Review: Midnite - Same I Ah One EP
by Angus Taylor
By this time of year the reggae blogosphere is compiling top ten lists or googling cover versions of Christmas songs and Auld Lang Syne. But Laurent "Tippy I” Alfred of I Grade Records in St Croix, US Virgin Islands – and one third of production trio Zion I Kings – has his eye on the year ahead. 2014 albums are in the works from St Croix’ Midnite, St Thomas’ Pressure Buss Pipe and St Catherine, Jamaica’s Lutan Fyah. These three unite on this powerfully flavoured taster EP – ostensibly to shout the Midnite release Beauty For Ashes, due in January.
Though their output has slowed of late, on average Midnite’s various branches issue around 3-5 projects annually. All will attract their faithful – the people that take pride in “getting” the dread slow pace, the “less is more” approach to production from Ron Benjamin, and the “more is less” condensing of multiple topics into one tune by autodidact singer-chanter-poet Vaughn Benjamin. But their standout of recent years was 2011’s Kings Bell produced by Andrew Bassie Campbell (with help from Tippy) whose uptempo hook laden rhythms brought Midnite to a wider audience. And while Midnite have worked with I Grade since 2002 this looks to be another attention grabbing project – mainly due to the aforementioned three artists recording and vibing together.
The EP consists of seven tracks – five of which are different mixes of the flagship song Same I Ah One: a combination between Vaughn and Pressure – VI reggae’s two most well-known vocalists. True to the title Benjamin interconnects science, nature, politics and community as all being part of a single sprawling network of knowledge. Yet Vaughn yields the lion’s share of lyrics to Pressure – who takes two verses, the second in an unusually deep deejaying delivery (which may have been pitched down). The other compositions continue the formula - with Vaughn taking the chorus and giving his guests the first verse each time. When Jah Arise gets a great performance from the not always consistent Lutan Fyah and Weather the Storm enlists quavering voiced I Grade stalwart Ras Batch.
“It’s a cold world” sings Pressure, and these haunting mid-tempo rhythms are bleak and austere yet also mystical and ancient in sound, crested with mournful horns calling to antique times and faraway lands. Each has a questing, inexorable partnership of drum and bass like that of Style Scott and Flabba Holt of the Roots Radics (at the risk of sounding like one of those people who corner you to tell you VI reggae IS the second coming of the roots era in Jamaica – rather than its own thing). The slightly alt rock guitars give a flavour of Midnite’s fellow Washington DC live scenesters Bad Brains (although when asked in an interview, Vaughn said he’d never heard of them).
The remixes of Same I Ah One are particularly interesting – transporting Vaughn’s aching otherworldly voice into the realms of reggae related bass music. They come from Andrew Moon Bain of Lustre Kings (in his Digital Ancient alter ego), Illuminati Congo’s Nic the Graduate and Liondub (whose jungle mix in particular puts a rocket under Benjamin’s words and deserves to cross over).
There are several levels of Midnite – some of the slowest and most fundamental are too deep for many. But this is one that general fans of good roots music can enjoy. On the basis of this EP, Beauty For Ashes could be the Midnite album to catch the public’s ear the way Kings Bell did. It also suggests the Pressure and Lutan Fyah albums could make 2014 Tippy’s year.
Midnite - Same I Ah One EP
DIGITAL RELEASE [I Grade Records]
Release date: 12/17/2013
1. Same I Ah One feat Pressure
2. When Jah Arise feat Lutan Fyah
3. Weather The Storm feat Ras Batch
4. Same I Ah Dub feat Pressure
5. Same I Ah One feat Pressure (Digital Ancient Remix)
6. Same I Ah One feat Pressure (Liondub Remix)
7. Same I Ah One feat Pressure (The Graduate Remix)