Editor’s Note: This review was penned right before the London Olympics.
Here in the UK, well lets be more specific, in London, we are gearing up for the quadrennial corporate sponsorship slugfest commonly known as the Olympic Games. As the gladiators of the track and field do battle, so it is played out in the boardrooms of the huge conglomerates who plough obscene amounts of money into the games but whose sole purpose is not the upholding of the Olympian ideal but rather to make as much money as they can from their tenuous association with sporting excellence.
Within all this though, the Olympics in London has coincided with the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence from Britain, and the two countries’ roots go deep deep down.
Although slightly in the shadow of the Olympics this historic and cultural landmark has been celebrated up and down the country with numerous events marking not only this significant date but also reaffirming the debt that Britain owes to the Jamaican community who helped rebuild England after the Second World War. Jamaicans and other West Indian immigrants not only worked in the manufacturing and transport sectors that badly needed help, but also brought with them their culture, primarily music. Initially this vibrant culture was known only to those black communities due to the racism and general suspicion they aroused in the white working classes of England.
Over time, though, bluebeat and then ska began to permeate the music that British youth would listen to and of course with the rise of Bob Marley in the ’70s, reggae became a global music sound to the extent that it is now heard from India to Brasil and has moved into new sounds and rhythms.
But true reggae still has that Jamaican hallmark that provides a stamp of authenticity for listeners. It might be in the rhythms or the vocal inflections or the production, it might be minute but there will be something that lets you know, this is reggae from Jamaica.
Anthony B, or Keith Blair as his mom knows him, is as authentic as you could get. Born in the Clark’s Town area of Jamaica, he has been outrageously prolific, Freedom Fighters being his 17th album and one of his best. Anthony B is also a Rastafarian, following in the footsteps of his early influences, the aforementioned Bob Marley and also Peter Tosh. And it is Tosh who is most closely recalled on this album.
Anthony B has long expressed and articulated strong political messages in his music, not afraid to stand up for his beliefs, he refused to follow the homophobic and misogynist lyrics of dancehall that was prevalent when he started out and consequently it could be argued this had an affect on his career, or more specifically in commercial gain.
Instead he has continually sought to represent the poor and oppressed through his music, and his steadfastness in his spiritual and social consciousness has seen his audiences grow over time, especially in Europe, and as he has said himself, reggae is “about concepts and ideas you are speaking to people on issues they live and can relate to”.
He continues in this vein on Freedom Fighter and the opening track from which the album gets its name and its opening lines of “Run for cover / Run for cover / Rebel is taking over, right now” leaves us in no doubt on which side Anthony’s bread is buttered. Rise up one and all. The clarity of his delivery and the urgency of his message is completely at one with our times and it really does remind of the great Bob Marley in its sense of rebellion. “No One Knows Tomorrow” is slightly slower, but any artist that can scan the lines “And when we stop and look at democracy / It’s just a pretty face / For bureaucracy” and make it sound uncontrived deserves respect!
On this album, Anthony is backed by the Irievibrations session and production crew and they keep a tight reign on the reggae rhythm grooves. There is nothing new or particularly innovative in the playing but they complement vocals well, never overshadowing them and at the same time the vocals sound slightly lower in the mix and in turn are complemented by backing vocals on tracks such as “Too Hard” and the bouncy, up-tempo album highlight “Born Free”. The track is so engaging you almost miss the hard hitting social content of the song condemning the oppression and subjugation of the poor.
This is a strong album that does justice to Anthony B’s deeply held beliefs. It never feels like he is hectoring the listener. You can easily imagine this album being played loudly at block parties, or for us English at soggy BBQs. But it will also get the heads nodding on the festival route while remaining true to the spiritual home of reggae, Jamaica.
This is spiritual roots reggae, one with a message and one that shares the great Peter Tosh’s revolutionary zeal and belief that music can and does change society.
Fifty years of independence and this small island continues to punch way above it weight on the world stage in so many ways.
Now let’s go watch Usain Bolt mash up the track, it’s just a shame Anthony B won’t be singing the anthems.