Album Review: Proverb Nesta I - Tower Of Babel
by Gardy Stein
So far, this year has blessed us with impressive albums by some of the biggest names in contemporary Reggae: Gramps Morgan, Jesse Royal, Xana Romeo, Sizzla, Etana, Taj Weekes, Alborosie, Pressure Busspipe... the list is long. Their combined output creates a dazzle that is impossible to overlook and occupies our ears and attention almost completely. Almost, however, leaves room for surprises, and indeed there are some rare gems that succeed to shine their light from unexpected places.
One of these surprises is Clive Jonga aka Proverb Nesta I, a young artist from Zimbabwe few people outside of the motherland ever heard of. And still, his is a name to remember. His debut album Tower Of Babel is an incredible piece of work, a testimony of undeniable talent and deep understanding of what Roots Reggae is. Having studied Performing Arts in Bulawayo and Music in Harare, he definitely has the requisite know-how to excel on stage, and since the formation of The Rock Solid Band, he expanded this expertise to studio recordings as well.
For Tower Of Babel, Proverb Nesta I and his band teamed up with producer Victor "Enlisted" Mhonde, and together they created nine tracks of outstanding beauty that will leave you breathless - every single one of them!
As if on cue, the opening Beautiful makes us acquainted both with the high-quality instrumentation, the singer's sonorous vocals and his lyrical genius: "You are beautiful. Beauty draws inspiration from you. All that glitters and the gold can't buy you, an eternity of words falls a little short to describe you." Goosebumps!
And the magnificence is just starting. The next track Conqueror strikes a different chord, literally, riding on a deceptively simple E and D minor progression that's dominated by guitar picks, a melancholy piano and bubbling organs. Nesta's precision of timing and rhyming, of hitting the right notes, as well as his singular way of pronouncing words and unexpectedly weaving them into the music's flow is remarkable.
I-Ternal Happiness speaks of the deep gratitude the singer feels toward life and its creator, and the feeling shining through his words convince us that it's not just empty talk. "My heart tells me secrets that I can't hide, I smile so maybe you get what I feel like, I'm ever grateful for this life!"
This personal approach, the intimacy with which Proverb opens up to his audience, is part of what makes his songs so special. Tales Of A Broken Heart is a prime example of this, and the artist is probably at his most vulnerable here, singing about pain and broken promises over a stripped-down, almost acoustic riddim that gives his emotive voice ample room to unfold.
On an authentic Nyabinghi beat, Lion Roar is a loving homage to Nesta I's father, a touching story of parental support and wisdom shared. Again, it's Proverb's timbre and wordplay that make a great song extraordinary: "It's been you, Daddy, since day one, 24 / 7, yes, 365. Daddy, you're my lion roar, your voice makes me shake but with pride that you're here."
That Nesta I is not only a gifted storyteller but also has a keen sense of what the world needs to hear is proven by the next track as well. South Of Samora talks about the situation in Zimbabwe's capital Harare, more specifically about the Samora Machel Avenue that runs through it (named after the former president of Mozambique). While the northern part is a "sunshine city", as the singer calls it, the southern high-density suburbs are poor areas where "only the strongest stay alive". For me personally, Reggae is at its best when it tells stories like these, informing the world about what's going on elsewhere!
Kings And Queens brings in the polyrhythmic beats of Southern African music, skillfully merged with an underlying Reggae skank, and celebrates the self-confidence and the rise of the "mighty Kings and Queens of Africa". Powerful!
The title track, then, asks "will they finish this Tower Of Babel?". This biblical tale (Genesis 11: 1-9) is one of the most widely known around the world, and it has inspired countless artists to paint, write or sing about it. Proverb Nesta I, whose very name brings to mind the Holy Scripture, adds his interpretation, a modern analogy on a Rock-infused instrumental.
Did we really reach the last song already? Praise Him is the grand finale of the album, captivating once more by harmonious arrangements, instrumental skills, educative lyrics and a vocal delivery that's beyond comparison, diving in resonant depths and soaring to jubilant heights. "You need a living and loving too, Daddy fending is good but we need you, practice love and the young will follow you."
Honestly, I love everything about this release. I love the obvious diligence present in its production, its lyrical complexity, the amazing talent of everyone involved (chapeau to background singers Kimberley Magaso and Mitchell Bafana!), the calm confidence of the cover art and, most of all, this gripping, astounding voice of Proverb Nesta I. Tower Of Babel is a stand-out Roots album with a unique African touch, brought across with passion and love by a singer who may well rise to international stardom soon. All eyes and ears on Zimbabwe!
Proverb Nesta I - Tower Of Babel
Release date: 08/28/2021
03. I-Ternal Happiness
04. Tales Of A Broken Heart
05. Lion Roar
06. South Of Samora
07. Kings And Queens
08. Tower Of Babel
09. Praise Him