Sizzla Kalonji, the veteran. After releasing 5 dozen albums and compilations over the last 15 years, we might think a new Sizzla opus would no longer be a surprise nor offer anything new. But we would be mistaken!
Sizzla the unpredictable. The Scriptures, produced by the famed sonic craftsman Lloyd “John John” James, is a seamless, fresh, organic blend of mostly rootsy acoustic cuts melded with the incomparable talent of Jamaican musicians and harmony vocalists, such as Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Fiona Robinson, Connie Francis and Sherida, just to name a few. After his last two roots-flavored albums for Greensleeves, Kalonji is following the same path. But differently.
Sizzla the defender. The album starts off with a captivating opener, World’s Cry, dedicated to the children of the world. Sizzla’s sorrowful lyrics and mellow voice accuse the governments of the world of spending money on bombs and wars instead of children. This emotional track might tempt the listener to believe the entire album will be saturated with bemoaning overtones. Not so fast…
Sizzla the cautioner. The whole world is watching you, be careful because they’re tracking you. With The World is Watching, Sizzla and rapper Peter Jackson (who compellingly delivers a few hard-hitting bars) are offering a more energetic track on a bass-driven, hip hop infused beat.
Sizzla the optimist. Then we’re caught off-guard with a radical change of tone. Big time. In Jamaica is a joyful tribute to his homeland. With lyrics like “Poor people live decent” and “Things run different” Kalonji delivers an anthem with a decidedly positive message. Finally. How many songs have you heard in the past about a troubled Jamaica? Probably more than you have fingers to count them. Not that I don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for the Royal Family of Reggae, Morgan Heritage, but to my ears’ guilty pleasure, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Jamaica through Sizzla’s vocals.
Sizzla the soul cleanser. The reggae horns and strings on Cleanse My Soul will open hearts and minds to a stirring ode to humility: Sizzla implores Jah to “Wash my hands, cleanse my heart, save my soul”.
Sizzla the religious. Religious professions softly sung over an irresistible melody that will accompany you throughout the day? Sizzla did it! Without a doubt, this track could become everybody’s morning song. At my first listening of Jah is my Shield, I felt like he was taking me on a cultural journey. If being vegetarian wasn’t part of the deal, I would have converted to Rastafarianism by the end of these 3 minutes and 19 seconds.
Sizzla the believer. The title track is another Rastafari anthem, maybe a bit more spiritual. It could easily be used as a holy model to follow. It’s love, it’s faith, it’s treasures from the heart and not from the hands: “Material things will fade”, when “Love is worth more than riches”. And guess what? You can’t help but be carried along in a whirl of strong and positive vibes.
Sizzla the joker. During the first 20 plodding seconds of Jump for Joy, I didn’t really feel like jumping. But as soon as the rhythm speeds up, we rediscover the good old Sizzla that we’ve come to know and love. His cracked, gruff voice and blistering energy starts kicking in, intensely reminiscent of some powerful Jamaican Ragga-Dancehall sound systems.
Sizzla the entertainer. Your best friend’s birthday is coming up soon (or later, that works too). Spread the word, spread the song. Happy Birthday is probably the most entertaining cut of the album. Wait, the most original as well with its Ska overtones. This tune will reinforce the idea that reggae / dancehall adepts are good at celebrations, since “the party’s going and it’s worth taking”.
Sizzla the leader. Last but not least, Music in my soul speaks for itself. This track’s infectiousness is undeniable as “Everywhere you go, everybody knows good music”. While the “Selecta keep on playing”, we are delighted by the buzz running through our veins while listening to this tribute to good music. Our music.
One step back. On Sizzla’s past albums (and generally speaking), not every tune would be a standout, we know that for a fact. The Scriptures is unfortunately not an exception to this rule. This can be seen from songs like Let It be (yes, but let it be somewhere else), which is a reminder to love in all its forms that falls flat, God Bless you Mama which definitely sounds like deja-vu, and I Love You, another quite potent love song. These are just too trivial, too far from Sizzla’s universe. What a Whoa leaves me puzzled. The vibrant and classic “Jah fire will be burning rhythm” is an asset for sure, and even though the Bobo Ashanti movement Sizzla subscribed to in the mid-1990’s was barely delved into by the artist throughout the album, I am still unable to state whether or not I like this song. I’ll let the listener make up their own mind
So even though none of his cuts were truly a disappointment, they were still a notch below Sizzla’s standards and what we’ve come to expect from him.
9/13 With nine standouts out of thirteen cuts, we definitely have a consistent opus here. Much to my relief,I found Sizzla’s fingerprints all over this well-worked rootsy album. The brutal and aggressive Sizzla seems to have found peace and unity here (somebody just whispered Almighty?). This is a grown and mature Sizzla taking you for a smooth, but not sluggish, ride. His gruff tone seems to have been smoothed out to an engrossing sweet and honeyed voice.
One thing with Sizzla, it’s hard to keep track of the numerous albums and compilations he’s been releasing since the beginning of his career in the mid-90’s. But while some artists come and go, Kalonji remains. And he proves his point once again with The Scriptures.
As if his greatness was still to be demonstrated.