Sunday, September 9, 2012

Modern Classics Vol. XXXIV: "One Atonement" by Yahadanai

"One Atonement" by Yahadanai [I Grade Records - 2004]
Today we're going to take a look at #34 in our longstanding and still going series of observing genuine masterpiece albums of the contemporary era - Modern Classics - and when as we do so, we'll be looking at a piece which is probably a bit overdue. In terms of quality it would likely be a in the top half of the albums we've featured thus far and probably in the top half's top half as well. But it's better than never I suppose. 

While a nice sized corner of the Reggae world will continue to hope that someday he may fully return as I've only heard but a handful of tunes from I the past eight years or so, wicked Guyana born chanter, Yahadanai, will always have a place in Reggae music history because he can lay claim to having released one of the best albums ever - of all time - which was his debut and to date only album. That album came via I Grade Records and, again, a very powerful case could be built that it is the single finest moment that the signature label from out of the Virgin Islands has ever done as well and if you know anything of that label, particularly as of late, you know just how powerful a condition that would be. The album featured Yahadanai delivering a stunning style and using it to give to the masses messages which were equally as educational and crucial as they were pleasing to the ear and by its end you had a record which was even dynamic in some cases, which is certainly not how it is best remembered, but accurate given just how complete of a project this was. Such lofty things are said in the name of one of my favourite albums and a late, but much deserved ‘graduate' in our series - "One Atonement"

The Music

#1. 'Rise'

The opener of "One Atonement", 'Rise' is a song which very much has been one in motion for me, personally, over the years and I continue to find things about it which are so wholly interesting and downright halting at times. Today, I listen to this song and my ears immediately tune in to a lyric which I don't know that I'd taken in such a way previously: 

"Seek out humility"

Of course the lyric is a biblically inspired one, but when you take it in the context of the song, which is one calling for a change and calling for the masses to live a more inspired type of life, "seek your humility" is a VERY interesting thing to say because you don't actually to go anywhere to find it. It's within. So you have the idea of that sense of 'rising' being this journey to yourself [!] which is… something my completely overactive mind sticks to on this MIGHTY tune. 

Best Lyrics: "My people rise! Seek out humility. My nation rise! Uphold your nobility. My people rise! Know the land of your nativity. Rastafari give us Black Liberty"

#2. 'Wadada'

'Wadada' is a special track. You can't really state the obvious more obvious than that. For this song what remains a sticking point in my mind is how Yahadanai holds up the image and the embodiment of His Imperial Majesty as the example of how to be. Ultimately, I'm sure the chanter is of the belief that even APPROACHING such a level is impossible for a person ["every man have a fault"], but he still is firm in suggesting that one's lineage is a royal lineage because he is a child of The King so - "why do we fuss?" Oh, and the riddim on this song is… from Mars or somewhere. It's fantastic.

Best Lyrics: "Cause when the sun shine, it shine pon mi and you. It shine pon di face of every nation too. Blackness, mi love but some a dem don't have a clue. Out of Blackness, righteousness come through. Live together like, the moon and the star up above. No hatred. No folly war. No grudge. Let it be known: Love it is the sacred word. A DAT ALONE WAH MEK DI MOUNTAINS EMERGE"

#3. 'Gratitude'

I like to talk very often about how we, or anyone, can take this wonderful music and turn away from simply listening to it and enjoying what you hear and turn it into taking what you hear and applying it to something more tangible and constructive actually in someone's life. 'Gratitude' is that type of song for me, this song has done a lot of good for a few people and, in some ways, I'm one of them. Besides that very unique trait, even if you don't get that far, you take in this sublimely 'dusty' old school vibed song and you have one of the most sonically impressive moments on the whole of "One Atonement". BRILLIANT! 

Best Lyrics: "NEVER FEAR CAUSE FEAR IS AN ILLUSION. Conquer the forces. Overcome dem confusion. Dem fighting di flesh, intoxicate by dem pollution. That's why dem don't know the Glory of iration"

#4. 'Light'

To my recollection, 'Light' was one of the more popular selections from this album and while many elements of this record have kind of faded away from the immediate memory, 'Light' has always been a song whose melody kind of exists not too deep in my own mind (surely that riddim has something large to do with that). This song was a pretty straight forward social commentary/social upliftment type of a piece and it stands out on this album because of that, to a degree. Yaha was very much a spiritually based writer, so when he takes that step and says something like, "work hard and achievement will come your way", you take a different point of view in hearing what he says. In this particular instance, it doesn't really matter where you're standing. This song was a real winner. 

Best Lyrics: "Positivity will over come the negativity, so keep shining. Inna di Gideon, I tell yuh - keep rising. Go before with proper thought and proper thinking and you will see the beauty of life. Doh bodda mek di wicked heart run you to wreck, just hold your head up high and you will neva break your neck. Over di dollar babylon ah set a trap fi kill di youths dem. What a disrespect"

#5. 'Best Thing' featuring Pressure

The STERLING 'Best Thing' was the best thing I'd found on "One Atonement" and while these days I may not be as solid in that opinion, as I previously was (and that's a good thing), it's still one of the most significant songs on its subject, uplifting Black Women, that I've ever heard. This song makes the point that the Woman is to be held at the absolute highest in terms of respect and honour and that's a sentiment which, even on similar tunes, you may not hear expressed as vividly as you do here. The great Pressure Busspipe also adds fuel to a fire which continues to burn eight years later with no end in sight. 

Best Lyrics: "Skin smooth cause no man ever beat yuh. And if him eva try dat, Selassie I will bruk him finga!"

#6. 'Things They Do'

I've always thought that the delivery Yaha uses on 'Things They Do' resembles something from out of the bag of the most versatile NiyoRah and when I first came back to this song for the first time in awhile for the sake of this post, I almost had this really cool nostalgic moment of thinking I was hearing an early creation from Niyo, but knowing that I wasn't [I digress]. This song was one which may've been overlooked to some degree, even by people who LOVE this album, but I think that it is one of the best songs you'll find on the album. It is somewhat of a social commentary as well, but really the message here is to really just be careful about the company you keep and the people who 'keep' you as company. It's also very detailed and direct, definitely one of the most such in both of those cases present which helps to also make it, likely the best lyrical moment on the album.

Best Lyrics: "Wi neva waan war, so a weh you push it fah? Yuh system corrupt and it ah cause danjah. Si dem daily, fighting fi dem world powers. Robbing di riches of di earth - Taxes Vampyah. Dem neva waan fi si di ghetto youths prospah, so dem go build up institutions of Lucifah. Just another plot to keep di poorer class undah inna dem system of modern day slave labah"

#7. 'Chant Out' featuring Abja

On the Mahogany Road, Yahadanai meets veteran chanter, Abja, who joins in on the MASSIVE 'Chant Out' which, at least for me, has very much gone on to become one of the main signature tracks from the "One Atonement" album as well as probably for Abja, who remains someone who I definitely need to go back and listen to in more detail someday (in case you want to beat me to it, he has two albums to my knowledge, "Inna Red I Hour" (which features another combination with Yaha) & "Mahogany Road", both on I Grade Records) because here he was fantastic. The song, while fairly 'rigid' still has a very free-flowing vibes to it which kind of gives one the impression that Abja and Yaha are/were really good friends and worked very well together. If they weren't and if they didn't they did a damn amazing impression of two people who did on this huge song. 

Best Lyrics: "Ghetto youths come mek chant out. Chant out! Hold a vibes inna di breeze. Mek wi echo out a shout. Remember you fi keep King Selassie pon yuh route. Remember you fi chant good words outta mouth"

#8. 'Warfare'

On 'Warfare', much like on 'Things They Do', Yahadanai once again gets very specific and, in doing so, becomes this scientifically targeted lyricist and someone so beautifully capable of getting a point across concerning the changing of the times. In discussing things such as genetics and DNA and mutations, this composition really takes on something a bit different from your standard 'commentary' - it becomes, instead, this pointed social CAPTURING of a moment which obviously the chanter had a very large opinion on. Well done. 

Best Lyrics: "Look what dem fighting fah, systems of Draculas. Dem create a plague and put it up inna Mama Afrika. Five thousand million, wicked mutation. Genetical, biological invasion. Search good and you will see, dem fighting I-manity. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing so set my people free"

#9. 'One Atonement'

TEARS! The title track of this album is the main reason why I can no longer confidently call 'Best Thing' its finest moment. I CANNOT (I AM UNABLE) to listen to this song anymore without having PROBLEMS! My eyes water, I smile and I lose myself in what is a PERFECT song. There is nothing this song could have changed to be a better one. It is perfect and almost unnecessarily so. It could have been farrrrrrrrr less of a song and still been great. DAMN!

Best Lyrics: "Mount Zion righteousness come from one atonement sound. One atonement sound. From Jah ceiling, to the ground" WHAT!

#10. 'Roman Soldiers'

By no means should you come to your ultimate and ever-lasting opinion of the song ‘Roman Soldiers’ after a single listen or even two or three. Although these days I've grown to hear this one as not as 'slow-moving' as I once did, it's still very much something, like most songs here really, which should take a little longer to take in, in my opinion. We find Yaha taking aim at certain ills which reside in the leaders of the world on another piece during which his specificity becomes his greatest exhibition of talent (especially later in the song, where you need to listen VERY closely). 

Best Lyrics: "Dem only concern is to destroy the earth, but Rastafari give us life from birth"

#11. 'Mama Love'

I've always wanted to hear the instrumental from (just about every I Grade album, ever) the Mama song on "One Atonement", 'Mama Love', because not only is it lovely, but it also sounds so involved. There's so much going on within it. The lasting thought of this song is GRATITUDE. If you have a good Mother, definitely don't take her for granted and mistreat her which really goes without saying. Hi Mama!

Best Lyrics: "Take a look inna yuhself. And you will see the truth - that love is the only absolute. So be good to life my son and you will gain wisdom. One day, you're gonna be on your own"

#12. 'Babylon Toy'

After eight years, I'm still unable to find a damn thing not to like about 'Babylon Toy' and today I'm FINALLY able to see it for being not dwarfed in the eyes of anything on this album and really not too many others. The antiviolence set takes a figurative aim at the most gruesome and unfortunate plaything of corrupted society - the gun - and its origins and how those who have nothing to do with it have taken it up and taken a most un-figurative and literal aim. 

Best Lyrics: "We didn't make it, so why should we use it?"

#13. 'Mosiah Chant' featuring Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Checking in at nearly SEVEN minutes long, 'Mosiah Chant' actually features a clip of the most Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, himself, leading into the vocals on the song. Those vocals really just tie together some of the Prophet's most popular ideas and concepts and PHILOSOPHIES in a very, VERY clever way by Yaha on a powerful tribute. 

Best Lyrics: "Teach the likkle children about him…"

#14. 'Rise In Dub'

And lastly - I called for an instrumental and here it is. 'Rise' bookends the album with its original version and its dubbed out version which feature, obviously, Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred and Tuff Lion (who dazzle throughout the entire album, as usual) and also Gregory 'Bassie' Jackson on a stunning composition. 

Although I well alluded to it earlier without making the direct distinction, on the first tune in fact, I think that the prevailing sentiment/message of "One Atonement" is pretty clear and easy to grasp (although somewhat unique still). 

On 'Rise', as I said, we hear: 

"Seek out humility" 

Which is just such an interesting thing to say. It isn't "become humble" or even "embrace humility" - it is SEEK humility. You have to go to it. You have to journey to it… when it is within you. This is a very powerful piece in not only comprehending the message of this album, but really in taking in Yahadanai's style. He's someone with a great spiritual lean in his music (which isn't always the case, even in a musical genre so inherently spiritual as Roots Reggae) (see Bushman), so his idea of seeking, at least in this case, seems to be a matter of learning something about oneself to a point where you are also able to demonstrate it. In this case, it's HUMILITY, which is also, in my opinion, the main point of the album. 

"Mount Zion righteousness come from one atonement sound - 
One atonement sound
From Jah ceiling, to the ground" 

Seeking a level of humility - in making one atonement - does what, says Yaha? It grants you the gifts of Mount Zion. What else?

"Life is interdependent
There's no disconnecting components
The universe resides in harmony
Well, everything rotates according -
Inna dem ya blissful garden
One source is what we ought to see
Hey, inna dem ya physical rems we depend on gravity
Water to quench our thirst, this is truths and reality
Infinitely wind blows and who have eyes, they all can see
Just free up unuh conscious and never deny, one accordancy"

Here, the artist brings you closer to the ideal, after making the atonement, on what is a very powerful stretch of words taken from the title track (as is the one before it). Again, he paints this picture of a grand level of knowledge and goodness being bestowed upon the individual who can make the atonement, who can humble themselves and become worthy of receiving them. That, at least for me, is the most significant point on "One Atonement". There're so many others and what I really like, in retrospect, is how if you apply the thought of humility being such a driving force here - almost every other song begins to make even more sense. A piece like 'Babylon Toy', for instance, is given such a higher level of merit when you appropriate this level of thinking to it. 

"We didn't make it
So why should we use it?"

Those lines are in reference to the gun, of course. Now when you take this within the concept of enacting and displaying (and DISTRIBUTING) (WHAT!) humility, it grows into something more than an antiviolence song and becomes something of a song warning against a full atrocity against NATURE! Not only do you face doing great destruction to someone else if you pick up the weapon, but you go against what was intended for you as well, which is, for me, absolutely golden writing and anticipation. It's a flawless presentation of ideology and one which further helps this album become the great one that it is.

So, just as we'll continue to wonder when/if Yahadanai shall return to the music on a grand scale, we'll continue to dig into and listen to what he left us - "One Atonement". A bonafide Modern Reggae Classic!


  1. This is a dope writeup.
    While some I wouldn't say are modern "CLASSICS" yet, you gotta gie respect where its due.
    These cats from Boston are on the reggae tip too
    New Aer album THE BRIGHT SIDE
    What you think Achis?

  2. It's okay. I'm not much of Hip-Hop fan though.

  3. Love this post. I couldn't agree more on everything you said about the album haha. Any word on what Yahadanai is up to? I find it very puzzling that he made such a legendary album and then disappeared into solitude.

  4. Not at all, unfortunately. I make it a habit to check for his new music a few times a year, but I never really find anything more than a single new song at most. Thanks Anon.