Friday, July 25, 2014

'ROARING!': A review of "Salam" by Ras Muhamad

Greetings. You're certain to never hear it regarded as such at any point in the near future or in any history that you and I are likely to live long enough to see but I think that right now we're experiencing something of a 'golden era' of Reggae music. Such designations are generally reserved for times from loooooooong ago and, of course, such things are a matter of opinion, but in one particular area, I don't think it is even up for debate! What we've seen in terms of the spreading of the music has been amazing! Music is something which does, and has always, 'traveled' extremely well but it has never been to the magnitude, at least not in Reggae music, that it is these days. Most outstanding is the fact that this spread has not only been limited to fans and we don’t only see various artists touring so many different portions of the world, but we also see, quite constantly, the actual makers of the music and its stars coming from a variety of different places and walks of life. At no other stage in its history could Reggae music make such a boast and it seems that things are still headed upwards. And this isn't just a matter of someone with a very local following with a very local level of talent - routinely we see new (and sometimes fully developed) artists and labels arriving on the international scene with international and world class level talents and the question of how they came to be who they are is one which is steadily losing steam because it is becoming so frequent. Places such as Reunion, Seychelles, Papua New Guinea and others have already produced considerable talents in Reggae and Dancehall music and, again, I don't know of a time prior to this one where we could have said something like that. Today we take a look at someone who comes from a place not known for producing Reggae artists but someone who has clearly been gaining steam and, to my opinion, been making some of the best music of anyone in Reggae music today and over the past couple of years, the indomitable Ras Muhamad. The Reggae Ambassador of Indonesia has been absolutely burning across the past two or three years and he has scorched to the degree of making his next release, whenever it came to fruition, one of my personally most anticipated albums in the genre. And it seems somewhat fitting that in a year which has dazzled and thrilled, Ras Muhamad finally sends greetings. 

And he does so via a most wonderful source. Over that same timeframe that I have become a major fan of Ras Muhamad's, one of my favourite labels and, without question, one of the finest imprints going today throughout the world, the German based Oneness Records, has also been flaming and they've been doing it together. Muhamad has appeared on so many of Oneness' tracks and it was almost entirely through their work together that I had become a fan. What I was wholly unaware of was Muhammad's history up to that point and it seems so damn interesting that an Indonesian links with a German label to make REGGAE music. I did not live through them, but I know that the 1970's were fantastic and were it not for the work done then, we would not be here, but circumstances like that are as purely modern as they are SENSATIONAL. Already in 2014, Oneness has had a fine year, most recently in releasing "The Kings Book" from Suga Roy & Conrad Crystal and before that was a nice compilation as well as two strong tracks, the African Children and Rise Up Riddims, respectively. Given the level both artist and producer have been on recently, and that they have been on it together, common sense dictated that Muhamad's next album (after having multiple releases) should come from Oneness Records. 
And though she almost never gets her way in matters of music, this time Common Sense won out and "Salam" is in stores today courtesy of Oneness Records. Ras Muhamad, for so many reasons, is interesting. Not the smallest of his compelling points is the fact that, as you might imagine, he sings in both English and his native tongue and he could have made an album like this purely in an Indonesian language and I would have listened to it and probably enjoyed to some degree, but fortunately he offers a mix as "Salam" is a mostly English project with spots of Indonesian (which apparently is called Bahasa Indonesia). But the album isn't just a display of Ras Muhamad's linguistic achievements (actually, that is exactly what it is, but you know what I mean), it's also an exhibition of the fiery talent which made a fan out of me which is vastly present as he reaches the largest stage of his career to date. In terms of his style, it is difficult to kind of draw comparisons between Ras Muhamad and some of his peers, which is expected given his origins and his unique perspective. However, in listening to his music I do hear bits and pieces of similarities to people like Jah Mason and perhaps a vintage level of Natural Black -- artists whose respective approaches involve a wide range of emotions with that being one of the most entertaining and unique aspects of listening to their music -- which is were Ras Muhamad also excels. Again, however, his perspective is such a distinctive one and, fortunately, it is something which he fully embraces and, not just in terms of language, throughout "Salam" you don't at all move very far from his Indonesian roots, as a listener. He makes them fully visible throughout which adds a matchless aspect to his music and makes for a very gripping listening experience throughout the album. By its end, "Salam" manages to become everything I hoped it would be and just a little bit more on its way to also proving to be one of the better albums of what has been such an impressive year. If you're not doing anything I'd love to tell you about… and even if you are, I'm going to keep going anyway. 

The album is built on a mixture of songs which're likely to be familiar to some fans and others which definitely are not. I do like this approach as it, even on paper, made for some very interesting moments and full-on made me smile just seeing some of the tunes brought together here. The first song and title track from Ras Muhamad's "Salam" album through Oneness Records isn't one which is completely familiar to my eyes but my ears definitely recognize the GORGEOUS backdrop over which it comes across. The tune is somewhat of a microcosm for the album named after it as it features singing in both English and Indonesian. The song is a greeting and involves pretty much everything you would expect it to, but Muhamad and Oneness clearly appreciated the moment and did their best to make sure that it did not pass them by. 'Salam', the song, is a JOY to listen to. It is a thorough and invasive massage for those things attached to the side of your head and one of the best songs here. 'Good Over Evil' is charged with maintaining the vibes following the giant opener and it does not come close to disappointing and it may even take a step ahead as Ras Muhamad tears a lyrical course directly through negativity and wickedness anywhere he can find it. 

"Come on and join the movement
Peace and love we endorse - unto the world
Come on and join the movement -
Kindness and a clean heart
Move on inna dis yah music
Like Moses trodding with him rod
Come and set di captives free
Like prophecy
See we ready fi come trample di beast
Rumour, rumour, rumour dem ah spread
Propaganda, propaganda, dat a dem ah flex
They invest in war for the sake of enterprise
Pure manipulation a what dem televise
Iniquity works a what dem exercise
Evilous promoter haffi step aside

"Babylon a bandit
Put I inna bondage
Then they take advantage
Like up I a conscience

BOOM! The second on the album is one of Muhamad's finest that I've ever heard and it goes back to drawing comparisons from his style to someone like a Jah Mason. When they really get passionate about something, what can occur can be chaotic and wholly brilliant. Want an example? Listen to 'Good Over Evil'. And if you love intense lyrical performances, check the next offering on "Salam", 'Re-Education'. The first of seven combinations on the album, this piece finds Muhamad linking with the mighty Kabaka Pyramid on a big tune. The two, coming from Indonesia on one side and Jamaica on the other, find a common lyrical ground in Africa and turn in a LESSON not to be missed. I can listen to Kabaka Pyramid rhyme… endlessly (and it comes off so effortlessly for him, like he never wrote a single word and just opened his mouth and started speaking!) and Muhamad is nearing that level as well with more songs like this. BOOM! 

And speaking of combinations, the second combination on the album, 'Satu Rasa' ('One Feeling'), which features Conrad Good Vibration (a FANTASTIC name), comes through following an interlude courtesy of Jah T, which is delightfully random and, really, makes the album a better one in my opinion. This track, which features another very familiar riddim (which, I believe, also backed the title track from Naptali's towering "Long Journey" album), is virtually entirely in Indonesian - so while I don't know what is being said, I can still appreciate a nice sound and this one is excellent. Similar is one of the later pieces, 'Leluhur' which features Kunokini and definitely took my ears on a long journey in sound (I was kind of afraid of what I was about to hear following the song's stringy nascence) but what does follow is the product of supremely talented musicianship and, again, though I can't follow along, I do like this song and I like the chants as well. There is also 'All Over The World' alongside Mighty Che. This is done in English and is a pleasant kind of old school vibed lover's song appreciating beautiful women across the globe ["Well if you inna Japan, dem ah wear di kimono. Fly straight to Spain, dem dance to flamingo"]. I can't say that I automatically associate love songs with Ras Muhamad, but he does a fine job here in an unexpected GEM from the album. 'Satu Rasa', 'Leluhur' and 'All Over The World' feature in CGV, Kunokini and Mighty Che Indonesian Reggae artists. Unless I am really overlooking something, "Salam" is probably going to be the most well known Reggae album from out of the country and I like that Ras Muhamad didn't just look at it as only a platform for himself and Oneness and, instead, he brought along some of his peers and the number of people in the world at least now loosely familiar with the names Conrad Good Vibration, Kunokini and the Mighty Che has likely just increased immeasurably. 

And Ras Muhamad, as you might expect, continues to spread the love. Along with Kabaka Pyramid, Mighty Che, Kunokini and CGV, "Salam" also receives a helping hand from three more varied and very impressive artists. 'Barriers & Borders' once again links Muhamad with German veteran Uwe Kaa. Previously, the pair united on at least one track, 'Aku Cinta' (which was apparently very popular), and come together again for another fine effort. This song mixes languages between Indonesian and German, but the chorus, which is infectious, is done in English and if it is any indication for the rest of the song then 'Barriers & Borders' is about music shrinking the world and bringing people together from an infinite amount of different walks of life. Naptali the great also joins Ras Muhamad on the album with their cut of the ReggaeVille Riddim, 'Farmerman'. This song was a favourite of mine from the ReggaeVille and it remains so on "Salam" as well. It was another piece which kind of took observation of the similarities of, seemingly, so different lives in different places and it was exceptional. LASTLY (not really), is a very interesting song by the name of 'Learn & Grow' which features Ras Muhamad alongside someone who you've certainly never heard us mention previously, THE GREAT SARA LUGO [WHAT!]. 

"If you wanna grow you've really got to show some effort in this thing today
And if you wanna live, you've really got to give your best, each and every day"

"Life can make some people so bitter
Who do you see when you look inna di mirror?
Do you choose another mask to wear?
Or accept the design from The Divine?
Learn and grow with your life and go forward
No masquerade, do some acts of change today"

"I know this road ain't easy
Loads of trials and tribulations
Fear and hate is overwhelming
To the ones that don't stand strong
Don't let the struggles get you down
For life is worth more than gold
You alone hold the key

I could listen to this woman and her crystal clear vocals sing absolutely anything all day long! But when she does have good material (and I've never heard her not), it is spectacular and, because they were likely the only ones who could have made such a link, definitely biggup Oneness Records.

And returning solo, Ras Muhamad keeps the levels high on "Salam" and does so with a few familiar efforts. Such a tune would surely be 'Nuh Badmind Friend' which was his song over the Raspect Riddim from a couple of years back. I haven't heard this one in awhile and it sounded so good to my ears with two years of nostalgia behind it. A very solid addition to the album, 'Nuh Badmind Friend' is a composition essentially saying to mind who you keep company with because not everyone is exactly as they seem to be. You may also remember 'Blow Them Away' over the Rub A Dub Man Riddim. This song is still one of Muhamad's finest ever in my opinion and I was really happy that they chose to include it on the album as it may give a few new sets of ears to hear this very intelligent record. And surely you haven't already forgotten 'Lion Roar' which was Muhamad's tune on Oneness' recent African Children Riddim from just earlier this year. This skillful praising piece has THE song from Muhamad that I've been listening most recently and for me it is a giant star on this album and should you think it is THE best song here, you won't get the slightest argument from me on that. That distinction, from me, however, goes to a song which I'd never heard prior to "Salam", the MASSIVE closer 'Through The Smoke'

"Through the smoke and fire wi ah prosper
I put my trust in Jah Jah

No matter how di wicked man run come fight - 
Fight against I 
No matter how di wicked heart run come rise -
Rise against I
I ah come tougher than the sword of King David
Harder than the shield of di Arawak natives
Music free di people from dem modern day slave ship
Head haffi go roll when di fire start blazing
Caught up in di matrix, with no chance of escaping
Vibes flow naturally, like an ancient memory
I and I shall overcome dem

They set me up with tear gas
Want I to follow dem bribery
But Rasta ah stay clear a dat
You see corruption a no choice fi wi
You can't buy nor sell me some lie and tell me
Promise I will wealthy
Too much pride and envy
Shake off di dust!
From hatred and grudge!
It's time to rise from the ashes!"

This pillar of a song is about maintaining one's course through difficult times which may arise in life and, again, it puts on a full and vibrant display what I feel is Ras Muhamad's greatest skill as an artist - his ability to turn emotion into greatness, musically. There's a general passion here and an anger as well backing a tremendous song. You also hear that present on both the remaining selections on "Salam", 'Conquest' and 'So Tired'. It is particularly clear on the former where Professor Ras Muhamad gives us a history lesson which you need to hear - dealing with well known 'discoverers' and their madness. On that particular selection the intensity is turned up fully at times and Ras Muhamad dazzles with one of the strongest lyrical offerings to be found here (and I LOVE how they let the music play on after the vocals on the song). Finally (and I mean it this time), for its part 'So Tired' is a big and fairly social commentary which kind of unites ghettos and poverty throughout the world by examining how they're established and maintained and the universal things faced by the people. It is, obviously, a very broad song and in that broadness and openness, it's also very relatable. You'll find something here which resonates with you.
Ras Muhamad
And I can say the same about the entire album: If you like Reggae music, you're almost guaranteed to find something on "Salam" which you enjoy and that's saying it mildly [Like modern Reggae music??? You'll  really like this album]. We've been looking forward to an album from Ras Muhamad for a few years now and what it turned out to be was probably even more than I expected. "Salam" is an EXCITING Roots Reggae album and that is a word which isn't often associated with the subgenre. I'd recommend it to fans new and old alike because I think that it is well mature enough and challenging to hold the attentions of those more experienced listeners and dynamic enough to keep the ear of a more casual follower as well. Personally, "Salam" gets every seal of approval I have to offer. It is one of the best lyrical displays of 2014 and a giant credit goes to Oneness Records (who we throw [deserved] praises at constantly) because the music here is outstanding throughout! "Salam" brings forth the most interesting and modern global talent of Ras Muhamad which, once again, shows the undeniable unifying strength of Reggae music. One of the year's finest. 

Rated: 4.65/5
Oneness Records

Review #520

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