Album Review: Samory I - Strength
by Gardy Stein
One of my favorite Jamaican expressions is "to give someone a strength", meaning to lend someone a hand, to help a fellow human being. It can mean both material assistance, as in providing a certain amount of money or any other physical thing needed at the moment, or spiritual support, as in listening to a brother's worries or a sister's problems and taking action to alleviate their pain. With the new release Strength by Jamaica's new roots sensation Samory I, the term receives a whole new dimension of meaning – a musical one, of course, but also a profoundly personal one, as it is livicated to the artist's son Jahseh, who was given the nickname Strength by their community.
The eleven tracks on the album have been produced by musical mastermind Winta James, and his signature sound marries extremely well to Samory I's unique voice and his evocative lyrics. Straight from the first notes of the opening track, that special Winta-feeling is taking over: the goosebumps, the chills, the extraordinary sonic experience that captivated us when starting Protoje's Ancient Future (back then it was the song Protection) now leap at us again as soon as Outside starts to play. That bass, those cascading synthies, that heavy rockin' guitar dropping at 00:45, and then Samory's vocals, perfectly accentuated by Lila Iké, who joins in smoothly to express the pride and gratitude felt for the achievements made "from humble beginnings"… And, while writing these words, the visuals are released, and they are pure fyah – chapeau, Ruption, for this energetic treasure. Forever outside!
The excitement thus created will carry you through the whole album; in fact, it might have hit you already with the three singles released previously. Blood In The Streets, the first of them, is out for a year now, and comes with an stunning video, too (again produced by Ruption). It paints a grim picture of the harsh realities in violence-stricken communities, not only in Jamaica, but all over the world where the gap between rich and poor is ever widening and state institutions only seem to protect the upper class. Winta James has found the exact right pace with his road-movie-like instrumental, Latin guitar and all, to enable Samory I to calmly spin his story over, and the result is simply amazing.
Similarly impressive both in beat and visuals, Wrath takes this narrative to another level, bringing two more celebrated freedom fighters to the mic. Kabaka Pyramid kicks off the reckoning, settling accounts with the country's elite, corrupt leaders and loose morals. In comes Samory I with the chorus, telling us that "this ya generation nah tek nuh talk", before the Fireman aka King Shango aka Capleton takes over. The video, directed by 300K, shows the three artists in different settings, uniting around a blazing fire at the end. While their appearances are held in color, the accompanying storyline is shot in black and white to great effect, depicting youths shouting for freedom and holding up signs saying "Stop sell out Jamaica!", "Clean up your corrupt system", "We need more jobs, not high taxes!", "Where is the crime plan?" and "No justice no peace". Powerful!
Crown, the third single, takes a much more introspective view, describing how Samory copes with the challenges around him, and how he positively impacts his surroundings. It is one of the more reggaeish pieces of the release, only surpassed by the deep roots of My Son, a heart-rending, multi-layered reflection on the different dimensions of the term (grand: the brass, especially the trombone in the second half!), and Jah Love. The latter, dominated by a simple but strong bassline, is a touching profession of faith, illustrating how the love of the Most High, once found and embraced, will carry you through dark and difficult places. "Show no hate, hold no grudge, feel Jah Love, Jah Love, through the rain and the flood, know Jah Love!"
While both Ocean and Stormy Nights show a more tender, playful side of the artist (and the producer!), the remaining three songs are serious stuff again. Featuring fellow daddy Jesse Royal, Continent discusses both historic and economic concerns and emotional attachment to as well as aspirations for the motherland on an accelerated Nyabinghi beat, calling for unity: "Know that the best is yet to come, when we move as one!"
The last guest appearance that warrants special mention is Mortimer. Both artists exploit the whole wide range of their voices to convey the urgent plea of "switching the balance from a" History Of Violence – a lyrical, vocal and instrumental masterpiece! With the final track Harvest, this churning ride through deep emotions, uncomfortable truths and beautiful music comes to an end. Once more, Samory I gives us an understanding of the bleak realities poor people live every day, stressing their resilience and the hope that lives in every new day: "Ghetto life is the hardest, but my people ain't godless, whether famine or harvest, we give praises regardless. Every ghetto youth is a winner!"
Strength is an extraordinary oeuvre, combining intelligent compositions with equally clever songwriting and that under-your-skin voice of Samory I – an artist that has stories to tell which deserve every bit of our attention!
Samory I - Strength
DIGITAL RELEASE / CD / VINYL [Easy Star Records, Overstand Entertainment]
Release date: 11/17/2023
01. Outside feat. Lila Iké
03. Blood in the Streets
04. Continent feat. Jesse Royal
05. My Son
06. Wrath feat. Kabaka Pyramid & Capleton
08. Stormy Nights
09. History Of Violence feat. Mortimer
10. Jah Love