Album Review: Xana Romeo - The Roots Of X
by Gardy Stein
"The Roots of X is me playing my part in putting out my art into the universe with something of substance for the youths, especially the Brave Queens." (Xana Romeo)
A brave queen has spoken - let her voice be heard! Azana Makeda Smith aka Xana Romeo has used the cocoon of immobility forced upon us by the global pandemic wisely, nurturing her talent, her passion and her roots, and coming out of it all with a phenomenal sophomore album: The Roots Of X.
Produced by her brother Azizzi Romeo and Omar "Jallanzo" Johnson, nine tracks were carefully crafted for this release; without doubt, this number is no coincidence, as "nine" represents the feminine and stands for self-awareness and global consciousness in numerology. A fitting firstling for Xana's newly founded label Xana Romeo Music!
With her music, this young artist is on a mission to provide what is often lamented as missing in the current output of Jamaica, namely Roots, spirituality and culture. As for that intention, already the first track hits home. Starting with a heavy drum roll, djembe percussions and finely tuned horns, Holy speaks of the firm conviction that we are "guided and protected by the hands of the Almighty".
The subsequent Africa Is Calling offers a wider range for Xana's unique vocals to unfold. Although the track is Reggae in its core, the singer takes an interesting approach to it. Flitting in and out of the steady structure of the riddim, she doesn't follow any typical verse-chorus-verse pattern, rather returning to the central Mama-Africa-theme from different directions and styles, like a butterfly coming back to its favourite flower.
Speaking of favourite plants: up next, Marijuana Culture is "reaching out to every Ganja farmer, and all true lovers of marijuana, all Rasta man and Roots dawtas...". With a heavy Dub riddim to back up her charges, Xana condems those who profit from the decriminalization of Ganja in Jamaica to the detriment of the original Rastas who have been small-scale farmers all their lives.
Celebrating the Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed upon Judy Mowatt in November 2020, Brave Queen is an ode to this strong woman - and all the young girls growing up. A cover of Mowatt's 1979 song Slave Queen, it speaks about self love and the need to "remove those shackles from your minds".
A collaboration between Xana, Azizzi and their uncle Linford "Blacklindy" Lambert, Spiritual Guidance is back with fine Roots Reggae, garnered with melodica harmonies by Addis Pablo and some deeeeep lyrics by the siblings Romeo - lyrics you have to listen several times to catch the full meaning of. "Do you realize we're spiritually lost and these are serious times?" Word!
The only other featured appearance on the album is the royal father himself. Max Romeo joins his daughter in the thought-provoking Youths First, a plea to stop the egoistic actions of adults and put the young generation into focus, as tomorrow they will have to live with the consequences of the decisions taken today. Treat them with care!
Probably the brightest tune of all, For My King is an uplifting love song filled to the brim with joy and gratitude. Though it could be speaking to any loved person, it was written explicitly for Xana's son, and the emotional source she's drawn these lyrics from is tangible in the way she sings. "I have forever and I chose to share it with him, a river of love flows within and it's all for my king!"
An homage to Greenwich Farm in Kingston 13, Product Of The Ghetto talks about the humble dwellings of family Romeo back in the days. The track is more experimental than the rest, a dark, piano-dominated affair of which only some guitar skanks and the constant bubbling in the background connect it to the Roots Reggae focus of the album.
Last entry is Born In Sin, the first single of the album that was released in 2020. Confronting us with some painful truths about the current state of affairs in Jamaica and elsewhere (for a more detailed discussion of this subject, read our upcoming interview with Xana Romeo), it puts the responsability of creating a healthy, peaceful environment for our children to grow up in on us - the parents and adults. Yes, this is some heavy stuff to digest, but it's great to hear these serious topics being addressed instead of filling our ears with the shallow blubbering of radio Pop or beach Reggae. This is the real Roots, people!
Says Xana: “The purpose of my music is the message. When someone listens to Xana Romeo’s songs I want them to feel inspired and motivated to carry out any personal self-cleansing by the renewal of their minds.”
Listening to The Roots Of X creates not only a feeling of inspiration and motivation, but also of thankfulness and appreciation. Roots Reggae music is alive and well and seems to be in good hands, even if these are few. Given the magnitude of this release, it's hard to believe that its originators are an incredibly small team of only three like-minded people - Xana, Azizzi and Jallanzo. I pay my deepest respect to these indivuals for the sonic beauty and important message they have endowed the world with!
Xana Romeo - The Roots Of X
DIGITAL RELEASE [Xana Romeo Music, Charmax Music]
Release date: 08/06/2021
02. Africa Is Calling
03. Marijuana Culture
04. Brave Queen
05. Spiritual Guidance feat. Azizzi Romeo & Addis Pablo
06. Youths First feat. Max Romeo
07. For My King
08. Product Of The Ghetto
09. Born In Sin