Album Review: Cali P & Teka - Vizion
by Steve Topple
It may seem disconcerting at first that a musical outfit would release two EPs, and then combine this content with new material across one album. But with Cali P and TEKA this is not the case at all.
Vizion, released via LowLow Records, sees Swiss/ Guadeloupe artist Cali P and German producer TEKA finish what has been several years of work. Eight of the tracks were previously released across the Vizion I and II EPs. Then, several of the new tracks have been previously released also. But this is of no consequence. Because by amalgamating the two EPs and the newer material, Cali P and TEKA have now given us a rousing and expansive project all in one place – which threads their work of the past few years together perfectly. The album is predominantly a Roots release – but what the pair have done so well is created peaking and troughing of the genre throughout, adding in inflections of, and influences from, other styles too.
Firstly, the tracks from the two previously released EPs showcase Cali P and TEKA’s ‘vision’ very well.
When Things Go Up is old skool Dub: a picked, syncopated bass line is complemented by choppy, bubble rhythm keys, an electric organ hitting staccato chords and some nice synths, samples and engineering. The key here is ‘less is more’, as Cali P and TEKA create an arrangement that ebbs and flows across one basic chord progression. People Want More is also Dub-focused, but the drums verge on Steppers with their pre-Jungle rolls on the hi-hats (but not quite Trap’s rapid buzz rolls) and the kick doing a four-to-the-floor beat – coupled with some pleasing breaks.
But Cali P and TEKA aren’t afraid to tread a more whimsical path, either. When You Hold Me is a modern but authentic take on Lover’s Rock; Crazy moves this theme forward - at its heart Lover’s Rock (check the electric organ’s bubble rhythm and bass on a one drop), but with something of the Trap across the hi-hats’ buzz rolls and syncopated snare. Then, Girlfriend continues with the theme of love but shifts Vizion straight into EDM-influenced AfroDancehall; note that broken Dancehall rhythmic clave (‘oneeeeee-twoo-and-[three]-and-fourrr’) across the percussive line and bass. It almost has something of recent work by Vybz Kartel, with its EDM-like strings, synths and nods to Trap on the drums.
Congo Natty is a winding, fluid Roots-based track that is helped on its journey by an equally winding bass line and the attractive accompaniment of an electric organ. Again, the instrumentation is stripped-back, but pointedly so – with sparse verses but choruses that break out into fuller Roots and an increase in compositional lines. Life Lesson moves Vizion into a merger of Roots and Hip-Hop. Its haunting Roots synth horn line is rasping and shrill, then mimicked by a dampened electric organ while keys run a bubble rhythm. But the drums are harder than Roots – elevating the track into a merging of styles. Then, Baddest is more Roots meets Trap: check the chipmunk vocal samples and the syncopated kick for the latter, and the bubble rhythm and winding bass for the former. Cali P’s performance is far more Trap than Reggae, too - as he does staccato, dotted note stanzas which fire across the composition.
Then, Vizion has its five newer tracks – all of which equally excite.
The previously released Hit Like Gunshot treads an AfroDancehall path, but veering on the side of the Afrobeats elements of the genre with its stuttering percussion. But Cali P and TEKA have included a Roots-style one drop across the bass and kick – creating a musical intake of breath which adds to the unsettling vibes (along with its Afrobeats-meets-Rock guitar line). The Stonebwoy/ Seun Kuti collaboration Rise Up & Shine then moves into straighter Afrobeats with its tinkering balafon and syncopated percussion. But Cali P and TEKA have cleverly given the bass a one-drop on every second bar, nodding to Roots and increasing the stop-start feel. Lilting guitars bring the summery vibes in, the chorus’s melody is infectious – and the combination of the three vocalists make for an extremely pleasing end result.
Heartbreaker is the album’s only track that resembles Afrobeats-RnB. The sparse bassline, which focuses just on one note in the most part stutters and sways. Hi-hats are the drum’s focus, tinkering while the snare intermittently crashes in and out on the downbeats. There’s nice use of kette; a G-Funk whistle makes an appearance, guitars strut and the harmonised backing vocals offset Cali P’s skilled performance perfectly. Innit is on a Roots path while feeling very much more Revival: from that minor key, to the melodic arrangement across the electric organ, the haunting choral backing vocals and heavily syncopated bass – along with Cali P’s Trap-like singjay performance.
But its perhaps Care For Us that is the stand-out of Vizion’s newer material, and possibly the previously released EP tracks too. Merging Roots, Trap and Afrobeats, it’s almost a modern Neo Soul cut in terms of this clever smashing of genres together: dampened keys run a Roots bubble rhythm; the bass swoops across glissandos and strung-out notes that cover most of each bar (like in Trap); pattering Afrobeats djembe tinker in the background and the whole is a perfect embellishment of modern music – creating an emotive and compelling piece of work that lingers in the memory.
Throughout, Cali P as a vocalist is on point. He’s mastered moving between straight vocal, singjay and rap (much like Sizzla on his recent album On A High). From Heartbreaker and When You Hold Me and his old skool soulful vocals (juxtaposed with Crazy’s more modern, laid-back vocal style) to When Things Go Up’s straight-up singjay across its verses and Innit’s merging of this with Trap rap via Baddest’s full-on rap coupled with vocal on the chorus – Cali P has shown himself to be a truly talented artist.
Lyrically, the project is a smorgasbord of ideas and narratives. For example, themes of love are explored, minus any sexualisation, across the Lover’s Rock-inspired tracks. Cali P deals with institutionalised racism and police murders across Hit Like Gunshot, while Congo Natty and People Want More are modern takes on Rastafari teachings and beliefs. Baddest is a tribute to musical legends that have come before. But it’s Cali P’s overly political tracks which are most affecting. For example, Life Lesson’s searing narrative about living under Babylon’s system and how we interact with each other in these shackles. But like its music, Care For Us’s moving lyrical sermon on the real-world effects of the system, directed at Babylon’s proponents, is highly compelling and overall is Vizion’s highlight.
What stands out about the album as a project is that Cali P and TEKA’s thought-processes behind the first two EPs clearly had this point as an end-goal. The older tracks don’t feel out of sync with the new material; the album flows naturally like a rapidly-moving river, weaving in and out of its musical rocks and pebbles, and the breadth of styles covered is impressive without being overbearing.
Overall, Vizion is a brilliant culmination of several years’ work from Cali P and TEKA. Musically inventive, it is as good as any Roots concept album that’s been released recently. Cali P cements himself as an artistic force to be reckoned with and the album is a sterling addition to both musicians’ catalogues. Well worth your time – and definitely theirs.
Cali P & Teka - Vizion
DIGITAL RELEASE [LowLow Records]
Release date: 09/24/2021
03. Hit Like Gunshot
04. Care For Us
05. Rise Up & Shine feat. Stonebwoy & Seun Kuti
06. Congo Natty
10. When Things Go Up
11. Life Lesson
12. People Want More
13. When You Hold Me