Monday, March 16, 2009
Throughout the very rich and spacious history of Reggae music, there is a very nicely detailed history of famous artists making duos with each other and going on to great successes because of it. Besides just the occasional combination tune here and there (and even including some of those as well), there are just some artists, for whatever reason seem to vibe SO well that they can be sold together as a single unit, only OCCASIONALLY straying away to work on solo projects. Probably the most well known of such duos in Reggae music and, easily the most visibly recognizable, would be the top ranking duo of Chaka Demus & Pliers. In the mid-nineties the duo of Chaka Demus, the gruff voiced DJ from the same avenues which gave the world Shabba Ranking and Pliers, the velvety voiced crooner whose younger brothers, Mikey Spice, Spanner Banner and Richie Spice would go on to HUGE successes later, would come to MASSIVE international fame due on the strength of several hits like Twist & Shout, I Want To Be Your Man and, of course, Murder She Wrote. If Chaka Demus & Pliers NEVER do anything ever again (and they just had an album last year), they would STILL, in many circles, be considered legends (including my own personal circles). As far as THE duo of Dancehall, Chaka Demus & Pliers were essentially replaced by another singing and djaying pair, Shocking Vibes product Tanto Metro & Devonte who still continue to roll around the outskirts of the highest levels of the Dancehall (and you can probably expect an album from the duo in 2009). While not ascending to the heights internationally as Chaka Demus & Pliers, Tanto Metro & Devonte have enjoyed a SUPREME level of consistency and longevity largely done so alongside their good friend and former label mate, Dancehall ace Beenie Man. Both Chaka Demus & Pliers and Tanto Metro & Devonte followed the great Michigan & Smiley and General Saint & Clint Eastwood, both VERY strong duos from the 1980’s (both of whom I think are actually still somewhat active). There have also been somewhat ‘revolving’ (meaning ‘on and off’) pairs continuously such as Shabba Ranking & Maxi priest, Ninjaman & Tinga Stewart (who I think has a new re-release album out now) even, once upon a time Sean Paul & Mr. Vegas and even more notably (because they were actually a real duo) the once MIGHTY Lefside & Esco. There are also newer duos such as RDX, Junior Reid seeds Wada & Andrew and the reignited Sojah, both of whom, just as the history would forecast, are currently enjoying quite a bit of success and attentions.
But what about Roots Reggae? If you notice, each and every duo I just mentioned there were either PURE or at least predominately Dancehall acts where such a union, given the rather ‘gimmicky’ style of Dancehall tends to allow better a ‘door’ to open for two where it won’t for just one. Things aren’t the same in the more rigidly constructed Roots arena with the typically far more discerning fans. Unless I’m DRASTICALLY overlooking someone, I can’t think of another SIGNIFICANT Roots Reggae duo to emerge over the last decade or so besides the group in question here. The closest one which comes to mind actually would be Jah Mason & Jah Cure (and in the Dancehall I could easily say Vybz Kartel & Wayne Marshall or even Busy Signal & Mavado at one time) which wasn’t an actual duo but instead a combination of two artists who had EXTREME chemistry together in their vibes. Thus, at least to my opinion, that makes what’s going down over in Trinidad and Tobago even more interesting where you seemingly have the MOST talented and just BIGGEST Roots Reggae group going and have had such for the past few years or so. Check Isasha & Million Voice. The pair of brothers hailing out of the Arima area of Trinidad has effectively joined the likes of Khari Kill, Prophet Benjamin, Jamelody, Jah Bami, Marlon Asher and, of course, the DIVINE Queen Omega (who was recently in the news for being arrested and charged (to which she pled guilty) for possession of marijuana in Trinidad) as the ranking class of Trinidad’s ever burgeoning Reggae & Dancehall scene. The birthplace of Soca, Calypso and everything nice (including my Father) seemingly has yet to slow from since it started producing a steady stream of WONDERFUL Reggae artists, a few years back. Between the two, Isasha is a bit more of the youthful and free flowing brother who vibes ring in with a similar feel to his more popular Jamaican peers such as Jah Mason and Natural Black (although he does have a bit of a slower pacing for the most part, someone like Pressure might be a better comparison); whereas Million Voice is the slightly older (I THINK) and more straight forward chanter style of artist, he also happens to be a VERY NICE singer as well (sounding A LITTLE like Ras Shiloh at times). The Roots duo have been turning heads and catching ears for the better part of the last half decade and just last year, they brought forth their debut album, Real & Down To Earth. The album comes on Nadine Bless, which is apparently a label began and ran by their own impressive manager Nadine Bless, (http://www.myspace.com/nadinebless) probably one of the best young managers in all of the Caribbean. To my knowledge this would be the pair’s first OFFICIAL album, although a somewhat bastardized untitled version of this one was traveling around probably as early a year prior (it was essentially a promo which didn’t exactly contain the word ‘promo’ to my recollection and it was almost as well done as any album, making one of the best promos I probably have EVER heard, big respect to I Wayne who has another one of them). Much of the production here is done by what is to my knowledge the finest Reggae production house in all of Trinidad and Tobago, Studio 53 Entertainment, also from out of Arima, a (VERY young) collective group of producers representing Trini Reggae music, unlike any other. Real & Down To Earth is a nice gathering of previous singles and new tunes (at least new to me) which ended up delivering one of the biggest vibes to be heard on a Reggae album in all of 2008.
If either of the names Million Voice (not to be confused with Million Stylez) or Isasha (not to be confused with Sasha) mean anything to you already and you don’t have this album, its probably due to the releasing of a single tune which is downright CAPTIVATING, and one of the finest modern lover’s tunes I have EVER heard (on the level with stuff like Tarrus Riley’s She’s Royal). That tune was actually only voiced by Isasha (the two voice as single artists and as a duo, but all tunes represent the pair) and thankfully its present and gets things going on Real & Down To Earth. The MASSIVE Don’t You Know absolutely RULED Reggae airwaves in 2005-06 from Trinidad to Jamaica and all the way to New York (I think the first time I heard it, I was in Trinidad and some radio guy played the tune like five or six times consecutively! I didn’t complain! This INTOXICATING song single handedly placed Isasha’s and subsequently Million Voice’s names on the map in any conversation, much like Marlon Asher’s Ganja Farmer and Khari Kill’s Picture Of Selassie had done for them. This tune is just so wonderful, so vibrant, so bouncy and just so damn COOL (biggup Studio 53 for the riddim which I’ve only once heard voiced again by some French artist from out of Martinique I believe). This is THE tune of Real & Down To Earth, you’ll absolutely LOVE IT (and that ending is MADNESS)! Guaranteed. HUGE beginning. Next is the first dosage of Million Voice and the first taste we get of some Roots sound as well and it is TRULY a beautiful tune of unity and love, the wicked One Family. If you know frowned when I made the comparison of Million sounding like Ras Shiloh, listen to bits and pieces of this tune. While he lacks the overall polish of Shiloh (pretty much everyone living does), Million does an EXCELLENT job with tune which had the largest of shoes to fill following Don’t You Know but pulls through just fine ultimately. Completing the opening of Million Voice & Isasha’s debut album Real & Down To Earth is the first of a few combinations between the two brothers and probably the best such tune, the dazzling I Know Jah. Coming in over S53’s bouncing Patience riddim, I Know Jah was one of Don’t You Know’s follow-ups and was ultra impressive as well. The tune is a REFRESHING praising tune for His Majesty and one which you definitely don’t need to miss (especially Isasha’s full verse). Altogether a stronger beginning you just couldn’t have asked for!
While Isasha is slightly the more active brother on Real & Down To Earth, it’ll be your mistake should you overlook Million Voice which are, arguably, just as strong. After One Family which may be his finest effort on the album, he definitely has a few other very strong solo selections. Check 11 Nights (,11 Days) which flows on the same Signs riddim I recall from Khari Kill’s EXCELLENT Bird Pepper. This is a big tune which features Million going Bob Marley, quoting the Reggae legend’s tune War and doing so with a wonderful touch. Big tune. Jah Is My Light may be an even stronger tune, sounding, lyrically, like something out of Luciano’s catalogue. This is a simply wonderful tune of inspiration and praising His Majesty which, like most of their music, retains its nice melody and excellent vibes in general. For his part, of course, Isasha is a bit more of the firebrand of the two. Speaking of such, check the tune, Fire Fih Dem, which comes again with such a lovely vibes which was a shock because given the title, I was already expected fire and brimstone, Sizzla or Capleton style! Instead, the fire burning on the tune is for those who go against the will of the almighty, I love the sound here, to be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with it lyrically, but this one gets ‘points’ because its able to convey a very powerful message, while at the same time remaining entertaining. Soldier doesn’t have the same lyrical drawback that Fire Fih Dem (slightly) suffers from and it’s a more direct type of song as well and proves to be one of the better on Real & Down To Earth altogether. This tune is one dedicated to a fallen friend of Isasha’s and you can definitely apply it to someone in your own life as well. Soldier is powerful, somewhat moving and a very nice tribute to a loved one gone to Zion. I’ll also go back and mention the tune Who Jah Bless which is Isasha’s own take on the Signs riddim. He doesn’t reach the heights of his brother’s tune on the riddim, but this tune is one which I have spun SO much, simply because the vibe it pulls is that strong, which for a song not at your best, is a quality few artists can pull. As Real & Down To Earth begins to wine down we see more and more ‘follow-ups’ to I Know Jah (in the sense that both artists voice alongside each other on he same tune). Jah Is With Me is such a tune which definitely takes a run at I Know Jah for being the best Isasha/Million Voice combination on the album. The riddim here is just SO BEAUTIFUL and SPARKLING, it lays the perfect backdrop for the brothers who deliver over it with one of the main attractions on the album, Jah Is With Me is a very inspirational song which tries to convey the message that no matter how bad things may get, its important to be thankful for life and remember His Majesty is with us. Indeed. I was looking for a tune here to fall into some sort of typical Reggae catalogue in terms of Roots music (most of the ones here have a very BOUNCING nature to them) and I got just that on the song King Of Kings which his LOVELY. This is the nyah drum backed piece (which is becoming almost obligatory these days) and the two handle it very well (incidentally, its one of the couple or so non-Studio 53 productions on Real & Down To Earth). To my ears Million Voice steals the show a bit, but both shine very bright throughout. Never Give Up also has such a quality to it (minus the drum, this one is a little more stereotypical one-drop Roots Reggae) and the duo do very well with it once again. Closing things out, Isasha and Million Voice bring a friend or two to join in on the jilted lover’s tune, Leaving. This one isn’t amongst the class of the album but I did like hearing another voice in there, just to change things up and send us on our merry way.
Overall, Real & Down To Earth is a POWERHOUSE of a Roots Reggae album. In terms of the vibes, it also is a SLIGHTLY different take on the music as well which is a good thing as you probably won’t find a Roots Reggae album within the past four or five years or so that you can dance more to than this one. I will say that I’m waiting for the day one of these Trini artists will bring along the MASSIVE combination with a big named Soca artist, but that’s certainly no critique for Isasha and Million Voice. To be perfectly honest, there aren’t many critiques to be thrown around for Real & Down To Earth at all, actually. This album is the first of hopefully not only introducing Isasha & Million Voice to the masses but also rounding out a Reggae scene in Trinidad thought to be somewhat ‘top heavy’ which just simply isn’t the case. There are several up and comers like this as well. Isasha & Million Voice’s Real & Down To Earth is recommended to new and older fans of Roots Reggae alike. This album goes far in showing to the world what is quite possibly the best damn Reggae duo in the world, period.
Nadine Bless Inc