Friday, June 4, 2021

Righteous Synergy by Akae Beka

"Righteous Synergy" by Akae Beka [Fifth Son Records]

So let's see if we can still do one of these. During our prolonged and basically still ongoing hiatus, there have been many changes in the music that we at least made an attempt to cover on these pages over the years when we were active. Some artists have, wonderfully, developed into stars while others have, not so wonderfully, ceded to the tests of times. With that being said, however, it is definitely the case of one of my absolute favourites altogether and probably my single favourite to write about which stands apart in so many ways. I won't deal with the direct line of what has occurred with the inimitable Vaughn Benjamin, because if you're set to read one of these things, then you surely already know, but given that set of permanent circumstances, how remarkable is it that now, a year and a half on, while so many things have changed -- others have remained the same. 

It's 2021. The world has kind of ended, basically, but you and I are still somehow here. And now we have a brand new album from Akae Beka and despite everything that has changed -- with everyone that has left us - something about this just seems to fantastically comforting and IMPORTANT in time. Said album, the PERFECTLY titled "Righteous Synergy", becomes the latest (and hopefully not final) collaboration between Benjamin and Fifth Son Records. The pairing has definitely demonstrated a powerful amount of...... righteous synergy, throughout the years which has really made up some of the most substantial offerings from Midnite/Akae Beka over the past decade and a half, which is saying a lot. Their unions are typically very HEAVY vibed sets which, at least in my opinion, are more likely to be best received by more familiar fans of Akae Beka/Midnite. They also have a more of 'PLANTED' situation where, not unlike Benjamin's music in general, it has been my experience that the more you listen to the FSR albums, the more they grow on you. The last three albums produced in this collaboration, 2016's "Homage To The Land" (There's a tune on that album called 'Just Decided' which has become one of my favourites), "Be Strong" which released in 2013 and "In Awe" from the year prior, perfectly exemplify that situation: They were very good when I first heard them, all of them, half a decade on from the latest one and more than nine years from the first of them - and they all now rank as some of my personal favourites from ANYONE. And I haven't even mentioned the two before that, "Momentum" and the double set "Standing Ground" ["AND HE EVER WAS SO. JAH KNOW, HE EVER WAS SO"] or the latter's dubbed out counterpart.

So,  CLEARLY I would be most interested in the next pairing that this most righteous of unions would produce (and the one after that and the one after that and the one after that). Therefore, today we're taking a look and listen at the latest release from Akae Beka and Fifth Son Records, "Righteous Synergy".

{Spoiler: I REALLY like this album}

{Note: This was actually started prior to the look at the "Polarities" album. We'd done the intro and most of the first track}

{Note 2: Been a minute since I've done one of these (not anymore) and this isn't the easiest music to write about, so please forgive the horrible writing (that part still applies)}

{Note 3: ....... or don't, I don't care. Just know that this will be bad}

{Note 4: I have really missed doing these things}

1. 'Righteous Synergy'

The opening and eponymous selection of "Righteous Synergy" ranks easily amongst the class titles on the album named after it and it is, as you expect, absolutely brimming with material. As far as its vibe, you go from opening with this downright majestic horn (it literally sounds like someone very important is about to enter the room) (and that is exactly what is about to happen) and flow directly into this downright COOL sound which prevails for the duration of the tune. And while Benjamin does provide his typical genius, the sound here is nearly as big of a star and deservedly so (we get stretches of music only, which are sublime) (there is a GOLDEN saxophone in there). As to that aforementioned "genius", what Benjamin seems to present as his idea of a most 'righteous synergy' is something positive which brings ones together. And you don't really see this very often from him but it's kind of a song which purely celebrates the music to a very snug degree. This song will make you feel good.

"Bashment a gwan mi seh
Di people dem show up ya now without delay
Let it be a rendevous or company
Wait there is a  joyful noise - come revelry
To be in tranquiility and inna plenty
Everything is not just dishonour and depravity
Let them hear a sound resounding with equity
All the members of the earth that was born from Trinity -
In Africa, Ethiopia is your ancestry"

2. 'Bubble Up'

'Bubble Up' is just a GEM of a tune. A GEM! In its six minutes and seven seconds' length (the longest piece on "Righteous Synergy" by twenty-two seconds) (interestingly, the last four album from Benjamin and FSR, "In Awe", "Be Strong", "Homage To the Land" and now "Rghteous Synergy" have all been ten tracks long - even more synergy) it makes a MASSIVE impact and, at least for the moment, it is my favourite song on this album (though I'll probably change my mind before you read this). I took the message here as being one praising the differences we all have from one another inherently and how they not only can be wonderful things, but how they can also bring people together.

"Saying yeah fellow journey-ones
On Jah mission here and a out, long belong
Supporting the agenda of peace on earth mi son
Children of the sun
Children of the sun!
Children of the sun
Children of the sun!"

The final two minutes or so of 'Bubble Up' is kind of a dub version of the song. Benjamin makes contributions, here and there, but the music is given a shine and that is exactly what it does. Throughout,  it has this very LARGE sound which only intensifies during that stretch later on. This is another one of those tunes from Benjamin and FSR which just have..... such a sublime vibes to it and will last with me for a very long time ("I hold his majesty in awe. In awe. In awe!"). Listen to it very keenly and I won't be the only one saying that.

3. 'Responsible For It'

'Responsible For It' is one of those compositions from Vaughn Benjamin where it seems as if he woke up and walked into the studio that day with virtually nothing on his mind besides making a point. Although in this case he is a bit more observing of the riddim behind him (if you've listened to his music for any bit of time, you know that Benjamin, occassionally, has moments where he leaves you wondering if he could even hear the track because he went on as if he were entirely oblivious to and did not give a damn about it) which makes for a very interesting selection, sonically speaking. That sound, which is strong, plays support to a very unifying message that 'we are all in this together'. We are all responsible for our own actions as individuals as well as collectively. And he makes compelling connections, going further, and bridging out towards things as important as setting good examples for younger people. And, despite being as lyrical as it surely is, 'Responsible For It' actually has a very immediate type of vibes to it and I wasn't at all surprised to see that it was chosen as the album's second single (I believe the first was the title track).

"Ask He, Haile Selassie, The Return-ed Christ
Ask HIM decry the direction of yah future so bright
Intricate inside insight fi into wisdom rights
Coulda fit to defy logic to make any similar type comply
Yes, the whole generation full up a talent and vibes"

4. 'Manger'

As you may presume from its title, 'Manger' finds Benjamin going almost completely biblical. While the tune can come off as a bit of a lesson or musical dissertation, the real beauty on pieces such as this one, at least for me, is how the artist can relate such a topic to a more common and current point of view.

"Seeing as how they have used these same tactics in the past
Ethiopian prostrating to pray and fast
Upgrading the future - must retain the past
The fullness of a praise with a grateful heart"

The work done on that end on 'Manger' is masterful. An immediate listen to it has the vibes of it being "completely biblical", but when you press this one just a little more, it actually blossoms into something that you could call a social commentary - which is about as a signficant shift as you'll hear from anyone. And I could also say the same thing about the vibe here as well. The more I listen to the music here, the more II enjoy it, it develops into something more and it is really one of my favourites on the whole of the album.

5. 'Do My Best'

Listening to 'Do My Best' actually brought a question to my mind which I don't know that I've ever had in regards to Vaughn Benjamin: Have I ever REALLY heard him emotional? CLEARLY he is someone who is either fantastic at keeping them in check or he he simply has different way of expressing them than most people ("wearing emotions on your sleeve burdens your shoulder"), but you typically don't hear him in that way. HOWEVER, when I listen to 'Do My Best', I think I'm hearing an emotional Benjamin. From its beginning, the song comes off as somewhat sad and it doesn't mean that it isn't nice to listen to (it is), but what it turns out to be isn't necessarily a 'sad song'. Instead, what I hear is something which covers a range of emotions. I hear LOVE. There is a spot at ~ 3:20 in where the composition (which, by this point, has fully developed and while it isn't ever what I would call a LARGE sound, it is detailed and nearly fully engaged by now) (including that SWEET piano key sound) comes to a near halt and Benjamin is there.


NOW (!) if you know the circumstances around Benjamin (and you surely do), those lyrics have such a soaring amount of power and resonance. They BOOM right in the middle of this song! And there's emotion in his voice. It isn't Capleton throwing a fire at any and everything that is flammable, but it is a certain amount of love and reverence and spice in his voice which is not always there in my opinion.

{Note: I just finished talking about this song, so you can go right onto the next but I'm going to go on for a minute because I'm feeling it}

He "did his best". I don't even know how many albums in we're at now - I think I recently read 72. He "did his best". He could not have done better. And he left us, so wonderfully, with a gift that will NEVER stop giving because each and every time you listen to an Akae Beka/Midnite/Vaughn Benjamin piece, it isn't alone what you think it is. I sit here and I attempt to break down meanings but I am wrong every time. I will always be wrong! But it's the journey that it provides - efforting to find a meaning in such a mighty piece of work that is the greatest chunk of evidence of something truly special. And when you do your best and it is THIS, you become someone who has done the impossible - You could never REALLY die, even if you tried. Your work lives on and it EVOLVES in your absence. For all who are willing to  truly listen, Vaughn Benjamin will provide you with your own personal remix of every single song he ever made, every time you listen to one of them.

"If there are many like you, I haven't met them"

If there are ANY like you, I haven't met them.

6. 'Became A Queen'

Now lets see if I can stop crying and write the second half of this.... or maybe I'll finish it tomorrow. Yep. That's enough for today. Let's continue! 'Became A Queen' is a very interesting selection for a few different reasons. First of all, if you just take it on a superficial level (which would be a mistake) (always a mistake to do that when listening to this man's music), you have a very strong selection. Benjamin, in somewhat of a biographical offering, tells us about a little girl who goes through many difficulties and endures to, ultimately, become a queen. Again, that alone, in a song is a compelling foundation and can lead you to think of ideas such as upliftment and inspiration. However, while listening I do hear a few parallels between the life of the subject of 'Became A Queen' and what I know of that of Empress Menen. He mentions her being a refugee and even mentions the role her uncle plays in her upbringing. And while I wouldn't at all say that it is directly biographical, I wouldn't at all be surprised if it were at least loosely based on Her Imperial Majesty. In any case, it's an excellent song and one of the finest highlights on the whole of "Righteous Synergy". I should also mention that 'Became A Queen', most fittingly, is armed with a ROYAL sounding vibe. By its end, the listener is left thinking that he/she has heard something of a grand significance and importance and that is precisely what has occurred.

7. 'Groove Stampede'

While the track before it may or may not be somewhat biographical, I'm even more confident (confidenter?) that 'Groove Stampede' is at least a little autobiographical which, at least as far as I can remember, would place it in a very select company. Vaughn Benjamin spends a great deal of time making music about a variety of things, but Vaughn Benjamin is not one of them (or is he???).

"Rastafari I deh yah seh
Every since I set up pon di Lion's highway
Mek a way in my spirit how to clean up my way
Livity inna satis-fully whole journey
Meeting singers and players of instruments along di way
Forward to publish of The Almighty"

That is golden to my ears. We find Benjamin, rather matter-of-factly dealing with his own journey and what brought him to the music and to His Majesty. He talks about some of the people he's met and the overall importance that music has played in his life. Furthermore, he seems to acknowledge and embrace a further reaching RESPONSIBILITY that he and his peers have as they have a platform which is best utilized in spreading uplifting messages ["What ahgo  happen fi you ignore His majestic decree? It's a formula for failure and finality. IT'S A RECIPE TO END UP INNA APOTHECARY"]. Despite its simplicity, and maybe even enhanced by it, 'Groove Stampede' is one of the finest lyrical efforts on this album and a joy to take in.

8. 'African Liberation Talk'

Before I even start to go into the words of 'African Liberation Talk', I definitely want to say that it is my choice as the most sonically pleasing song on 'Righteous Synergy'. BOOM! The riddim on this song is so beautiful. From its first beep, it comes with a sound I would describe as 'curious', but what is to come is a giant bar of gold. There's also this SWEET horn/saxophone which is particularly present later on which is such a powerful, yet subtle, addition. By its, you almost feel as if you've just heard three or four songs instead of one.

Vaughn Benjamin employs that wonderful composition to put forth a finacially-centric excellent social commentary. Covering several things, reaching all the way to the IMF, he speaks on the way money has been ill-used and misappropriated throughout the years and the result has been (or was it the intention all along?) that people have been impoverished, enslaved and just generally stuck in a never improving cycle of mistreatment. What I most enjoy here lyrically, however, is how Benjamin makes the separation between this awful behaviour and Rastafari.

"The Rastaman pass, royal garments and his harp
Up in the park, African liberation talk"

It's almost as if he's saying, "We have no time for this nonsense. None at all. But we know exactly what you're doing". The next step he takes on that line of thinking is even more interesting in my opinion:

"Abusive power - skimming off the top
They must be making cheese and bread non-stop
Then they try to put a whale inna teacup
The magnitude of offenses: They acknowledge not
They must si man like a cub and like a pup

There, Rastafari ceases being this kind of non-interfering observer and becomes someone who is, literally, left to clean up the mess. The word which I first thought of was that Benjamin was making Rasta the CONSCIENCE on the message of this song (you could say "HEART", but for me heart is too... accommodating, it would mean supportive) (....I know, I'm a nerd). It is such a finely constructed song and one which, I'm sure, will keep me busy for quite awhile (like right now).

9. 'Covenant Ark'

The penultimate effort on "Righteous Synergy", once again, apparently finds Vaughn Benjamin in the mood to get straight down to work. And the work he does get around to doing on 'Covenant Ark' easily ranks amongst the most attractive (in every way) on the album. While there is a centralizing theme on the tune, it comes through almost as a freestyle. My thought was that the artist was doing a bit of cleaning in his mind and these were some ideas that he placed together in this outstanding selection, which he then goes on to provide an 'umbrella' for, lyrically (it kind of reminds me of an older song called 'Mic Row Assemble' from the "Infinite Quality" album. That was another one where it seemed as if Benjamin was just pouring out ideas that he had been working on for awhile) (".....Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs Mustafa Hamsho"), after going in so many different directions.

"Dem studying this ting yah from race and class
People now all make all kind of a racist remark-
About who light-bright skinned and about who dark
People all now encouraging is not afraid fi talk
Inna di public interaction, inna restaurant and commercial park
Dem nah go spare di cow, dem neva spare di calf
Upon di thoroughfare, upon di highway, sometime a nuff bloodbath"

After the musical voyage that we are taken on here (which includes a stop at, "That is not rehydration, that is a little shot glass"), our final destination is one of SOURCE -- the source of all things. Which makes you wonder if he actually did takes us... very far... at all?

"Tell heaven and earth that Ethiopia have the covenant ark
Tell heaven and earth Ethiopia have the covenant ark"

Oh and I love the horns! Thank you!

10. 'Spirit Of Love'

And lastly, 'Spirit Of Love' provides us all with a final moment of relection and a time to just appreciate some of the simpler and more obvious things that we have in life ["Need food to eat - must put seed in ground"]. For me, this is a composition about 'decluttering' yourself and your mind. Here, Vaughn Benjamin speaks about things such as nature, emotions and others -- things over which we, ultimately, have no control -- and he suggests that we find a joy in not only those things, themselves, but the fact that are existing without our guidance. That we depend on them. They do not depend on us.


I simply HAVE TO say something about the cover art on this album. You look at that! Look at it! I believe the credit goes to the same Ras Elijah Tafari who has done many album covers for Vaughn Benjamin albums including every other album from Fifth Son Records. That man is a genius. A talented genius!

Tafari's visuals have made a powerful and righteous synergy with the audios of Vaughn Benjamin and Fifth Son Records over the years and, in this latest iteration, they've reached with one of their finest pieces of work. The FSR albums always seem to come with a very heavy type of sound and its been my experience that more seasoned fans of Benjamin's tend to react more with them. However, half of this album, at least in my opinion, should be easier for even newer listeners to enjoy. Again, I SURE do hope that this isn't the end of this wonderful union and there is another project to come from that vault, but if it is, "Righteous Synergy" and its older 'siblings' have absolutely thrilled us and will surely continue to.

"Righteous Synergy" by Akae Beka is currently available digitally via Zojak Worldwide, as well as physically (CD AND LP). FIFTHSONRECORDS.COM

Friday, May 28, 2021

Polarities by Akae Beka

"Polarities" by Akae Beka [I Grade Records]
For we have missed so much. A few years ago, in prehistoric times, we began to focus greatly on the output of what we will call, for the moment, Midnite. This was almost entirely due to my own desire to kind of bridge some gaps in the types of things I listened to and was able to appreciate. Previously, the work of Vaughn Benjamin had been somewhat shut off to me... I just wasn't intelligent or experienced enough to FULLY appreciate it. I just wasn't. But as I got older and gained life experience and other things, I found a JOY in not only listening to his output but at least making an attempt to dissect it as much as I possibly could. The result of that was, at least at one point, I'd probably written more about Benjamin's music than almost anyone. 

And I've missed it. Though I have never stopped listening during our hiatus, I did not take in the music in a way in which I would ultimately present it to someone else, so I don't think that it was my intent to grind absolutely EVERYTHING that I could wrap my brain around into a fine musical powder - and that is the fun part! So let's have some fun! Fittingly, we return with what is to be the 13th and final collaboration between Vaughn Benjamin and the equally mighty I Grade Records, with whom he was so closely associated with. For their part, Laurent 'Tippy I' Alfred and company at IGR have continued to burn over the years with RIPE releases from the likes of Lutan Fyah, Danny I ["And gimme back dem secrets that you take from I. On the backs of true Israel and Rastafari"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!], Pressure Busspipe as well as Benjamin's Akae Beka. Throughout the years, the Benjamin/IGR link has provided some of the biggest highlights of a highlight-brimming catalogue (allow me to go offtrack for just a second here - there was an album from 2007 called "Jah Grid" that they did which was excellent. It is buried in there now and overlooked but that album had three songs on it, 'Before I Lose My Strength', 'My Joy' and, in particular, 'Enter', which are amongst my favourites to this day. A wonderful set to pick up if you missed out or just haven't heard it in awhile). And today we take a look at the final entry of a musical relationship at least two decades old - "Polarities" from Akae Beka and I Grade Records.

{Note: Apologies in advance. It's been awhile, I can assure the writing will not be good, but I will do my best}
{Note 2: These will be more frequent. Hopefully once a week or two-ish}
1. 'Don't Feel No Way'
I've probably listened to the opener of "Polarities", 'Don't Feel No Way', more than most of the other songs because it such a HEALTHY tune. It is the type of piece which, a few years ago when we did these.... seemingly weekly, would have me busy for PARAGRAPHS of thoughts. I'm old now and about sharp as a circle, but the song still does so much for me.

Lyrically, the selection finds Benjamin taking a historical look at several things, including mistreatment and atrocities and it almost comes off as if he is simply teaching a class (he has been "simply teaching a class" for ages) to the masses. And I really enjoy how the song is written to the point where you see he has this clear reverence for history, but he isn't at all tentative about challenging it. Seemingly, for Benjamin, the past is STILL evolving and is to be approached like any living thing - both beautiful and flawed. A mighty song and one of my favourites on the whole of the album. And I LOVE how the VIBE of this piece takes over during its final complete minute which is a staple of the I Grade albums.
2. 'Charges'

 "Took you for granted, now they're saying "Don't leave!"

'Charges' is a song which hit me in a way that leads me to take it in a direction that maybe no one else does, but who cares, let's talk about it. For me, this is a piece about not underestimating yourself or anyone else in terms of what it is that you actually do - your deeds. You can do something which seems extremely small and it can have such a huge impact on someone else or something else, so you have to do your absolute best to have upful actions. We all are prone to make mistakes (CONSTANTLY):

"What's the charges ah on the battery?
If you no match up the positive with positivity
What's the charges? Assault and battery?
HOOK UP the positive with negativity"

{Note: I had to stop making my point and I will probably lose and have to rewrite this or just keep going but I don't care. It is moments like those right there, in that passage, which demonstrate how utterly BRILLIANT Vaughn Benjamin is. The two types of 'battery'. The two types of 'charges'. And you "Hook up" the second type, which is a phrase you typically only 'hook up' with the first. BOOM! TEARS! DAMN!}

Yes. I lost my point. But this song is so powerful and I was so pleased to see that it was chosen as a single (I believe the third) from "Polarities" and, again, just be careful what you do and how you treat other people because you never know what people pick up on and how they may react to it years from now.
3. 'Raining Thugs'

Just looking through the tracklist for "Polarities", definitely one song stood out as something that I really wanted to hear based on its title alone and that was 'Raining Thugs' and what I found, unsurprisingly, as huge. For me the album's third effort is about as 'straight-forward' of a social commentary as you will hear from Vaughn Benjamin. His course is, by his nature, one which is more winding and ambitious, so even this song goes in more directions than you will hear from almost anyone else, even in Reggae music. I will use the previous tune to relate to 'Raining Thugs' because they're somewhat similar in ideas for me. With 'Charges' we were told to mind what we do and how we treat people, 'Raining Thugs' is the result if we screw that up. In times of goodness and prosperity, "none complaining - love". In troubled times, "then it's raining thugs". You create an environment which feeds misbehaviour, violence (you could even link this one to depression and mental illness, "Too much bloodshed fi liberate African. Unbelievable anguish yah wah cannot mention, built into the youth dem as hereditary stance") and he goes into other things such as racism and upheaval AND the foundation of the song -- the very first lyric you hear and which is returned to later-- is a biblical one. An amazing tune, but you will entirely miss this gem if you don't REALLY dig into it.
4. 'Black Carbon' featuring Chronix

Somewhere it is written that, in all things related to Reggae music, if you want to IMPROVE them/it - simply add Vaughn Benjamin. If you wish to solidify the work even further, simply add Chronixx. Mixing the two together on a single track could prove to be absolutely devastating and "devastating" is a fine way to describe the first of a pair of combinations on the "Polarities" album (and, I believe, its first single), 'Black Carbon'. This tune is so interesting to me for several reasons but what I most enjoy about it is how it, INHERENTLY, finds such a large common avenue between the two artists. Were it Benjamin alone, this sounds like something Akae Beka/Midnite would create:

"Some will see dem from a place of non-existence
While they carry out a purge - a planet reduction
Yes, some might set off a process of elimination
Involving psychology counts bombs and guns

And were this Chronixx and Chronixx alone, it would not be outside of his typical range of genius as well:

"Jah Jah show wi seh, humanity it is celestial
So no mek dem split you mentally fi go win election
Each nation haffi rise, uplifting the next one
Cause alla wi forward from di same carbon
Every tint and every shade, ALL COLOUR VARIATION"

And when you place that under the umbrella of the idea of the tune, which is about bringing us all together because we are ORGANICALLY the same damn thing (!) (we don't even have a choice in the matter, it's not to up to us!) how this song comes off is amazing and so impressive. An absolutely MAMMOTH combination and one which surely highlights this album (and it says something huge that there is a song here which I think is even stronger).

Finished writing all of that ^ only to notice that I said not a word about the vibe of 'Black Carbon'. It has this, at times, unusual kind of 'spiraling' sound to it which often sounds like it's leading to some sort of peak. You never actually reach that point because, by tune's end, you realize that you started there and never dipped.
5. 'Sow and The Reap'
"It was bloodhounds on the beach
Mosquitos and heat
It was the swamp and the beast
It was of trust and deceit -
When it's life that they seek"
Next up on 'Polarities' is the fully MAJESTIC 'Sow and The Reap'. This tune, just in its feel  has something truly special about it and should this album go on to receive some type of a dub version someday, it may be THE song here which I am most looking forward to hearing (....or could I just say that "I am listening forward to"????) (WHAT!). It definitely produces some of the most powerful vibes on the entire release. Lyrically, it ranks just as highly as Benjamin dazzles with a message which I took as him saying that we all play our part in the world. Regardless of what we do, we're all responsible for contributing to the earth, however, our actions (and innactions) have consequences and conditions which are to be respected. An amazing song! TEARS!
6. 'Royal Tribe'
You could well call this album nothing but an amalgam of "amazing songs" and you'd be correct. HOWEVER, were I to do that, I'd have to come up with a different adjective to describe 'Royal Tribe' because, to my ears, it is the greatest thing I hear on 'Polarities' and one of the most powerful Vaughn Benjamin songs that I have ever heard.

"She must be the queen bee inna loyal hive
Excitement in her wake, the entourage arrive

"A door of decency a weh you come inna
A gwan like it a drug weh you ah fiend fah
If Jah give you such a gift, just hold her
Someone is pleased and someone is displeased
She has a goal fah -
To reach to Israel and to Ithiopia"

If you lack respect and love for women and for a woman's necessity in the world... then you lack respect and love. They are things which you are incapable of giving and producing. You just can't do it. Society (and everything else) is uplifted and improved when you recognize the contribution women have made and continue to make. And this is the case for the most powerful ("queen bee inna loyal hive") and others still ("di finest glamour girl weh came to consciousness") ("Haile Selassie I teach her") - they are to be loved and respected. That is the tone set on 'Royal Tribe' and it is one which we have heard from Vaughn Benjamin before, but I can't actually say that we've heard it this sound this amaz.... FANTASTIC before as it does on the finest display on this album in my opinion.
7. 'Everything Bless' featuring Tiken Jah Fakoly

The second combination track from "Polarities" links Vaughn Benjamin with Ivorian Reggae star, Tiken Jah Fakoly. 'Everything Bless' is a fascinating union between two artists who probably have more in common than they do on the surface (but they do there as well, actually). For me, I'll link both of them to being individuals who did not always seek out the spotlight (but it did often find them), but have achieved and earned what they have by doing the work and GRINDING in Reggae music. They're the types who, if you were to ask a deep fan about their favourite song from either (which is just a terrible question to ask someone, you know you can't come up with ONE!), they wouldn't even come up with three or four. Instead, you'd get a healthy thirteen or fourteen album-like response. Unsurprisingly, the pair of VETERANS produce a vibe which is both large and simple and, in its time (the longest track on this album), manages to deliver everything you'd hope for from such a unique and ESTEEMED pairing.
8. 'Viral Trend'
Like much of Benjamin's output, 'Viral Trend' is a tune which is a giant chunk of candy for an overthinker like myself. What I was anticipating in this case was a tune maybe similar to 'Generation Again' or 'All I's On You', both from the "Beauty For Ashes" album where the artist examined the changing of the times. Instead, 'Viral Trend' is almost a reverse of those sets and it kind of places itself in way of REVERSING things and placing this very modern notion of a 'viral trend' into a historical and, at times, biblical frame. What is 'trending' throughout history are things such as people suffering and going through problems and perseverance. His Majesty is 'trending'. Giving someone aide is trending. All of these things - we'd never put into such terms, but when you think about it, we've been discussing them endlessly throughout our existence and likely forever will - they are trending. I also want to mention that, abour four minutes deep into 'Viral Trend', it reaches critical. You have something downright explosive which is fantastic to listen to which continues for the balance of the song.
9. 'Sing A New Song'
From its title alone, 'Sing A New Song' isn't exactly what I expected it to be. What I thought I was going to hear was a louder type of rejoicing vibes -- at least as far as Vaughn Benjamin does such a tune -- instead what arrived was a pleasant surprise. I'd almost call this song 'melancholy', at least until near its end when it picks up just a bit. And it isn't about finding a joy and singing how you feel about it. I took the message as one about growth and the various directions we go in life ("a work in progress") ("Rasta on the introspective ends choose overstanding in the moment. Choose patience in the moment. TRIAL AND ERROR KNOWS THIS, IMMENSE"). And you could also make connections here to ideas like learning and general life-experience, both of which are kind of pillaring topics which you'll find supported throughout Benjamin's work. And the package in which they are 'shipped' will take you a bit of time to figure out how to open, but once you do - ENJOY!
10. 'Value Good Again'

Musically speaking, I think 'Value Good Again' may just be armed with what is my favourite composition on the whole of "Polarities". There is something so sweet about the vibes on this tune which are equally intense and calming and subtle all at the same time. And it is well utilized by Benjamin who completes the work, lyrically, easily pushing it near the class of this set. This is a song about be better to people, both in the large scale and just between individuals. 

"Compassion which is feeling when the people struggling-
'If you love Me, feed My sheep'
Of The King of Kings utterance
Just a little sharing it is

And, so wonderfully fitting, near the song's conclusion, the music is brought back and given another opportunity to shine and SHINE it does.
11. 'Polarities'

I was really curious to hear the title track for this album, probably even more than I usually am (and it is always an interest of mine. I'm typically wondering if it carries some type of pervading and prevailing idea which is meant to be present throughout the album named after it or if whoever made the final decision on the album's title just thought it was the best song) (there's a story about an old Sizzla album called "Da Real Thing" where the artist wanted to name it 'Thank U Mamma' after what he assumed would be its signature tune (and he was right), while its producer, the legendary Bobby Digital, wanted to call it "Da Real Thing", seemingly in response to criticism that Sizzla was getting around the time for making music in a style far, far away from the days of 'Praise Ye Jah' and 'Black Woman & Child') even in regards to Benjamin's work in particular.

What I found in this case was, unsurprisingly, brilliant. For me, 'Polarities', the song, is about relations and relationships. It's a piece about how we relate to one another and the world and nature and many different things. 

"Rasta make mention-
Under the one sun
Everything in the realm of love
In the realm of peace

And maybe it's just me, but with Benjamin not necessarily ever being the most emotive of individuals, but I hear JOY in him on this one. This is a celebration of differences and things which are INHERENTLY different ("the way that the bitter repaid the sweet") and he sounds like he's in the moment and so am I. It also comes with a larger type of sound which also adds to the intensity on what is one SWEET moment.
12. 'Resonance'
Probably the most fittingly titled piece on the whole of this album is the very resonating 'Resonance'. The vibes of this tune are absolutely divine to the ear. They are multi-faceted and multi-layered, but combined, they work to perfection. And it is fitting that they do because the music here plays backdrop to Benjamin who we find in a fine form (he always is) - crafting a biblical gem in 'Resonance'. The lasting impression here for me is that the song comes off as one probably a few hundred lessons that the artist has delivered throughout his career and continues to deliver each and every time someone new stumbles upon his work or even when some grizzled veteran of a listener hears something that she/he never quite heard before (which happens to me CONSTANTLY! How many times have you listened to a Vaughn Benjamin piece, maybe even one of your favourites, and stopped and thought, "wait, what did he just say there?"). Be taking notes on this one, particularly during a stretch during the song's second half where he resoundingly erupts lyrically which is a highlight for the entire album in my opinion - not to be missed.
13. 'Imandment to Heart'

It takes me up until the very last serving of "Polarities" to find something to grumble about, but I do find it on 'Immandment to Heart' and I'm kinda pissed off about it actually. This song is entirely too damn short. It just is. You could've doubled a verse, added instrumentals, I don't care what you do. But it's too short (curiously, however, I don't feel that way about 'Charges' (although if they wanted to stretch that one out, I wouldn't complain about it either) which is actually twenty-one seconds shorter). I want more of it. Let me tell you why!

TEARS! It is so beautiful!

"Refugee ah get up pon a raft and push off
Like him hear a signal tell him seh dat di gideon start"

For me, 'Imandment to Heart' is a piece speaking to INSTINCT and how we all have certain things with which we are born. These things may cause a variety of results, but ultimately we all know things such as, most importantly, when we do wrong and when we do write. I think that here Benjamin is warning all to maybe take a second before you do something because, in many cases, you may have an idea what may occur when you do what you are about to do. And if you take that further, you can make a general view (MAYBE) of just... maybe making a little more of an effort in things that you do and say because you were GIFTED with a bit of common sense, whether you realize it, or even want it, or not.

Take Jah imandment to heart
Everybody had to get out and ah push or walk -
When the engine fals-start or lock

And the song has this wonderfully, simple vibes to it which make in addictive from strictly a sonic point-of-view and, like I said, yeah - I'm going to need someone to make more of this one. Thank you and good day!

I hesitate to place some type of a 'cap' on this album and, therefore, at least some section of this music because during his time Vaughn Benjamin gave us gems which not only existed for the moment or for some eventual nostalgia, but were evolving. As long as an audience exists, there is likely to be someone somewhere drawing something from his music and the picture that they will find on "Polarities" is one of the most beautiful that he ever gave us.

Akae Beka's "Polarities" can be found digitally everywhere (courtesy of our old friends at Zojak Worldwide) and physically via IGRADERECORDS.COM

Monday, October 5, 2020

"Elevate" by Sara Lugo



Thought I was dead didn't you (that's okay, maybe I was)? If ever there were something that would get me interested in writing again --and I didn't know if there was-- it wouldn't be a line of tremendously fantastic albums over the years or one massive piece of terrible news from about a year ago (Rest Easy King). What it would be, however, would be something which was not only equally inherently interesting and challenging, but something undeniably COMFORTING as well. When we were active, I had favourite subjects to write about which were my favourites for a variety of different reasons and, CLEARLY, one such topic was the downright remedying and always allaying Sara Lugo. We immediately took an interest in the singer and, all these years later, she ranks amongst the greatest musicians I have EVER come across and I am a, until I end, a fan.

So, although I definitely have paid attention to her output over the years (including one MAMMOTH shot by the name of 'Woman On A Mission'), her latest project was one I was really looking forward to and, today I hope my loose command of language lasts just long enough to take a brief look at said project, the latest EP release from Sara Lugo and Take It Easy, "Elevate".

{Note: I can virtually guarantee that the writing in this post is and will continue to be truly horrible so, for your benefit, I will be brief}
{Note 3: I may pop up ocassionally again, but if you hold your breath waiting on another post you will... well.... well you'll just stop holding your breath}
{Note 4: Where's note 2????}


Fittingly, setting the tone for the project named after it is the eponymous selection for Sara Lugo's new EP, "Elevate". The first thing that really struck me on this tune is just its sound. I don't know what, exactly, I would call this. It's has this kind of equally bright and brooding sound to it and I never REALLY got a hold of it. Call what it you like, however, when you add Lugo's vocals to it (which are almost entirely what you would call bright on this song) and what you have is a winner. The theme of the track, at least in the micro sense, is progression and being at least open to new ideas and designs. She ultimately goes on to use that notion to involve other sentiments such as overall personal development and even things like sadness and going through tough times, in general ["so just be, be, be the change you want to see"]. In the macro - you can really take a song like this in so many different directions, which you know I REALLY want to do.


Next in is 'Flowaz' which I immediately heard and it took me in one direction. At her absolute core, in my opinion (and I've certainly said somewhere in these pages many times), Sara Lugo is someone who very organically is capable of doing something which..... just doesn't really happen very much and, unless she makes some type of concerted effort NOT to do it, I don't know if she could change it even if she wanted to. What she can do, because of her style and her voice is to sing a straight up Jazz song and that isn't rare at all. HOWEVER, when you have someone who does that whose heart and whose passion, whose heart and whose (again) style and voice so often leads them in the direction of making Reggae music - what you have is a unicorn of an artist. They just don't exist. Right???

'Flowaz', at least to my ears, is a beautiful Jazz song, she pushes it through a few courses with the possible highlight being spells during which Lugo full on raps at times. The general aesthetics on this song are spectacular with my personal favourite section being a stretch of half a minute or so at the end where Lugo's vocals spark a lovely instrumental. 'Flowaz' also isn't without a lyrical offering and what I took it from it was the simple notion of attempting to find and highlight BEAUTY wherever you can and in whichever form you might, regardless of what that means to you. Surely, if you listen to this tune, you can add it to your list.

'Energy Of God'

Where 'Elevate' had an unusual vibe to it and 'Flowaz' was more in a Jazz direction to my ears, the EP's third selection, 'Energy Of God' almost comes through (at least at times) in an R&B or lightly Hip/Hoppish type of vibes. Unsurprisingly, that isn't a problem at all for Lugo. There is a certain grumble (I don't know what to call it) on this track which is a golden touch to listen to and the song, about halfway through, takes a twist and kind of opens up and blossoms into something else. For her part, Lugo uses it to make an inspirational contribution - essentially saying that EVERYONE has something to offer to the world and what we are to do is to find what that is and do our best to release it. I also took from this one that Lugo was also kind of aggressively sharing the title of motivator.... because maybe what it is that you do well is to MOTIVATE. So maybe you can do that and someday some loon somewhere will be writing about you! Get to work! 

Please join in, we need your love, you brighten up the dark"


From a lyrical point of view, 'Time' is a song about simply making the 'best' of one's time It's about doing what you want to do as soon as you possibly can and attempting to stop procrastinating and finding reasons to not reach one's potential, in full and in spots. Be it finding time to love (like having someone catch your eye and sitting around too damn nervous to say something to them) (STOP BEING A COWARD AND SAY HELLO!) or finding time to pursue some type of other interest - do what you want to do and stop creating reasons not to. The sound here is another very interesting one and it loosely reminded me of an old Sara Lugo song (more on that in conclusion) with this kind of 'chime' type of vibe to it. Clearly someone far more intelligent than me should probably be explaining the music to you on this song but what I will say simply is that - your ears will not be upset at you for listening to 'Time' several times. Trust me.

'Free Flow'

They'll also not be upset if you continue to 'Elevate' with Sara Lugo and arrive at its next track, 'Free Flow'. This is the most VIVID tune that you will find here. It is super bright and there're times here when Lugo sounds like she's smiling while she's singing it. You'll also be smiling while she's singing it.

'Elevate [RVDS Remix]'

Finally is the RVDS Remixed version of the title track. What I will say about this one (resisting the urge to dive right in again) is that I actually enjoy it more than the original version. It's an excellent remix and this is coming from someone who generally isn't very interested in remixes at all, with very few exceptions.

Overall, as I alluded to while talking about 'Time'. There is an old song Sara Lugo did almost a decade ago now maybe (we are all so, soooooo old) by the name of 'Night Race' with an artist named Toussaint (biggup Toussaint) which so much sounds like something that would have been on a project like this one, musically speaking. It had this kind of subtly GRAND vibe to it which (if you can have such a thing) (and apparently you can) and was just a gorgeous song. I bring up 'Night Race' because..... well because I said I would and I really like that song, so I'll just start this again -

Overall, "Elevate" is a project from Sara Lugo (DUH!) which highlights so much of her diversity. While you will not find it saturated in Reggae, what you do find here will definitely keep even the most singular-minded of her fans happy throughout. Anddddddd! I mean it's new Sara Lugo and you really want to hear it! But you didn't need me to tell you all of that. I'll see you later.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Lovers Rock by Jalena!

"The Lovers Rock" by Jalena [Jalena]

1. 'If This Isn't Love'
2. 'High'
3. 'Better Days' featuring Harella
4. 'But I Love You'
5. 'No Living Without You'
6. 'Closer To Heaven'
7. 'Goodbye [Has Never Been So Hard]'

Big, biggup to Achis Reggae favourite, the infinitely delightful Jalena from out of Tortola, who recently returned with her latest project (her fifth by my count and first from 2015's "L'amour"), "The Lover's Rock". As its title would suggest, the new set finds Jalena exploring yet another style as previous releases have featured such a wide variety of different styles such as Reggae, Pop/R&B, of course Soca and even Zouk. Jalena has always been an artist, clearly, driven by results and everyone who has paid her attention knows that she is capable of sparking some damn colourful vibes of so many different colours, going allllllllll the way back to 'Roll It', (a HUGE tune - ridiculously nearing a decade old) (it cannot possibly have been that long ago) ["ROLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! WIIIIIIIIIIIINE! YOU CAN'T CONTROL  THIS WAISTLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!"] [BOOM!]. So her taking on a bit of Lover's Rock, certainly not a great deviation from her impressive skill set, comes as a very welcomed addition.
As for "The Lovers Rock", while I am still working my way through it, I definitely have to say that my early favourite is the ear candy, diabetes causing 'High' - an absolutely GORGEOUS selection. I also really enjoy 'Better Days' with Harella, the very subtle 'Closer To Heaven' and previous single, 'If This Isn't Love'. I should also say that, given the style of the music here, this might be the most impressive collective display of Jalena's vocals to date (although "L'amour" was really good there as well, it wasn't as long as "The Lovers Rock"), which is a quality I don't think she gets enough credit for. Jalena can sing! She has pipes!

Not sure about that?!!! See for yourself when you pick up "The Lovers Rock" by Jalena which you'll find in your favourite digital store right now. Go get it! I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What I'm Listening To: Looking Up

Been sick [as usual], having a few good days though

The Palestine Riddim [Irie Sounds International - 2016]

First up today is something which has been on our radars for more than a minute as our old friend from Irie Sounds International, the indomitable James Lord, continues what is ultimately (and apparently) going to turn out to be a downright stellar 2016 for his label with the HEAVY Palestine Riddim. Earlier this year ISI dropped the highly regarded latest album release from veteran chanter Warrior King, "The Rootz Warrior" which featured the King's cut of the Palestine Riddim, 'President Yahya Jammeh'. So you may (and you should) be familiar with the track via that song, but it also offers a few more reasons to get acquainted if you haven't already… namely the downright MONSTROUS 'Jah Is In His Kingdom' from the unforgettable Yami Bolo. Hopefully 2017 turns out to be a more active year from the veteran vocalist as, just when you begin to lose hope, at times, he consistently offers reminders like this one (EASILY one of the better songs I've heard this year, altogether… like from anyone), of just how immense his talent still is. Rounding out the class of the Palestine Riddim are also lovely tracks courtesy of the likes of the Bugle, Prezident Brown and a surprising Joshua Hales whose 'Calling' is golden. And, as I alluded to, apparently this isn't the end of the year for Irie Sounds International as the Lead Di Way Riddim is also set for its own release.


"Stories of Life" by Black Prophet [Kingz Entertainment/Prophetic Music Production]

Biggup our ooooooooooooold friend, the great Jahsh Concurz, for pointing me in the direction of the latest release from esteemed Ghanaian vocalist, Black Prophet, "Stories of Life". This is another piece I've had quite awhile to digest and JC highly recommended it and I have to agree with him. "Stories of Life" features the handiwork of the legendary Dean Fraser and, by extension, contributions from both Tarrus Riley and Duane Stephenson, and it is absolutely stellar throughout. To my opinion (though it changes rather consistently) (biggup Danny I) it pinnacles at 'Elmina Castle' which features Riley [TEARS!] [BOOM!] [DAMN!] but selections such as the delightful 'African Freedom', 'Too Know', definitely 'Jah A We Know', 'I Wish' and others rank as giant standouts. For what it is, and I don't know if it will be regarded as such by the masses, 'Stories of Life' is probably one of the better albums I've heard this year. Thanks JC. 

CD + Digital

"I & I Culture" by Utan Green [Wild Pitch Music]
Biggup the wonderful people at Wild Pitch Music for deciding that the world would just be a much better place with another full (and I mean FULL) album from the WELL SEASONED Utan Green. To my knowledge the only album Green has released to date has been the virtually invisible (these days) "Rivers of Reality" (good luck tracking that one down) which is nearly two decades old now and clearly it has long been time for a follow-up (I don't care if the man released an album last year, it was time for a new one anyway) and that is exactly what we have in "I & I Culture". Now, as you would hope, if you haven't had an album in such a long time, despite what we may see from others, you probably have A LOT to say and Utan Green definitely does as "I & I Culture" checks in with a delicious eighteen songs and more than SEVENTY minutes of strong music. The results, besides just being quantiful (not an actual work) are also of significant quality and because of both size and class I can damn confidently say that if you enjoy Reggae music, particularly that of a slightly older sound (although ultimately I would well qualify this one as a modern set), there is SOMETHING  on this album that you're going to enjoy. As for me, tunes such as 'Captain' (which you might know), 'Sunshine', 'Ancient Man' ["A di same old Rastaman dem"], 'Man No Dead', 'Rasta Time' and several others, like 'Fighting' revolve around top honours on "I & I Culture"… honours CLEARLY held by the MASSIVE 'Chant'. An outstanding album and one which I may slap a review on in the new year. Elijah Prophet next??? PLEASE!!!

CD [I THINK] + Digital

"Power Surge" by Ward 21 [Germaica Digital]

There will ALWAYS be room on my players the still wildly entertaining Ward 21, no matter how disillusioned and out of touch I may grow with Dancehall music (a genre which, despite my never-ending LOVE of even the most RIDICULOUS and ZANY forms of Soca, routinely makes me feel old as hell these days). So I was well pleased to see that the group had re-linked with Germaica Digital to serve up an effective sequel to the golden bar that was "Still Disturbed" from a couple of years back in "Power Surge". This one doesn't light up as brightly as its predecessor did (which you really need to hear), but pieces like 'OG Kush', 'Pretty Phat Cat' (a preposterously SIGNATURE effort from the Ward) and especially the HEAVY 'Groundz' (biggup Baby Cham) give me what I need when it comes to the Ward, a full decade and a half after their first album and still going strong and completely without behaviour. 


"Concrete Jungle" by Chuck Fenda [Voiceful Records/Zojak Worldwide]

And finally, I was rather happy to see a great deal of early attention paid to "Concrete Jungle", the latest set from Chuck Fenda (I'm tired of using the word 'veteran', but that's what he is as well). By my count this is… the veteran's fourth studio album to date and his latest after 2013's "Jah Element" (there was also a Live set in there) and it should rate fairly well in his catalogue as "Concrete Jungle" is a decent offering throughout and one I'm still, obviously, working on. Albums like this, while I don't think they 'change the game' or 'take things to another' or do any of that crazy bullshit, just really fill a NEED of a high level of consistency in the genre. I don't go looking for Fenda's new album to amaze me or change my life, but when I get it I know that I can press play and walk away and that is the same situation here. Headers include 'Oh Merciful Father', 'If U No With Me' (the best song on this album), definitely the title track, 'That Place' (and a BEAUTIFUL place it is) as well as the obligatory ganja tune, 'This Plant', and its very unique sound. Etana, The Morgans and Sista Sasha all make appearances. 

CD + Digital