Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Loving You Through The Years: A Review of Rebelution by Yami Bolo

Despite the fact that I keep albums in my players rotating in and out at an almost ridiculous pace, there have been and continues to be a few here and there which manage to, for one reason or another, stay not too far from my reach and thus, one of the eternal answers to that oft-asked question, “What are you listening to right now?”. Well, RIGHT NOW I happen to be listening to a whole heap of pieces. Not surprisingly at all you’ll find relatively new releases such as Ziggi’s sublime sophomore album, In Transit; you’ll also find a Lutan Fyah’s EPIC double release Africa (currently waiting on his new album, African Be Proud); Daweh Congo’s Ghetto Skyline is in there as well as is, perhaps most fittingly in this case, the constantly ‘improving’ Breaking Babylon Curse from Messenjah Selah which I enjoy more and more each time that I spin it. In the tangible sense, all of those albums would make perfect sense to be spinning right now: They all were released within the last four to five months or so and are definitely BIG albums in their own right. And, even to take it a step further, were I to say that I was that I was currently listening to something like Sizzla’s Black Woman & Child or Capleton’s More Fire, despite both being either more than or just less than a decade old, they too would make sense because they are widely held as being two of the best of all time. That being said I also have a few albums which are kind of ‘stuck’ in terms of time being around three to ten years old or so and they didn’t do a ton of damage and were relatively either decently received or, in some cases, even negatively received when they initially were pushed out. For example, should you check what’s currently playing on my speakers at this very moment and it’s been there for quite awhile, you might be surprised that its another Sizzla album which wasn’t too well regarded when it reached and still isn’t, Rastafari Teach I Everything from all the way back in 2001. I know people who will literally call RTIE a BAD album, but to me, it’s a sleeper as one the August Town Wizard’s lower level better albums and just a BEAUTIFUL piece when you really sit down and take a note of it. Another very good example from that same year (and same label actually) would curiously be [General] Degree’s WICKED Yeah Man. That PACKED album, in my opinion, was one of the best PURE Dancehall releases from the past decade and although it definitely didn’t get the attention it deserved, it has continued through the years to retain a very welcome spot in my players. Other examples would be albums like Lyricson’s Born 2 Go High from 2004, Chezidek’s at times AMAZING debut album Harvest time which reached in 2002 and probably ALL of Peter Broggs’ catalogue which unfortunately tends to go under noticed. These albums aren’t necessarily the GREATEST actually but for some reason they’ve managed to stick with me over time and are still sticking.

But there is undoubtedly something VERY ODD going on with the things that I am CURRENTLY listening to, with three in particular standing out. The first would be the aforementioned Breaking Babylon Curse by Messenjah Selah which I reviewed and rated four stars. I may someday rank BBC as high as five (EASILY) because that album really takes a while to grow on you and you definitely need to take a more MATURE approach to it to be able to appreciate it. The second would be an album by the name of Holding Firm by wicked Virgin Islands chanter Ras Attitude from back in 2005 (I THINK) which came and went in my collection before I actually gave it a proper spin and discovered that it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. That album almost single-handedly made me recognize that my tastes were changing and I had become a much ‘older’ listener than I was before. Now, fittingly, is the third album, Yami Bolo’s Rebelution from back in 2003 originally which has FINALLY gone digital courtesy of a label based in Florida in the States, Zion High Productions. If Holding Firm made me take notice that my tastes were changing in Reggae music, Rebelution CONFIRMED those thoughts as I not only LOVE this album, but it made me go back and take a look at Yami Bolo’s ENTIRE career and catalogue and you know what? I ultimately gained a new appreciation of that material as well. Of course the odd bit of ‘coincidence’ here is that all three albums, Breaking Babylon Curse, Holding Firm and Rebelution are primarily Zion High Productions albums which kind of is a weird quality that their albums have (as if the slogan might be, “You’ll love this stuff. . . In a couple of years) and they can lay claim to putting out the best ‘time delayed’ material in Reggae altogether. After that time period passes, however, and you take another look at all of these albums what you’ll find is CRISP and very MATURE work between the three, particularly in Holding Firm and now with BBC and as I find new and very interesting things (especially lyrically) in that album almost everyday. I do feel, however, that Rebelution is the best of that lot. This album is one of my favourites of Yami Bolo’s entire overlooked career. For years he has been on the outside of a very select lot of singers which has, primarily, included the likes of Luciano and now with the up and coming Roots Reggae singers like Jah Cure and I-Wayne, he figures to get even more pushed aside, ranking alongside CRIMINALLY underappreciated artists of similar ilk such as Everton Blender, the aforementioned Daweh Congo and maybe even someone like former Xterminator artists Mikey General and Prince Malachi would also fit into that list. And even amongst that VERY STRONG list of artists, Bolo may just be underappreciated as well and it’s really a shame that so much of his music goes unnoticed, especially locally speaking, because really and truly there haven’t been too many more consistent names than Yami Bolo since he first entered the business, if TRULY any at all. Thus, it isn’t too difficult for me to say that if you have been amongst the masses sleeping on the singer, Rebelution would be an EXCELLENT starting point for you to make up for lost time.

The vibes on Rebelution, unsurprisingly, are VERY much on the spiritual side which should be nothing new for longtime Yami Bolo fans. And for new fans, I’ll also mention that vocally Bolo probably falls into that same line of singers like Mykal Rose and the likes with the kind of WAILING sound that he employs so often, but there is a REFINED bit in his voice at times also, sounding more like Everton Blender to my ears than most would say. Of course now that I trumped up the spiritual nature of Rebelution, Yami Bolo begins the album with a love song (DUH!). This love song, the very nice Empress I Love You definitely has quite a bit of spiritual and conscious connotations to it, so it more than fits in (and you KNEW one would be on the album) on the project and, despite being on the lower end in terms of overall songs quality, it’s still a very nice opener to get things started. The far more expected Pray is up next for Rebelution and it certainly lifts the album to the stratosphere and proves to be one of it’s best tunes altogether in it’s time. The song is just DIVINE and is so without using really any type of ‘tricks’ in terms of taking the music or the vibes or the lyrics in any type of radical direction. Instead, Bolo simply pushes a message that times are well hard and we definitely need to pray for the better. Agreed! And you’ll agree that the tune is near magic. Bridging the gap between the opening tracks and the body of the album is the arguably even stronger Good Must Conquer Evil over a very familiar minimalist riddim from Zion High (which develops into a ‘complexly vacant’ beautiful composition). This tune is full of knowledge gives the listener about as strong of an example of what to expect with the balance of Rebelution as anything on the album’s opening.

Despite the fact that Yami Bolo makes a few combinations with big artists it’s SPECIFICALLY the tunes which feature him and him alone which stand out and have stood up to me the most obvious representing the power of Rebelution. The PRIME example of this and ultimately the finest tune on Rebelution to my opinion is the AWESOME tune Accident. Livicated to the well famous case of Mumia Abu Jamal, I can particularly recall when this tune HIT me and when it did it brought tears, it brought crazy emotions as I tuned in and heard him directly say, “Babylon is like an accident!”. POWERFUL! Trust me, definitely not to be missed a real microcosm of the entire album and perhaps even all of ZHP’s pieces as it builds and builds until it finally has you. Accident begins a very powerful string of tunes which ultimately send out Rebelution as, after it, there are nothing but WINNING tunes. Do No Evil is a very easy and bouncing tune which encourages all to do exactly what the title says (its kind of the changeup here, if that role doesn’t belong to Accident). Following Do No Evil is the sole combination on the second half of the album and DEFINITELY one of the best tunes on Rebelution in full, the very inspirational and HEAVY Hail The Conquering Lion which features Bolo alongside the legendary Ras Michael. This tune is for the Rastafarian crowd FAR AND AWAY. Now, should you follow that path in life (and I do) then this tune will speak to you on so many different levels than probably any tune up until this point on Rebelution altogether. It well remains that way, however, for a very short period of time as, in keeping with that vibes, the next tune, Crownation Glory, is an even larger step up. CROWNATION GLORY is MAMMOTH! To no exaggeration this tune, probably even more so than Accident, has been the one which has stuck so closely with me. I play this song for my plants in my house! It’s just a wonderfully big vibes in praise of His Majesty before ‘ascending’ into a sweet sweet ending definitely not to be missed. Still on a similar vibes is the next tune, Safe Guard, which, although not as strong as the two tunes immediately preceding it, has a ‘bigger’ sound to it which is the attraction on the surface before you get into that wonderful message of the people really needing to protect ourselves from just the evil and corrupt system (Safe Guard may be the best WRITTEN tune on Rebelution altogether). Binghi is just what it sounds like, the obligatory nyah drum backed tune on the album and, as usual because I love these songs, it’s a real winner, just a nice chanting vibes for His Imperial Majesty (I might have preferred it as the closer though). And it sets the stage for the actual finisher on Rebelution, the rather understated Y Mas Gan which rolls in on a Spanish/Acoustic sound and doesn’t really develop much but may just be the most personally sang tune on the album and in such a reflective nature you can’t argue with it’s choice for the album in full and not even with it’s placement as the closer. Going backwards to check on the combinations: Ithiopia is BIG. Yami Bolo sings SO sweet on the hook there alongside my not so favourite Al Pancho and Prince Bob of all people (+3 to anyone who knew Prince Bob) that he well outshines his friends on the tune even before checking in later on with his own full verse which just wraps things so nicely. Liberation is the highest profile combination on Rebelution as it reunites Bolo with Capleton and does so, so wonderfully to my ears as they infuse the same riddim which backed Turbulence’s MASSIVE tune We Need Liberation (alongside Digital Ancient). And Talk About Slavery links Bolo with both underrated Bunny Mystic and General Jah Mikey (who is WICKED). This may be the finest combination outside of Hail The Conquering Lion and however you place them, they’re all very well done and impeccable on an equally impeccable album.

(oh! And check the HEAVY Sanctify Yourself Rebelution’s second best written tune)

Overall, I do feel the need not to OVERRATE Yami Bolo’s Rebelution. I don’t give it five stars because it simply isn’t a five star album. It’s not the best album I’ve ever heard (it probably isn’t even in the top twenty or so actually) and I don’t want to make you think it is. HOWEVER, Rebelution is an album which simply just struck me on SO MANY levels as having a very ‘familiar’ and ‘comforting’ vibes that, even in spite of the nature of Roots Reggae which can paint a very bleak picture at times, still managed to be uplifting throughout. This album has a very natural ‘human appeal’ to it and like I said, if you can take a step back and listen to the entire album and meditate on it a bit and then listen it again. You, you already well indoctrinated roots Reggae fan (newer fans I don’t recommend this one for you), will find the same thing I found in Yami Bolo’s Rebelution: It’s not the greatest, not even close, but it is one of my favourite albums of all time. Period.

Rated 4.25/5 stars
Zion High Productions
2003 [re-released 2009]


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