Album Review: Raphael - Reggae Survival
by Gardy Stein
Italy seems to be the perfect breeding ground for non-Jamaican Reggae artists. Alborosie, Mellow Mood, Pitura Freska, Train To Roots and Sud Sound System (to name but a few) have established the country firmly among the leading international Reggae Diaspora. A singer that started to add his voice to this circle a few years ago is Raphael. He delivered a highly acclaimed debut-album in 2013 (Mind vs. Heart) and is now back with his second work, entitled Reggae Survival. The title seems boldly chosen, and it is not quite clear what the artist refers to. Will his album secure the Reggae Survival? Is it something he wishes for? Does he need Reggae to survive? There is no title track that sheds light on this question, so let us just assume he contributes to it.
Of course, a Reggae Survival has to pay tribute to the foundation. With a fine re-lick of the Engine 54 riddim, Stock Of Weed does so riddim-wise to The Ethiopians, while lyrically it reminds us of the unforgotten Black Uhuru anthem Sensimilla. Taking the roots connection further, Joker Soundbwoy, out on an island-vibeful video since March, features the wonderful Triston Palmer and tells all new-school DJs that they should at least once play Vinyl and know about Dub plates before calling themselves a proper soundbwoy. Right on! Both songs include another legend: Dean Fraser graces these two with his saxophone expertise, as well as the Mama-Africa-tune Sweet Motherland and the confident Rise Up.
Interesting is the set-up of the titles. Four of the ten tracks are introduced by short Skits, related directly to the album (a radio presenter announcement before Rise Up) or commenting on current socio-political issues (a newsreader before Who Dem A Pree featuring Lion D). Homage is paid to outstanding musicians and politicians as well: Rebel is preceded by a musing about the word "democracy" by Fela Kuti (the logic essence of which, however, eludes me), while part of a speech by Uruguayan Ex-President José "El Pepe" Mujica introduces my personal favourite, Another Peace Song. Not only does it have a goose-bump-inducing bass-line (reminding me of Marley's One Drop) and an equally beautiful melody carried once more by Fraser's saxophone, but also lyrics that appeal to our universal oneness: "Can we be more empathetic? Try to feel your brother's pain! Life today is so frenetic, now we gotta break the chain. Give love!"
The same cannot be said about the track which is placed most prominently at the beginning of the album (and even got a Dub version), however. While the underlying riddim of Dread Inna Babylon is a solid roots production that easily escapes criticism, the lyrics revolve around a too often-heard subject, including too often-heard phrases ("What a rat race!"). Agreed, it isn't easy to find acceptance wearing dreadlocks in certain environments, but this is a fact well known, so once you've taken that step, don't complain. Instead of highlighting dividing borders, let's tear them down!
With Reggae Survival, Irie Ites Records (Who Dem A Pree), Bizzarri Records (Rebel) and the releasing label Sugar Cane Records (all other tracks) did a wonderful job producing never-heard, yet slightly familiar tunes to which Raphael lends his pleasant voice. The result is an organic album that brings consciousness across and might indeed contribute to the spread of Reggae in Italy – the planned tour accompanying the release definitely will!
Raphael - Reggae Survival
DIGITAL RELEASE [Sugar Cane Records]
Release date: 04/22/2016
01. Dread inna Babylon
02. Joker Soundbwoy feat. Triston Palma
05. Stock Of Weed
07. Who Dem A Pree Feat. Lion D
08. Sweet Motherland
10. Rise Up
11. A Place For Me
13. Another Peace Song
14. Dread Inna Dub