Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Blitz the Ambassador’s Native Sun Blazes and Burns

This is the rare hip-hop album that’s as interesting musically as it is lyrically, in fact more so. That’s because Ghanian-American hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambasssador is also a bandleader, mixing Afrobeat with funk, the occasional slow jam and roots reggae for a completely unique sound. The hooks here are wicked: like Blitz’s lyrics, they come at you hard and fast. There are a lot of musicians on the album: the core band, with Raja Kassis on guitar, Ramon de Bruyn on bass and a soaring horn section with Jonathan Powell on trumpet, Ron Prokopez on trombone and Ezra Brown on tenor sax is killer, with a mix of real percussion and canned beats that sound organic more often than not.

The opening track sets the stage for everything that follows: snakecharmer flute kicks off a balmy, hypnotic Afrobeat instrumental, slinky guitar intermingling with the horns and Blitz’s rapidfire lyrics: he wants to leave no doubt that he’s arrived, “Top ten on itunes without a deal.” A love letter to Africa personifies the continent as a woman: “Most of the men that said they loved you robbed you blind,” Blitz snarls, the sway behind him building to a biting, staccato Afro-funk interlude. He delivers a couple of joints in his native dialect over catchy, Ethiopian-flavored, hypnotic vamps; the reggae-flavored Best I Can gives a shout-out to the American hip-hop artists who inspire their African colleagues, Blitz making it clear that all he’s interested in is rocking the mic, not striking any stereotypical, corporate faux-gangbanger pose.

The next track is a slow jam with a breezy sax solo, segueing into the album’s best cut, the absolutely gorgeous Accra City Blues. A lament for a lost girlfriend in both English and Blitz’s native tongue, it’s packed with delicious touches like a sax solo run very subtly through a phaser, and an eerily twangy, absolutely noir guitar outro. With its mighty horn hook, Free Your Mind is a call for solidarity against corruption and African tyrants that couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The brief Victory is the most traditional, American-style rap number here, which segues into the bitter, knowing title track, illuminating the struggle that African immigrants face here as the band works a richly psychedelic early 70s style wah funk groove. The album winds out with a surprisingly mellow, thoughtful acoustic guitar interlude. So many different styles of music here, so many different possible fans: this guy’s no dummy. Blitz the Ambassador plays the cd release show for this one at SOB’s on May 4 at 9.

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May 2, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, rap music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rocky Dawuni Brings Relevant Roots Reggae All the Way from Ghana

On his latest album Hymns for the Rebel Soul, Ghanian roots reggae superstar Rocky Dawuni takes a fearless political stance, Peter Tosh defiance matched to a musical backdrop that falls closer to intricate, purist late-period Bob Marley soul than Luciano slickness. Like those two Wailers, Dawuni is an excellent lyricist, and his tunes push a lot further than simple two or three-chord one-drop vamps. The songs are long, clocking in at five or six minutes at a clip – Burning Spear length, tailor-made to keep a big stadium swaying all afternoon.

The opening track, Download the Revolution begins with the sound of a dialup connection (that’s how they do it in the third world). With its oscillating synths, it’s a vivid reminder that at least for now, the internet has the potential to “wipe away the music of pollution,” as Dawuni so aptly puts it. The metaphorically charged African Reggae Fever is warm and unselfconsciously catchy like something off the Kaya album, a contrast with the offhand menace of the lyric: “Music for the radio don’t take the youth no higher…where you gonna run, where you gonna hide when the music comes for you?” Walls Come Tumbling Down is a matter-of-factly optimistic tribute to persistence – let’s not forget that this guy comes from a part of the world where those who protest a fraudulent election are literally risking their lives.

Elsewhere, a flute rises playfully in tribute to “surviving the Master Plan.” The wickedly catchy Road to Destiny celebrates the exile’s life, a search for justice – as much as that struggle can be celebrated, anyway. On Freefall, Dawuni angrily evokes the old soul adage about how “those you meet on the way up are the ones you meet on your way back down.” A mighty, majestic anthem, Jerusalem comes across as sort of a cross between Burning Spear and the late, great Lucky Dube. The album winds up with a big Marleyesque ballad and a stripped-down acoustic number. Modern-day roots reggae doesn’t get any better than this.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment