Tuesday, October 18, 2016

'Soul-full. Passion-full': A review of "Soul Rasta" by Fantan Mojah

To change. Everyone needs something to differentiate themselves from everyone else. Diversity is definitely one of the most wonderful aspects of the world and is exhibited in virtually every single facet of life and, when it comes to music and other forms of entertainment it becomes most apparent. No one wants to see hear the same song every time (no matter how much you may enjoy 'Jah Reveal It' by Ras Army) (VERY MUCH), in the same way that no one wants to see the same film or watch the same game or… do whatever else you like to do. You want some variety! For myself, I can lift up and look through a list of my favourite artists, current and past, and get certain things from all of them which satisfies particular parts of my personality. If I'm trying to relax, for instance, I'm probably not trying to hear Mad Cobra absolutely destroy EVERYTHING he can get his hands on and probably a few things that he can't. But if I'm looking to blow off some steam and frustration, the world's angriest serpent might be the first name on my mind. Similarly, if I'm lost in thought and would like to remain there, there's an essentially endless line of Vaughn Benjamin/Midnite/Akae Beka tunes for the occasion. And when I don't feel like kick-starting the brain, I can lose what remains of my mind with Fay-Ann Lyons and Skinny Fabulous and behave as poorly as I want and there's nothing wrong with that. They're all examples of favourites of mine (and yours) who have risen to the point of not only involving themselves in my DAILY existence, but have also done so in a way which is unique to them. Furthermore, these artists have managed to distinguish themselves, not only from one another, but from even more closely related peers and done so in genres of music which don't necessarily have the reputation, amongst more casual observers, as being pillars of musical multiplicity. But every time you turn up a Soca tune, it isn't only a "jump and wave" and every time you start Roots Reggae, it isn't just "praise Jah", there's a scope and certain people make discovering that range SO MUCH fun. Today we take a looooooooooong awaited and overdue next look at such an individual who, by virtue of a searing quality of his own, has managed to grow himself into such a respected name of his era and in 2016 he returns with a big new project for the masses. 
Fantan Mojah
Where Vaughn Benjamin has his legendary lyrics and the inimitable kind of deadpan delivery of his genius and where Jah Cure has what is seemingly the greatest voice ever squeezed into a human being, Fantan Mojah has PASSION. He probably has more of it than what he needs to get through his daily life and could probably lend trucks full of it to You and I and be just fine. But he has made a mighty career out of practically perfecting the usage of his zeal musically and grown a very nice audience as well -- if you've ever been fortunate enough to see him perform, you can even FEEL it. It has, however, been quite a while from the last time that the strongest branch of the Macka Tree has put this on display in an album form, but he's set things right on that front in early 2016. You'll recall it was now a disturbingly long ELEVEN years ago that he blessed us with his debut album, the monstrous "Hail The King". That album featured the all-conquering title song as well as fantastic others such as 'Corruption', 'Search', 'Thanks & Praise', 'Nuh Build Great Man' alongside the previously mentioned Jah Cure and others still (like 'Authentic Love' with Mr. Flash [BOOM!]) (that album had FIRST BORN on it!) (biggup First Born). That release detailed many of the tracks on which Mojah rode to prominence initially and, in retrospect, can probably be looked upon as a bit of a borderline classic. It was one of the best debut albums of the modern era. Three years later, 2008, he followed up on "Hail The King" with "Stronger" and you could make the case (though I'd disagree with you), that the album was exactly what its title suggested. There, you'd find standouts such as the title track, 'Tell Lie Pon Rasta' ["CONSPIRACY!"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!], 'No Ordinary Herb' and 'Most High Jah' - probably my favourite Fantan Mojah song ever. Both of those albums came via Greensleeves Records (when the label made a WONDERFUL turn from releasing virtually nothing but riddim albums and added some Fantan Mojah, Natural Black, Nasio Fontaine, Lutan Fyah and even Ras Shiloh to its constant rotation of… nothing else but Sizzla Kalonji) which isn't what it was back then, having been inhaled by VP Records, but FINALLY, Fantan Mojah has managed to deliver a severely overdue, third album, "Soul Rasta"

"Hail The King" [2005] & "Stronger" [2008]
The new set comes via Young Veterans and Warriors Musick Productions and is brought to actuality by (GUESS!) the amazingly inescapable wizards at Zojak Worldwide. We've also seen Mojah's own Mojah Music credited here as well but all of that is technical stuff you don't (and probably shouldn't) care about very much - because it's a new Fantan Mojah album! Based on the title of the album (more on that in just a second) and a few other things, I would even think that not only is it overdue from a common sense point of view but maybe something happened more recently than the last eight years to delay "Soul Rasta"  in coming to fruition. Thankfully, however, it was apparently obvious to all who had the power to make it happen that album #3 from Fantan Mojah was a necessity and, as they say, it is 'better late than never' (I've also heard 'it's greater later'). The most fittingly titled "Soul Rasta" album does continue to show what was done throughout not only both of its predecessors but the myriad of dependably tough singles Mojah has done over the course of the last decade or so as well and, despite its brevity, proves to be another thriller. Let's discuss it!

'Rasta Got Soul'

When it comes to the actual music, Fantan Mojah's aforementioned passion is shown in a tremendously captivating and often addictive style. The best compliment I can most likely give to him is to say that, when he makes his songs, Mojah gets the absolute most out of them that he possibly can. I won't name names (I don't need to), but certain artists (most of them, actually) have moments which aren't their best and that's forgivable (you don't do the best at your job everyday either). With Mojah, however, even if you don't like every song, you come away thinking that he has pulled it together and given it everything that he possibly can - it is 100% full effort all of the time. It is a quality which has made its way to "Soul Rasta", the third studio album release from Fantan Mojah which gets us moving with the recognizable 'Never Give Up'. This tune came from a few years back and it shares its origins, Warriors Musick Productions, with more songs from the album. As its title would suggest the opener for this album is all about perseverance and maintaining oneself through the challenging times of life. This piece, in particular, has a subtly INFECTIOUS vibe about it. Underpinned by WM's solid Fresh Medz Riddim, Mojah makes the most of the moment (DUH!) and not only blesses this album with a genuine highlight, but probably also gave the riddim its single finest drop as well, in retrospect (Jah Penco also had a really nice song on the Fresh Medz). Things go even higher with the next one up, 'Jah Give Us Life' which, WONDERFULLY, is exactly what you think it is as Fantan Mojah invokes the Wailing Souls' classic for a splendid remake. I guess I'm feeling nostalgic because this is THE best moment on "Soul Rasta" to my opinion -- an absolutely indomitable song and I probably couldn't think of anyone to better handle such an update. 'Roots & Culture', Mojah's well traveled cut of the Herb Family Riddim courtesy of More Life Productions. This song is a very nice and durable one (what I mean is that, in the way that it is done, it is kind of difficult to shake. It didn't turn into some giant hit, but this is easily the type of song that will be as good at any point in the future as it is right now) which really speaks on seeking pride in the things that you have and being, in general, very proud of yourself and who you are. I also really enjoy the pacing of it. 'Roots & Culture' is very slow and deliberate, but Mojah doesn't turn down and we get this compelling contrast and a nice level of energy with this very heavy riddim.

'Roots & Culture'

The DELIGHTFUL Mightiest Riddim courtesy of Frenchie and co. at Maximum Sound backs another of the heaviest pieces of arsenal (biggup Arsenal) to be found on "Soul Rasta", 'Out Of Many'

"So many people fight for it
Don't come tell me you're an activist
So many innocent die for it
Blood, sweat and tears inna di soil for this
United we stand
Divided we fall
Rastafari love us

If you go through this album looking for that one major captivating and infectious moment, you're likely to have found it in 'Out Of Many', though you'll have to find it and 're-find' several times because, for some reason, that song comes in seeming SO short (by my count it is the album's third shortest offering) - but enjoy it still. Essentially the title song here, 'Rasta Got Soul' also lays a weighty claim on being the most 'attractive' on the album [basically] named after it as well as being the single most well known selection here. This one is probably best emblematic of my idea for this review in looking, principally, at Fantan Mojah's PASSION for what he does. 'Rasta Got Soul' literally DRIPS in excitement but it does it in a way which isn't this type of overpowering vibes and while I'd not call it 'subtle' (it isn't) (not at all), what we have is this brilliant, predominately (but not fully) lyrical display of zeal and an infatuation which Mojah has clearly enjoyed for his entire life -- like You and I -- for Reggae music. The highlight comes later when he invokes some of the names of the icons of the music as well as some of his peers (and, BEAUTIFULLY, even makes and allowance for some others "If mi no call yuh name, please catch mi inna di next song - cah di list of di name too long"). You've surely already dealt with this song if you're reading this far into a review like this, but there's no reason at all not to revisit what is definitely one of the best songs here and one of the finest that Fantan Mojah has ever given us. Not much of a deviation from the title track is 'Cool & Irie', which chases it here. This song was fresh to my ears on this album as it was featured on Young Veterans' relatively recent Soul Hearts and it just expands on 'Rasta Got Soul' in adding to the love of Reggae music to the love of Reggae music and Jamaica. Mojah goes to celebrate both simultaneously while presenting and positioning, fittingly in my opinion, as Reggae music being Jamaica's WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL gift to the planet. The obligatory herbalist tune on the album, 'Hydro', is a pounding changeup which is CANDY to my ears. Again, one of the biggest sets you'll here and one whose sound has no equal here - it is definitely one of a kind. 

"Mi tell dem from Amsterdam to California to Westmoreland
Tell di farmer dem to plant acre pon di land
Di kush good fi nerves a coulda neva something wrong

Capleton and Turbulence (both of whom are mentioned during 'Rasta Got Soul') join Fantan Mojah for a meeting in 'Kingston Town'. This tune attracted a whole heap of attention around the release of "Soul Rasta" and, clearly, justly so. A trio like such not only would garner that type of notoriety just on paper, but in the actualization of the music, you would have hefty expectations and they did not disappoint. I do have to say that, at least for me (and maybe only me) (I don't care), Turbulence steals the proverbial show. To this day I'll maintain that, when properly motivated (and when you can keep him from making CONSTANT love songs), Turbulence remains undeniably one of the genre's most talented figures, capable of doing… pretty much anything including downright spectacular results. Flying solo again, Fantan Mojah wraps up the album in fine fashion with three at least firm efforts. The first of them, 'Heavenly Throne', may also be the oldest as well the strongest of them all (it's actually clearly the strongest in my opinion). Another track from the vault of Warrior's Musick -- this time across the golden simple guitar highlighted Duplicity Riddim -- 'Heavenly Throne' stands out as a very cool, but involved type of praising piece. It is "involved" but somewhat broad at the same time and the result, as expected, is a thrilling effort which, as expected, is made the most of by Mojah. The chanter then calls for a big STOP of the highest order from The Most High on the all kinds of interesting 'Red Light'

"Life is a two-way street before us
Only the right light can keep me focused
Got to move on, can't sit down
Standing firm, I hold my ground
Dem sacrificing and despising all di youths in di city
Meditation in di east keep mi away from di wicked
Heavenly glory in my soul, so they can't turn mi into ashes
Fire come to Babylon weh waan give wi lashes"

I have so many thoughts about this tune, not the least of which center around one of the largest compositions on the whole of the "Soul Rasta" album, the Homewrecker Riddim via Frankie Music, and just the general organization of it as well. Still, I definitely have to mention the lyrical direction of 'Red Light' where Fantan Mojah really just calls for a slowing down of things because the behaviour of certain individuals has just gotten out of hand. Finally, bringing the album to its conclusion [ALREADY???] is its only love song, 'Travel So Far'. This isn't the type of selection which I normally associate with Fantan Mojah and it isn't a glaring favourite of mine from the album, but it isn't a BAD song either. 'Travel So Far' surely isn't a stereotypical love song, it is rather complicated, but give it a few chances just before you go on to the end of the album. 

Overall, though I find myself saying it more and more often these days, I will say it again in reference to this release: I wish we had more of it! "Soul Rasta" registers at just a blip over forty minutes between eleven tracks and, after waiting so long for it, I could have gone for something more in the range of an hour, but I think that may be more of a sign of the times type of quality for these days. Still, judging it based on what it is and based on what is present, it is a nice release and one which continues the run initiated by its absolutely thunderous predecessors in Fantan Mojah's catalogue. So, while in 2016 it may be just a little dated and definitely on the short side, ultimately Fantan Mojah works his typically atypical magic and delivers a satisfying set with "Soul Rasta".

Rated: 3.85/5
Mojah Music & Zojak Worldwide
CD + Digital

Review #537

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