Album Review: Akae Beka - Righteous Synergy
by Gardy Stein
The prophet is gone but his words remain.
This simple statement is as true for the 72+ albums Vaughn Benjamin released as Midnite and Akae Beka before his ascension as it is for releases that see the light of day posthumously, such as Righteous Synergy. It is the eigth collaboration between Akae Beka and the US-label Fifth Son Records (a collaboration started in in 2006 with Suns Of Atom), recorded over a three-day-period while Akae Beka was on tour in California in May 2019.
Instrumentalists heard on the album are Harlan Kesson, Peter Willock and Gray LeGere on drums, Legrande Lee and Edmund Filleteau on guitar, Micah Hood on trombone, Ken Johnson on sax, Ryan Montano on trumpet, Ras L and Michelle Chandler on bass, Suren Fenton on piano as well as executive producer John Juaquin Wilson on virtually everything. The result of this analogue approach is a warm, organic sound in all ten songs of the release, weaving its way through your ears and into your heart. In immaculate completion, the words of Vaughn Benjamin are reaching out to your mind as well. His unique vocals and deep understanding of both human nature and linguistics make each piece a sermon best followed with full concentration.
"Is that what they call party? A people gathering in Righteous Synergy..." The title track opens the teachings with a strong female energy, underlined by soft brass contributions and an intimate studio-atmosphere which allows even a ringing phone and Vaughn's chuckle to remain audible on the recording.
Bubble Up calls all "children of the sun" to "keep shining and working on the journey while we're strong", a direct reminder to make sure you spend your time on earth wisely and positively and not get lost in materialism. Not only do these "words of His Majesty bubble up deep from the fountain", but so does the underlying riddim, which has a pulsating vibrancy.
While I will leave Responsible For It, Groove Stampede and Covenant Ark to your own interpretion (feel free to share your thoughts and favourite lines in the comments!), Manger has a strong biblical connection, bringing to our attention both quotes (John 8:7 and Matthew 20:16) and allegories of the Holy Book.
Dominated by unfussy piano chords and a heavy bass-line, Do My Best has an eerie prophetic quality when Vaughn chants "knowing as I do that I did my best for you". The next track, which resides on an extremely comfortable, tranquil beat, tells the story of a little girl who lost her parents and was captured in war, but Became A Queen through a shift of fortunes. On a more abstract level, this tells us that, no matter the current circumstances, you always have the chance to ascend to your innate level of divinity. "What is to be will be!"
Equally decelerated, the simple beauty of African Liberation Talk forms the backdrop to a serious matter, described by its title. "Stop depriving humans, that's enough! Allow them to stabilize and develop!"
The final Spirit Of Love is special in many aspects. First of all, it has a deep Blues rooting, complete with soft cymbals, upright bass and minor organ chords. Second, Vaughn Benjamin, who often chants or speaks his lyrics, really sings on this one, exploiting his vocal range from low to high. And third, the subject of the song is so universal that it seems to encompass all others: "What we are made of, stardust and moonflakes and photons from sun, vapor of breath as an upright fountain, give love sincere over and above."
Deep and multi-layered like the cover artwork by Ras Elijah Tafari, Righteous Synergy continues Akae Beka's legacy, and the voice, wisdom and energy of Vaughn Michael Benjamin will keep guiding us.
Akae Beka - Righteous Synergy
DIGITAL RELEASE [Fifth Son Records]
Release date: 02/26/2021
01. Righteous Synergy
02. Bubble Up
03. Responsible For It
05. Do My Best
06. Became A Queen
07. Groove Stampede
08. African Liberation Talk
09. Covenant Ark
10. Spirit Of Love