Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Welcome to JamRock: Damian Jr Gong Marley by Su Zi
Reggae music is music of the Americas, but also of an island culture that is dimly perceived by most music listeners. Music in our current culture is in a fairly sad state of affairs, with a sort of apartheid between commercially produced and fairly franchise sounding work, and independent work that gets a cult following at best. In addition, the urban aesthetic of most music—even music that is supposedly the opposite of the urban sensibility, and which calls itself country, is so heavily produced in its sound that authenticity seems more nostalgic than actual—is of a mechanized, formulaic construction that yields any meager expressiveness in a series of lyrics that tend toward emotive clichés. Reggae music, while still firmly of the island culture of its origins, has modernized itself into some mainland tropes, most probably in the interest of commerce.
Thus, refreshingly, this CD by one of the Royal Family of Reggae, Damian Marley is exceptionally welcome.
As unlikely as it is to offer critical political and cultural insight in music anymore, the first track on this CD “Confrontation” opens with an audio tape of a public speech, a bass drum in a marching beat and a voice saying: “ Since the beginning of modern civilization/generations have witnessed and inherited the only conflicts of world wars […] then mother earth shall honeymoon in peace. Forever eliminating the aspirations, lust and anguish of wars and rumors of wars” . The song then moves into fuller instrumentation, with the voice becoming a chant, and the beat being both distinctly reggae in its meter emphasis, but highly hip-swinging at once. This opening track sets a tone of deeper thought than the beach-and-booze/weed vibe of music that too many listeners associate with reggae. The mere mention of mother earth in a song that is not croony-folksy provides a surge of joy to this listener. The song is not a call to arms, it’s a notification of revolt already present: “Any day a revolution might erupt/ […] for the new generation rising up”. Yet, the lyrics maintain the modern trope of end rhyme, with a supreme hop-contest scream of exceptionally clever configurations and phrase inversions that almost remind the ear of Whitman.
Marley’s critical thought ranges into the realm of inappropriate behavior in a number of other tunes on this CD, including another danceable mix “In 2 Deep”. With lyrics that admonish” If you're over 10/ and watch CNN/ And believe everything” while repeating “In 2 Deep” after each phrase, the chanted lyrics coupled with a potent metrical structure have a weight that is pleasurable without being flaccidly superficial. This obvious power allows the too rare concept of the song’s message to gain import and influence.
Marley’s effort to teach also includes a paradoxical love song called ‘Pimpa’s Paradise”. To the first listen, the song has the required aspects of a love song-- sweet guitar riffs, a honeyed voice –However, this love song involves the destruction of the beloved as witnessed by the lover. In similar modern songs, the lover boasts of prowess and sometimes of explicit activity; in “Pimpa’s Paradise” the love relationship is unrequited: “ cause coke was a thing that once she first try/was once a blue moon to once a blue sky”. Although the narrative of unrequited love is an archetype, the witness never overtly professes the emotion, but the listener is sure of the sentiment by the quality of the intimate details of the narrative: “now it’s broken crack pipes with lipstick traces/ walks the cold nights red district places”. Eventually, the beloved becomes abandoned when “ Old friends walk pass going ‘bout their own/as if she is someone that they don’t know”, and while the concept of a known person becoming an addicted bit of street trash is a common, modern symbol, this song paints the addicted-abandoned with a tender heart that is entirely different than the self-righteous condemnation typical of this symbol.
In addition to the striking nature of Damien Marley’s lyrics, the quality of the instrumentation on this CD is far above that which is the normative pabulum these days. Utilizing audio and multiple tracks, sound effects, rhythmical variance, song and the rapid-fire chanting familiar to rap listeners, this CD is both nuanced and strong. You Tube shows hits in mere hundred thousand range for a release that’s been a decade in our culture. That the release dates back to the turn of the twenty first century is more of an indication of the very problems that Marley endeavors to illuminate. That the tracks play as booty bumping fresh is all the more reason why this CD ought to be on repeat play on everyone’s dashboard for their daily to- and-fro. Maybe even then Marley’s message will get more into our bones; it’s our shame that any deaf ears be turned now.