Monday, December 10, 2012

Rewind!: "Know Thyself" by Ras Batch

"Know Thyself" by Ras Batch [I Grade Records - 2012]
As the year comes to a close and does so with even more good things awaiting going into the second half of December, today we take a look back at an album which very much has become one of my own personal signature moments of the year (and hopefully yours as well). This project is one of only three to have received a 5/5 rating from us over the past two years and it came from a very much expected source. Besides being a favourite of mine , Ras Batch is someone who has seemingly pushed himself so far in the music, in terms of his quality, that delivering something great became not only predictable from him, but mandatory. Here's someone who 'simply' does not (and is likely incapable of) make poor and substandard music. Never does the Virgin Islands musical genius fail to entertain and CHALLENGE his audience and in 2012, you could make the argument that he did both like he had never before. The record would also find him linking with another source from whom quality is a guarantee in I Grade Records, as well as a whole heap of outstanding players of instruments. Today we take a look and listen back to one of the year's finest and REWIND! "Know Thyself" by Ras Batch.  

#1. 'Jah Children'

Listening back to this tune now and one thing stands out so much for it now and that is the fact that it sounds so wonderfully placed at the head of this album. When it first drops in, you can almost tell that what is to move in across the next four minutes or so is going to be something really special and this is the case despite its slowness. 'Jah Children' isn't this great and overpowering type of sound, but it delivers itself in such a beautiful package and one which is perfect for a first song, especially at the head of such a great album. Oh and there's also this:

"From the top of the mountain Rastaman dem itinually chanting
Fyah gonna bun you when pon babylon it is you wanting
Rum dem ah drink when herb Rastaman dem itinually planting
Deep inna di teachings of His Majesty, I & I stay standing" 

#2. 'Give Jah Thanks for Life'

I'm slowly coming around to thinking of the single greatest song that I have heard in all of 2012 and certainly one of those in the mix is a tune which shares the same riddim as 'Give Jah Thanks for Life', which, of course, is 'Crown I Got' by Toussaint and I don't know if I'll ever be able to hear this track and be successfully able to separate it from this track (I won't). Still, it's very nice that Batch's effort on that composition, 'Give Jah Thanks for Life', has found a nice place in my memory because it now jumps out at me from the first sound of his voice. This song, ostensibly, is one like dozens and probably hundreds that you've heard before, but I've come to appreciate such a fineness of details in how this song is arranged and written which keeps it from being some lame and clichéd type of piece. That initial bit of strength in it is that Ras Batch pretty much answers the next question after the title - "give Jah thanks for life" … 'why?'.

"With Jah we survive"

#3. 'Stay Fit'

Maybe a brisk run or at least a few push-ups are in your future after hearing 'Stay Fit' and that's fine (that should be in your future anyway), but the type of fitness and strength on this tune is more of a mental and spiritual one (although one could well argue, and I probably would, that attaining mental and spiritual strength is considerably easier when your physical body is healthy). Although this wasn't the most dynamic Roots piece that you're likely to have ever heard - there was one nice melody on this song which I think is exactly the type which would go overlooked on an album like this, but definitely spin a few more spins on this one and what you'll hear is a powerhouse of a tune and one of the album's finest.

#4. 'Dem Against Jah Rules'

Two songs prior to it was a tune which I really feel is quite 'related' to 'Dem Against Jah Rules', 'Give Jah Thanks for Life' and I now look at this one as, essentially, a continuation of that one. Here, Batch directly addresses certain poor things he feels are going on in society, particularly amongst individuals and institutions which he feels aren't necessarily giving thanks for what they have and aren't necessarily grateful in his eyes.

#5. 'Love Always'

"From hatred inna yuh heart -
Can fool man, can't fool Jah 
Want to enter Mt. Zion, still wicked so you can't 
From inside it ah tear you apart
Cah from yah judgment you can't depart
Confused and don't know where to start
Didn't recognize Jah is the spark
Still ah move like a weak heart

I will love always, while babylon fade away
I will love always, no matter what the weak heart say
I will love always, every night, every day
I will love always, His Majesty

Cheat and try to win
Cah they don't have no joy within
Hatred's gonna die, love's gonna win
All inna must babylon face dem sin -
And come to dem ruin
Nuff adversary inna di Rastafari discipline
Through the thick or thin

I will love always, while babylon fade away
I will love always, no matter what the weak heart say"

TEARS! Writing this becomes significantly more tedious and time-consuming as I reach this tune because there're about six or seven spins before I actually feel comfortable in moving on, like I've been satiated by it… at least for the moment.

#6. 'Guns on the Street'

I now think that 'Guns on the Street' is a better tune than I would have given it for being originally because, again, I've heard so many songs like this one, but it has something extra which sets it apart. Ras Batch paints one bleak picture for the present and the future and directly draws it back to violence the presence of guns in society, but as you'd always expect, he finds this great way, early in the song's second half, to not make a spiritual detour, but a spiritual higher ground.

#7. 'Together'

If you don't know much of Batch and about his wonderful music and I were to present to you a song like 'Together', you might not comprehend that the song is somewhat of a step outside (or 'around') or what the chanter normally does. Not in terms of its subjectry or what is said, but for its pacing and how it sounds, with very few exceptions, he rarely gets this type of glaring and immediately catching song. The songs which are like that, such as maybe 'Wi Nah Lose' from the "Vizionary" album don't begin like that, they build. So, in retrospect, when I then tell you that this song was the first single from "Know Thyself", it probably makes even more sense. And, definitely not to be lost in the beauty of the song is its message which, as is always the case when it comes to Batch was a sweet one. Here, he dealt with the PROCESS of uniting and all of its many benefits.

"Righteous knowledge seeks progress
Must haffi make it somehow
Must haffi make it someway 
Inna sound vizion Rastaman sight how babylon ah fade away
Wi fighting on the battlefield and do our best
Nuff struggle and trial and agony, throughout the test
Life bring nuff circumstances, still I & I stay blessed
It's a time for unification, the Rastaman suggest" 

#8. 'Live Pray'

I'm going to ignore the elephant [or tiger] in the room and instead, what I will say about 'Love Pray' is that it too follows in the row of songs preceding it like 'Give Jah Thanks for Life' and others where we find Batch giving a TANGIBLE thanks and praise. It's less so in this case (which, given its title is clearly by design), but this is still a very real and substantial song and one which becomes even more so, in both cases, on every listen. One of my favourite songs on this album and off this album - looking at all of Batch's music.

#9. 'Roots Tradition'

Even from before I decided to actually begin writing this feature (I knew I was going to write it as soon as I finished listening to the album for the first time), I'd been listening to 'Roots Tradition' quite a bit. That's largely because it is absolutely CROWDED with discussable points and moments for myself and maybe I'll look at one or two of them right here. First of all, when I listen to this song what I immediately take away from it is that Batch is saying to his audience to become educated on your personal and ancestral history. If you do not do that step and are not willing then the song is useless to you and that's something which he actually seems to acknowledge at one point, with a Garvey-esque idiom:

"If a nuh root, the tree won't stand" 

On top of that, what Batch also seems to be saying, not necessarily directly to his audience (but maybe) is that once a person has educated him/herself on who they are and where they have come from - this is not a person who you think low of. You do not underestimate this person, who is now able to take pride and TAKE LOVE in things which others may not even know existed. It's an extra trait, but again, in order to follow along, it is an indispensable one. And also, to build on that last point, the song is very much one preaching PRIDE. Batch loves to make songs like this and you can look back at years and years of like-minded material in his catalog, such as the aforementioned 'We Nah Lose', 'Melanin', 'Africa We From' and others (big tunes, all of them), and see that it is part of who he is as an artist and as a person - being so important to him and rightfully so. A brilliant song!

#10. 'Trees' featuring NiyoRah

Speaking of things that Batch likes to sing about and are important to him… 'Trees' has gone on to become a signature moment from the "Know Thyself" project and for more than just the fact that it was a single and that it featured the wonderful NiyoRah (who is probably one of the top five or so most talented artists in Reggae music today. Period). There was just so much to enjoy with this one and the smallest one wasn't that with such songs, Batch shines. And he wasn't done shining on this album either. 

"Burn it in tabernacle
Burn it inna di club
Wi burn a spliff and burn babylon dung!" 

#11. 'Dem Wrong'

'Dem Wrong' is a great song. And I would and have said that about many/most of the songs on this album, so maybe I should say that 'Dem Wrong' is a "greater" song because it's better than almost all of them. Originally I compared this song to an earlier one, 'Dem Against Jah Rules' and I do still see that, but this song and that one do also have their share of differences because the first is not as direct as this one. Also, while Batch certainly is passionate on 'Dem Against Jah Rules' - maybe it's just me but he seems PISSED OFF at times on this one. He seems angry and hurt and frustrated and all of those play so well into the full-on presentation of this song because if you were talking about some of the things he mentions on this song, you'd (hopefully) be angry too. 

#12. 'Mama Daisy'

There hasn't been much in the way of change in this song for me and there probably never will be. 'Mama Daisy' is a tribute song Batch sang for his Mother. It's a great song, very personal and I'm sure I'm not the only one who listens to it and immediately wants to just talk to their own Mother. 

#13. 'Know Thyself'

The title track for this album, somewhat like the opener, has this musical 'glow' surrounding it. What the song is actually about isn't too far, at least in my opinion, from what another song, 'Roots Tradition', had going, but in a slightly different way. In this particular case, it's almost a furthering of that lesson. On 'Roots Tradition', you were given a CHOICE, if you didn't want to hear it, you could move on (do so WHOLLY with fault and nastiness, but move on still), on 'Know Thyself', however, your interest, your passion and your own education up to this point is already assumed and it becomes this excellent broadening of the education. And, fittingly so, it's a challenging song. This isn't a song which is going to come to completely the first time you listen to it and it shouldn't. But for really heavy fans (like You and I), this is an amazing song and the journey to comprehension is at least part of (if not completely) what really makes this tune what it is (and the entire album named after it, for that matter). This song also, beautifully, bears the signature handiwork of the most masterful Tuff Lion

"Ancient mysteries, represent Ethiopia and Kemet
With an Afrikan spirituality giving us guidance to reflect
And I see, how Haile Selassie First reconnect -
With the Afrikan inna di West to I original self"

#14. 'Most High' featuring Ima

If we read correctly, Ima, who guests on 'Most High' and is Ras Batch's Wife may actually have an album forthcoming of her own. She's been on songs, here and there, and has always impressed and I will be extremely interested in hearing such an album when/if it materializes. As for this song, which I loved from the first moment I heard it, it's another which finds Batch, and now Ima, giving thanks for what they have. This song is striking for several reasons and not just for its prevailing quality (which is great). What I really focus on now is 'basic' it is and I mean that in a good way and it's obviously intentional. When you give thanks for waking up, for shelter, for rain water, for EVERYTHING, what it does (at least in a song), is to really send a message to your audience of not only how grateful you are, but how many GREAT reasons exist for everyone to be grateful for. Whatever you have, whatever you have going for you - you give thanks for it. 

#15. 'Never Forget'

I'm not going to quite call it 'Lesson 3', following the title track and 'Roots Tradition', but 'Never Forget' is very much related. Batch's music - ALL OF THE TIME - is edifying of the Afrikan experience, presently, in the future and historically. He covers it all and it is a passion of his which is so great that he has developed as an artist from his beginnings (his debut album was called "WHO YOU ARE") to be able to make songs like these and make them so well. I can name you dozens of his peers of whom you might say the same thing, but I don't know if I can say any of them go to the lengths of being so technically erudite as he is (I just thought of one actually) (his name is Vaughn). Certainly you'll find people who will lock in and give you their opinions (and you'll love them, just as I do), but Batch really packs in the knowledge in his music to the point where songs come off as mini classes and 'Never Forget' was probably one of his most demanding and FULFILLING. 

"How they beat I ancestors, down, down
And taken to the bottom of the belly of the beast, down, down
With a lifetime of work with chain and shackle pon feet
With no release
Robbed right of dignity
From the day they were born, until this earth they leave
Afrikan sacrifice - 
To the world you remember this" 

#16. 'Sacramental Herb'

Still shining and still teaching. 'Sacramental Herb', following 'Trees', was the second song of its kind on "Know Thyself" and although the first is going to and has received the greater share of attention (and that's fine), 'Sacramental Herb' is a HUGE song (acknowledging the herb as a GIFT from The Almighty). It's also one, if you really listen to it and as we've been talking about recently which is just so intelligent and so smart. There's one thing to lift up certain ways of phraseology to make a point here (with the most obvious in this case being, in Reggae music, "bun it!" or "blaze it!") but it's another of an entirely different and more lasting kind when you say something like: 

"From the mountain call Rastaman -
Wid a staff and a chalice in him hand
Many months him did ah work up di land
Inna reason, inna meditation
Fi bring a good, good vibration
And spread it amongst the nation
Hold dung all di frustration
And build up communication
Why do they fight the cannabis?
Waan mash up di foundation
When the earth need cultivation
Agriculture, occupation
Inna natural habitation
Waan keep di herb inna limitation 
When it's the healing of the nation"

#17. 'Repatriation'

Lastly on "Know Thyself" was the song which was initially and remains my favourite song on the album, the completely HALTING 'Repatriation'. Because I listened to this song so many times before I ever wrote about it, I don't know that I have some new and groundbreaking thing to say or opinion of it - I don't. What I will say, however, is akin to what I said for the opener being so good where it was placed on the album. 'Repatriation' comes in a scintillating and… just PROPER closer. I've given you what I felt you needed to have for the journey literally; I educated you and showing you how to survive ["with Jah"]; I told you what to bring on songs like 'Trees' and 'Sacramental Herb' and tell you what not to bring on 'Guns on the Street'; I've instilled in you pride and told you to give thanks and to whom to give it - there's nothing left for us to do. Let's go home.

Taken as a whole, again, there is one major thing which now strikes me in regards to the quality of this album. This is something that I've said this In the recent past when referring to someone like Perfect Giddimani for his last couple of albums or so and now I‘m going to say it of Ras Batch for this one - while I do not know if I can call this is his greatest album, I can say that he has never made an album which has more shown what he is capable of as an artist. I don't know that he has an album amongst his other six (all of which were at least very good) which has found him so clearly at the height of his abilities and talents. And while I say that, I have to acknowledge the genius which was the "Jah Guidance" album, which I proclaimed a Modern Classic and somewhere between those two, in my opinion, is Batch's greatest work. You, however, can't even begin to entertain such a thought or a choice until you've picked up an album which is at least the second best album this artist has ever done and, as of this writing, at least the second best album of 2012. "Know Thyself" by Ras Batch.

See original review

{Nicholas Walters - Stand Up!}

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