Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Please. Keep Singing': A review of "In A Di Red" by Cocoa Tea

Thank you. As an artist's career progresses further and further, they go through so many different stages depending on just how long they do stick around in the music. Of the most interesting certainly are the seeing of newer generations which may even, and almost always do, see one's 'role' in the music given to someone else and, just in general, having the possibility of basically watching your fan base grow up with you in many respects. It is in that experience, somewhere in that experience, where you also begin to see how, in most cases, the literal and direct appreciation for these musicians begins to change and, again, in most cases, diminish and do so on a grand scale, even for some of the most well regarded names. It is because of that to a degree that I find myself so excited when I get to deal with and write about an artist who has not only maintained themselves and evolved their audiences over the years, but has done so without largely changing their approach and have managed to remain current and appreciated in the modern sense which is amazing. The list here, when dealing with someone who really has years behind them is very, very small, but 2012 has and is going to see two of them which make for very easy comparisons today do big things. First of all, when speaking of Reggae music (which is what we do around here), we have the very nice case of Glen Washington who placed a bow on his years of surging with an excellent album earlier this year for Zion High Productions, "Masterpiece". Washington is a very interesting one because he isn't as ostensibly popular as my next example or as the artist we're going to speak of today, but he has made such a high quality of music that he simply became impossible to ignore, just as he has been throughout his career. And, of course, next week we get the latest album from the incomparable Beres Hammond, who has had a career which has followed absolutely no course but its own. I'd also put names we've dealt with this year such as Macka B and Bunny Rugs as well (just in case you STILL aren't appreciating how wonderful 2012 has been) and maybe a few others - maybe someone... like a Cocoa Tea. If you are ABLE to appreciate Reggae music, and it doesn't matter if it is the most basic and popular of Bob Marley or the darkest and grimiest of Aidonia, if you have that ability, I can probably find you a Cocoa Tea song which you would enjoy and you probably already know one. But just in case you don't - here're fifteen more possibilities.  
Cocoa Tea
When an artist of Cocoa Tea's or the others' stature and longevity in the music release a current new album, it's a very big deal and not only because they're big artists. An album, generally means a tour/more performances of some type, obviously it means new music and it really means, as a fan, more of an opportunity to appreciate them, because if you are a fan that is what you're doing (whether you realize it or not). It puts them directly back in that spotlight which they never stray too far from and that's a great thing. In Cocoa Tea's particular case, it's been a few years from the last time he reached with an album. It was 2008 when the decent, but fairly popular "Yes We Can" arrived in stores and showed just how relevant the sweet singing veteran of veterans of veterans still was. 

Surely Cocoa Tea, the current coolest man in the entire world (remember that in a few days' time), would be hoping for a return of those days as he now brings forth his latest work, "In A Di Red". Like much of his more recent output, the album comes via his very own Roaring Lion imprint, with the artist himself, born Calvin Scott, serving as the executive producer. Also it is definitely worth saying that, much like the previously mentioned Bunny Rugs (and a few others, like Perfect Giddimani), Cocoa Tea has taken advantage of the relatively new distribution arm of VP Records, VPAL, which delivers the album and it marks yet another linking between Cocoa Tea and VP Records whom, by my estimation, would have last come together on the wickedly underrated Xterminator produced 2006 set, "Save Us Oh Jah" (big album). I can actually recall reading an article from last year in regards to Cocoa Tea's involvement with the then forthcoming 2012 Olympic Games in London and it would actually also mention just a few tunes which would subsequently appear on the album and the artist has also been fairly consistent in putting out new music as well along the way (if you've paid a supreme amount of attention then surely you've noticed that he's also been conscientious (a word which I spelled correctly on the very first attempt) (although I did have to go back to make sure it meant what I thought it did) (and it did) in taking full advantage of the digital market and, hopefully, that's something he'll continue for the rest of his career. Hopefully he'll also continue to make nice music like this as well. Besides just being a Cocoa Tea album which, as I said, is a very big deal, "In A Di Red" presented me, personally, with a very unique and quite rare listening experience. Here is an album from a very big artist and one that I definitely consider myself a fan of that I had absolutely no expectations of in terms of its quality. Cocoa Tea's music, and even his albums, tend to come with very little in the way of pressure. Given the way he sings, in fact, I'd doubt that he'd even know what the word means in that context. What does ultimately happen here, however, is more of the same SWEET singing from the vocalist, although this time with a slight more pronounced edge. Let's take a listen. 
'A Love Like Yours And Mine' digital single [2011]
The album really follows a more typical course for a project from this artist. If you've never heard his music before, this, like pretty much everything else you'll find in his discography (…that's a very interesting word), is not only as good as any other place to start, but it is also fairly characteristic of what to expect on an album from Cocoa Tea with, as I said, just a slight change (and not one, AT ALL, which he hasn't previously performed). No such change, however, is to be found on the opener of Cocoa Tea's fine, brand new album, "In A Di Red", previous single 'A Love Like Yours And Mine'. The singer has made career out of doing "so sublime” love songs like this which have become his signature style really. If you want to hear a love song so sweet that it'll make your ears [!] require a dental visit, you call Cocoa Tea and you listen to songs like this one which is damn difficult not to like and not the only of its kind you'll find on this record. Speaking of being very likable - next in is what I'm going to call my favourite song to be found here, the completely captivating 'Beat U Drums'. This song is very interesting because, besides having a chorus which simply refuses to leave the front of the brain of its listeners, it has such a nice message which seems to tie in the "drum" as a point and method of identification, figuratively (and probably literally as well), for people of Afrikan descent. 

"I've seen kingdom rise and kingdom fall
But the Afrikan Kingdom is the greatest of them all
If you've flown away, Peter 
Or flown away, Paul
Come forward Peter and come forward Paul!

Beat yuh drum
Beat yuh drum…" 

Lyrically speaking, the tune well reminds of a verse CT once did on a tune by the name of 'Be Yourself', alongside German Reggae star, Gentleman (from the latter's MASSIVE album, "Confidence"), on which he said, "…their identity is coming from di nozzle of dem gun, but I & I identity is coming from the Nyahbinghi drum". That was years ago, that album is now eight years old, so clearly this is a concept well in his mind and one which he applies to wondrous results here. And closing out the opening lot of songs on "In A Di Red" is the first sign of a changeup the extremely catchy 'Crazy Crazy'. This isn't amongst my favourites, but it obviously has a listening value which, if you have a pulse, you'll realize IMMEDIATELY. 

Maybe it's just me, but the more social/cultural material on "In A Di Red" sounds just a bit more edgy on this album to my ears than from before, usually, from Cocoa Tea. That isn't to say, of course, that it is worse, as those moments definitely do provide the album with some of its more memorable moments. Such a song which has already garnered a nice amount of attention is the somewhat controversial 'Press Freedom'. On that song, CT deals with a variety of different subjects, including payola and his response to it, within a tune which has such a nice and impressive LARGE vibes to it. That's a piece which is probably the most aggressive on this album and one of the more so of the vocalist's recent career in my opinion. Later on, check 'Sufferation', which may not be as thundering as 'Press Freedom', but well brings in some might of its own. This song is, essentially, a social commentary mainly dealing with the economical crisis throughout the world and it is one of the best songs on this album. Another song pressing a the gas is the arguably even stronger 'What Squal', which kind of extends on the message on 'Sufferation' in some respects. 

"Hear dem pon di TV talking bout dem economical stability 
When all di people dem inna mi community ah bawl out seh dem hungry 
Dem seh dem caan get a job -
Bag dem haffi grab
Caan get no food - 
So dem haffi get rude
My sisters on the street, dem dressed in nude
You ask dem why dem haffi do that, dem seh dem defending the food
Everything inna babylon city getting crude"

At times, this is just a HARSH track and it never really offers that kind of beam of hope that you would have thought was on its way - making a pure commentary - but as it progresses it pinnacles at a third verse which is not to be missed. And lastly in this line is 'Poverty Line' on a classic vibe which isn't as pushing forth as any of its predecessors in terms of its sound, but the message here, again, is one which is very direct and crucial. All of these songs, to my opinion, stand in a very high class on "In A Di Red" and really add a nice and unexpected facet to the record altogether. They aren't unprecedented at all, but do come as a nice surprise because of the style.

'Love Is' featuring D'Angel

When you turn to the other dominant topic on this album, which has been THE most prevalent in Cocoa Tea's entire career - love and relationships - the album continues to offer up winners. Here, surely you'll be steered in the direction of a couple of songs in particular which happen to be the two combinations on the record, both of which featuring the venerable artist alongside female DJ's. First up is the completely underrated Lady G who, after all of these years, has not lost a single step and joins Cocoa Tea on 'Trickster'. This song is about guys just getting themselves mixed up over women and giving her EVERYTHING he can and being fooled (or 'tricked') along the way. It's also kind of funny and damn entertaining - nothing less than you would hope from two big artists like this. D'Angel is, somewhat surprisingly, in next on 'Love Is', another selection which has been getting some attention. First of all, the link is just odd, even on paper. A tune featuring Cocoa Tea alongside D'Angel? Okay! Actually, it's a pretty good song. D'Angel is someone who, unfortunately, has had far more said about her dealings outside of the studio than in it, but she's managed to develop herself into a talented DJ by this point and she manages to hold her own next to a bonafide legend. 

"If you really wanna rest inna mi nest
Hope you have a lot of love, a lot of  fun and happiness
Mi a one girl no deal wid stress
If you no plan fi mek it work, mi will pack up and left
Mi have what it takes fi mek a man tek set
One look inna mi face, him alla get short of breath
Still caan believe a dis yah love yah mi possess
Haffi rate mi as di best and give mi nuff respect" 

"Mi dun mek mi talk, so a your time fi prove
Yuh seh what is to be, well start mek ya move
Life is a gamble, mi nah have nuttin fi lose
Nah speed up mi ting but dis is no time fi cruise:
Doh bodda come chat wid di long time ting
Doh bring up di wedding and a mention di ring
I'm a loyal girl, mi no love man fi tings
Independent - doh wuk fi blings
Mi be yah Queen
You be mi King
So no bodda watch ya negative vibes dem bring
Cocoa happiness comes from the strangest places" 

It isn't necessarily a complete opposite to 'Trickster', but it well offers a different side with a very similar set and a great deal of colour to the album (and SHINE too, say what you like about D'Angel, but that is one very attractive human being). Oh and it's an excellent song as well. The title track is just entertaining as CT now has to continue to live with the curse of 'Tek Weh Ya Gal'. 'A Single Step' and 'So Long' do slow things down quite a bit, particularly in the case of the former, but they're both really nice efforts. And the same could be said for the album's closer, 'Woman', which is a previous single (may be the single oldest song on this album, actually) celebrating the wondrous qualities of… women. I love songs like this which kind of come in general terms as far as saying 'thank you' for just the broad goodness which good women bring and this efforts is no exception. 

And finally (it almost seems like this review took like a couple of minutes to go through, even though I did it over a couple of days) is a pair of songs on "In A Di Red" which are fantastic and have no peers in subjectry besides one another. The first, 'Weh De Reggae Deh', was originally set to be the title track of this album as Cocoa Tea tells how everywhere he goes around the world fans ask him what has happened to Reggae music. Where has it gone? What has happened to it? It's a very clever piece and one which eventually grows outside of the just the aspect of music and making music into the social arena where so much has changed since the birth of the music. BOOM! And then there is 'Tonight' which I, like you, took as another love song on the surface, but instead is one excellent piece of sound clash tune (and when Cocoa Tea sings a line like, "dem selecta's gonna cry", it just sounds so perfect!) which actually adopts the melody of an old song via the great Stevie Wonder, 'Lately'. 
Overall, as I said in reference to the opener, the whole of "In A Di Red" is just really "difficult not to like". I'm not going to call it the artist's greatest album to date (it isn't) (top six or seven though I'd say), but it is a strong piece and going back to the fact that I had no expectations of its quality or potential quality going in - I'd still say that I'm impressed and this is from someone in Cocoa Tea who definitely has a high standard to live up to (his own 'fault', he's simply been making really good music for far too long to stop now). Interestingly, I think (I hope) that Cocoa Tea may have even more eyes and ears on this project because of its predecessor being so popular and while "Yes We Can" was such a significant piece for its popularity, this album is a noticeable step ahead of that to my ears, so hopefully those fans who came on board at that album are still around and paying attention to an even better release. "In A Di Red" is another strong addition to the ever evolving catalog of an artist in Cocoa Tea who has seen so many changes in the music, but remains as strong as ever and no end is in sight.

Rated 4/5
Roaring Lion Records/VPAL
CD + Digital

Review #399

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