Various Artists: Forgive I Jah EP Review by Mr Topple for Pauzeradio.com.
Anotha One Productions certainly don’t do things by halves. Because its latest, upcoming riddim release is a sweeping, expansive project where veteran artists meet up-and-coming names across a rich and inspired composition.
Forgive I Jah Riddim is set to be released via Anotha One Productions on 3 July. The project is a collaboration between the label’s founder Milan Ivkovic (who composed the piece) and House of Riddim (who provided the instrumentation). Originally, Ivkovic wrote the riddim in 2005 – with it sitting on the backburner until 2019, when he sent it across to House of Riddim and Sam Gilly, who then recorded it for Anotha One in their own unique style, bringing in additional elements. Mixing and mastering is from the legendary Umberto Echo, and the evocative artwork is by 420ART and clothing from Costa Rica. Credit must also be given to the consummate Fiona, whose backing vocals throughout are pitch-perfect, as she turns her hand to the various styles and languages incorporated across the artists’ interpretations.
The basic riddim itself is rich in structure. It opens with a glorious keys solo, working around semiquaver and demisemiquaver chords across dotted and triplet rhythms. This line is also imitated by horns, with an electric organ running a counter melody. It’s all a bit Funky Soul – but the Roots vibes soon take command of proceedings.
All the rudimentary elements are there: keys on a bubble rhythm, the drums on a one drop with the bass hitting the upbeats and guitars quietly skanking in the background. It’s these which drive the Roots vibe. But as is always the case with Anotha One/House of Riddim, it might appear simple when first hearing but it’s really a lot deeper than it seems.
A bass provides a trip back to a time before Rocksteady arrangements became dominant. Because while it is syncopated across generally dotted semiquaver-quaver-led rhythm, it does two, gloriously old skool tricks: employing a one drop (against the more modern approach of dropping one of the other four beats), and working across the root chords’ triads on the chorus, versus the more chromatic arrangements Rocksteady brought in. This serves to give the riddim a very classic feel. The use of a relatively slow BPM (around 60) serves to enhance this. But the track can’t help repeatedly nodding to its Funky Soul opening throughout.
The use of an electric organ brings the genre back into play again. Its arrangement is wonderful, with the left input playing dotted chord rhythms, while the right hits straight chords with the vibrato switch on, creating that classic, trembling sound. Anotha One/House of Riddim have then also added a synth theremin as a response to the main melody’s call, building on the Funky Soul feeling. Horns also play their part, dropping the one and then using dotted rhythms across the two and three before hitting the final off. Reverb is then added to make them fade off into the musical distance.
Forgive I Jah Riddim’s electric guitars are another delicious touch. Played slightly near the bridge and run through a mid/treble amp they have a higher-passed, slightly rasping feel with additional bending and chromatic improv to add to the whining timbre. The call and response backing vocals just pile on the Soul even more, and the whole arrangement is a detailed and elegant mix of Roots and something funkier. Then, enter the artists to put their individual stamp on proceedings.
Macka Ruffin (Dave McAnuff, related to the legendary Winston) is based out of Japan. His track, Shadows of the Almighty, sees Ruffin tread a soulful path in his upper vocal register – focusing more on a straight vocal rather than singjay. He’s urgent and compelling as he delivers his Song of Praise and faith, with some well-arranged harmonised, then call and response, backing vocals – a running theme across the interpretations. Anotha One have stripped the arrangement back at points, creating some distinctly stark bridges – allowing Ruffin’s vocal to shine through, and the whole track works well.
After the success of his 2020 EP The Meeting (with Heavy Waves), Judah Brownny is back. Originally from Ghana but currently residing in France, across Coming Home he shows his vocal prowess well – providing a Lover’s Rock take on Forgive I Jah Riddim. Here, he allows his lower register to take centre stage, working around a mid-baritone that he’s multi-layered – performing his own responses to the main vocal calls. He’s created a detailed melody across the riddim, which includes an infectious chorus and some well-placed improv, and his timbre is rich yet laid-back throughout – matching his ballad-like lyrics about the love of his life well.
Sena Dagadu is a dual heritage Hungarian/Ghanaian songstress – and it shows across her interpretation Sweet Melody. Her voice is fascinating: sitting somewhere between the rich, rounded timbre of a Gospel alto and the range of a mid-soprano. She’s arranged her main melody very well – creating a memorable chorus, but on the verses mixing the rhythmic arrangement up like a singjay artist would, delivering these at impressive speed with crystal clear enunciation. Her lyrics, about how all the recent chaos in the world is made a bit easier by having music in our lives, are pertinent and resonant – and overall, Sweet Melody is a very attractive offering from this pleasing artist.
Fellow Ghanaian Black I gives us Love Rules. His voice is mellow and low-down in register, with a pleasant grittiness that evokes emotion well. His performance sits somewhere between vocal and singjay, as his verses are more at home in the latter. He’s honed in on Forgive I Jah’s chord progressions well, picking these up and incorporating the chorus’s melody around them. Black I sings in both English and his native tongue throughout, which enhances the track. Additional production sees some Dub tricks thrown in. And his message, discussing the toxic trials and tribulations the system metes out which we have to overcome with love at the heart of our response, is affecting and well-constructed. Strong works – and as he says: “true love rule over all; let’s teach it to our little children”
Ray Isaacs is the nephew of the legend Gregory Isaacs. He’s already been making waves in Reggae circles, and his interpretation Chemical Warfare is one such example. He has an infinitely laid-back voice, but one that paradoxically commands attention. His range is strong; pitch on-point and his use of dynamics and intonation expressive. Isaacs also uses an interesting vocal trick of accentuating the vowels in words: ‘ahs’, ‘ohs’ and ‘oohs’ all become more pronounced and elongated. This clever trick serves to accentuate the lyrics and draw attention to important words in the narrative. He’s a fascinating performer, and Forgive I Jah Riddim is the perfect platform for him.
I Anbassa is originally from Haiti but now lives in New York. He is the band leader for Denroy Morgan’s band (father of the incomparable Morgan Heritages). Having worked with Anotha One on several other projects (notably 2019’s Meditation Riddim), across Forgive I Jah Riddim he has provided Nevertheless. He delivers an urgent performance, making good use of staccato (short) notes to accentuate the lyrics. Working around his upper register, his tone is clear yet emotive and his melodic interpretation attractive. But here, Anbassa’s lyrics are what shine – as he sermonises the benefits of Rastafari against Babylon’s “stress”, calling its followers to stay focused, true and sympathetic to those not yet converted. Stirring stuff.
French artist Mancris Lovaile delivers Serein Enfin (“Serene at Last”) in his native tongue. It’s a gorgeous performance from him – more akin to a Soul singer than Reggae. Urgent and with purpose, Lovaile works between his rich tenor voice and delicate falsetto – flipping effortlessly between the two. He makes good use of dynamics, pulling the volume backwards and forwards to accentuate both the lyrics and the ebb and flow of Forgive I Jah Riddim. Sabolious (see more on him below) delivers a nicely done sax solo in a call and response style, and overall Serein Enfin is utterly compelling.
Sevad has been one of the more exciting artists to emerge in recent years. His album, Black Man’s Government, showed real promise – and here, he expands on that with his interpretation Thanks and Praise. Sevad has opted for pulling the momentum back, giving a slower, smoother performance than some of the other artists have. Of note is his complex melodic construction, making excellent use of the riddim’s base. His enunciation is pointed, use of crescendo, decrescendo and vibrato across notes pleasing, and he’s also arranged and performed an impressive, multi-layered backing vocal line. Lyrically, Thanks and Praise is slightly ambiguous – giving both those things to the love of his life; be that his partner, Jah or possibly both. It’s strong works from this enthralling artist.
Luciano and Naptali join forces for Struggles of Life. Their voices are perfectly suited to each other, as they weave around in both their upper registers bringing in inflections of Soul with the vocal runs, riffs and improv. But their performances show two things: Naptali’s ability to keep up with the seasoned Luciano, and by default then his generous performance which doesn’t swamp Naptali’s either. Lyrically, they’ve created a strong narrative around the difficulties so many of us face under Babylon and how we continuously fight – but all the while remembering that if we just united then change could be invoked across the world. It’s a clever pairing by Anotha One – and works brilliantly.
Masinga Root sings in the Bambara language of the West African Mande people, across Djafa Annou Man. He has a very rounded, resonant voice which has a pleasing, slightly gruff tone with an attractive, elongated vibrato. He’s cleverly arranged the melody to slowly build up in pitch across the first verse, which then almost drops down again for the start of the chorus, before winding up and down again. On the second verse, Root brings in more rhythmic detail and melodic alterations, making his overall performance full of colour, light and shade. It’s haunting and warm on equal measure, and an impressive addition to Forgive I Jah Riddim.
Austrian saxophonist Sabolious previously worked with Anotha One on the Happy Child Riddim – and also Fred Locks across the No to Racism project. Here, he provided his skills across Lovaile’s track. Then, he’s delivered his own interpretation too, with Saxical Dubfare – where he’s taken Isaac’s basic melodic structure from Chemical Warfare and expanded up and to the side of it. At times, Sabolious has layered his performance to create multiple sax lines (mainly on the chorus, which he opens with and which borrows from Isaacs the most). On the verses, he then weaves a rich and detailed affair with wonderful attention to detail: from fluttering tonguing, to rapid crescendo and decrescendo, quick-fire riffs and runs via vibrato that has a vocal quality. He is a superb musician, and Saxical Dubfare showcases his talents perfectly.
Another Ghanaian artist Jah Wyz is a star who’s rising fast. Across the Forgive I Jah Riddim he gives us his interpretation, Life is a Journey. It’s perhaps one of the more Roots-focused tracks of the selection, as here Wyz is less about vocal gymnastics and more about delivering complex lyrics across equally complex rhythmic patterns. That’s not to say his voice isn’t pleasing: gravelly and emotive, it works well. But his use of rhythmic patterns and the embellishment of them is pure singjay, as is his focus is on a heavy dose of philosophical lyrics. He discusses life’s trials and tribulations, how each of us deal with them (“sometimes you see a smile but me nah happy inside”) and ultimately reminding us that everything on this “journey” is transient – and “everything that goes around comes back around”. Compelling and timely works.
Benks Ez Boy is another exciting artist emerging from Jamaica. Usually found in Dancehall (check Anotha One’s previous riddim X Ova), he also delivers conscious tracks, with his interpretation Forgive Me being no exception. The first stand out is his ability to hold pitch perfect notes with perfect clarity. Then, his performance is effortlessly controlled – making good use of long, extended notes followed by quick runs and riffs well. Benks tone is crystal clear; his use of dynamics expressive (check the second verse where he pares it right back) and enunciation very good. And then toward the end, he drops right down into his baritone register. But it’s perhaps Benks lyrical content which is the most impressive. He shows is vulnerable and introspective side, as he asks forgiveness from the people he has wronged in his life: from his lover, mother and his son to Jah himself. It’s a truly impressive performance and perhaps Forgive I Jah’s standout – because Benks has taken the riddim’s underlying theme and run away with it brilliantly. Superb.
Finally, across Forgive I Jah Riddim is Black Prophet – a renowned Reggae artist from Ghana who has been performing for decades and was also a recipient of a Ghana National Music Award in 2007. His pedigree shows – because Prophet brilliantly uses his voice to full effect across Forgive Us. He switches between his tenor and falsetto rapidly, delivering delicate then forthright phrases in each. He’s made good use of melody – weaving intricate patterns across the verses and then a clear chorus. His performance style is almost improv, but in terms of feeling like it’s the first time he’s delivered the lyrics, with thoughtful pauses littered throughout and a stark closing a cappella section. He too switches languages – and provides a moving and thought-provoking narrative (almost a sermon) on how far gone our species is; the cry of forgiveness for our wrongs we all should be bringing forth, while joining together in unity to repent for our sins. It’s strong and inspiring work.
Overall, Forgive I Jah Riddim is an extremely strong offering from Anotha One. The musical prowess on display cannot be questioned – as the riddim is a quality composition. All the performances are on-point and the artists have interpreted the musical base very well. But it’s Anotha One’s selection of singers which truly stands out. The riddim as a project offers a global perspective on many of the challenges society and us as individuals face – from the Caribbean to Africa via Europe. By encompassing so much of the planet via music, Anotha One have encapsulated the species-level reach of the riddim’s central message: that our wrongs must be righted and forgiveness across the board must be sought. Forgive I Jah is truly inspired, and has cemented the label as one of the stronger outfits in Reggae-derived music.
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Forgive I Jah Riddim Review by Mr Topple / Pauzeradio Pr Services (2nd July 2021).