Thursday, February 13, 2014

'You Need To Hear This': A review of "Indigenous" by Rob Symeonn

Sweet things. Behind each and every album we deal with here there is some type of story and development about how it came to our attention and, obviously, why I felt the way about it that I did. That kind of 'journey' to the record, in my opinion, definitely adds to the enjoyment of the music and when you place things into more of a historical context, at some point in the future, it becomes a large part of how I’m able to appreciate and process a record. It isn't just a matter of an album by an artist - it's something much more in respect to the circumstances around that particular release. For example, something which I'm well thinking back to in comparison to our subject today is the wonderful show that Anthony Que put on back in 2012 with the release of a pair of downright majestic albums, "Meditation Time" and "No Fear No Man". I don't know that there will ever exists a point in my lifetime where I think about one without the other. And that doesn't, at least not for the most part, happen in any other avenue of music, with the exception of live performances. As far as a particular artist, the story kind of continues to evolve (and devolve in some cases) and moments which seemed big and crucial at one point, become less and less so over time (think of, for example, the number of Reggae artists whose musical paths experienced spiritual conversions and just how interesting it was at that time and, basically, only at that time). An album, on the other hand, carries a far more finite set of interests which, when the final product is SO good are just as special. And certainly it is the same case, with a great deal more importance on the side of the artists for whom, when an album is done properly, can have an experience of that particular release really serving as a snapshot of their entire life for that period of time. And if that is the case, then Rob Symeonn is living the life of a king (biggup Lutan Fyah) (new album, "Life Of A King", in stores now). Symeonn is one of those names who I've been meaning to get around to really listening to one day but, for some reason, just never really got around to despite numerous opportunities. The Jamaican born and US based vocalist is a veteran and as far as my research shows, has been involved in music, in some capacity, for the better part of the last forty years or so and it was quite a few years ago now that he first came to my attention with an album which was very well received by the name of "The Chosen One". I'd always meant to go back and write for that album (and I still may), but just to be sure that I do, Symeonn has just done… something really, really good! 

Biggup Bredz! My wonderful Wife's Brother mainly deals with the messages we get these days and occasionally he'll let me know that someone was kind enough to send us something exceptional. He has very good taste and, more importantly, he knows what I'm likely to enjoy so when he tells me, from a few days ago now, that I can "reserve a top five place for Rob Symeonn's new album in December" he has my attention and as usual, he was right.  
"The Chosen One" [2006] & "Abso Root Ly Hot" [2008]
To my knowledge, Rob Symeonn's latest creation is his third album to date. The aforementioned "The Chosen One" was his initial release back in 2006 and between then and now was "Abso Rootly Hot" which arrived two years on from its predecessor. The first of those was, although somewhat quietly, well celebrated if I recall correctly and though I do not know what it did in the way of commercial success, it was a very well regarded set in its time. The second album didn't receive a similar buzz to my knowledge and I do actually recall listening to some of it and not being the biggest fan at the time, although as I've experienced in recent times, as I've matured my tastes have well changed and perhaps its time to give it another listen - six years later. And Symeonn definitely didn't fade away. His was a name which would pop up somewhat routinely attached to various projects, but over the last year or so he's been even more active with singles. I didn't know that it was leading to this end, but Rob Symeonn did a whole heap of work with a couple of different labels in particular. One was Goldheart Music from out of Sweden who we may not write about a great deal but will always be noteworthy to me for having orchestrated the MAMMOTH "Ghetto Skyline" by Daweh Congo back in 2009 (and they would also do a dubbed out version of that same album just last year). The other label who helped Rob Symeonn bring forth some of his more recent material was one from out of Hawaii by the name of Jah Youth Productions. Though I haven't had as much experience in dealing with this imprint, what I have heard has been impressive. And I think I believe that I recall hearing that Symeonn had achieved a rather sizable following in Hawaii from a few years ago, so it certainly doesn't surprise to see him working with Jah Youth. Apparently I should have paid more attention to those releases because they weren't single projects and, instead, were heading to what turns out to be a HUGE album release as, in association with both Goldheart Music and Jah Youth Productions, Rob Symeonn delivers "Indigenous" which, as I was told, will surely end up being one of the finest releases in all of 2014. Apparently I should have paid more attention to what they were up to because, from beginning to end, "Indigenous" is a FANTASTIC Roots Reggae album. And though I knew of Rob Symeonn and well respected his abilities, I didn't know he could do something like this. Let's discuss! 
Singles from "Indigenous"
Even before you get into the actual music on this album, a very nice omen comes in the form of the album's cover. A big credit goes on to artiste, Ras Elijah Tafari, who you may remember from having done much work for Midnite's efforts from Fifth Son Records, including our favourite album cover from 2013, "Be Strong". This time, however, he may have outdone himself because someone is going to have to do something (else) truly amazing to take that honour from Tafari and prevent him from repeating this year. It is gorgeous and the fact that he utilizes his monstrous gifts to help push along Reggae music is wonderful! And fortunately it doesn't go to waste as Rob Symeonn also rises to the occasion on his brand new album, "Indigenous". The album gets started with one of its finest selections, the homeward bound anthem 'Ithiopia'. TEARS!

Stretch forth Its hands unto Jah
The Conquering Lion
The little, short Emperor
Where I want to be
Cause it was prophesized by Marcus Garvey"

The song is a stunning one and, musically speaking, it was at this exact moment when I noticed that maybe "Indigenous" was going to be something special and not just a decent album with one special song on it. There was something more behind it. What was behind it, literally, was the second tune in, 'Forgive Them'. This song was one of the previously alluded to tracks that Rob Symeonn had done with Goldheart and Jah Youth ahead of the then forthcoming set. Again, it's a big track and one on which Symeonn asks for clemency for those who live unaware and unrighteous lives. I definitely tuned in on this one from a lyrical side because it's done with this exceedingly level-headed approach, for the most part (although things start burning later on) and what I took was a fine presentation from Symeonn. So pay a special amount of consideration to this one before passing a final judgment. The very familiar sounding 'Day By Day', on the other hand, makes a far more immediate type of impression on the listener. This is a kind of a relationship song on the surface. But (because I like to overanalyze things), I applied it to more of a 'life commentary', where Symeonn is saying to not take things to heavily and not be able to forgive people (and yourself) when they make mistakes. Check the riddim on that song (and 'Forgive Them') as well. The album's first of a pair of combinations, 'Mama Said', is another of my favourites on this album. This tune has an intoxicating old school sound to it and features the work of veteran chanter, Ragga Lox. It is, obviously, kind of the album's obligatory Mama song (that comes later), but it isn't the stereotypical type of song that I usually use that designation in reference to. It's more of a song about listening to and heeding the sagacious words of your elders ["My Mama said if you want to reach far - show me your company, I'll tell you who you are"], in general, and not just about effusing love for Mama. Ultimately it is very well arranged and another highlight on "Indigenous". And rounding out the first third of the album is another big effort, 'Tired of Work'

"Tired of working and I can't get no pay
Tired of suffering everyday
Tired of working to make ends meet
They want wi sleep on the cold concrete
Tired of working and I can't get no pay
Tired of suffering everyday
Don't wanna toil in the boiling sun -
While the rich sit down and have their fun"

This is a social commentary (a financial and economical social commentary) which hits more towards the effect of high-risk/low-reward type of work has on the family. And I should also mention just how FUN this song is to listen to. It clearly has a focus of a very serious nature, but it's going to make your head move and feet stomp because it is a very entertaining piece which may have a great future if given the opportunity. 

The middle quintet features some of the (and THE) biggest and best material to be found throughout the whole of "Indigenous" including its second combination, the mighty 'Jah Only'. This selection comes courtesy of esteemed producer and oft Rob Symeonn collaborator, Ticklah. The two have worked together numerous times (and I think Ticklah even worked on Symeonn's debut album) and it is readily apparent on this delightful old school piece on which the singer makes sure that it is known that if everyone in your life lets you down, you still have Someone looking out for your best interests. The tune just prior to 'Jah Only', 'Night On The Town', is another single from the album and though it took awhile to grow on me, it eventually did in a major way. The song is kind of about having a good time and being with the one you love, but its pace is CRAWLING. It's a heavy, bouncy type of piece and it builds and builds to the point where I am likely annoying everyone who can hear me, yelling as loud as I possibly can:

"Night on the town!
No one's around!" 

And I don't care at all! I was really looking forward to hearing 'Monkey Wrench' and its lyrical direction and it did not disappoint. This is a song (with a big riddim behind it) about people who just always seem to find themselves getting in the way of the progression and happiness of other people. Rob Symeonn is aware of such individuals and is making sure the rest of us are as well. It is an excellent song and one which will demand you follow along closely. Here you'll also find Symeonn's solid cut of Jah Youth's Indo Riddim from last year, 'Seems Like', as well as my choice as the single biggest tune on the whole of "Indigenous", 'Life Is Precious'. I heard the 'intro' portion of this tune and I got worried because I knew something bad was to follow and instead what developed was as BIG of a tune that I've heard in this young year.

"Life is fragile, handle it with care
When one door closes there's a next one there
Don't you worry or be in despair cause, 
Life is fragile, handle it with care
Do what you do everyday to survive
Just be humble and Jah will keep you alive
Strive for the best and you shall accomplish your goal

The song makes me SMILE and there's a certain quality and respect for that alone. It also brings a large amount of substance as this big tune about bringing people together to appreciate what we all have. A spectacular song. 

And though "Indigenous" has a big opening and pinnacles at its midpoint, the final tunes which round out the album also offer some great pieces as well. Such a piece is easily 'Never Too Late'. This one struck as being about maintaining oneself through more difficult times and recognizing that even things get at their worst [their rainiest], that the sun can come shining through in the most unexpected of ways. The lovely 'Live Upright', is another track released ahead of the album and, obviously, a song I should have taken a closer look at. One of the best songs on this album, 'Live Upright' wonderfully builds on the concepts expressed on a few songs on the album as it says that good things will come to those who live a good life and try as hard as they can for themselves and others as well. 'Because Of You' is a remake of an old R&B song [I THINK], which was wholly unexpected but was a joy to listen to and then the albums comes to its conclusion with two more of its best tunes, 'Grass Is Greener' and 'Respect Due'. The former isn't likely what you're thinking that it is (because anytime you see the word 'GRASS' referred to in Reggae music, you automatically come up with one idea). Instead, it is another observation of how determination and living upful can greatly benefit someone. In this particular case, however, it almost comes off as a song about reformation as far as correcting (or at least attempting to correct) one's past behaviour and making up for your mistakes. As for 'Respect Due', with its dazzlingly HEAVY sound, it most certainly is the Mama song for the album. You don't have a record called "Indigenous" and not make a special place for Mama and 'Respect Due' is that place on this album, building indirectly on the themes of 'Mama Said'. 

I do want to quickly mention something of an underlying quality of this album which I didn't do so previously. To my opinion "Indigenous" is one of the more sonically pleasing Roots albums that I've heard in some time. In recent years, I always point to Chezidek's wonderful "Judgment Time" set as a comparison point (because it was fantastic in every conceivable way in that spectrum) and though it may not be at that lofty level, it is well within the discussion. A big credit goes to the producers and musicians who made it possible because they all did well and if they wanted to make an instrumental version of this one (and Goldheart does that type of thing), they'd sell at least one copy. 
Rob Symeonn
Overall, I'm most hopeful that this album can generate the type of attention and buzz that it deserves. Too many times a project like this will go overlooked and, a few years from now, the artist will just appear with another album and things will go on, but I'd make a point to STOP in the case of "Indigenous". It is an exceptional release and one which is sending me back for Rob Symeonn's first two albums wondering and confident that I missed something else pretty good as well. So, while the back story for this album, going forward, may always make it that album that my Brother-In-Law correctly demanded that I listen to immediately, it will also very likely be that final impetus that made me and hopefully a lot of other people start to take notice of the amazing music of the amazing Rob Symeonn. A GEM! 

Rated: 4.75/5
Goldheart Music/Jah Youth Productions
CD [I THINK] + Digital 

Review #492


  1. So Humbled By the Recent Achis' Reggae Blog Post About Rob Symeonn New Album "Indigenous " They Really Hit the Spot on this one, More Love to All that Support Good Reggae Music . Rastafari Greatest Blessings - Jah Youth Productions

  2. is a true dream nuff respects