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Album Review: Akae Beka - Living Testament


by Gardy Stein

Album Review: Akae Beka - Living Testament

A testament (from the Latin verb testari, which means 'to witness') is the last will of a person, revealed after he or she has passed away; usually, it comes in written form, signed and sealed. It is thus only fitting to call the last album recorded by the great Vaughn Benjamin aka Akae Beka a Living Testament, as it is a musical preservation of his thoughts, his words and his voice, and because music never dies.

The 11-track album was recorded at Ras Biblical’s studio Trinity Farm, California, in October 2019, just weeks prior to Vaughn's untimely passing, and it thus represents his final full studio work. And what an oeuvre it is! Clad in the beautiful artwork of Ras Elijah Tafari, it brings together instrumentalists such as Manuel "Go A Chant" Guerra (bass), Denfield "Ras Pulse" Potter, Walker Pillow (guitar), Scott Lynwood Davis (drums & percussions), Befekadu Assefa (keys), Pablo Trombon (trombone), El Chispa (trumpet) and Tuff Lion, their efforts crowned with Vaughn Benjamin's unique songwriting (or teachings, rather).

A distant thunder. Heavy rainfall. Nyabinghi drums. And then this voice: "Exquisite morning, Hallelujah…" Stone Of The Corner opens the album with a reflection on precious foundations and the power of the trinity. It is followed by the much quicker paced Going On A Mission which speaks about the joy it brings to share out wisdom and music on stages and festivals, "lifting the level of intelligency" and "living in health and prosperity". Similarly fast (so much so that Vaughn's delivery almost seems a bit rushed here), Reforms Unseen strays from the overarching reggae roots of the album and brings in a jazzy vibe, with the addition of an underlying heartbeat that leaves us a bit breathless.

Back to smooth, Rebellion Running touches on several subjects, as is the norm for this outspoken singer (the subsequent All Around Man Yard and Holding The Amen Key are other examples of his multiversal focus). Most of all, it seems to give us hope that times of war and conflict can be overcome: "The peace of the world is in the people's hands, let hearts be fertile to receive goodness, let souls be receptive to rationale and reason". Hear that, Mr. Putin?! The track is richly laden with mighty horns, most noticeable in the fine instrumental part added at the end.

Keeper Of The Gate is a very personal reflection on Vaughn's journey and world view, stressing the importance of faith and conversations, while Who Is The Rejector asks mankind at large why peace and truth are continually rejected by so many, throughout history. "When the waters of flood receded, man just indulged in wickedness again." Will we ever learn? Almost like a practical guide to betterment, Cream Of Joy tells us that "there's work to do in life", that we should "better be behaving civilized" and be in constant "exchange of hugs and smiles".

Instant favorite, Who Will Go For Us is a masterpiece of musical arrangement. Bright chords, beautiful brass harmonies, melodious guitar lines and relaxed drums and bass that invite swaying and dancing… oh, the sweetness! No doubt inspired by this positive energy, Vaughn weaves a biblical tale into these notes, and we hear about Phineas, Samuel, Eli, Jezebel, David and others from the Book of Kings. The musical grandeur is reflected in the accompanying video, filmed completely in Ethiopia by Kirubel Bacha and starring the young lion Kebra Piimentel Ricketts.  

The album closes with the driving steppas beat of S On The Chest onto which Vaughn shoots out his words in a monotone, hammer-like manner. It takes several rounds of listening to understand and process every line uttered, but then again, this is the one intention of Akae Beka's music – to listen over and over again and decode the messages brought across by this spiritual teacher.

As much as the release of Living Testament reminds us of the painful truth that Vaughn Benjamin has left us in the physical realm, it is truly a joy to behold these new musical creations by such a great spirit. Thank you, I-Roots Records, for making this possible! The album comes in physical copies on CD and vinyl which even include a printed poster - a Living Testament indeed!

Release details

Akae Beka - Living Testament

Akae Beka - Living Testament

DIGITAL RELEASE [Trinity Farm Music / Go A Chant Productions]

Release date: 02/16/2024


01. Stone Of The Corner 
02. Going On A Mission 
03. Rebellion Running
04. All Around Man Yard
05. Who Will Go For Us
06. Holding The Amen Key 
07. Keeper Of The Gate
08. Who Is The Rejector Who Is The Reductor
09. Cream Of Joy
10. Reforms Unseen
11. S On The Chest