. I Grade would return as distributor and the results, as expected, would be unforgettable once again. "Feel Your Presence"

The Music

#1. 'No Guts No Glory'
I've really had an evolved opinion in regards to the opening selection from this album, 'No Guts No Glory' and I'm really enjoying where the tune has moved for me over the years. It was this song about relying on The Almighty because HE was the one who, above all else, would never abandon you (which, itself, was an evolved perspective), but what I take from these days, on top of that, is to not turn your back on people. You don't have be Almighty to lend a hand to someone and to consistently offer them support. NiyoRah, wonderfully, uses examples of people who have gone through not only hardships, but glaring hardships (so as to make it a more relatable piece, presumably) and then he adds, "Jah Jah carried him/her home". But no longer think that his intention was to only highlight how powerful and dependable His Majesty is - I think what NiyoRah was trying to do, instead, was to present that way as an example to the rest of us. As if to say that if Someone so powerful can care for someone so weak and flawed, then what's your excuse for not doing it. The song would go on to be a signature moment from the album and remains, arguably, the most popular tune that "Feel Your Presence" carried. 

Lyrics: "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"

#2. 'Bruk Down Barrier' featuring Jah Mason

'Bruk Down Barrier', outside of the first song on the album and maybe its title track is THE tune here which I have listened to most from first having this album and with very good reason. The piece features Jah Mason and is the greatest EDGE displayed on the whole of "Feel Your Presence", a vibes with which neither star nor guest are unfamiliar at all and in this case, it was BRILLIANT. Here we find Niyo and the Mason really calling and looking for some leaders. There is work that needs to be done and they're looking for someone who will do it and doesn't need someone else to take the first step for them ["hold yuh head up high, cause you are #1. You are - the origin of creation!"]. Looking back now, I still enjoy the basic circumstances of this song. Years ago such a combination would have been unlikely, but now that it has come to fruition, it did not disappoint and, hopefully, the two get to work together again some day. 

Lyrics: "Dis a nuh uzi pon di lap ting, ting. Fiction acting ting. Por have not ting, ting. Dis a di youth dem pon di block ting, ting. Pon di spot ting, ting. Round di clock ting, ting. It sting 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 can't stop this thing"

#3. 'Feel Your Presence'

The album's eponymous offering still reigns supreme on the record named after it for me and I can now (and probably will) (and probably already have) point to songs which have a greater impact or are greater in one particular aspect, but as I always say there is a quality and an appreciation and GIANT amounts of both in and for songs which just make you feel good! This song most certainly is about the dependability of The Almighty and how you can live or attempt to live a life which is worthy of HIM, but after that it is a celebration! It is such a joyous piece it makes you smile, it makes you cry and, again, it is just this mountainous ignition and propellant of good emotions. 

Lyrics: "NOW I FEEL YOUR PRESENCE AGAIN, OH JAH! NOW I FEEL YOUR ESSENCE AGAIN, OH JAH! Take me, liberate mi, educate me - I'm asking you, oh please. Oh please"

#4. 'Capture The Moment'

Not too dissimilar from the tune preceding it on the album in terms of its aim, 'Capture The Moment' is a 'moment' saturated with good feelings, good vibes and star potential as a composition. What differs here is that 'Capture The Moment' is a much more of a 'silver lining' type of tune where NiyoRah talks about seeking this amazing moment in the midst of so much foulness and disorder. Whether or not you find, ultimately, is your own doing and he even goes as far as to hint that not everyone who wants to reach it can do so ["there is a way to go, but the way is narrow"], but the way it is presented is so intoxicating that it makes us, as listeners, want to do everything we can to reach this wonderful moment in time. 

Lyrics: "There is a way - to go. But the way - is narrow. Love today - love tomorrow. Capture the moment!"

#5. 'Close Call'

I had full forgotten about this tune before hearing it not too long ago and being reminded of just how much I enjoyed 'Close Call'. The album's obligatory ganja song was a very colourful piece as NiyoRah went through moments and circumstances of how people are persecuted for marijuana. It is a very SPECIFIC tune which can kind of lead you in a very limited direction, for the most part, but later on things are broadened and it becomes what it fully exists as: A beautifully scalding social commentary. 

Lyrics: "One day I was trodding to link up mi bredda to hold some Ises. It's funny how vice and cops try scare you wid dem surprises. From outta di blue they came wid four minivan and a squad car, just fi stick up and question one little humble Rasta. 'Hands up! Don't move!' dem shout. Their hands was all in my pockets. 'What you got? Tell mi now', their hand in and outta mi jacket. But I just laughed at dem but they never knew the reason. Every thing I say is always in Jah Jah time and season"

#6. 'Turn Around The Garrison'

Speaking of social commentaries - the bouncy 'Turn Around The Garrison' was another piece which I had to be wonderfully reminded of and that was also cured in this case. This tune had a very nice message concerning improving the quality of life and the MENTALITY of living in poor surroundings (and Niyo's thought isn't to leave to 'higher' ground but, instead, to raise the ground you're currently standing on), but it sticks with you because of the nature of the vibes of the song. It is a very HAPPY sound and it fits the presentation altogether - making for thoughts of the most unlikely utopia. 

Lyrics: "One love is what we want in the streets. One love is what we want, no more beef"

#7. 'Back Bone'

I needed not the slightest of reminder of 'Back Bone' on the other hand. This tune's triumphant ways made it and continue to make it one of the most glaring highlights from this album. In this case, the 'Back Bone', the largest and sturdiest beam of support in NiyoRah's world are the good Women of the world who really hold society together in so many different ways. You can call it a 'love song' or a 'Mama song' and it is both of those, but it really exists as a THANK YOU to Women who routinely exceed and full on smash expectations in keeping families together in an endless amount of ways. 

Lyrics: "Royal Highness, 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. '[No One Go] Round The Track'

You don't have to participate in their mess is NiyoRah's message to the people on 'Round The Track' which is another personal favourite of mine from "Feel Your Presence". Of the many things that standout in this instance is the subtle shift of intensity which builds throughout the composition. It ultimately peaks on one of the later verses which comes off as almost a complete spur of the moment and spontaneous creation which adds to the edges of this tune which are far from smooth and very stirring.

Lyrics: "My point is - money, fame and greed coulda neva make NiyoRah happy. I'd rather to be up inna di hills planting food, by the riverside SHAKING MY NATTY"

#9. 'The Day The Dollar Died'

You've devoted your life only to pursuing money and now money is hard to come by is the idea behind 'The Day The Dollar Died'. Going a little further, I think the song just deals with people being steered in the wrong direction and focusing on more temporary things and, to make his point, Niyo chooses money before going in a whole heap of different directions later on in the tune. 

Lyrics: "Poor people go to work, no end up with no penny. Pay dem ah pay, struggle everyday, but di rich got plenty. Di people crying out 'babylon just murder daddy'. Blood pon tar, lifelong scar, dead down in di alley. Cool off beyond di hundred. Up inna di million and still nuh dun dread. But wi nah go worry, prophecy dun said: ROBBER ROBBING LOAVES AHGO GET DI CRUMB BREAD"

#10. 'Propaganda'

Originally I saw (and still see) so many different routes of comprehension extending from the GOLDEN tune that was 'Propaganda' and it was damn difficult attempting to find one kind of uniting theme, but thankfully I've since found one (even though it took almost four years to do it). I think that the song is about pushing through and overcoming distractions (not DISASTERS - distractions) and Niyo is quick to point out just how… overcome-able these entities are, choosing as his greatest weapon - common sense. 

Lyrics: "Propaganda, dirty government paying off di media, dem a pestilence. Modern society, thinking they're intelligent. Killing off mi bredda and mi sista dem. Jah IS THE ANSWER FI DI REGIMENT. WI COME FI CONQUER BECAUSE WI CONFIDENT. Inna Jamaica, Rasta is the element. Giving everything to all the youths and dem"

#11. 'Big Robbery'

'Big Robbery' (also called 'Stolen Legacy') is one half social commentary and one half historical observation. Whatever its blend, it all really makes NiyoRah angry and he shows it throughout one of the best songs on the album. What stands out today is the historical perspective present on the tune. He says that oppressors have been building mountains and mountains of wicked ways for years and what happens now is merely thrown on top of what is already there and because of that, being angry and having a harsher delivery definitely aids in getting his point across on this MASSIVE song. 

Lyrics: "Big robbery, they're making a mockery, corrupting di facts for dem to claim. Pyramids in line with star grids - from the depths of the womb is how we came. From their brutality of my forefathers, the stolen legacy remains. LIKE A LION IN THE JUNGLE I ROAR - FI LIBERATE Jah PEOPLE IS THE AIM" 

#12. 'World Jungle' featuring Sugar Minott

The album's other combination, 'World Jungle', actually linked NiyoRah with Sugar Minott and the two made a mighty pairing. Minott would make his transition not too long following the album's release date and, in retrospect, what would later happen would make for an even more enthused set of circumstances here. It didn't need it, however. 'World Jungle', as a song and on its own merits, was damn powerful!

Lyrics: "We've been over the hills, through the valley many times already. Been across the river that was deep and heavy,. And lay my head on the cold ground. With many creeping things around, making funny sounds. But I follow the sun by day and the moon by night. Creatures out there want to take a bite. But Jah is my fire and HE is my light. Keep me safe through all this plight - in this yah Jungle. This yah world Jungle. You will get eaten if you too humble. Can't afford to slide or stumble"

#13. 'Since When'

If you do physical harm to your MOTHER -- if you kill your MOTHER -- very few creatures of any species are lower than you and the human race has evolved from the day of your birth, because pretty much every one else is better than you are in every possible way. I always was of the mindset that 'Since When' had to be written as a result of a specific occurrence because of its very detailed (and terribly ghoulish) subject. It is an antiviolence piece at its heart which just speaks on going way, WAY too far and I think that it was NiyoRah's intention to draw such a striking end as if to say THIS is what can happen if you don't change your ways, knowing that nothing but the absolute worst of the worst would disagree. 

Lyrics: "Di ghetto organize a gangsta squad just fi find di boy weh murder Mama love like dog. No long talk, gun bark from he's in di yard. Who send you fi go do that?! Shake him head bald and him lef di town. But remember seh Jah youth dem have contacts around and no matter what you seh you got di people frown. Someone ahgo get lick down. Kicked down"

#14. 'Indigenous World'

And on the album's final selection, we "beat kette drum and shake babylon" with NiyoRah across Andrew Campbell's Drum Melody Riddim (TOWERING tune called 'Shake Babylon' by Zebi-Lion on the same riddim) (biggup Zebi-Lion) for 'Indigenous World'. This is another piece with which I have gone through a bit of changes in terms of how I appreciate it. Not only is it a song about loving the more natural aspects of life and eschewing the more 'modern' world, but it is also about HOME and the power of home. Niyo speaks of not underestimating people ["don't you judge the woman from the forest. The spirit of Menen could be in the body of Delores"] and finding one's own path in life and one's own origins and we get this revolving definition of home to being anywhere you find happiness and comfort.

Lyrics: "Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Great is the precedence of King and Queen. Dash away calamity - dash away that scene. EVERYONE WITHIN THEMSELVES IS A SUPREME BEING. Deep within you all is a true entity. Life over death is the real reality. Try your very best to come out of misery. RIGHTEOUSNESS TO JAH IS SATISFACTORY"

I think I overlooked just how much of a complex album "Feel Your Presence" was. Going back looking through it wasn't like doing the same thing for a Midnite album (writing about thirty of those in twelve months is… really difficult), but it is an album which DEFINITELY requires a great deal of attention. But it is worth it as well as it is the type of album which, presumably, can keep your interest indefinitely because every time you listen to it, you are able to focus on some new aspect which didn't originally strike you. Listening to it now - it is an even better album and one which will probably continue to grow and grow for me. 

With that being said I do think that the heart of the album is so open and I think that it was NiyoRah's intention for it to be that way. If you ask ten different people, you're likely to get thirteen different interpretations. But today you're asking me (because you have no standards in life) and I think that the central theme behind the "Feel Your Presence" album is unity. Throughout the record, but particularly on the opening and title tracks, NiyoRah does and says certain things which, because of the moment (and the genre) you automatically refer to a higher power, but as I said, I don't think you need to be omnipotent to do all of them. You do not need to be The Almighty to be there for someone or to not turn your back on them because of the life they've led. 

Obviously, I go back to 'No Guts No Glory' which is such a powerful song for this. 

"Di youth weh bust dem gun fi fun and ah mek blood run -
Jah carry dem home
Di 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

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 a OG
No guts, no glory
From the Black dust I rise

Di elders weh nah have no body fi care dem -
Menen carry dem home
Di wife weh lose her husband inna war
Jah Jah carried her home
For we have been the victim of -
Mind control and pharmaceutical drugs 
But like a lotus growing the mud
I & I rise through the thorns and shrubs


GRRR! Clearly he is speaking about people taking the lead here. This isn't even, really, a very spiritual song, it's a very tangible one which says to do upful and righteous things but, above all, to make sure that you take your fellow man and woman with you, despite their past. Even on ‘Feel Your Presence', the song, which is spiritual, you see evidence of this. 

"Maybe someday, who knows, Nature will come to our rescue
And every gunplay will cease and men will manifest their utmost best too
I hope that love may overflow, filling up the whole population
And then the dogs' day will come, just to feel the wrath of The Lion"

It is the first line there which is of most interest - "Maybe someday, who knows, Nature will come to our rescue". Until and unless then, however, we're on our own and I think that the, in full, whenever the album takes a spiritual turn (and it does happen often) it isn't this kind of blanketing concept and instead it is one which serves as inspiring example for the current leaders of the world to not wait for something to be done, but to do it yourselves. 

That's what I have taken, so far, from "Feel Your Presence" by NiyoRah, which figures to provide listeners with years and years of more big vibes and, without a doubt, is a bonafide Modern Reggae Classic!

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