Love for music can go a long way. Literally a long way.

Jake Savona, an Australian hip-hop producer, took his love for roots & reggae on a plane across the Pacific. The cargo hold of his flight to Jamaica held a suitcase of beats he had been slaving over for some years. His quest was getting Jamaica’s finest musicians to collaborate with him on a record, like the legendary toaster/MC Big Youth agreed to on “Travelling Man”:

“Travelling man
One town to come, one town to go
One town out there yet still we never know
As the travelling man
All nation, every generation
This is the travelling man…”

Shortly after Jake’s arrival, he set up shop in a remote studio on the Jamaican west coast. The grapevine started whispering. Before the friendly looking Australian could say g’day, he was handing out numbers to local talents who were cutting in line to drop verses on his music. After a couple of weeks of frantic recording, Savona went back Down Under with a rough draft of how “Melbourne Meets Kingston.”

Great, but what does RapReviews need a roots/reggae/dancehall album for?

Kingston native DJ Kool Herc, addressed by many as the officious Godfather of Hip-Hop, was inspired by the earlier quoted legend Big Youth before he came to New York, and started shaking up the Bronx with his massive sound system parties.

Kingston musicians are freestylers in the truest sense of the word. And “Melbourne Meets Kingston” is, in a Caribbean way, a freestyle album. Savona played his pre-composed material to them, and they devised their lyrics on the spot. Anthony B, a veteran with dozens of albums in the making, listened for a couple of minutes to his new project, meditated for half an hour, and recorded “Blaze The Fire” in one take:

“If you want war done
It’s part by part
Peace fi come
Heart by heart
Coulda pink, coulda black, coulda white
Remember let us make a start
East west north south, one love
All about, no grudge
Some a spread, in the scene in the corner
Raise your hands inna the air and sing”

Thanks Elefant Traks, for including a thick booklet with blazingly colorful pictures of the local scene and surroundings. Thanks even more for printing the song lyrics on top of all that eye candy. I’ve dealt with southern drawls and British barks before, but this particular vocab was a little bit out of reach every now and then.

Anthony B. and the others disclosed to me how varied the Jamaican scene is in both sound and content. “Blaze The Fire,” with its Kasbah flutes, snappy electro rhythms and aggressive up-tempo rhymes couldn’t be more different from the mellow live instrumentation of Rootbound System’s “Chant At Dusk.” Rasta man Determine gets heavy on the global community (“Me waan know how the world a run so/Some love war, love buss the gun so”) while Stevie Culture proves ganja doesn’t slow you down on the sensemillia tribute “Herb, herb, herb”:

“Herb is the healing of the nation
Herb it is here since the beginning of creation
So me can a touch it to the younger generation
Said it give i-man good vibration”

Savona upheld a time long reggae tradition by making a handful of riddims instead of producing tracks and attaching one single vocalist to each of them. Respected producers like DJ Premier choose who they lace beats with. Since Savona was considered as an exotic ticket to glory in Jamaica, he could enjoy the same luxury. Determine, Stevie Culture, and Lisa Dainjah did their own vocal parts on the ‘COOLIBAH Riddim,’ an off-beat dancehall tune with blazing trumpets. Savona accustomed each version to the artist’s sound, and also included “Ruckers Hill,” the instrumental version.

“Melbourne Meets Kingston” accounts for twenty-one tracks and just nine rhythms. That could result in musical deprivation, but since every artist is so radically different from the other, you start noticing it only after you listened for the third time. Not every performer can charm the microphone as Big Youth, Anthony B. or Determine can, but every single one makes sure to prove that Jamaican music is more than just black, yellow, or green.

It’s great that Australia gets a premier chance to become up, close, and personal with Jamaican music in this way. For the rest of the world, it is an opportunity to see what reggae music evolved into after Tosh & Marley. A nice calling card for both Savona and his beloved country. How do they feel about Jake in Jamaica?

They call him Mista Savona there now.

Mista Savona :: Melbourne Meets Kingston
8Overall Score