v/a – Amharic (Greensleeves Riddim #46)

Obviously this has been out for approximately a million years on JA pre 7″ and indeed for 6 months in this form. It ain’t my fault people kept on getting the copy out of the library, ok?

But it’s great – a rare beast of a one-riddim LP you can actually listen to without going mad at the repetition of it all, or needing to savagely mix it all up. The basic riddim kicks off with some Arabic acapella and then springs into a downtempo ragga skanker. Several of the cuts have some nice subtle variations. Riddim science – makes all the difference! The producer is Jammy “Jam 2” James, ably assisted by Lloyd “John John” James on the mix. Their dad, (the one, the only) King Jammy, was obviously doing something right when he brung ’em up.

Greensleeves have grabbed vocal cuts (no instrumental, which is a shame) from the usual mixture JA’s finest, with a few unknowns thrown in the mix for good measure.

Lyrically it’s business as usual – some nice twists and turns and within the dancehall spectrum there’s reasonable variety in terms of themes. The most common obssession this time seems to be designer labels. You wouldn’t think that fitted well with the title of the riddim – referring as it does to the language of Ethiopia, most famously used (in reggae at least) on the rasta anthem Satta Massa Gana by the Abyssinians (recently anthologised by Blood & Fire).

Things kick off with Vybz Cartel featuring Ward 21, which must have been a pretty packed session as there’s about five members in each group iirc. Nice lyrical twists:

“Rise up my berries
or rise up your berry
Shot them from primary
go straight to tertiary

Make them burberry
Catch a fire, like
Michael Jackson’s Curl jeri
In a de Pepsi Ad”

(The usual disclaimer with regards lyrics applies – I might well have misheard any or all of this…)

It goes on in the same way with Irv Gotti and R Kelly getting a mention – Vybz Cartel’s vocals are obscured under all sorts of effects, which makes unpicking them extra complicated (like a puzzle). Great stupid-fresh rhymes to bring a smile to your face on a rainy night.

Wayne Marshall then barges both crews out the studio and takes centre stage with We Roll. A tune about not fronting, as it probably isn’t called now by anybody under the age of 30: “Fake Jacob, fake Diesel, that’s not the way we roll. Pose off in friend’s vehicle – that’s not the way we roll”. There’s probably acres already written about defining “realness” in terms of conspicuous wealth. The list of hip brands here reminds me of walking through expensive shopping malls, and despite the fantastic melodies it’s ultimately just as alienating. I guess the primary JA fanbase of this record has little option but to go for “fake Diesel” anyway…

There are a couple of overtly roots tracks on the album, which provide a welcome breather. The first one is Peace by Sizzla. A bit of acoustic guitar heralds the best new Kalonji track I have heard for some time (not that I am up to speed or anything). A strange title given his usual compulsion to ‘burn fire’ on everything. The breakneck pace of the verses complements the poignant chorus:

“Love ’cause there is hope
And do not fight
I know you can work it out
We don’t want no war

So many lives go to waste
All those loved ones –
No-one can take their place”

The other rootical track is a combination from Anthony B and Courtney Melody. AB chats righteously and rhymes ganja with Rwanda. Courtney comes correct with a beautifully plaintive chorus “Progress… the things some people do for success.” Nice criticism of bling and Anthony B chimes in straight away with “For their fast car… they forget who they are”. So simple, but so true.

I worry about quoting these lyrics here sometimes. It’s not like lyrics can ever be some rigorous ultra-left text with footnotes or anything. Maybe they sound trite outside the context of the music, I dunno. I like them, which is enough for me.

Ward 21 win the prize for the best opening line: “Big Up Spongebob Squarepants!” and proceed to mumble on incomprehensibly about pineapples in a rather entertaining fashion. Jam2 ups the clickety clackety backing as well, which is nice, but the rest of the lyrics fall flat after the genius of the first few bars.

Daville is completely new to me. Lovely soulful voice on the geezer. The lyrics aren’t Shakespeare but the way he delivers them certainly are: “Party on ’til the break of dawn. Ain’t going to leave the lawn til the early morn.” (bear with me, ok?) “Tell me can you feel the viiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiibe” – the sustain somehow makes the rest of the tune sound a little overdriven, like a soundsystem pumped to the max.

It’s difficult to describe, but there’s something about this track which makes it my favourite. Maybe it’s because it seems so innocent compared to some of the other tracks here. (Like Spragga Benz & T.O.K.’s collaboration which essentially and repetitively deals with the fact that they “want pussy”.)

Other newbies to me are Taz & Chico, who do a nice gruff/trebly combination on Erica: “buy her a smirnoff… she a turn off… under mi Guinness… calories burn off…” “says she like me style she a nah go get turn off… put on me lubricant to keep the germ off”. Trebly guy (no idea if its Taz or Chico, but I am guessing the latter) gets the girl…

Honorable mentions:

Ce’cileAll Night – essentially a demand for a man who is up to the job.

Kid KurruptGrey And Old – purely for the line “she’s dancing calypso when she’s listening to rockers”. Signal!

Lady Saw is a Hot Gal Fi Life, with an eye on the competition.

Anyway, check out the soundsamples over at the Greensleeves site if interested.