Heavy Roots! You might want to reinforce your CD-shelf before you add this one to your collection: I Kong is back with his sixth studio album entitled Pass It On, including twelve tracks that vividly represent his eventful artist career. Starting out with The Jamaicans in the 60s and 70s, testing new grounds as Ricky Storm with Lee "Scratch" Perry and Bunny Rugs (Ricky & Bunny) and then going on a hiatus for almost 30 years, he now comes full circle with his family-name-inspired appellation.
Pass It On, now, is a mission explained in the eponymous title track. It's a recognition of his advanced age of 69 (an undeniable fact that is also depicted in the beautiful cover art byJennifer Chatelain) as well as the need to keep the link with the next generation of singers; at the same time it is also a plea for the latter to respect and value the foundation work the elders have laid. A wise choice to feature Raging Fyah on this one, as these youngsters are the undisputable torch-bearers of Roots Reggae traditions at present. Other star-studded features of the release include the former I-Threes-member Judy Mowatt in the opening track Motherless Child and, combining two veterans on one track, Ken Boothe in They Don't Know.
From the piano intro to the last note of the infectious Rocksteady beat, both Change Your Ways and For Whom The Bell Tolls fill us with a desire to sing and skip along. "Listen to the Chiney Ras a chant!" Both tracks are prime examples of the exceptional quality of the underlying instrumentals throughout this release, both in composition and recording. Responsible for this heartfelt rootsy deliverance is the Swiss group Najavibes, a band that started to work with I Kong in 2014 to produce the album A Little Walk. They were actually also the forces behind the first ever tour of the artist in 2015 – after almost 50 years in the business! Respect to these musicians, and to the mixing and mastering engineers Roberto Sánchez and Sam John.
This richness balances the fact that age audibly took its toll on the singer's vocal chords in tracks like Free, Keep Grooving or the education-promoting Make Them Bright, although on others (and especially in the lower ranges) it still sounds full and rich, such as in Light After Darkness and Good Will Follow, a moral plea to do good in life.
Solid As A Rock, perfect farewell, tells us that we will never walk alone as long as we are true to ourselves. Word! And as long as singers like I Kong stay true to their legacy and keep setting such formidable musical examples, we don't have to worry about the next generation of artists. One day, they also will Pass It On!
I Kong - Pass It On
DIGITAL RELEASE [Fruits Records]
Release date: 9/9/2016
01. Motherless Child feat. Judy Mowatt
02. Change Your Ways
04. Cool Runnings
05. Keep Grooving
06. For Whom The Bell Tolls
07. They Don't Know feat. Ken Boothe
08. Good Will Follow
09. Light After Darkness
10. Pass It On feat. Raging Fyah
11. Make Them Bright
12. Solid As A Rock
Jah9 - 9
Whether or not you are acquainted with the output of extraordinary Jamaican singer Jah9, here are some suggestions of what to do before listening to her new release. For one, throw any expectations you may have overboard. Then, take a deep, cleansing breath and center yourself. Having freed your mind of any worries or preoccupations, you might, really just might, be ready to press play…
Janine Cunningham aka Jah9 has created a deeply spiritual album that combines her interpretation of Reggae, instrumental experimentation and sung poetry with the scientific mysticism revolving around the number nine. Not only is this cipher the title of the album, it also sets the release date as well as the number of tracks included. Says the artist in her recent interview with Angus Taylor: "Nine is the number of change, because after nine it starts all over and a new cycle begins. (…) This record is 9 for all that 9 means. For all that I am as well."
And she made sure that the album is a true reflection of who she is. Even though it is released under the prestigious VP Records, Jah9 insisted on the freedom to have her say in the whole production process. Thus, five of the tracks are completely self-produced by her, resulting in calm, lyrical gems such as Prosper and Baptized or a bit more up-tempo pieces such as Hardcore or In The Midst. Her at times very unconventional ideas of complex and audacious melody lines were perfectly captured by musicians such as Sheldon Bernard (flute), Aeion Hoilett (bass), Jalanzo(from Dubtonic Kru), Wayne "Unga" Thompson and Earl "Chinna" Smith, lending a kind of jazzy touch to the tracks. This is especially evident in Natural Vibes, a beautifully innovative love-song that also makes Jah9's considerable vocal range obvious: from operatic heights to soulful alto she easily moves between these tonal extremes, making it an instant highlight.
The remaining four songs developed in close collaboration with diverse producers. Belgium's Puraman Bregt, for instance, an intense cooperation that resulted in the opening track Humble Mi, a fully orchestrated song that displays an immense richness of diverse chords, voices and instruments. Or Kevin Campbell (son of legendary veteran Al Campbell), who is responsible for the meditative In The Spirit that has a duration of exactly – have a guess – 9 minutes. Another Jamaican producer, Franklyn "Ben Up" Irving, provided the Gladiators riddim that serves as the battle ground for the probably most revolutionary song of the release, Unafraid. Jah9 courageously addresses the subject of child abuse, announcing warfare on everyone who dares to touch or molest a little one. "The future is dependent on the youths weh we a build!"