Ivory Coast artist Alpha Blondy has been making his take on reggae for thirty years. He may be sixty, and his output may have slowed some in recent decades, but he’s still going strong. His latest album, “Mystic Power,” was in July.
Alpha Blondy is a perfect example of what diversity looks like. His mother was Muslim and his father was Christian. He sings in French, English, his native Dioula, Hebrew and Arabic. He grew up in the Ivory Coast but studied in New York but has also called Paris his home. His music is a mix of African music, reggae, and rock. His music is joyous and angry, often at the same time.
“Mystic Powers” manages to successfully meld these diverse influences. Many of the songs combine driving rock guitars with a lilting reggae beat. The guitars give the songs a hard edge, while the reggae rhythm smooths them out. “Bye bye America,” he sings on “American Dream.” “I’m going back home to Africa/My American dream turned to be a nightmare…I’m living from hospital to hospital/I don’t know what’s wrong/I don’t belong.” It’s a sad song that describes the downside to the American dream that few people talk about. He tempers the fire and bitterness of that song with the hopeful “Reconciliation.”
There is a heavy Bob Marley influence in Alpha Blondy’s music, from his songwriting to his lyrics to his voice. This is made especially clear on the French cover of “I Shot The Sheriff,” but it’s not hard to imagine Marley’s voice over the gentle skank of “Ouarzazate.” Of course, Marley never sang in French or Dioula. While most of the songs on “Mystic Power” aren’t in English, Alpha Blondy’s voice manages to convey the meaning even if you don’t understand the words. Even when the instrumentation gets a bit cheesy, what with the wailing guitars and penny whistles, Alpha Blondy still manages to sell the songs.
“Mystic Powers” has a full sound that combines the best elements of its various influences. It is a strong album with Alpha Blondy and his Solar System band still at the top of their game, three decades on. Alpha Blondy may be sixty, but his message of peace and unity is timeless.