Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Whosoever Will be Messenjah Selah

Perhaps instead of seeking to provide an effective and an exact example of it, maybe we should just apply the term ‘best kept secret’ to Reggae music as a whole. Nearly every week at this point I find myself coming into contact, through various means, with new and newer artists of who I, quite honestly, have a very hard time overstanding why they haven’t managed to make a greater impact with their music, not only in terms of Reggae music specifically, but music as a whole as well as the vibes definitely are able (or at least should be able) to travel over just a genre gap or two. Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that when the so-called ‘golden age’ of Reggae is discussed and the current era is always looked down upon, even looking back at times gone, while I definitely recognize and respect and LOVE the skill of so many of those artists and pioneers, I find it hard to believe that if you took a great deal of our artists of today and transported them back to ANY era of the music, that they wouldn’t have had a similar response from the masses as well. For example, just in choosing from the unfortunately large crop of unknowns and lesser knowns: Can you imagine a group of Reggae heads who wouldn’t be able appreciate someone like Jah Hem? Particularly if you were to take him backwards, the music of the unusually voiced and vibed Bahamian singer would UNDOUBTEDLY be regarded as classic by now, in spite of the fact that he still has quite a ways to go towards forging towards the ‘Reggae mainstream’. Another interesting example would be someone like Queen Omega. I have FULL confidence that had the Queen arrived at sometime during the 1970’s, we would now be talking about her simply being the most talented female to EVER hold the mic in Reggae music. And, still we may even get there someday, even in this underappreciated times. In the Dancehall where ‘evolution’ is SO much more evident on a so much more obtrusive level things are even more apparent in my opinion. Let’s go back to the Jamaican Dancehall scene circa 1980 and introduce the masses to one Aidonia. Just what would be the response to the man of a billion words per minute had he come around in the early digital ragga era of Dancehall, walking right into King Jammy’s legendary Waterhouse studio? In retrospect, we may regard the lyrics MACHINE in every bit of the way we now look at the likes of Papa San, Lieutenant Stitchie and other tongue twisting masters of the Dancehall. So the next time someone who doesn’t really know much of what they speak tells you something along the lines of, “What they’re making today isn’t as good as it used to be”, or, “the ‘golden era’ of Reggae is long gone”, do them a favour by pointing them in the direction of artists whose talents exist beyond ANY given point of time who are going strong today.

I think that it would (or at least it should) go without saying that, of course, many of the more well known artists would have also have fit in any era and, even more of them perhaps, wouldn’t have; showing that this definitely isn’t a quality based on popularity. The primary example of that being Elephant Man who, although underrated in his ability (if you have EVER heard Ele turn the flow up to its peak, you have heard a dazzling wordsmith without many peers on that level), simply could not have fit in musically and even more not personally, I think fans from three decades or so ago would have been overwhelmed by the ‘Energy God’. This somewhat timeless quality which I’m speaking of has to do with BOTH sound and PERSONALITY (and you’re thinking about Aidonia? Its been my experience that Aitana Lawrence (the man who ‘plays’ Aidonia) is much more reserved than his lyrically ghoulish counterpart) and probably the latest artist who I have set my attentions on who would have rather easily been appreciated in any era of Reggae music, and probably more so than in this current one, is DEFINITELY Messenjah Selah. The St. Andrews native is a chanter much in the way of more ‘serene’ and peaceful type of artists such as Ras Attitude and maybe even a bit of Norris Man (when Norris is at his best) at times, minus the wail that Norris Man has virtually made his calling card through the years and perhaps that’s due to the fact that Selah spent several of his later formative years in the Virgin Islands, where he would have encountered much of the same set of circumstances growing up as Attitude, Batch, Pressure and many other similarly vibed artists. If you do know the name Messenjah Selah it’s probably because you were fortunate to either pick up or just hear about his most recent release, the WICKED Breaking Babylon Curse from Zion High. That album is SERIOUSLY becoming one of my favourite as I now find myself drawing for it on a daily basis. It kind of has a ’developing’ type of vibes to it, meaning that it will grow on you and grow on you and grow on you (and, in the context of being a timeless artist, were it released about twenty years ago, Breaking Babylon Curse would probably be a CLASSIC by now). Well if you find it growing on you at this point and you were one of the many who jumped on board with Messenjah Selah at BBC, then what you may not know is that you have some work to do on your hands as that album wasn’t actually his first. His actual first was a similarly ’developing’ type of an album, Whosoever Will which was released back in 2002 through (the now presumably defunct) NDISI Records. If you LOVED Breaking Babylon Curse (and if your ears function properly and you’re reading this review you probably did) you’re almost guaranteed to have a great deal of fun with Whosoever Will as, as I mentioned, it’s a close album in terms of how it is vibed. To my ears actually, Whosoever Will exists as a ‘rough around the edges’ type of blueprint of what was to come about a half -decade later from an artist in Messenjah Selah who has apparently mastered the ART of making big albums; 2 deep into his career and 2 undeniable winners.

From a strictly vibes standpoint, Whosoever Will is actually quite similar to Breaking Babylon Curse. The tunes here cover a variety of subjects and different moods and, at the end of the day, proves, like I said to be somewhat of an indirect blueprint for the BBC album (a ‘trial run’ if you will). After an almost obligatory corny (yet harmless) intro the first tune on Messenjah Selah’s debut album Whosoever Will is also one of it’s finest, Jah Bless My Days. The tune is almost PERFECT for what it is and introducing the listener to the artist as it shows Selah in nearly his absolute brightest light. The song is just a straight HEALTHY chant over a LUSH backing riddim over which Selah just gives thanks to His Majesty for life. Really a STRONG opening and it doesn’t get much better here. The next tune, Know You Are Praised, is definitely one of the more interesting on the album for a couple of reasons. First of all, you may notice that Selah uses Bob Marley’s One Drop riddim for the tune (and I know I wasn’t the only one singing Sizzla’s No White God when the riddim came in). Secondly, I don’t know if I actually AGREE with the message on the tune which, at least to my ears is a bit divisive (even though Selah and I walk the same path in life). Selah goes into matters which I feel are best left up to each and every individual as far as who and what they believe in (he actually goes as far as to use the term ‘False prophet’). The overall sound is pretty well done, as expected, but as far as the content, you be the judge for yourself and I wouldn’t have put the tune on the album but apparently Selah felt very strongly about the matter. Clearly making up for any awkwardness left in the wake of Know You Are Praised is ROLLING tune for the Afrikan woman, Woman Of The Most High. This tune has a bit of an (unexpected) edge to it but it also has a free-flowing nature as well which go towards making it an excellent way to end the opening bits of the album and one of it’s best tunes altogether.

Despite the fact that Messenjah Selah clearly advanced as an artist in the seven or so years between Whosoever Will and Breaking Babylon Curse, one of the areas where he maintained between both is apparently the skill of NETWORKING. Appearing on the BBC album were Queen Omega and Lutan Fyah, among others but he took a step down in terms of star power, as appearing on Whosoever Will was none other than BOTH Luciano and Sizzla Kalonji. The tune with Luciano, I Will Survive is the absolute class of the album and it also appeared on Luciano’s 2003 album Serve Jah as well (where Selah went unaccredited) and justly so as the tune was just so WONDERFULLY vibed as the two give a big praises to His Majesty and is so IMPORTANT to the album overall. HUGE tune. Unlike the very dependable Luciano, you kind of run hot and cold when it comes to Sizzla and on the tune on Whosoever Will with Messenjah Selah, Joy, he’s closer to cold and comes through SLIGHTLY over animated which is really nothing new. I’ve definitely heard worse but I’d LOVE to hear Selah and Sizzla go back in the studio because, even though Sizzla isn’t at the top of his game, the tune still delivers occasional flashes of brilliance. On his own, just as on BBC, Messenjah Selah is VERY impressive throughout Whosoever Will. A real highlight here is the title tune (which isn’t always the case) which rolls in with so much ‘quiet confidence’ that you have to take note of it and it’s mellow nature definitely helps the quality of the tune as it provides Selah to do more singing which is a plus (just like with Ras Attitude). Lovely tune. The title track, however, is outdone by the tune which immediately follows it, Zion .vs. Babylon, as once again digs into Marley’s bag of riddims for its backing (at least that how it sounds to me, I FRUSTRATINGLY can’t recall which) the tune slows things wayyyy down but it works here as the subsequent song sounds much more like a developed chant, which is essentially what it is and one of the best written tunes on the album. Pushing the levels (in terms of tempo) back up and further than they were is the next tune, the WICKED Coming Home. This one is a repatriation anthem as well as a tune just pushing the love of Afrika and the vibes are just HIGH. This is definitely one to get the head rocking but in doing so, full make sure that you pay attention to the lyrics on the tune as well. Things get back on the level of Zion vs. Babylon on the tune Rastafari and even though, to my opinion, it fails to reach those quality levels, this song and the one which follows it, Let Jah Be Praised, go to make up a VERY solid body of the album which, although quite easily overlooked and not as good as the album’s best material, is something which can (and has) find a place with SO many listeners in terms of sighting up His Majesty. And for its part, Let Jah Be Praised has a very nice sound (albeit rather generic, to be honest). As Messenjah Selah’s Whosoever Will reaches its conclusion it definitely saves some rather ’curious’ material down the stretch. One such piece would be Born To Die which is a kind of a folksy sounding almost ballad style song which really, to my ears never manages to get off the ground and comes off as a bit gimmicky. Mind Control is another oddly vibed song here (although better than Better To Die in just about every way) which sets the ’odd’ table for the ’odd’ closer Give Thanks For Life which is kind of a funky 1980’s pop sounding tune. This one just didn’t appeal to me in anyway at all. Thankfully wrapped in that same span of songs is the aforementioned tune Joy alongside Sizzla and a NICE tune by the name of Babylon A Lie, which has kind of a ‘messy’ or raggedy sounding vibes which will GROW on you so quickly it’s unbelievable. As downright ‘off’ sounding as the tune is, it well helps to steer Whosoever Will back in the right direction given it’s interesting ending.

Overall, as I said, I consider this one to be an effective foundation for what eventually went on to be Breaking Babylon Curse and if you listen to both albums, you can hear rather glaring and TANGIBLE improvements that Messenjah Selah had made in the time between both albums. HOWEVER, to dismiss Whosoever Will entirely isn’t the right thing at all because what this album does have to offer is the vision of an artist as a work in progress. I ALWAYS find it very fulfilling to see an artist DEVELOP becoming better along the way (which is why Turbulence has disappointed me SO much, he used to be better than he IS) and especially when what they started with was already impressive. Whosoever Will is an early glimpse into the vibes of Messenjah Selah, an artist who I feel, despite the fact that he isn’t very well known in most Reggae circles, has all the talent to fit into ANY era of the music. His music also has the talent to fit well into any catalogue of any Reggae head; whether you know his name or not.

Rated 3/5 stars
NDISI Records

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