Ahh, now I understand something of why Guyana identifies itself more with the islands just to their north than with their immediate neighbours in South America. This album, straight from Guyana, is Jamaican in feel, with touches from across the Caribbean (and beyond), yet wonderfully unique all the while. I’ve come to love it.
The CD starts dramatically with a memorable paean to Africa—if anything ever deserved the word, this does: “pae’an n. Song of praise or thanksgiving; shout or song of triumph, joy, or exultation.” With the addition of the word “soulful”, that would pretty much describe what’s going on. A powerful introduction to the album. Musical director, keyboardist, trombonist, composer, arranger and producer Bonny Alves trades lead vocals with Charmaine Blackman on the next song, “Back-biter”, a propulsive big-band tour de force. In “Run From The Devil”, a bass riff sets the mood for another multi-textured and spirited message song.
The highlight for me may be the next track. Who would dare fiddle with Peter Tosh’s militant masterpiece Equal Rights? The Yoruba Singers dare, with a brilliant reworking. The arrangement and vocal approach give the song a different emphasis: not as confrontational and aggressive as the original, but every bit as committed and insistent, and perhaps more realistic, all things considered. Listen for the quick deejay bit in the middle that effectively expands on Tosh’s lyrics. The next track tries to musically argue in favour of creationism, with the non sequitur that we must have been created by a Creator because, after all, we are creative as a species. We’re rather murderous as a species too, so what does that indicate? But hey, the song is enjoyable anyway. I can relate more to the next track, a song of pride in membership in Reggae Ambassadors Worldwide (I’m a member myself). Another tribute soon follows, this one to Bob Marley; it’s an original composition that catalogs Bob’s contributions while quoting briefly from his music and lyrics. The final track reminds us of the way the CD started, with an African-textured, singular plea to “identify yourself with your culture” and “live the African way.”
Like its 1998 predecessor, Consciousness, this album is an appealing, melodic, unpretentious set of (mostly) unforgettable songs. Let’s hope Consciousness III isn’t as long in coming, because the Yoruba Singers, whether created or evolved, are definitely highly talented folks.