Album Review: Sizzla - Born A King
The life of an internationally renowned reggae artist at the level of Sizzla Kalonji is interesting with regards to the recording landscape. After dozens of albums, and crisscrossing the globe, the artist now encounters enthusiastic producers, record labels and impresarios from all corners. This latest release comes from a production and label team out of Australia. Although some of the tunes were recorded right in Sizzla’s own August Town Judgement Yard studio complex and other production studios in Kingston, some of the music’s instrumentation and mix also took place in Australia, with some of the vocals and the final mastering completed in London. The programming is primarily by Jake Savona and is as varied as they come, showing the possible inspiration for the collaboration, that Sizzla is inspired by the forward thinking style of the production.
As is also the case in these times, artists and producers team up to try different strategies in the studio or perhaps return to the music’s dub, version or b-side roots. This album features tunes and remixed versions of the tunes in the album sequence, as acoustic or dancehall versions.
The title track Born A King is a strong, well-mixed drum and bass groove with interesting percussive and keyboard sounds mixed with haunting delay. The singjay chants eloquently over the intriguing groove, “poor man struggling, a money we a look, cause the bills have to pay and the food got to cook.”.
Vintage artist Errol Dunkley teams up with Kalonji on Champion Sound which is a call for unity, and a plea to ease off of the trash talking. This tune’s groove is so deep, its like a live in-studio band and vocal session. The chemistry is evident with both the artist’s writing and the production style melding together magically. The difference between this and an actual live session is that samples and loops of Sizzla and Dunkley’s chants carry out the groove in a dubby symphony.
Champion Sound is remixed with the addition of Turbulence in more of a dancehall groove version of the melody lines and is placed later in the album sequence. It’s great to hear Turbulence in this mix, with his strong falsetto punchlines punctuating the symphony.
For Blessed the team pushes a bhangra-style riddim for Sizzla to chant over, imploring people to provide blessings for the poor, “it will make your life better” over a ragga track that will shake the foundations of Babylon.
An interlude song...a fragment is included in the album sequence, expressed from the first person, singing in a glorious tone Sizzla says “that he is living for the poor and giving what he’s got and more”. The song’s take is stopped, a rewind sound sample is delivered as Sizzla says, “pull up that one deh” over live drums, solid bass and guitar sounds.
This interlude is the segue to I’m Living which is arguably the largest song on the album, destined to be a chart topper with its easy chorus and serious message to the bigger heads and careful production complete with melodica and “Flyers”-style cymbals in the front of the mix.
I’m Living resurfaces at the end of the album in the form of an acoustic version that features the percussion of the great Bongo Herman, which is sung over a sweet acoustic guitar and nyabinghi base, further showcasing the strength of the song idea.
For Set It Off a strong R&B styled groove sets the pace as Sizzla chants lyrics to the love interest, a special request for her to get “in the zone” with graphic bedroom antics here, not for the prudes, a fun romp for the singjay.
In Got What It Takes more R&B grooves shake up the power structure, suggesting that people have “got what it takes” to make “this world a better place”. Sizzla sings his feelings that we must “live in love”, over a charming, soulful riddim that looks to the future by taking some clues from music’s past.
An interesting acoustic version of Got What It Takes resurfaces at the end of the album, a testimonial on the mission at hand as it hints at Sizzla’s “second chance” at life, perhaps following his motorcycle accident in 2011. Again Bongo Herman’s nyabinghi-kete drum and other percussive elements sweeten the message.
On Cold War Jake Savona produces a brilliant, modern hip-hop, drum and bass - styled groove for Sizzla to chant over, his message is to avoid the warmongers….with a shout out to Malcolm X, to “protect yourself, by any means”.
A deep roots tune, Give Jah Praise features the late Alton Ellis who sings stunning chorus and background vocals as cymbals crash and melodica gently intertwine in Sizzla’s prayer. Alton Ellis has a brief solos where he vamps key phrases from the Rasta lexicon, closing the song with the simple words, “His Majesty….Selassie”.
A courageous effort here for all involved, perhaps the global reach of the team will mean that Sizzla’s songs and progressive sound will reach out to wider audiences and open the minds and ears of more for the music and true message of Rasta which is love and respect for our differences and cultures.
Sizzla - Born A King
DIGITAL RELEASE [Muti Music]
Release date: 05/06/2014
01. Born A King
02. Champion Sound feat. Errol Dunkley
05. I'm Living
06. Set It Off
07. Big Man Ting
08. Got What It Takes
09. Why Does The World Cry
10. The Formula feat. Vida-Sunshyne
11. Cold War
12. Champion Sound Remix feat. Turbulence
13. Give Jah Praise feat. Alton Ellis
14. Got What It Takes (Acoustic)
15. I'm Living (Acoustic)