Since Alpha Blondy has increasingly moved towards rock and pop music, Ivorian reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly is Africa’s king of reggae. At least if you ask me.
On his new album Racines – Roots in English – he travels back to his roots and covers some of the songs he danced to as a youth. He has re-shaped eleven mostly classic reggae joints, cuts originally voiced by reggae luminaries such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Max Romeo, Burning Spear, Junior Byles, Buju Banton, Junior Murvin and Alpha Blondy.
To recreate their masterpieces he is joined by Ken Boothe, Max Romeo, U Roy and Jah9 on vocals along with Sly & Robbie as riddim section. The foundation of the album was recorded in Jamaica and it was later overdubbed in Mali adding traditional African instrumentation. The result is excellent and Tiken Jah Fakoly presents his own versions of these classics and gives them a new bright shining light.
According to the press release Tiken Jah Fakoly has previously not really allowed himself to record cover versions. And with this album he certainly pays a very personal homage to some of the artists and musicians that helped to create reggae. As Bob Marley once said, and quoted in the press release, “reggae will come back to Africa”.
The African reggae scene is more or less synonymous with three artists – Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly from Côte d’Ivoire and the late Lucky Dube from South Africa. But the African continent is huge and there are of course other well-known singers like Majek Fashek from Nigeria and newcomers like Takana Zion from Guinea and Selasee from Ghana.
Another reggae artist hailing from Ghana is Rocky Dawuni and just like Selasee he today lives in the U.S. On his sixth and latest album Branches of the Same Tree this humanitarian activist straddles the musical dots connecting Africa, the Caribbean and the U.S. to create a tasty set filled with positive vibes, infectious melodies and catchy grooves.
Included are mainly elements of afrobeat, roots and global pop with sing-along choruses along with influences from funk and samba. The eleven track set features a line-up collecting acclaimed musicians like Michael Franti & Spearhead, Steel Pulse, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals and Ziggy Marley.
The album title reflects global unity and Rocky Dawuni recognizes mankind’s common roots and that we are all branches of the same tree. His inspirational messages of harmony and solidarity are set to solid rhythm tracks and several of the cuts are dance-inducing anthems, for example the irresistible first single African Thriller, the radio-friendly album opener Shine a Light with its syncopated rhythm and a devastatingly funky cover of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’s iconic Get Up, Stand Up.
But Branches of the Same Tree is not all about fun and dance. It also collects a few more melancholic moments like the acoustic Butterfly and Island Girl, which is a tropical version of song written by Bob Marley, but never formally recorded by the legend.
With Branches of the Same Tree Rocky Dawuni showcases a fresh and varied sound that is easy to fall in love with.
Tiken Jah Fakoly and Alpha Blondy are two of Africa’s brighest shining reggae stars. Their music share a number of features, like diverse instrumentation, but when Alpha Blondy today leans much towards rock and pop, Tiken Jah Fakoly stays true to his roots offering an irresistible mix of tough roots reggae and influences from his native Ivory Coast.
Tiken Jah Fakoly’s latest album is titled Dernier Appel [Last Call], and on this ten track set he calls for peace and equality for his people, but also tell tales from the African continent.
He has for a long time been one of the best-selling African artists, and when listening to this excellent set it’s easy to understand why. The set is vibrant with lots of different instruments involved, which might add to the busy and bouncy feel throughout the album.
Percussion is heavily used, particularly on the galloping Dakoro, and so is monumental bass lines. Just check The Nneka combination Human Thing or the sharp Le prix du paradis [The Price of Paradise]. It’s also hard not to get engaged in the Patrice combination Too Much Confusion, with its dramatic strings, or the clever version of Max Romeo’s War in a Babylon, fused with John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance to get an even stronger message across.
Tiken Jah Fakoly has always been an outspoken social critic via his music, but he also manages to deliver strong melodies and infectious songs, partly thanks to the use of uplifting horns, grand backing vocals and bombastic choruses. Plenty of sunshine accompanies his stories of oppression, corruption and violence. And Dernier Appel is a real treat even if French is not your native language.
The outspoken and controversial Tiken Jah Fakoly is on June 2 back with a new album titled Dernier appel, in English Last Call. He was born in Côte d’Ivoire and has been the victim of censorship, persecution and exile thanks to his confrontational style forthright lyrics.
The main theme on Dernier appel is whether Africa as a continent will take off and increase growth or if the countries will be characterized by misery, chaos and war, as shown by the recent conflicts in Mali and South Sudan.
Dernier appel offers ballads, roots reggae and Curtis Mayfield styled soul. It was recored in Bamako and Paris with production helmed by Jonathan Quarmby, who has previously worked with Tiken Jah Fakoly, but also Ziggy Marley, Finley Quaye and rock band Del Amitri. Guest artists include Patrice and Alpha Blondy.
Ivorian superstar Alpha Blondy continues to conquer the world with his spicy mix of reggae, rock, pop, funk and traditional African music.
On his latest set Mystic Power the emphasis is however on rock, and several of the 15 tracks contain, in one way or another, way too sleazy, dirty and heavy rock riffs. On tracks like Seydou and Danger Ivoirité it almost sound like Alpha Blondy has invited heavyweight guitarists Eddie van Halen or Slash for a jam session.
But rock guitars aside, Mystic Power also collects the usual grand harmonies, funky and bright horn arrangements as well as catchy choruses and melodies. Included are also a version of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff, the acoustic Pardon and the stompy rock-infused dancehall number Hope with a little too auto-tuned Alpha Blondy sharing vocal duties with Beenie Man.
As usual Alpha Blondy sings mostly in French and English and addresses tough subjects, like recent political events in the Ivory Coast or former French governing.
If you manage to ignore the rock guitars Mystic Power is pretty decent album that’ll probably appeal to a cross-over audience, but for me, the guitars are just too annoying to be excused.