Friday, May 29, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Healing by Malika Madremana

Despite how downright painfully clichéd it may be to say, anyone looking at the current landscape of Reggae music would simply be incorrect or something more sinister if they didn’t say that what we are experiencing now is a ‘Woman’s Renaissance’ of sorts. Long part of Reggae and of course Dancehall, within the past two years or so we’ve seen a virtual BOOM of female artists on both sides of the game, however, particularly in the Roots arena. Previously, the Dancehall has ALWAYS had someone to fill the void of the top female artist in the game and have had enough for an actual debate on the topic as both Lady Saw and Tanya Stephens have spent the better part of the past decade and a half vying for the title with Lady Saw and her aggressive slackness and her aggressive. . . ‘Lady Saw-ness’ particularly being the consensus choice although a deaf man could tell you that Tanya Stephens’ lyrical ability has been, up until now, pretty much unmatched by a woman in the game (and very few men at that). You have also had a bolstering of that group with names like the constant Macka Diamond (who seems to have taken a step back lately) and a slew of others like Timberlee, the addictively RIDICULOUS Pamputtae, Tifa, Stacious and of course [Lady] Spice. However, things haven’t always been as clear cut in the Roots Reggae spectrum because there hasn’t been a constantly active leading artist and certainly not two or three over the past decade plus. Instead, that role was filled by a ‘revolving door’ of nondescript faces or even Dancehall artists in some cases. What changed things, in my opinion, was the emergence of Trini Roots Princess, Queen Omega a few years back. Queen Omega was (and still is) pretty much everything you could have hoped for and she was the feminine equivalent to her long reigning male peers Sizzla, Capleton and Anthony B. Around that same time was the appearance of VI Reggae Queen (she’s older than Queen Omega by about a decade I believe) Dezarie who had similar qualities as Queen Omega and enraptured that SIGNATURE VI Reggae sound simultaneously and perhaps unlike Omega, she was VERY popular almost IMMEDIATELY. What has changed since then, however, is that we have seen two Jamaican artists (and lets face it, things are different for Jamaican artists as they, almost inherently, will receive more attention and by ‘birth’ they have the greatest set of Reggae producers at their disposal simply by logistics) Queen Ifrica and potential SUPERSTAR Etana emerge as Roots artists on the Jamaican scene, just about as popular and SKILLED as their male counterparts. Not only that but in a few weeks time, not only will both Etana and Queen Ifrica have relatively recent albums out but Queen Omega and Dezarie also and they all have been well received also. So if you’ve been looking under a rock and haven’t noticed, the ladies are taken over Reggae music. Get used to it.

Going forward, however, I think the test of the solidity of this relatively recent ‘movement’ would be, much like in the Dancehall, to see how many more artists who aren’t necessarily on the radar as of yet, can be affected and uplifted and brought forward because of the work being done by Queen Ifrica, Etana, Dezarie and Queen Omega. Off the top of my head, I would love to see artists like (the WICKED) Lady Passion, Mada Nile and a whole heap of others from all across the globe receive that type of attention in the future as well, as they not only represent a lateral step in terms of quality artists but may ultimately prove to be just as marketable (ESPECIALLY Lady Passion). Staying on the line of thinking, a next female Reggae artist who has all of the qualities one would think would also do well in receiving that type of shine would DEFINITELY be the US based and born of Puerto Rican heritage, Malika Madremana. Ms. Madremana is simply one of my favourite artists today that not too many people have heard of and she has impressed at EVERY turn that I’ve ran into her vibes. Apparently she’s fairly popular on the west coast of the United States but I don’t think Madremana’s music has managed to permeate even anywhere near the same levels as Dezarie’s or Queen Omega but if/when it does, those same crowds will SURELY appreciate it. Back in 2007, Malika Madremana delivered her second album, the wonderfully received Elixir which actually appeared on more than one albums of the year list for the year. Elixir was a DELIGHTFUL vibes which really went to even reopen my attentions to the chanter/singer having originally caught wind of her name just the year before which saw me linking her debut album, Healing, which was originally released in 2005 (two albums, named Healing and Elixir. BEAUTIFUL!) for the same Blaak Lung at Greensphere Records who would helm the Elixir album just two years later. Now if you were amongst the (SMART) people who just caught onto the quiet wave that swept through beneath the radar on Elixir, you probably should do yourself a favour and track down the Healing album (good luck!). This album was VERY similar to the eventual Elixir album and was much more of a lateral step, rather than a backwards step from Elixir to Healing which would tell me that her developmental years were PROBABLY done before the Healing album dropped. As much as I know about her would indicate that she probably spent quite awhile as a backing singer and actually Healing was probably recorded further ahead of the time when it was released than usual (which would make her developing years even FURTHER back). Regardless of the set of circumstances which birthed the album, I will tell you that from beginning to end, Healing is SOLID material. Ultimately I may prefer the more high profile Elixir (that album included combinations with both Batch and Ras Attitude as well as production work from the venerable Tuff Lion) but, indeed a rather strong case could be made that Healing is an all around stronger effort than its younger sibling. Malika Madremana has shown herself to be a CLASS and MATURELY VERSATILE Roots Reggae artists and both of those qualities as well as a whole heap of others definitely come through on Healing.

What is on full display on the Healing album (just as it is on Elixir) is definitely Malika Madremana’s rather underrated (even amongst her hardcore fans) writing style which is VERY interesting. She kind of has a style which is very spiritual but spiritual on a tangible level meaning she’ll often use rather simple and straight forward ideas to interact on a spiritual or emotional level; truly offering a FULL healing. Getting Malika Madremana’s treatment started on her debut album Healing is the title track just as it would later be on the Elixir album. This tune (is NICE) pretty much epitomizes what I said of her writing style as FULLY discourses on SPIRITUAL healing but approaches it with a recipe or prescription like technicalities when dealing with the harm Afrika’s children have endured throughout history. She also cleverly adds the phrase ‘highly recommended’, which I’m almost CERTAIN she wrote as ‘Haile recommended’. DEEP stuff! BIG opening! Still, things go WAY up in terms of quality for the downright dazzling second tune, Just Jah which is my clear choice for the album’s finest moment overall and probably my favourite that I’ve heard her do altogether. Just Jah is MASSIVE. Seriously I’ve been LOVING this tune full on three years now with the vibes just being so strong and finding Madremana another of her several different styles, this time a nice DJ in and out chanting style. The lyrics are top notch as well as she exclaims that ALL things and all roads end at one source - Just Jah. BE CAREFUL with that one, particularly during the final verse because you, like me, will get caught up and damn near tearful listening that vibes. MASSIVE song and flying WAY beneath the radar, you’ll love it. Ending the opening is another strong selection the POWERFUL knowledge tune, The Blood. This tune is really one of the signature tunes from the album to my opinion and one I’d love to someday have the opportunity to experience her perform live (it almost seems like she would read it from a book) as she delivers a LESSON of epic proportions for all children of Afrikan. Besides the historical appeal it also sounds nice, particularly the chorus, and is really one of the best tunes you’ll hear from her catalogue.

Blaak Lung’s music is impeccable throughout (I don’t rate him as a vocal artist AT ALL, but he may be one of the best US based producers that I’ve ever heard in Reggae) and Madremana is afforded some WONDERFUL compilations for her nice messages. And nice messages are in abundance throughout Healing. Check Underground Railroad, a shuffling DJ style delivered version of the LEGENDARY Harriet Tubman’s great contribution which proves to be quite dazzling in its own right (Tubman is definitely a woefully under explored concept in Reggae music, I digress). Then the even stronger Not Of It which is ‘battling’ it out with the aforementioned The Blood as my second favourite tune on the album. This tune is LOVELY and its one that you’ll need to listen to more than once as its beautiful setup can definitely distract from the fact that it may just be the best written tune on Healing altogether as it tells us to simply stay away from the nonsense and craziness of the world (check the high stepping last verse where Madremana name drops everyone from His Majesty to her babies!). Even on a female’s Roots Reggae album you have to have the obligatory woman tune and Madremana’s comes in the form of the WONDERFUL tune Virtuous Woman. This song sounds like something Etana might sing (currently spinning her MASSIVE similarly vibed tune Who Gave You The Right) and its definitely on that level as Madremana excellently presents herself and all good Afrikan women everywhere as the NECESSITY force walking besides the man in this journey and, again, the song just sounds very nice it has a downright angelic vibes to it which makes it one of my favourite altogether on Healing (and on that same note, check the tune which follows it, the somewhat romantic Move Me). The second half of Healing, although less spectacular than the first definitely offers some highlights of its own, such as No Babylonian, another of my favourites here as it has a very unusual vibes to it. The song does so much but is so incredibly laid back and just touches on quite a few topics which are mandatory for followers of His Imperial Majesty. Family is SERIOUS. This kind of shows off more of the musically talented side of Madremana where her versatility and her ability to make something out of (almost) nothing really shines through. I’m pretty confident that I don’t like this tune, Family, from a technical aspect. But it SOUNDS SO DAMN GOOD that it’s a hard tune not to like really. And the same would rather easily go for the tune Better Than That, although, at it’s core, I think it’s a better tune than Family. Reparation Line suffers from no lack of quality AT ALL, instead its one of the best tunes on the album as Malika Madremana calls for full scale repayment of the atrocities done to ancestors of the children of Afrika. As she so powerfully says in the tune’s chorus, “Get ready for the reparation line, even though it doesn’t make a damn thing fine”. Down the stretch of Healing there are a few guest artists, most notably Empress Isheba who guests on the hip-hop vibed tune Torch It (which I like actually a bit), she also returned on the Elixir album. This leads into the DELIGHTFUL penultimate track, Jah Riddim, which heads towards the front of the class on the album. That one drop on this one is just RIDICULOUS! The tune itself speaks of His Majesty’s influence on everyday life and occurrence and from the way it’s titled I think she kind of set it as a veiled ode to the vibes itself (the entire album is actually “a veiled ode to the vibes itself”). This excellent tunes goes into a musical delivery of Psalms 144 which is a nice bow on the album indeed.

Overall, here’s the thing about Malika Madremana’s debut album Healing: You’ll have to go far and wide probably to find a copy and really, outside of spending an arm and a leg (which you may have to do if you live outside of the West) to track it down, it’s really worth it. Malika Madremana definitely has a sound alone worth hearing, but when you combine with that an actual MESSAGE and a POINT to her vibes then you’re really dealing with something potentially quite special in my opinion. With all the attention being paid to the female artists today, HOPEFULLY some of it will lead over to some of the lesser known LIGHTS getting a bit of the attention. Should that happen (and I think it will), then you should be just as hopeful that it leads to Malika Madremana because, as it shows throughout healing, she just may be one of the most talented of the bunch.

Rated 4/5 stars
Greensphere Records/Madremana Music

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