Monday, May 25, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Awake by Meshach & Wevolusion

Traveling throughout the Caribbean its quite interesting to see just which of the islands manage to become under the ‘spell’ of which musical form predominately. Particularly when looking at many of the islands whose population are largely of African descent (and English speaking) the dominant style is, of course, either Reggae or Soca for the most part, especially on the major islands. The two main examples are definitely and fittingly the home of Reggae music Jamaica and the home of Soca, Trinidad and when you look at the areas in between you see a rather fascinating trend developing on the Soca side. Down in the area of Trinidad, unsurprisingly the majority of the surrounding islands are also majour hotbeds of Soca music. Those (lovely) islands, Barbados, St. Vincy, Grenada and ST. LUCIA have taken the baton from Trinidad and produced some of the most sensational Soca acts in the entire world with many of them even taking Trinidad itself by storm. So, while they’ve taken Trinidad’s example in terms of making some absolute madness in the Soca arena, those islands have been a bit slower in following Trinidad’s and southern neighbour Guyana’s example of producing nice Reggae talents as well. Its very interesting now to see the incredible names in Reggae coming out of Trinidad over the past decade or so and Guyana as well and just off the top of my head, while I’m sure there are quite a few slipping my mind, when you look at St. Vincy and Barbados and Grenada I’m not thinking of too many STRICTLY Reggae acts to compliment the BIG new Soca artist I hear of from each area each and every single season. The SOMEWHAT consistent exception to that bunch has been St. Lucia (which just happens to be the northernmost as well) which definitely has a few names Reggae heads would be wise to take note of should they have the opportunity. Perhaps it’s a coincidence (although I don’t think so) that its also the only island in the bunch with quite a bit of French/Creole influence as well and the French islands such as Dominica, Martinique, particularly Guadeloupe and even stretching back to Haiti have shown HEAVY Reggae foundations and interests and they actually do produce the steady stream of talented Reggae names that you don’t see in the other islands. St. Lucia is slowly becoming a Reggae well kept secret in the Caribbean and maybe the entire Reggae community worldwide. Probably the best known of the St. Lucian Reggae ‘products’ is the deceivingly POPULAR Taj Weekes & Adowa. Weekes has been around for a few years now and has attracted one of the most DEVOTED fan bases (especially in the States apparently) that you’ll find for almost any non ‘Reggae mainstream’ artist and done so on the strength of two very fine releases, most recently the very well received Deidem from just last year. But chances are that if you know of the fragile voiced Weekes & Adowa, you might not know of names such as the hilarious Soca/Dancehall/Hip-Hop hybrid Shepp Dawg, you might not know Kintu either, or Garsha Blacks and of course not the WICKED up and coming UK based Jah Mirikle. You might just think St. Lucian Reggae began and ended with Taj Weeks and Adowa.

Thankfully it doesn’t because if it did I wouldn’t have the opportunity to tell you of this LOVELY artist in question for this particular review. Over the years I’ve found some VERY interesting artists who I’ve felt had so much talent that I was surprised that not too many people knew of them. Some of them, like Queen Omega, Pressure and Turbulence eventually caught on to great levels, while others, like Prince Theo to a degree, Black Dillinger and First Born are still pushing the process. Others still, unfortunately, like Meshach and his band Wevolusion have all but VANISHED from the scene despite literally being SATURATED in talent, at least to my opinions. The band, also from out of St. Lucy was an act like Queen Omega, like Pressure and like Natural Black who I felt were a virtual LOCK for a nice level of stardom, based on sound and overall SKILL. The music is just that nice! And while all of those others have become some of the most consistent faces in all of Roots Reggae and have fulfilled on the potential they showed in their developing days, Meshach and Wevolusion haven’t even had the opportunity, despite sitting on what I believe to be a near GOLDMINE of possibility. So why was I so high on Meshach and Wevolusion? Well back in what had to have been 2003-04 or so, during one of my mad online shopping sprees I decided to pick up an album by the name of Awake the group had officially released in 2002 of their work, completely on cover and flyer alone (if I recall correctly I had actually purchased something else and a flyer ad (which I still own, COLLECTOR’S ITEM!) for Awake was in the packaging for the album) for Awake which featured the cover art of the album only attracted my attentions and the next order I placed, Awake was in the bunch. Consider it along the lines of Ras Mac Bean’s Pack Up & Leave, the aforementioned Prince Theo’s album Set The Captives Free and others that I’ve gotten for one passing reason or another and have just been THOROUGHLY impressed by the results ever since. Awake remained in my players CONSISTENTLY for more than a year and even now, more than a half decade down the line I still relatively often pull it from the box and spin through the entire album. The musical attraction on Awake is just a very nice and REFINED Roots sound that I found from Wevolusion. The vibes on this one are SO HIGH and it also has a bit of that type of a ‘rough’ edge in it that I hear in many of the Trini artists as well to a degree, especially when considering Meshach’s vocal style. The album remains, much like St. Lucia, one of the modern hidden GEMS of Roots Reggae in my opinion since the turn of the century and although these days it’s pretty hard to find (although a quick scan reveals that it is at least still listed at several popular online retailers). Though for those willing to track it down, the rewards are more than worth the efforts. Easily.

Getting back to the vocal approach by Meshach, the lead singer/songwriter of Wevolusion, I would say that he MIGHT be the only artist that I have ever heard (outside of the obvious) who has all but mastered the curiously interested wailing chant of Norris Man. Meshach’s style, while not as obtrusively polarizing (he doesn’t take the odd ‘risks’ with it that Norris Man does) as the that of the famed Trenchtown chanter, is just as potent and rings LOVELY throughout Awake. Getting said album off to it’s start is what is in my opinion one of the signature tunes from the album, the Rasta-affirming Everlivin‘. Should you crawl upon this tune and be turned off by the immediate electric guitar, trust me, don’t skip it. That guitar eases back for the majority of the verses and makes way for a very energetic one-drop which Meshach uses to deliver a KNOWLEDGE tune of large proportions. Of course HE no dead and of course that’s a big opening for Awake. Next up is the KNOCKING title track which comes through to my ears in a BIG chanting style which is kind of unusual sounding because it almost inherently gives Meshach a bit more edge to his delivery (and he does have a noticeable edge on his own as well, at times) through the verses. Take that and combine it with not only a LOVELY riddim (love the nyah drumming in the back) and a big uplifting message for the tune and subsequently for the album named for it and Awake the album is batting 2/2. New Dreams, while probably my least favourite of the first three tunes gives a very nice changeup of the vibes as well as becomes a staple of things to come on Awake. The vibes here are just big and joyous and really the more you listen to the tune, the more you’re able to REALLY appreciate it. I’m still not prepared to call it as good as the two tunes which proceed it but it’s still VERY good and high level material and. . . That thing will GROW ALL OVER YOU! All in all, a big opening, but it gets even better.

Its interesting because I find myself saying the same thing about Norris Man at times: When he (and now Meshach) uses the philosophy of ‘less is more’, the results are better. There are some very SIMPLE sounding tunes on Awake and some of the are the biggest pieces here really. None get bigger or more simple than on the downright DAZZLING Long Suffering to my opinions. I absolutely LOVE this tune and have from since the very first time I heard it. You might listen to it and say its corny but that song is just so uplifting and just struck a chord with me because of that and just the overall message of persevering and MAINTAINING in the will of His Majesty; it really has stuck with me and is the best tune you’ll find on Awake in my opinion. You see that same dynamic coming through on other more ‘grounded’ tunes as well such as the lyrically HEAVY Mr. Greedy Joe. The riddim on this one is almost non-existent at times minus a few blips and beeps here and there and it could have been a straight a accapella and not lost any of its strength and its just so well done as Meshach admonishes the greedy and the oppressors of the world. Definitely not to be missed. I would also mention, on that same level, the downright DIVINE lover’s tune Ethiopian Princess which used to have me wracking my brain because I was sure that it was a remake of some tune but even if it is (I’m pretty sure it isn’t) Wevolusion more than does the originator justice with one of the album’s biggest tunes. And the even STRONGER and LOVELIER tune Hail. That vibes on that tune are so SWEET! Hail is just a wonderful song and one of the more musically appealing on the album as well, something I think would really go over well on the radio. At it’s core it’s a quite simple praising tune for His Imperial Majesty and I’m calling it the second best tune on Awake altogether. Now all of that is not to say that when things get a big digital or a bit more modernized that Wevolusion falls apart because that certainly isn’t the case. Check the rather addictive Hail Jah which will have you singing along from the very first time you hear the chorus. Hail Jah is another of the signature tunes from Awake in my opinion and one of the very first tunes I draw for from the album when playing it for others. Just through my own doing, who knows how many copies of this album have been sold by people hearing this very impressive tune (I’d say at least ten) and its uptempo and moving and just a nice vibes all over. It is, however, outdone by the even more impressive tune Burnin’, the obligatory herbalist tune from Awake and a very good one at that. To my ears Burnin’ sounds somewhat simple and complex at the same time (if that’s possible) as the lyrical approach is very grounded and leveled but the riddim here just develops in such a nice way (on that CRAZY ever present bassline) and later on in the tune Meshach starts flaming the lyrics on a very BIG stretch of an equally BIG tune. One of the album’s best there. I’ll also mention the similarly vibed vocal closer, the social commentary God Of The System. The one-drop on this thing is LARGE and Meshach goes after it full force on a first verse which just doesn’t PLAY! He borders on controversial with his stances in some cases but that’s just the vibes! Taking a stance and standing for what you believe in and putting it out there for the masses and those who aren’t able to receive BOTH sides of what’s going on. I love this tune in general and specifically as a closer because it’s well within the musical vibes of the album but it features Meshach going in different directions with his lyrics and maybe giving an idea for what is to come in the future. Big tune. The official closer of Meshach & Wevolusion’s Awake album is a clean version of the riddim used on Burnin; (which was apparently a hit for them) and a very nice touch, I think all albums should have at least one instrumental so well done Wevolusion.

Overall, I didn’t mention this earlier but I happen to be one of the few who haven’t necessarily fallen in love with the vibes of Taj Weekes & Adowa, so to my ears Meshach & Wevolusion are the finest thing I’ve knowingly heard coming from out of St. Lucia (and don’t hate me for that Adowa fans, I know there are billions of you!) (although if Mirikle continues his current form, Meshach may have company for that title). So, I’m so disappointed that they haven’t been back really outside of the occasional bill on which they appear. Reportedly the band is currently with a few songs but like so many unknown Caribbean based acts they lack the funds at the time to further their recordings and a few of the tunes on Awake were voiced at the Lindos’ Heavybeat in Florida (including both Everlivin and Long Suffering) and those are top notch settings and you can tell from the results (and the always lovely Fiona sings backing on a couple of tunes actually also (new Fiona album More Than Words out in a minute)). The album itself is also very well presented with lyrics in the liner notes to every song and just very well done. If Wevolusion & Meshach never find their way to another album or have to risk doing so after their prime it will REALLY be a shame as this is music the world simply needs to hear. Do yourself a favour and track down their album Awake. VERY quietly, it may just be one of the best albums I own. It’ll be the same for you.

Rated 4.75/5 stars
Wevolusion
2002

9 comments:

  1. Yeah nuff respect to you, Achis. Big Up/Live Up/Love Up. This is Garsha Blacks, Keyboard player for the band, Wevolusion. Glad you felt my riddims and the work continues with the likes of Cold Sweat from St. Lucia and Ayana John & Buggy from Barbados - check the albums Ayana John & Buggy Nhakente. Raspect Bless up

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  2. Oh wow. Give thanks Garsha Blacks. I didn't even know you were a part of the band. Big artist man. BIG! I know about Buggy also man had a big tune name Hypocrite for De Red Boyz and of course I know about Ayana John, I'll check out the album. Give thanks again my frieend and thanks for stopping by, well talented, big album.

    BALANCE
    RasAchis

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  3. Ras Achis,
    Just came across your link and must say I'm very impressed. As far as Meshach goes this guy is a gold mind waiting to be discovered. The Awake album was Produced by Himself and his wife claudette who is the executive producer (driving force behind the whole album). He is now producing a new tune "stay out of trouble" which I'm doing a video for that piece. I must say reading your article on the various artists is sure enlightening and possitve. Keep up the Blessed work and keep growing possitvely.

    Cameron
    St.Lucia

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  4. Always nice to get an update on an artist like Meshach definitely. Thanks a lot Cameron, thanks again for reading and I can't wait to see the new video.

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  5. i was lucky enough to purchase Awake in St. Lucia. It is one of the amazing cd's i've heard in a very long time!

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  6. I'm SO glad to see people still talking about this album yeah. It's like a lost CLASSIC at this point.

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  7. I just purshased Awake in Castries. Of all the records I purshased in Saint Lucia it is by far my favourite! Great sound!
    It is true what you say about those wasted talents, I really have the feeling that many Lucian artists are having a hard time getting known and having the success they should have.
    I'll look around for the other musicians you talked about. If you have any other suggestions, please tell me.
    Ben

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  8. Actually I would suggest Nereus Joseph who, although I didn't know it at the time, is also from St. Lucia and he has a very nice catalog of music available.

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  9. Just to say hi from Toronto Canada - and tell you that Higgla, my cohost on the radio, fully agrees wuith you and has been playing Hail for the last 8 years on our show Rebel Music. I've even busted it out at daytime outdoor jams... Respect!

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