Monday, November 10, 2014

'Expansion Pack': A review of "Mama Africa" by Jah Turban

See more. Though one wouldn't necessarily be inclined to call it one of the most technology-conscious genres, historically speaking, I do like the way that Reggae music has managed to evolve with the times in certain ways. Of course, sticking to more tried and tested traditions, in many ways, is for the best but at least noticing what is going on around you can definitely be a good and viable option. Today, where people don't buy even nearly as much music as they did only ten years ago and when they do, it is much less of the physical variety, which has become diminished due to the ultra convenience of the digital medium, we've seen much of the music head in that direction. Of the most notable absences has surely been the riddim album. Not very long ago, as an entire genre, one could well make the case that if you did not include greatest-hits and general mixed compilations, that riddim albums probably occupied the greatest shelf space when it came to Reggae CD's. The biggest labels at the time, VP Records and Greensleeves Records, both had powerful running series and the latter had more than one or two years in which they fed their Rhythm Album Series far, FAR more than they released albums from one of their SIGNED stars. And despite not having its ranks added to in nearly half a decade, VP's once mighty Riddim Driven still remains one of the most easily recognizable series in Reggae music history. But again, times have changed. Along with the deflating of the number of physical albums produced, altogether, one of the other more remarkable digital distinctions we've seen in Reggae music has been the formations of companies who, at least primarily, deal with the genre in its digital form. Certainly the one which most immediately comes to mind is the monstrous Zojak Worldwide who, seemingly so successful digitally, recently evolved on its own and has turned its attention to the physical market in releases from the likes of Tarrus Riley, Bugle and others. There has also been labels such as the downright strange Fox Fuse who… seems to be taking over the entire world (ALL OF IT!), largely in support of Soca music as well as VPAL, a division of the aforementioned VP Records who pays constant attention to both digital and physical sets. Also (in case you needed more) (and you looked like you did) (fix your face), another really nice digital development has been the relatively sudden sprouting of the Reggae EP. From some of the bigger names in the genre including the likes of Chronixx, Midnite, Sizzla Kalonji, Ziggi Recado, Bounty Killer and, soon, Spice, to the up and coming likes of Exco Levi, Kabaka Pyramid, Sara Lugo [WHAT!], Denham Smith and an incredible list of others, over the past five years or so, digital Reggae shelves have been absolutely overflowing with STRONG EP releases. 
"Africa Is Our Home" [2010]
One of the burliest of that lot came back in 2010 when a Spanish Town born chanter took his career to the proverbial 'next level' in not-so proverbial and usual terms with a MASSIVE EP. The chanter was Jah Turban, the release was "Africa Is Our Home" and the twist in the conditions of its arrival came largely due to the fact that the set was the fruit of the labour of Turban's work with a Danish based imprint by the name of S.J.P Records (which I am confident stands for Sky Juice Reggae Promotions). And though a big credit goes to the Danish Reggae scene for expanding since, at the time, I didn't know Denmark as one of the more Reggae-centric European spots (I mean… it would have ranked ahead of Macedonia or Kosovo) but a project like this definitely forced a closer look outside of the late and well talented Natasja who (would have turned 40 last week) (biggup Natasja) remains the most identifiable Danish name in the genre more than seven years following her transition. What I heard on "Africa Is Our Home" from both vocalist and producer was a LONG talent and, in both cases, clearly demonstrated someone(s) had either been at work for a long time or had been headed in the proper direction for a very much accomplished period together.

In either case, it made an immediate fan out of me with its kind of 'rough' sound. Jah Turban's style echoed of that of his peers such as Lutan Fyah and Jah Mason and Anthony B (more on him later) and I definitely wanted to hear more. I wanted an album! That wait would be entirely too long but thankfully You and I survived and it is the final quarter of 2014 and here it is! The debut album of mighty Denmark based Jamaican chanter, Jah Turban, "Mama Africa" is in stores now courtesy of S.J.P Records. DAMN! THANK YOU! Recently, Turban and S.J.P had been pushing a few digital singles and, I think, they even re-released the EP last year via the aforementioned VPAL (which is the case for the full album as well). I did notice all of those things at the time and I was just happy to get more new music from Jah Turban and, like what I had heard prior to it, those songs impressed on some levels. Still, I had absolutely no idea that the tunes were released ahead of what was to become one of the more anticipated releases we've seen on these pages, "Mama Africa". I've done it constantly so I will not detail it again but how spectacular has 2014 been for Reggae fans when it comes to albums??? It's getting even sweeter with this one! I do have to say that I was quite hopeful when it came to this one also. While Jah Turban hasn't been the most active vocalist since "Africa Is Our Home", he has managed to establish a range of quality and I was damn expecting to hear, at least, what made me such a admirer of his work four years ago. Can he do that? Let's see! 

Something else about Jah Turban's style which greatly interested me was, like his name might suggest, he just went about his business in a very straight forward manner. I did include Jah Mason's name as a point of comparison, and with decent reason (I have previously included Perfect Giddimani but that was… just wrong by me) as a basis but Turban doesn't have nearly as many of the emotional variations that the Mason does. He goes about his business in a very straightforward way and, obviously, it has worked well for him. It has also led us all to his solid debut set, "Mama Africa", which begins with its eponymous selection. This song was, in many ways, what I expected it to be. It is the drum-heavy effort on the album and on it Jah Turban gives a most appropriate praising to Mama Africa. I will say that this song almost comes off like an intro - I don't think that it was very planned out. There was the track and Turban, essentially, went off the top of his head with what he wanted to say. There isn't anything wrong with that in this case and the first piece work well for what it is. Things do, however, go considerably higher on the second song on "Mama Africa" which has to be considered one of its highlights by anyone, the SWEET 'Love Jah & Live'

"Love Jah and live
Hail HIM and we glorify HIM
Jah bless and sanctify and guide I & I

I see di wickedness going on out there -
It's just evil
World of people rise from di bad to be good - over evil
Be one of The Most High disciple
And you know The Most High Jah will guide you
that's why the Bobo man go bun out dutty bungle 
Yow, clean up your heart and stop from fumble

For me the tune is more than just  one the albums "highlights", it is the single best song I hear on "Mama Africa" and a most powerful display of Jah Turban's ample abilities at his best. Charged with following that giant tune is a piece which neither fumbles nor grumbles, the very BRIGHT social commentary 'World Crisis'. This is a very nice composition to listen to - it has a very nice vibes to it and Turban utilizes the circumstances to turn in a big effort about the way that poor people are often mistreated and overlooked in society. I don't think that this song is likely to be one of the more popular from this album but definitely don't walk by it without taking an intense listen because it deserves it. And I will also mention - at the end of the first few songs on the album is one which actually does have a slightly different sound to it, 'Real Real Love'. Obviously this one is something of a love song but it isn't just one in the typical sense of the phrase. Turban gives it both a spiritual and historical type of approach and, in doing so, gives it a very nice 'hue' which makes it shine, particularly across that downright sugary track which carries it. 
As I mentioned, ahead of the arrival of "Mama Africa", Jah Turban and S.J.P Records gave us a taste of what was to come with some singles over the past few months or so. The first of these to actually appear on the album is another love song with a vibrant feel, 'She Love Me'. I did not like this song the first time that I heard it and I still won't rank it amongst my favourites from the album but it's probably a bit better than I gave it credit for being, especially in its late stages when Turban adopts an old-school Dancehall approach which is nice to hear. Also likely to be familiar to your eyes is 'Working Man' which is a better song than 'She Love Me' and should develop a nice following. This is a song not just about 'working', basically, it is about moving closer and closer to achieving your goals and aiding others in doing the same for themselves. I really like that aspect of the song because you've heard dozens of songs like this one, theoretically, but the facet of including HELPING SOMEONE as a personal achievement is a unique one and is very welcomed. Later are both 'Life Is' and 'Fiwi Time', which were also previously released singles. The former is a kind of a Dancehall track with a conscious twist to it and the latter isn't wholly dissimilar. HOWEVER, 'Life Is' is decent -- it is a solid track with a nice vibes -- 'Fiwi Time', on the other hand, has a special quality to it. That quality is most evident at its chorus which is sure to keep it firmly in the memories of fans - myself included. 
A pair of other songs with which you may be familiar are also brought in on "Mama Africa", 'Gambia' and 'Move Vampire'. 'Gambia' was a piece which reached somewhere between the EP and this album (maybe a year or  two ago) and it was probably one of the most highly regarded songs Jah Turban did in that span of time. As for 'Move Vampire', one could well make the case that it is THE most popular song Turban has ever done. This tune actually appeared on "Africa Is Our Home" and I think that it says a lot that, out of six songs, it is the only carryover to "Mama Africa". It was clearly a sizable song and was infectious so I'm not at all surprised to see it here where, just as it was on the EP, it is a standout (and I think that I've even heard a remix to this song as well). 
The three remaining selections on "Mama Africa" really do big things in their spaces with two of them, especially, being of definitive note. The other song, 'Summer Time' is an okay song which is virtually unlike anything else on this album or, unless I'm forgetting something, anything else I may have heard Jah Turban ever do. Still, if you listen to it enough (and I have) you're guaranteed to find yourself singing along with portions of it which I think was the likely goal with this one. Unbeknownst to me prior to listening to the album, the aforementioned Anthony B does make an appearance on the album on 'Rebel With A Cause' (and we couldn't find a version of the track list which said "featuring Anthony B" on the song and you would think that would be a nice thing to mention). 'Rebel With A Cause' did take a few spins to grow on me but you can call me a fan of that one now as the duo promote standing up for yourself and for your beliefs when you know are doing right, even when (and especially when) the go against the ways of the system. Lastly is a song which kind of snuck up on me because I didn't at all expect it to be this strong, 'Africa Bless'

"Mi touch a foot down inna Africa - oh yes
Oh what a bless up inna Africa - oh yes
How powerful Mama Africa - oh yes
A joy mi ah tell yuh inna Mama Africa - oh yes
Mi seh behold Mama Africa
Brightness rise in Mama Africa - what a bless
Stop di war inna Africa - oh yes
Di bloodshed fi stop inna Mama Africa"

The song has an equal at least in 'Move Vampire' but… that's it, aside from 'Love Jah & Live' it is as good as and better than the rest of this album in my opinion. It is THAT good and given SJP's and Jah Turban's proclivity for pushing singles, hopefully it does get its time to shine and I really do think that it will (why not?!). 
Jah Turban
Overall, "Mama Africa" is precisely the all-around solid set that I was hoping for and expecting. I would have liked to see another combination with a singer (maybe even one with a female) because I think that style would definitely match well with Jah Turban's and I don't know if I have ever heard a piece like that from him to date. I also would like to mention that despite not having too much variation in terms of sound, this album is very pleasing on the ears and I don't think that changing course too much would be very beneficial given what the chanter does well. "Mama Africa" is ultra straightforward and streamlined modern Roots Reggae music and that is what works best with Jah Turban and, clearly, S.J.P Records. And it goes back to one GIANT EP release in "Africa Is Our Home" which brought up a name, Jah Turban, who I am damn glad that we kept an eye on for the past four years.

Rated: 3.75/5
S.J.P Records
CD + Digital

Review #533

Post #1400!

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