Tuesday, February 20, 2024

IMMORTAL: A review of Living Testament by Akae Beka

Incorruptible. I think it would be the goal of anyone who creates any type of art to be able to produce something which would not only serve its intended purpose in its time, but do so long after you're gone. If you write a book, you'd like to think that someone would be on Amazon buying a copy and either being entertained or informed (or both) years and years from now and maybe if you make a horror movie, how nice would it be if you could scare the hell out of generations and generations people. Thankfully, people have been writing and making films for long enough that not only has that actually happened already but we also have the ability to speak to authors and directors and the like, currently, who can tell you their motivations regarding a particular piece of work. Even better than remaining popular in a long-lasting sense, I would think (cannot speak from experience on this one) (AT ALL), would be if you could make something that could perpetually provoke thought amongst your audience and not within a historical point of view, alone, but in a way which could apply DIRECTLY to someone a great deal of time after your work is done. If that happens, even though you may not be here, your work truly is never done and it, AMAZINGLY, has the ability to transform and evolve without you doing anything! That is remarkable and fascinating to think about and, of course, I'm now going to make the point that the single best medium to show such a phenomenon is definitely music. Again, people having been singing songs for a long enough period of time that we can refer back to what they've had to say in regards to motivation for the creation of a body of work and those can be vastly interesting conversations to have and we can take songs and compare them and dissect them on our own, applying what we hear to ourselves in so many different ways as well and they can carry their power ENDLESSLY via that same way. Can you imagine: You take your standard Soca song made in 2024 (and it's called 'Carnival Contract', for example) (it's far from "standard" but I'm using it to make my point because I absolutely CANNOT stop listening to it) and in... 2054, people are still "jumping" and "waving" just as you told their parents and grandparents to, thirty seasons prior. Then there's what we call around here 'message music'. Though I rarely ever talk about him (because, really, what else is there to say) in our music exists the looming spectre of the great Bob Marley who left us with ideas and themes which would not only outlive him but also carry (TO THIS DAY) an entire genre and, arguably (at least in part), a region of the world! You bury those words into the minds of enough different people and what happens is that it provides a platform for someone to come along to lay foundations of their own which will NEVER go uprooted.

I can truly say that one of the most enjoyable and challenging experiences I have had in my life (and I mean that in a good way) (a GREAT way) has come in my journey to becoming a fan of the great Vaughn Benjamin. I've told the story many times so I'll keep it brief here but, in my younger years, I wholly lacked the capability to take in his work. It would go right over my head and the fact that Midnite, at the time, had SO many was something that I found so gripping because I just.... I just could not get there! What the hell were those people hearing?! A few years later I would figure it out (I think I would figure it out) (I'm still working on it) as everything that was once so cryptic, skeletal and without emotion changed to my ears and I would go from being someone who, frustratingly, couldn't get "it" to someone who DELIGHTED in the journey to comprehension and whether I ultimately was correct where I landed was of no importance to me AT ALL. That process of taking in what Benjamin saying (and being able to hear it in the first place because he has a tendency to mumble) and the thoughts behind it is musical FOOD to someone like me and, again, I am SO happy that I made it here. It's been a lot of work. 

And that work will stop only when I do. Until I lose my life or what little sense that I do have, I'll be delightfully enjoying the delicious meal that Benjamin has provided. In November of 2019 Benjamin would transition and I don't think that I've ever actually directly mentioned that on these pages because I didn't see any reason to (outside of relaying news and anyone who would come around here and stay for any length of time probably already knew about it). Not only were we still on our hiatus at the time, there was never any sense of FINALITY to things in his particular case. I've loved the work of dozens --  not hundreds -- of artists and I will continue to but I've never had this type of relationship with the work of anyone outside of Vaughn Benjamin. He has continued to release a relatively steady stream of albums since and my work and gratification has continued with the back catalogue as well (these days I'm dealing with "Mek A Menshun". It'll probably be the next review we post after this one) (have a very fun list I'm working on as well) and, again, it always will continue. So, that likely has something to do with the reason why I didn't have much of an impact when a project popped up on our radars which was billed as the FINAL Akae Beka album ever, "Living Testament". The set comes courtesy of Trinity Farm Music with Go A Chant Productions from out of California, the former of whom have definitely been pushing out excellent material lately and making themselves very difficult to ignore (I've gone over it fairly recently but if you love Roots Reggae music (and you wouldn't be this deep into this review if you did not), do check out the efforts of Trinity Farm Music) ["No matta how they cry, cry, cry. Trouble still ah fall pon dem. They pray, pray, pray; but like smoke, that ah blow away"] and they've cranked that up considerably now with such a release. Along with what the way in which I've framed this review, Akae Beka is one of a handful of artists who, when they do release new music and new albums especially, I just get REALLY DAMN EXCITED. I hesitate to say that I turn into a child (you cannot "turn into" something that you basically already are), but it definitely can be a very 'first day of school' like feeling when such a production arises and I had my eyes STUCK to this one from the very first time we saw it maybe three weeks ago now. On top of that, I was able to listen to a considerable amount of "Living Testament" prior to its launch and what I head left a very nice taste in my mouth as an appetizer for, potentially, yet another big burst in the inferno that is the catalog of Vaughn Benjamin. This was prior to me learning that it was being said that this one was to be the final album and, when I did learn about that aspect, as I said, it really didn't change anything for me, but you'd like to think that if you were saying something about such a legendary and REVERED figure, that you would do everything in your power to put your very best foot forward and, CLEARLY, that is precisely what TFM have done here. The album's vibrant initial single also didn't do anything to dampen expectations and anticipations and I was HOOKED! How did all work out in the 'end'? Let's talk about that. 

Immaculately. It all works out immaculately. From the gorgeous Ras Elijah Tafari drawn cover ["I hold His Majesty in awe"] ["In awe"], which they have fortunately decided to release in physical form as well, throughout the production, "Living Testament" is extremely well done on the behind the scenes end and it makes for a nearly perfect platform for the work of a bona fide master of the spoken word. The first display we get from the venerable chanter on "Living Testament" is also one of its finest and one which, most fitting sets the tone and the FOUNDATION for what is to follow, 'Stone of The Corner'. This drum-heavy selection is of the type which, more often than not, closes out releases such as this one, but regardless of where you place it, its CLASS is a large attribute for "Living Testament". 'Stone of The Corner' definitely is a prayer and a tribute as you might imagine (and, to some degree, you could probably say that about much of Benjamin's work) but it also has elements of observing and honouring THE Foundation of all things in a most basic and instinctive way - almost as if NOT doing it is the difficult part. I heard this tune and I almost felt like crying because not only does it begin this album, it also begins potentially YEARS of fun I am going to have working through it. "This shall be for me", indeed. The vibes take a tick up in pacing for the second selection, the vibesy 'Going on a Mission'. When I got to this one, I thought that the very first words said would set the tone for what was to come:

"Music stimulates man propensity - fi sing a song joyful, gratefully"

In typical Vaughn Benjamin fashion, however, I was wrong and the "mission" to which he is referring here goes a bit deeper and broader, oddly extending things straight to the courtroom [!] where much of the tune takes place, actually.

"Big people loyal in infinity 
Going on a mission for His Majesty
Festival of sound where the people be
Now dem ahgo drop dem all accuracy
Lifting the level of intelligence-y
What wholesomely and inna what creepy -
Inna opposition to di order weh be
Biotech: A mixture of man and machine
That's di direction inna nanotech speed
Who is di loser and who inna di lead?
Di records of procedure inna stenography

Of course, you don't take the court as a literal place and where I am now with 'Going on A Mission' is seeing it as THE courtroom of all courtrooms, where the final judgment takes place (and how things can go against you or in your favour). HOWEVER, with that being said, as you trace the tune, it gets into such a fine and downright crispy detail that, even should you approach it in the most superficial of levels -- literally thinking Akae Beka just... made a song about going to court -- YOU WILL STILL GET SOMETHING FROM THIS ONE! 'Going on A Mission' is damn near stunning and I also love how they just allow to play itself out instrumentally. Next up, we continue and get this 'Rebellion Running' on a piece even slightly stronger than both which precede it on "Living Testament" (and most of the ones following it as well). First of all, I have to mention the riddim and PACING of this track: IT IS GOLDEN! There is something so utterly attractive about how this one kind of crawls along before exploding and, all the while, Benjamin is going about his business- rarely, if ever, paying attention to what is going on behind him (and I can specifically not liking when he did that when I was younger listening to his music. Now it's a charming aspect of his work to my ears). 'Rebellion Running' is a social commentary for me, focusing on, largely, anti-violence ideology (it almost reminds me of a song you'll be well familiar with from Capleton by the name of 'Jah Jah City'). If you scratch any level on 'Rebellion Running' -- anyone at all -- what lies beneath is brilliant ["Cosmopolitan city - third world dense"]. He talks about the impact, literal and spiritual, that violence can have on the world and how important it is for us to attempt to make amends for it. The picture painted isn't completely a dark one, as the artist does present the occasional glimpse of light in the matters also. If you were happy about it on 'Going on A Mission', then you will absolutely LOVE how 'Going on A Mission' ends as the final ninety seconds or so is nothing but music and it SCALDS! With a plod that is as infectious as anything on this release, Trinity Farm Music's composition shines and were they of the mind to present a dub of this and pretty much any other song here, someone might complain, but my mother never named me "someone". And just because this paragraph hasn't run on long enough (and I want to put the  video for the next song in this following gap), I'll mention 'All Around Man Yard' here, where the music is also allowed its fair time in the spotlight. Before that, however, Benjamin delivers a message regarding the importance of treating the world (and everything (and everyone) in it) as good as you possibly can. We all have to live here and so will our children and their children's children and so forth, so it is imperative that we find and maintain some healthy balance here. It doesn't go quite so straight (because that would be boring), but that is what I take here and 'All Around Man Yard' is another excellent offering.

I'm pretty sure I mentioned something wayyyy back there about the first single from "Living Testament" which released a few weeks ahead of the album. That lovely creation and biblical 'Who Will Go For Us', easily stands out as one of the many highlights from the album for which it signaled. From a purely sonic standpoint, it's rather easy to see why TFM chose it as a single. It is very catchy (with that bounce) and it sticks with you.


Benjamin steps nary a foot outside of the basic scope of the subject here but were you looking to take a slightly more tangible approach here, you could very well look at 'Who Will Go For Us' as a track about being faithful, loyal and committed to principles and maybe even other people. If you've listen to enough of his work, you know very well it is one of the central themes that he has consistently written on and it is, once again, on full display here. 'Who Will Go For Us' begins, arguably, the single strongest stretch of progress on the album as it is followed by my single most favourite song on the entire album, the blistering 'Holding The Amen Key'.

"I've seen the battleaxe yah- 
Firm ancient time
I've stand up inna di chariot when armament ah fly
I control di horses an still ah fight 
Split-second decision, presence of mind
Athletic comfort take a motion of shine
Coordinated of Jah, mobilize
When dem dun know, time longer than twine
And this journey can come along for the ride
Witness hardship and soul-sacrifice
For the principle of goodness briefly in a line
Removing with equity and still sure to decide -
Justice with swiftness, hands-on applied
Some flailing away as defending a lie
When they wrong, even the root caan right
Protecting the harvest from mildew and mold
Fire that purify soul, curious gold
Sheen of the spirit, force-field tenfold
Scattering the centering, crystal ball
Chalice of the earth, clouds of smoke
Waters of the earth, filters float
Faceless defender in deep sen dem forth 
Who's approaching the gate?
Mental teleport
Intercepting the scene, no one rocking the boat
Stealth rider come in, deadly report

TEARS! ABSOLUTE TEARS! This isn't a GAD-like torrent of words. It is more structured and exact and, at least to my opinion, it has no equal on the whole of "Living Testament". BOOM! Continuing that ultra-high level are both 'Keeper of The Gate' and 'Who is the Rejector Who is the Reductor'. The former sounds extremely familiar to my ears and it is a lovely composition espousing on the wonders of the ultimate Custodian of Records. The riddim on 'Keeper of The Gate', though it may be the very definition of 'minimalistic' at times, GLOWS! It is SO BEAUTIFUL and Benjamin puts it to might use. I will say that 'Keeper of The Gate', the second shortest song on "Living Testament" does come off as a bit brief, though THE shortest tune here, coincidentally 'Holding The Amen Key', does not have such a setting at all. For its part 'Who is the Rejector Who is the Reductor', well keeps the quality high on a note which struck me as sort of subtly BRIGHT (if that makes any sense) (any at all) within a message which appears to be intent on crushing negativity and poor behaviour, in particular, wherever it may be found. This tune definitely requires a hefty amount of attention as it features several lyrical BOMBS from Benjamin. 

"Who is the rejector of the peace thread?
Who is the reductor of the truth grid?
Spiraled with speed have proceeded 
They distract and deliberately misleaded"

'Cream Of Joy' is one of the highest points of interest that I've found on "Living Testament". Just listening to it -- based strictly on HOW IT SOUNDS -- I do not love this one. It's decent. It has a very basic riddim behind it which doesn't do much at all (it does develop later on, but not by much and it doesn't do so permanently either). It's serviceable and not much else. HOWEVER, when you really listen to what is being said, 'Cream Of Joy' slowly begins to tick up just a little. The vocalist says that while the sweetest things in life do certainly exist, reaching them does not come easy and will require some work and effort ["There's work to do in life. There's pain, sorrow and strife. There's problem-solving time, in all strata of life. So we better be behaving civilized, in the vicinity the courteous kind"]. That's fantastic and the way it is presented may not make it so immediately accessible to some people (or that may just be my issue, alone) but if you do find yourself not LOVING what you hear, musically, I will say that, as the words say, don't have a problem with putting in a bit of work because what you'll receive will be worth it. The curious 'Reforms Unseen' is much better as it wins both lyrically and instrumentally (like that guitar) and does so instantly. Not all is bleak, even when it may seem so as there are those factors which may not be as immediately perceptible as others that are still working in our favour ["Through you don't believe, you have no tangibilities. Haile I Selassie I reforms unseen"]. The album's closer, 'S on The Chest', does suffer from an undeniable amount of... desync and disassociation (it literally sounds like two (or three) different songs are playing simultaneously at certain times here, especially early on) but, apart from that, you have a selection of serious quality. Where I am currently with this one is that 'S on The Chest' is a kinda/sorta praising track. It's set in a way where it lifts up certain forces as "superpowers" but they are such WELL BENEATH the level of The Almighty. You observe their power, it is undeniable ["Every disobedient youth, a pure bump and bruise"], yet DWARFED by that of His Majesty. What results is, as I said, a more complicated method of giving praise and one standing within the scope of a social commentary, but one no less potent at all. I also have to mention that, despite the awkwardness of it all, I do so thoroughly enjoy the delivery on 'S on The Chest'. It is as 'low-tech' as you can imagine but dazzling at times and fully appropriate for the purpose of distributing this particular message.

I do want to say that, as far as criticisms, I would have had no problem had they fleshed "Living Testament" out more with two or three dubs. A few of these songs would definitely work well in that form in my opinion (like 'Keeper of The Gate' and 'Rebellion Running') and TFM have done that before on prior releases as well (I was actually surprised not to see any dubs on this album, actually) (they did an album by the name of "Move Different" by Fikir Amlak just last year. It had three dubs and one of them, for a tune called 'Higher Place', was SPECTACULAR! It was really, really good. Never an expert on the subgenre (or anything else, for that matter), but that track was probably one of the best displays of Dub music that I've heard recently and I wish they would have given this one a similar treatment.
Overall, judging it for what it is and even by comparison to some of the artist's other work, "Living Testament" is excellent.  My immediate thought of what about it, especially, stands out to me right now might just be how accessible it is. I don't say this much about the work of Akae Beka anymore because I've done so many of these and I can only judge it with my own ears which have been well indoctrinated by now but, if you are not at all familiar with the artist or if you are and just have never been able to fine an appropriate place to 'jump in', this may be the turn for you. That is a credit that I'm giving to Trinity Farms Music as pretty much ALL of their work is like that, that I've noticed. They focus on heavy Roots Reggae music, primarily, but it is a very open and PLEASING style with artists who may not be known to more casual fans of the genre (people like Ras Abja and original nine fingers, Xkaliba) Now, with that being said, at the same time the album will not alienate long time fans (I don't think THAT is even possible) (at least not on a good Akae Beka album) and if you are at all like me (seek help), "Living Testament" figures to provide you with YEARS of delight to come. This may be the final Akae Beka album recorded and released but it means, tangibly, nothing at all. This man has left us with SO MUCH to do in digging up the messages within these wonderful songs. That is a 'job' which has no end and it will EVOLVE. A month from now, I won't at all be shocked if my thought and even if my POINT OF VIEW has changed for each and every song on this album. It's happened before. When THAT is your legacy and THAT is what you have done, there is no such thing as an ending. The first great Reggae album of 2024. 

Rated: 4.5/5
Trinity Farm Music/Go A Chant Productions


  1. Great review for a solid release. Like you, I just didn't get Benjamin's work in my younger days. Now I go for stretches of only listening to him. If others are interested in exploring this artist, with such a massive and varied back catalogue it's not hard to find something to enjoy. What are your favourites? My hilights would have to be 'For All' and 'Homage to the Land', plus maybe 'Nurtured Frequency'... although that list always shifts around! Love the blog, keep doing what you're doing!

    1. "Now I go stretches of only listening to him". I know the feeling! I'm actually working on a list about Benjamin as well, but as far as favourite albums - "Nurtured Frequency" would be up there for me as well as, off the top of my head, "Beauty For Ashes", "Portals", "In Awe" & "Be Strong".... I could go on and on. "For All" is an interesting choice. Thanks for the kind words and stopping by my friend!

  2. Even reggae fans don’t always acknowledge the greatness of Midnite

  3. Midnite was on another level - i doubt we will ever a profilic reggae artist like Vaughn Benjamin ever