Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fayah descends from on high!

Fayah descends from on high in da shape of a lion
Bun da sacrifice of pride and ride an ta Mount Zion
- Chorus of Fire of Heaven/Altar of Fire

No doubt most of you have heard, or heard of Matisyahu (pictured), the Hasidic Jewish rapper reggae star. Matisyahu makes music for the soul, which is what good music always does. When music is done well, it speaks to one's inner being in many ways - the jungle music syndrome, where you abandon your faculties and revel in the soundscape. Judging music for me is easy. I get goose pimples when I hear achingly beautiful music. If any artists wants to impress me, all they need is to inject the cd with goose pimple dust. Above all else, music is the major artform which speaks to me directly. I love watching films, especially old classics (they don't make 'em like they used to), I love reading, but music is number one, and theatre a close second. With music, I don't instinctively have to intellectualise it, the immersion is immediate and simple. The intellectualisation comes after.

Back to Matisyahu. Much has been made of the fact that he is a white boy Hasidic Jew from Broooklyn, and that he's doing reggae music. Thinking about it, Judaism and reggae should be the most natural allies. Reggae in its infancy, was, and still is heavily influenced by Rastafarianism. And Rastafarianism is to some intents and purposes Judaism, skewed towards Caribbean afrocentricity. And contemporary Judaism is in no way alien to black people or Africans, the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia being a case in point. Obviously, Matisyahu will be seen as the saviour of reggae music, some will try and nail him to a cross, and some will try and start a movement. He's no messiah, nevertheless, he is a man who makes damn good music.

The album Youth, is a peach of an album. It requires listening. A friend of mine who didn't like it at first, but grew to like it, described it as righteous, thinking it was a disparaging term to use for music. There's nothing wrong with music being righteous. Some music I hear doesn't even make the customary in-one-ear-out-the-other, failing even to hit the first eardrum. You must listen to what Matisyahu is saying, layers reminiscent of Bob Marley and roots, rock, reggae, with a bit of hip-hip thrown into the mélange.

My favourite song is Ancient Lullaby. If you get any song from the album, procure this song. Steal this song, raid your grandma's piggy bank for this song. The bridge in the song is of the beremole ("get down and dance" to the uninitiated) ilk. The song melds into what can only be described as Thanksgiving Sunday in a charismatic church. The drummer goes crazy, the guitarist who appears to have been brought in from the Congo plucks away like a plantation boy, and you can just picture the gélés and the agbadas gyrating with abandon. The coup de grace though, comes 2'40'' into the song. The drummer is hitting the hihat, but it sounds like the bells used in traditional music, being played by a little boy whose greatest responsibility in life is to "knack that bell". I had to clap. Rhythmically, of course.

My only quibble with Youth is the song, Jerusalem. I have no problem with anyone talking about the persecution of Jews over many millenia, or even their right to a homeland. But I'm not so sure about reference to Jerusalem, the city. Jerusalem is probably the sticking point in the Middle East crisis, and to stake some open claim to it is insensitive. However, in the lyrics, he makes no direct reference to Jerusalem belonging to the Jews, so on that basis, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Iffy, but no sin.

If you want to find other artists who make music far removed from their own existence, you could no worse than Marta Topferova, Konono No 1, and Antibalas. Marta Topferova sings Latin music in her third language, Spanish, with Czech and English being her first two languages. I recommend Semana Azul from the album La Marea. Konono No 1 have been described as an afro-techno-punk band, in existence in a Congolese vacuum, without Sid Vicious ever landing the shores of Kinshasa. Antibalas (which means bullet-proof in Spanish) are a personal favourite. I saw them in concert a few years ago at the Jazz Cafe. Where did afrobeat go after Fela died? It went to Antibalas and resided with them in New York, politics and all.


Quest said...

trying really hard not to laugh. okay I haven't heard the song yet, but fayah descends from on high??

Feyikogbon said...

I'm not sure quite what you meant when you said 'other artists who make music far removed from their own existence'. I remember a few years ago having a conversation with a few English people at a wedding and they happened to be playing some Sade. During the ensuing conversation about her music I happened to comment that she was Nigerian. I could see the look of disbelief in the eyes of one of the ladies like "why you pretending that people sing in English in Nigeria".

Admittedly Sade never started her career in Nigeria however I would argue that over 50% of our popular artistes sing in English and only recently has there been a boom of artistes singing in pidgin english. I'm sure this wedding lady would say these artistes are singing music that is 'removed from their existence' (especially this new craze of Nigerian gangsta rap, what is that about?).

In his book 'Home and Exile' Chinua Achebe spoke about why he chose to write about Africans based in Africa as the 'English man had enough writers writing about his land'. He also argued about why his writing was in English as he wanted to reach a different (and posibly wider) audience than his native Igbo would enable him to. If these artistes are familiar with and comfortable with the music and the language they choose to express themselves in how do you justify that its far removed from their own existence?

Anonymous said...

"Nigerian ganster rap"...i dont know if theres a craze in Nigerian "ganster" rap but i think theres a boom in Nigerian rap.
Most of our boys arent spewing out useless diatribe about bulletproof vests what they'll do to their rivals if they run into them on Mobolaji bank Anthony, but are rapping mainly about Nigerian social systems and politics... theres not much ganster about that, so i wouldnt say that was "removed from their existence". And rap as a form as expression is almost as global as singing so i dont think it can be synonymous with any group or sect.
Nkem, you've bigged this guy up and i'm now about to do some serious amazon searches to buy his cd - you're footing this bill if he turns out to be nothing more than Bubba Sparks with faith and a political agenda.

Nkem said...

Feyikogbon, I figured that statement would cause offence, so I tried to express it in a way that wouldn't cause offence. I failed. What I mean is people making music that one wouldn't necessarily associate with a certain group of people. The Sade thing is plain ignorance as very few Brits know their colonial history and legacy. Czech people don't ordinarily make Latin music, Congolese aren't renowned for techno or punk, and I'd be equally suprised if Akwa Ibom unearthed the world's next Sufi music star.

Everchange, "fayah does indeed descend from on high" :-)

Herr Delot (getting into German mode!), Bubba Sparxxx? Wrong analogy, Deliverance is on my top ten albums of all time. He lost his way with the latest one, The Charm, but most rappers do. Money back guarantee, do you take cheques?

supermandru said...

Good review, I haven't listened to Matisyahu's new album, but I got his "live at stubb's" album. It's a good album. I also saw a live performance he had with Saul Williams. I had to stop whatever I was doing to pay attention.

Speaking of Afrobeat, I picked up some of Tony Allen's album. Right now I'm listening to Homecooking album and I can't stop listening to it. The first song, Every Season (my favorite) features Damon Albarn. The name Albarn sounds familiar, I wonder if he is the Dr. Albarn that was popular a while back. Anyways, check out Tony Allen's Homecooking.

Nkem said...

I should actually check out Tony Allen's album. It's gotten some very good reviews here. The Damon Albarn is the Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame. He went to Lagos to record the tracks with Tony Allen.

Anonymous said...

hey y'all, This geezer (Matisyahu)is on BBC radio one (97-99fm) with Zane lowe tonight (wednesday 31st of may)from 7pm. Should be good to hear what his saying and generally get a vibe of his music. Hope you get this b4 then.
Great timing Herr playa hated.

Anonymous said...

dude, just listened to a couple of songs on the Zhane Lowe show (youth, and i cant remember the title of the other one, but the literal lyrics had to do with chopping down trees in a forest) and this guy is really really good. i have to say i hadnt heard about him till i read your blog. cheers. I know he's going to have the same impact on me as Keziah Jones did a couple of years ago...mellow but thought provoking but head bobbing...cheers fella. definately buying the album now!

toometoblog said...

i'll mos def be on the look out for him, any friend of Saul Williams (last album was crap tho) is a friend of mine.
Antibalas are dope found some songs on the net a while ago. i thot they were brazilian tho.