Saturday, April 9, 2016

"Portals" by Akae Beka!

"Portals" by Akae Beka [I Grade Records]

I can't do it as much these days as I'd like to... well, I probably COULD but I shouldn't and my Wife probably wouldn't want me sitting here for hours and hours but if you do look around here just a little, you'll notice that I do so LOVE to write and one of my absolute favourite topics to write about is Reggae music. More specifically, I love to write about the wholly unshakeable and downright wildly fascinating music of Midn... Akae Beka. I'll claim to be no expert (on anything - I'm not even an expert on myself), but I've probably written more about the musical works of Midn-- [DAMN!] Vaughn Benjamin than anyone. As a still relatively new listener in the HEAVY sense, while I do find just about all music that I enjoy to be therapeutic writes, Benjamin's work is even more so than most because he virtually always presents his listeners with several challenges. In order to fully appreciate his work, at least in my opinion, you have to bring something to the proverbial table. There has to have been some type of education and you have to have done your homework and brought your texts with you to class. And looking back, that's probably what was missing -- why I was unable or incapable of enjoying his output as much as I do now when I was younger.
"Homage To The Land" [2015]
These days I now look forward to doing all of that and much more and a brand new piece of work from Benjamin, despite his often gruesome release schedule, is one I anticipate unlike any other on the even remotely regular musical radar. It is the most fertile of ground for an over-thinker like myself and I ADORE digging through the material and the journey to comprehension. Last year the newly named Akae Beka released their debut "Homage To The Land" (which was the album that had 'Just Decided' on it) (easily one of the strongest tunes I've heard from anyone last year) for frequent Midnite stop, the reputable Fifth Son Records ["I hold His Majesty in awe"] ["in awe"] ["in awe"] and for the first time in recent memory, at least that I can think of from the top of my head, that was the lone album release of the year. Fast forward a year on and Akae Beka has wonderfully continued the WELL established routes of Midnite. Their next stop? I Grade Records and the Zion I Kings. The first day of the second quarter of 2016 has presented us with "Portals", the second official album from Akae Beka and the first Akae Beka/I Grade Records collaboration. The project directly follows 2014's massive duo, "Beauty For Ashes" and "Ride Tru" ["The culmination of the national focus was ivine interaction"] and a whole heap of other BRILLIANT pieces of work and while they are all RIPE, I do find the I Grade releases to be even more special because both artist and label tend to seem to bring out the very best in each other. Therefore, despite the fact that it may take me a few days to finish, today (and tomorrow and probably the day after that) before we head back into the cocoon, we take a quick [HA!] look at "Portals" from Akae Beka & I Grade Records. Let's go!

{Note: Don't get too excited, I haven't done this in a really long time and my expectations of myself are REALLY low, so I apologize in advance if... the writing here is really... really bad}

{Note 2: I probably wrote it out of order too}

#1. 'Heavy Low'
The glorious 'Heavy Low' sets the tone for "Portals" (I also think that it's the first single from the album as well) and it is a tune which has already provided me with a whole heap of fun moments. The first thing I noticed here was this kind of odd 'echoing' sound that the actual riddim has. As it progresses, this thing builds and builds and you have electrical and chaotic moments which literally make the vibes of 'Heavy Low' begin to sound like a storm.

As for the lyrical progression of the tune, while I'm still working on this one (and will still be years from now), where I am now is linking the vibes of the song with the words. Vaughn Benjamin speaks 'heavily' on the economy of the world and actually goes into things moving upward on that front (and on other things) - it is a tumultuous thing ["I hear thunder ah beat out with a heavy low!"]. It isn't easy to improve and to exist in. It is storming! And, in his own inimitable way, this song comes off as, perhaps, one of the most emotional from Benjamin in a long time.

#2. 'Ideals of The Emperor'
The sound behind 'Ideals of The Emperor' are every bit as majestic as you would hope for a tune with such a heavy title (it may be the best listening piece on the whole of "Portals") and, for his part, Benjamin turns in a performance not to be missed. The tune is a social commentary to its core ["Socialogical delicacies in a angry mood"], but as usual, it is a multi-faceted selection which is ultimately drawn in several different directions. The one I ultimately follow the most is the one which kind of umbrellas the tune. There is the ever-present EMPEROR here and where Benjamin seems to set it is to say that so many different things , such as the economy in particular, ultimately draw us away from the standard and the IDEALS which were set for us. He does seem to note progress in some instances and a song like this one can only develop as you go through it -- so definitely take your time. One of the album's finest.

"Caring for some food that you grew
Caring for some youth that Jah give you
A family inna unit, inna group
Dealing through the ups and down and scraping black and blue through"

#3. 'Like Rhyme'
Let me tell you something about this song.


There is something sooooooooooo  casually powerful about 'Like Rhyme' that the first time that I heard it, I had a smile on my face about halfway through that I couldn't remove even if I wanted to (and I didn't). The tune is all kinds of unique as it kind of comes through like a piece that Vaughn Benjamin may've just vibed. Maybe he didn't plan it... at least not as much as he usually does (is anyone, anyone at all, not ridiculously interested in this man's writing process. Infinitely curious) and, instead, just followed a feeling or two and turned in a MAMMOTH shot of a song. The easiness of this song also follows its subject as well. 'Like Rhyme' is an observation of unity and the similar experiences that we all share in life and how it brings us together, whether we realize it or not. 

"People go through similar things, same time
Cause life to flow like rhyme"

I also must give a giant credit to the ultra-familiar Balboa Becker and a Garret Kobsef (the latter, I think, we've never written about previously, but we have ran into his output over the years) who dazzle on the trombone and saxophone, respectively, on what is probably my second favourite song on this album.

#4. 'By All For All'
'By All For All' is the tune charged with keeping the vibes of the album high given the hammer which precedes it and it does an outstanding job of it. It surely helps that its backing is absolutely sterling in its very own, straight-forward type of way. Where 'Like Rhyme' definitely changed things up, 'By All For All' is well the type of piece we've come to expect and love from Benjamin over the years and, moving 'closer to center', is a good thing sometimes (this time being one of them). The piece, to my ears, is another dealing things which unite us ALL and certain aspects of life which are unique to the whole of humankind. And not too unlike the song chasing it (and every other song from Vaughn Benjamin), at the head of this "ALL" is the presence and the word of His Majesty. I'm still playing with this one mightily and it is a damn interesting journey of a song ["One Root. One Father - from. One truth. One Mother. One"] ["Same I ah one!"] [WHAT! ] [BOOM!].

#5. 'Orderly'
And then there was 'Orderly'. I kind of relate this tune back to 'Ideals of The Emperor', which kind of focused on the disconnect than mankind has seemed to forge between ourselves and The Almighty - 'Orderly' is the other side of that in my opinion. Here, Benjamin deals with NATURAL and unavoidable things almost as if to say that the correct way of doing things is there (it is INHERENT and it is INBORN!) but we just have to realize it. And if you take in the vibes of this tune, simultaneously, he also seems to be saying that it isn't a very difficult thing to do with a song as immediately appreciable as almost anything you'll find on this album.

#6. 'Portals'
Oh I had so much fun with this one! At least for me, I always look towards the title track of an album for some type of significant comprehension in regards to the entire album named after it. Of course I'm trusting that the artist, producer and/or whoevernamedit had something in mind besides a certain selection being their personal favourite or just having an easy sound to it and I am damn confident that wasn't the case here. Why??? 'Portals' actually has a rather awkward sound to it, at least initially, and it wasn't until spin #5+ or so that it really began to expand a bit for me. As for the tune's lyrical direction - what I took from it is Benjamin paying a big homage to the [no, not the land] music, itself, and its wide ranging power.

"Iration bless di vibes
Different kind of skank
Old song they want

He exalts the 'transferring' nature of the music and says to tell his listeners, "I love this sound. It takes me places and if you're not doing anything, you may want to come with me". I'll be there.

#7. 'Let Babylon Go' featuring Danny I

"Many years with natty dread
Half the time a Rastaman
Many years of searching within
Til I found The Higher Man
Til I overstood King David's words and the Songs Of Solomon
And I let Babylon go
Outta mi heart
Outta mi soul"

If you are not yet of the mindset, then I would hope that 'Let Babylon Go' makes you a believer: THINGS GET BETTER WHEN YOU ADD DANNY I to them. Go ahead! Try it! Go and do something and play a Danny I tune while you're doing it. I can almost guarantee you that you will have a more pleasant experience doing whatever it is because of the music you hear. The vocaist, who we simply do not hear from enough in my opinion, adds all kinds of pleasant sounds to "Portals"
 and even helps to bring beauty to what is currently the best song present here in my opinion. 'Let Babylon Go' is CRUCIAL and I think, regardless of what path in life you may walk, it is going to find a very a very receptive and familiar audience as many of us have also traveled that road as well. The song is an amazing one, it brought tears to my eyes and, HOPEFULLY, someone can give us a new Danny I ["When I hear the songbirds I think of you"] album in 2016 (I could wait until next year if I had to, but I don't want to). BOOM! DAMN! [LOOOOOOVE the horns on this song]

#8. 'Be Kindly'
I do not know at all what the prevailing reaction to 'Be Kindly' will be from the masses in regards to this album, but I'll go as far as to say that it is amongst the very best that "Portals" has to offer altogether and a very strong case could be made that it is THE best selection here in my opinion. Reminiscent of 'A Healing' ["Kind words and good emanation frequency!"] ["... increase the money, they leave the substance be"]from the "Beauty For Ashes" album (which I listen to fully... maybe 15-20 times a week these days and have for months, it has truly become one of my favourite albums of all time), 'Be Kindly' is a piece about having good manners and just being nice to someone!

"When one generates pleasantry
Practically excellency
Whoa - be timely
Be irie
Whoa be kindly"

Add to a LUSH background, which I will now declare the ifnest on the enitre album and, without question, you have a DOMINANT song and one which may just go a bit unnoticed, but you've been warned, don't make that mistake. BOOM! 

#9. 'Simplest Long'
"Just mek the best, wi haffi all fi turn out
Hailing Rastafari from I eye in di sun - now!
Inna every place wi talk with like-minded ones
How can we benefit civilization run along?
Starting from locality - internal structural
Confident inclusion with the clear come along
Who want fi si things getting better, put your hands
Next 50% is the Queen holdstrong
What Jah seh fi do fi mek di Trinity prolong
Love one another inna the simplest long
Inna simplest long"

'Simplest Long' is another gorgeous piece from 'Portals' about bringing people together and moving forward together as a unit. There is some unusual and hard to identify quality about this track which has just grown on me so much that I wouldn't at all be surprised if, going forward, this would become my favourite song on the album (I've said similar things before about songs and I've been right about it on occassion and I have a VERY good feeling about this one). There's some strange 'hitch' to it. It goes when you expect it to stop and it keeps going! It also just may possess the finest lyrical performance on this album as well as Benjamin does things, continuously which he and only he can do lyrically - the most interesting for me (as a nerd), is about halfway through when he speaks about how people enhance themselves in various ways, including going away for education and then returnuing home ["Contribute where you at, don't despise where you from"] and several other things which, as someone who now listens to his music as much as I possibly can, have begun to identify as these 'pillaring' lyrical staples of his music  -- clear on present on a tune which, itself, may be on its way to becoming a tower.

#10. 'Well Said'
I would have never expected what happened the first time that I listened to 'Well Said', at all. The most clear changeup for "Portals", after the first spin left me scratching my head wondering what I just heard, I had to then begin the process of getting into 'Well Said' (a process which, you know, will still be incomplete when I'm gone). This unexpectedly electric offering is almost completely biblical and it is loud and up close and personal with its audience! I fully expect this one to be a favourite from this album as well (it's going to be pretty difficult to ignore whether you like it or not) and hopefully cause people to look beyond this BLARING sound. I did and what I found was a song which I think is about prayer ["The realness of thank Jah for life"] and the NECESSITY for it in life. An EXPERIENCE sure to standout.

#11. 'Changes'
It isn't hard to use a phrase such as 'slow things down'' to describe whatever they used to follow 'Well Said' and that is precisely what happens on the sublime 'Changes' (if that next song didn't 'slow things down', then I guess we would have had Vaughn Benjamin's long awaited (not really) debut Soca or Heavy Metal song). The riddim here, exquisite, plays the perfect backdrop to a vibe which really focuses on LIFE and going through various stages in life. It was this song, another favourite of mine, which really kind of pointed in a captivating direction for the intent of the album for me. "Portals" really is an album about experiencing and ENJOYING life. It deals with so many specifics (it wouldn't be a Vaughn Benjamin album if it didn't), but the heartbeat here is one of being able to deal and cope with what life gives you and to, when necessary, know when to both give and take ["Burn the wick within the lamp slowly"].

There is a REALLY special quality about this song as well and, again, like I said about 'Simplest Long', I'm almost certain that time will do nothing but enhhance what is already a spectacular tune.

#12. 'Dem A Warriah'

"Don't you forsake the people
For some a dem a warriah
Oppression of despersion, desperation up a yah
Some a dem a warriah
Some a warriah"

Certain individuals and certain full groups of people have made a giant contribution to the world and some continue to do so these days: I think that is the observation Benjamin makes here on the downright MAMMOTH 'Dem A Warriah'. This tune was FOOD for my ears because it nudges (not a full push, just a clip) the listener down so many different potential paths of comprehension. You can talk about things like slavery and war (he uses the phrase "good service" and later uses "honour" in the same way and my brain just starts to SMILE!) (... if that's possible) (and it is) and other things but where I go is to apply some type of historical context to 'Dem A Warriah' and I think where Benjamin was headed (foolishness to try to read this man's mind but... yeah why not) was to draw comparisons between our ancestors and [some of] us. There're those who are still fighting this fight and providing the world with "good service" and doing it with "honour" as doing such is a quality which can be found in our bloodline. BOOM! (and biggup Andrew 'Moon' Bain who plays a SHINING guitar throughout the tune)

#13. 'Love is The Mainstay'
Sending us on our way and through the final portal is a lovely offering in 'Love is the Mainstay'. This tune, as the title would suggest, is a completely serene effort which finds Benjamin espousing on all of the wonders of LOVE. Thereotically, you've heard dozens of songs like this one before, but you know when you place such a topic in the hands of such a... wizard, he makes it entirely one of a kind and as the song progresses not only does Benjamin begin to add various new dimensions to the piece ["Don't let love be trampled down. Haile Selassie I, Judah Genesis Crown. HIS principles sent around. POLARIS IN YOUR LOGARITHM COUNT"], so do the players of instruments and by its conclusion, 'Love is the Mainstay' has become this all-encompassing (somewhat Jazz-ish) type of vibes, with everyone joining Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred (who soars on melodica throughout) to produce a full master class of vibes.
I don't know exactly how to describe it (because I'm rusty), but the full vibes of "Portals" are just a bit different than that of most of its immediate predecessors as Vaughn Benjamin/I Grade Records combinations and perhaps that was the intent with this now being the first link of Akae Beka with IGR. "Portals" has a sound which doesn't instantly jump out at you but instead, it challenges you to get a little comfortable (not too comfortable though) before it gives you all of its gifts. But the fun for these albums for me, now taking a personal look, is watching how they change. FULL SONGS no longer sound the same way they did when I first became familiar to them (want an example??? A song from "Kings Bell", 'Pon A Watchlist', I can listen to now, ENDLESSLY. Be careful with that tune ["Would not advise if your meditation no meditative"]). And I listen through this album and I hear sparks and I hear flares and points which my mind already gravitate to. I'm already leaving 'notes' for myself to go back and DIG because I know [from experience] that there is something there, maybe in a two second span that if I get perfectly, might just make me a better human being.

"People go through similar things same time"

And from years now- when we began to take a more constant look at the music of Midnite and begin to enjoy this kind of change in my own mind (which I now, most unfortunately, have to call 'growing up'), that has been the case and I've become a new veteran (biggup Lloyd Brown) at recognizing these feelings. My feeling about "Portals"? Right now, right after its release? They built it on top of a goldmine. Dig it up and the treasure is yours. OUTSTANDING.


  1. I always enjoy your reviews of Midnite albums and I think your analysis of this new Akae Beka release hits the mark on every track ! I can also testify that no one else has written more about Vaughn's than you and with such depth, hence why I come back to check this blog once in a while. At this point, my personal favorite is "Simplest Long" but there are no doubt quite a few gems on here.

  2. Thanks for the lyrics! Can you please take the time to write the full lyrics of Midnite songs? There are many missing that I wish I could read (I don't always understand the words just by listening on the track). In fact, this article is the only relevant result on Google for many of the songs of this album.

  3. And it's out on vinyl.....

  4. After years of listening to Portals now for me it stands out as one of the very best reggae albums in history. Miss you Vaughn.

    To Jah Be All The Glory