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Sizzla is king

ae055d7035Hip-hop is in the air on Sizzla’s new album Born a King. And so is dancehall, roots reggae and sounds from Africa and the Middle East. Heavyweight Australian producer Mista Savona pulls all the stops and has managed to put out a progressive and blazing mix of styles that fit Sizzla’s fierce and fresh delivery very well.

I heard about this set three years ago when I interviewed Mista Savona. He had just dropped the excellent compilation Warn the Nation and revealed the exciting news. I’ve been longing ever since and the longing became even more intense when singles started to drop. First out was the Errol Dunkley combination Champion Sound, later followed by I’m Living, The Formula, a duet with Vida Sunshyne, and Blessed. All singles have felt like a punch in the face thanks to their pounding beats.

And beats is the right word here. Because Born a King often leans more towards booming 90s hip-hop and dancehall from the same period, yet put in a contemporary habitat with louder bass, clever sampling and the use of a ten piece studio band.

Sizzla sounds more inspired, personal and energetic than usual. He chats, sings, deejays and spits consciousness and combines his sense for melodies and flow over the 15 tracks. On tracks like Blessed, Set it Off and Why Does the World Cry he’s at times so aggressive that those tracks could be used for building up a momentum before a boxing match.

The press release for this album uses words and terms like “breath-taking”, “peak of his musical career” and “one of the best albums of Sizzla’s career”. Usually press releases exaggerates, but in this case I have to agree. It’s wickedly well-produced, balanced and detailed. So this scorching set is definitely one of the strongest sets from Sizzla’s more than extensive catalogue.

Born a King drops on May 6.

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Mista Savona puts Australia on the reggae map

Jake ”Mista” Savona is the leading reggae producer from Australia, and the first to consistently travel to Jamaica to record some of the country’s most acclaimed singers and deejays. Reggaemani got an early morning chat with this well-educated and humble producer.

Australia is not necessarily known for its burgeoning reggae and dancehall scene. Rather pop music and artists and groups such as Kylie Minogue and INXS.

Reggae is according to Jake Savona regarded as a mostly underground style in Australia and is not in the mainstream consciousness yet.

Jornick, Jake Savona and Vida-Sunshyne.

“The scene is fairly small here”, explains Jake Savona over the phone, walking through a park in Sydney in the middle of the day, while I have just woke up and am preparing for breakfast.

Started early
Jake is a classically trained musician and has been playing keyboards such as the piano and Hammond organ from the age of six.

“Playing keyboards gives you different skills. It gives you melody, harmony and composition techniques,” he says.

He learned to play reggae by himself through trial and error, listening to records and also through friends. And he says that the music expertise in Australia is very good.

“I have many inspirations. Augustus Pablo, King Tubby and Lee Perry. That mid 70’s sound. But also the late 90’s and early 2000’s sound, like the Diwali and Coolie riddims. Not much of the music from Jamaica today. It has too much auto-tune and is too generic,” he says and adds:

“I also love electronic music, world music, and vintage Bollywood music.”

Begun with dub
Jake first became interested in dancehall and modern reggae when living in Brixton for a month in 2000. And he clearly remembers when he heard dub for the first time.

“First time I heard real dub was at someone’s house in deep downtown London. Horace Andy was there in person singing, and there were speakers on all the walls,” he laughs, and continues:

“I went back to Australia and started making hip-hop beats with reggae influences.”

Travelled to Jamaica
In 2004 Jake visited Jamaica for the first time, and his first recording there was with Anthony B. Since then, he has been back two times – in 2008 and last year.

While in Jamaica in 2008 he recorded some of the vocals for the wicked Fire Dragon riddim, a clever interpretation of the classic Drum Song riddim.

“I’m a vinyl collector and for that riddim was inspired by Korean music and kung fu soundtracks. The bass line in Drum Song was itself inspired by old 50’s Latin American stuff. My version is in a totally different style. It is Arabic and Middle Eastern sounding,” he says.

The riddim was voiced by chanters such as Burro Banton and Sizzla.

“Sizzla loved the riddim. He jumped around and kept hitting the CD player when I played it in his yard,” he says, and continues:

“He is an amazing guy. Moody and inspired. Reminds me sometimes of Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean. A brilliant character with amazing vocal ability.”

Jake also reveals that he has recorded a full length album with Sizzla, hopefully due later this year. It is a reggae album with some hip-hop, dancehall and dubstep influences.

Important messages
Mista Savona’s latest album is the compilation Warn the Nation. It has been available in Australia for a year, and was recently released in Europe and the U.S through Soulbeats Records in France.

The music was mainly recorded in Australia, while most of the vocals were laid in Jamaica.

The album’s core messages are concerned about the state of the world today and the environment. This is obvious in tunes such as Clean Air Clean Country by Burro Banton and Why Does the World Cry by Sizzla.

“Why do the same things happen again,” asks Jake rhetorically, and continues:

“I want to put out music with a message. Not necessarily about girls, money or consumerism. Plenty of people are already doing that.”

Warn the Nation also features the late Alton Ellis on Chant Rasta Sound. Jake remembers the recording which took place in London.

“It was amazing. Alton heard it [the riddim] and loved it. He went through a news paper to get the words going. I have also done a yet to be released combination with Sizzla on that tune.”

Jake says that he is already planning his next trip to Jamaica, and once the Sizzla album has dropped internationally he will go back and voice another set from the top Jamaican singers and deejays.

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