Sunday, July 10, 2011

Alborosie - Escape from Babylon to the Kingdom of Zion

Alborosie Set to Conquer California

by Justine Ketola
As the liner notes of Alborosie's (Alberto D'Ascola) new supreme set of tracks state:"The greatest Journey of your life starts inside of you. If you do not take that trip, you ain't going nowhere.  Escaping from Babylon...Zion will be there..."  As an American with Italian immigrant grandparents,it was indeed a great day when the discovery of Alborosie's music happened. I listened with glee to track after track of fire blazing from the 7 inches on the Forward label and his first album,  the limited-edition Soul Pirate.  Take a look and give listen to the East. Look through eyes that remind us of the sculpture and paintings of the ancients, an old soul, a real revolutionary.

Alborosie's roots come from the tiny Calabrese seaside village of Palizzi and they stretched to the city of Messina in Sicily where his grandmother was from. Where they have now spread happens to be on the other side of the earth.   Transplanted to Kingston, a rude boy town he immigrated to ten years back,  to push the envelope in reggae  and in pursuit of excellence, he linked with the legendary producer/engineer the Specialist and Gee Jam, learning the intricacies of engineering just as he had taught himself to be amulti-instrumentalist.  As Pupa Albo explains, "I was crazy enough to choose to come to Jamaica actually because when I do something I do it to the max.  So if I am gonna do reggae music, I need to come to Jamaica where reggae music come from."  The lead track on the album"Kingston Town" pays homage to the rudies that have trod for half acentury there.  In terms of clans and gangsters, it is rather similar to the climate of the mafiosi in Italy and its strong national identity with its cuisine, the land and its rich art form, reggae musicalso share a striking resemblance.

The move to Jamaica was not such a stretch, he comes from the south ofItaly which is historically been the less affluent, poorer part of thecountry.  He explains the links to Africa saying "I lived in Sicily so I have actually maybe like 150 miles from Tunisia in North Africa.That is why Africa is my thing.  In Jamaica you know,  Jamaican people are Caribbean people, they are Jamaicans but they are Caribbean people too.  My living in just a little small place just 150 miles from Africa, I must be a North African too.   The fact that I come from the South of Italy I really come from the African culture, so it was actually very easy for me to learn the ting, and to get the real vibe. So I said to myself , 'yo if I am doing this reggae music, I have to do it properly, I have to go to Jamaica and study, I have toget the full.' I decided to leave everthing I had, my band, my family to come to Jamaica and do the ting."

Going by the name Stena he formed Reggae National Ticket at age 15 with the self- knowledge that reggae and its spirit were the path his artistic expression would follow. Now Alborosie is set to conquer America, making his first trip ever to these shores, with a debut on two of North America's biggest indoor stage shows, California's Tribute to the Reggae Legends in San Diego and its sister show, the multi-day Ragga Muffins Festival in Long Beach.  When asked what we can expect as we meet his Jamaica-based band Shengen Clan for the first time, he says with pride, "My musicians are great musicians coming from Kingston Jamaica, I am sorry for California, because we are gonna burn it down. (laughs) I am ready to burn up the place!  As for the make-up of this nine piece crew the personnel is  a one man horn section "with a trumpet and trombone, one guy plays both instruments, two keyboards, drum, bass, guitar and two female singers."

As for the Shengen name, he says, "Shengen is my company, its my new label.  And Shengen band is my band, so the studio is the Shengenstudio. I am still unsure as to the word Shengen's meaning,  so Alboexplains " You need a Shengen visa to go to Europe," (as a performer)stating with a dose of reality, "basically I am the Shengen guy, I canfly the ghetto youth them to Europe."  To further explain, the Shengen Agreement is a treaty that was signed in 1985 that removed systematic border controls between participating countries, now made up as theEuropean Union, which means that performers have 90 days within a period of six months to work and travel.

As for the studio recordings, Alborosie's move to Jamaica didn't mean he worked in with a multitude of recording studios or musicians. "When I came to Jamaica, I didn't have money in my pocket. So I had to do everything by myself because I couldn't pay a musician to play my keyboards, couldn't pay the bass player you know. So I learned everything, including how to engineer. I was a musician already.  I write my own songs, then I learned how to speak Caribbean English.That is why when I do my thing, i go into the studio and do it myself, I dont need nobody."

He set up his own base and like a true artist, his environment provides inspiration and comfort to help reach the source.  "I have my house and the studio at my house, so in the morning when I drink a cup of coffee, I always go to my studio, and I do my thing. So is there no pressure, nobody telling me what to do.  I just go and do my music like an artist is supposed to do. When I go in my studio, I have my underwear, my slippers, drinking my coffee, sitting down in my chair and I start to do what I like."

The songs on his new set, out on VP Records,  ESCAPE FROM BABYLON TOTHE KINGDOM OF ZION were actually released in Europe last summer.  The record is just getting into the hands of the American market which prior to now, only had his limited edition import  SOUL PIRATE to satisfy cravings for his gravelly chant, studious observance of vintage reggae technique, political stance, genuine street sense, and spiritual vibes.  Gemstones that showed up on many specialty reggaeshows, mixtapes and in the dancehall for the past few years, now can show up I-Tunes (or I-Chunes) as the world gets to hear them dazzle.

"I am very blessed, because what I like, is what people like right now so that is the power. And I am trying to keep myself true and keep myself REAL (he emphasizes this), and humble because in reggae there is no superstars .  Cause it is like I am a gospel artist,  or I say I am a Jahspel artist and I am not a Rasta anymore I am a Jahsta so thatis my thing right now.  My philosophy is like, I have my own church,and I am the pastor of my church, so my door is open, anybody who wants to step in, step in, but my music is not competition I am not in a competition with nobody."

It would appear that Albo has received a lot of  inspiration from his surroundings. "I have music at my house like yo, like thousands ofs ongs and whatever so, when I feel like put them out then I put them out." With a nod to foundation engineer Scientist, the cover art reflects the series of illustrations that the veteran has to his credit as a superhero of dub.

The American version of the ESCAPE FROM BABYLON album has several combinations including one with David Hinds of Steel Pulse on the classic "Steppin' Out"  and a slack  and very slick dancehall song,"Blue Movie Boo" sung over Shabba's "Bedroom Bully," a retouched riddim with a chorus that uses the patois term for porn flicks. Like his mighty European counterpart Gentleman, who learned patois from life amongst Jamaicans and with whom he has a combination ("Celebration") from the past, reggae music taught him English. But he clarifies this to say,  "Actually females, they teach me English,when you come to Jamaica, with the girls, you have to learn it quick so you know how to defend yourself."

The most gracious of all the combos is the Dennis Brown "Can't Stand It" duet.  Its intro is chanted in one of the moody vintage vocal styles of Albo singing,"Joe Gibbs, Respect for Life."  Alborosie explains how the record was created, "Well you know Dennis Brown is the King. Joe Gibbs is  a friend of mine and I got a tape from him, so I say 'Oh let me do the remixes and whatever.'   My music is very similar to hip hop music, that is the formula I use.  Because in hip hop we do samples. I don't really sample music, cause I play over my music. I am a musician so I play over everything. I used Dennis Brown vocals and I combined them with mine and I create this music."

With some of the hardest songs coming out of Jamaica, a banned video in "Herbalist," the question arises, does Albo get positive attention,big respect on the streets? As he is asked this, a car alarm sounds very nearby... like a dancehall horn, setting the tone for his response. "Ya well you know one thing about me is that I am a revolutionary.  When I do a song, my song have to say something, and in reggae you have a tradition that they sing about the politicians. I am not scared to do a song and call people names, I have a song whereI am talking about the Italian Prime Minister, I am talking about the brutality of the European police, especially in Uppsala in Sweden,where they have power and they actually abuse it.  One day they are gonna lock me up, they don't care.  I am a soldier so I want to die on the battlefield."

As one of the albums tunes, "Dung A Babylon" a sing say:  "We're moving out of Babylon and we no fear no one, no pope, no cop no politician."

The imagery he evokes in the music takes you from Sicily with a straight, sure shot to Africa and Ethiopia.  We are reminded of theo ccupation of Ethiopia and the fact that Emperor Haile Selassie  stood up to the Italian army with fighters that were bearing spears and shields. As Albo plainly puts it, just as he must have reasoned many times over to the idren in the reggae and Rasta scene, "So basically Italians went to Ethiopia and tried to war against the Emperor,Italians they crucified Jesus Christ, so it must be an Italian to comeback and burn the fire."

Alborosie  carries the torch of the revolutionary as a "Jah activistand true spiritualist" as he sings in "Humbleness" - making his wayoutside of Europe to shine his light, spreading the message further."Reggae is very big in Europe and in Italy. Cause we always use reggae in a good way to fight against the system from day one in Italy. We used to do it in our language, reggae was the music that we were using to fight the system.  We have a big political scene where actually there are fascists.  That is the only way we can fight, through reggae music and conscious lyrics, and political music.   Many of us they just lock up in jail  because of that, but I am still fighting and I still do what I am supposed to do."

On the roots and culture song "America," his vision is clear. "America come to fire the big gun, stars and stripes is not my salvation, them wan fi globalize the world with the Americanization." With the the chorus, "America, call back your soldiers, move way from Africa." And with echoes of a hook once sung by Peter Tosh, in "Get Up, Stand Up," Albo chants, "sick and tired of political games, America fire guns ina Jesus name." And using a great simile he addresses more reality,"you have to wash your dirty clothes in your own water and stop abusing the resources inna Africa."

The anticipation is building in the social network world where Alborosie is popular and prolific.  As shows are announced, peoplere mark with joyful status updates and multiple languages around the globe. When asked what his feelings are in anticipation of his debut in California, his response reflects the mystique that the Golden State holds for many worldwide.  "Well my plan is to just enjoy myself, you know when I was young I  watched TV shows talking about California and so to me I am like 'Yo I am going to the spot, I am going there.'  But I am not going there for vacation, I am going there to conquer so just be patient, I will be there and I will do my thin gand mash up the place! I am  gonna blaze up the fire, gonna be like 100% love and unity, and its all good."

According to the lyrics in the track "Rub A Dub Style" California must have already come to him.  He gives quite a healthy big up to Mendocino, the name of a Nor Cal county that is known for its fine wines and "growing" climate. "Rub A Dub Style" pumps a mean bass linewith the refrain, "Big Ganga Lee him a dance Rub-A-Dub, the Specialist him a dance Rub A Dub, Shengen Clan them a dance rubba dub, New York posse them a dance rub a dub,  Mendocino massive them a dance rub a dub, Miami inna rub a dub style, California man a dance straight rub a dub, long time Pupa him a push rub a dub, Pupa eat, papa sleep rub a dub."
And so it go, the man who looks to conquer California has plans to
spread his music throughout  the world as a non-Jamaican reggae singer
with similarities to his French speaking cohort Alpha Blondy from
Ivory Coast.  Albo is clearly influenced by this freedom fighter
singing a spiritual tune on ESCAPE FROM BABYLON TO THE KINGDOM OF ZION
called "Irusalem" that interpolates the chorus to  the song
"Jerusalem"  by Alpha.  And as he takes the world by firestorm, he
leaves clues as to the path he will blaze. "What we are doing is the
worldwide tour, I just came back from Mexico, after California for
five dates we are going to Europe for seven weeks.  Then we come back
to Jamaica, then we go to Costa Rica.  Then we are going to New York,
Baltimore, on that side.  Then we go back to Israel, then we are going
to Brazil, Australia, going to Chile, we are going all over the world
this year."
And so it go, the man who looks to conquer California has plans to spread his music throughout  the world as a non-Jamaican reggae singer with similarities to his French speaking cohort Alpha Blondy from Ivory Coast.
Albo is clearly influenced by this freedom fighter singing a spiritual tune on ESCAPE FROM BABYLON TO THE KINGDOM OF ZION called "Irusalem" that interpolates the chorus to  the song "Jerusalem" by Alpha.  And as he takes the world by fire storm, he leaves clues as to the path he will blaze. "What we are doing is the worldwide tour, I just came back from Mexico, after California for five dates we are going to Europe for seven weeks.  Then we come back to Jamaica, then we go to Costa Rica.  Then we are going to New York, Baltimore, on that side.  Then we go back to Israel, then we are going to Brazil, Australia, going to Chile, we are going all over the world this year."

No comments:

Post a Comment