Still Living: A review of Eternal Fire by Chuck Fenda
Veteran Chuck Fenda has been, for quite some time, someone who I’ve been sure to give attention to when it came to his album releases. Going back to the days of Fifth Element [“I SWEEEEEEEAR! THAT I WILL NEVER SWITCH! I WILL SWEEEEEEEAR! I KEEP ON GIVING YOU SONGS LIKE THIS!”], the once dubbed Poor People’s Defender (may still be, just haven’t heard that moniker used in quite some time now) (he was also The Living Fire once upon a time) has remained extremely potent, now into his fifties and, again, I was extremely interested — and more than I thought I might be — when I saw that he had new work soon to be released to the masses.
Said project would be his first in quite some time. It was late 2016 when his most recent drop, the slightly more than solid Concrete Jungle reached (the title track on that one, alongside Morgan Heritage, was BOOM! Also check The Experiment, as well as the two closers, God Nah Sleep and Oh Mercyfull Father… there was just some really nice material on Concrete Jungle, looking back), so perhaps that gap of six and a half years or so had something to do with it or maybe I was just damn confident that a new Fenda album had the potential to be, like virtually all of his work, very respectable and maybe even something stronger.
Eternal Fire becomes the artist’s seventh sixth studio release to date (had one live album as well) (biggup 2B1) and, having worked previously with the likes of the aforementioned Fifth Element for his debut, 2004’s Better Days [“Life hard out deh. Seh life rough out deh. Di youth dem seh nah food nuh run out deh. Man ah cry out deh, people ah die out deh. Di youth dem seh it dutty and it dry out deh”], Kemar “Flava” McGregor (never would have expected he would have turned out the way he did in his heyday. I thought that man was destined to be one of the greatest producers of all time) on Fulfillment and John John, who helmed Jah Element, Eternal Fire sees Chuck Fenda linking with young veteran, Fire Wayne and his Echo One Production imprint.
The chanter has recorded several times for the label over the years and were Chuck Fenda going to release an album in 2023, Echo One would, at least on paper, seem one of the most likely sources. Writing this review (as they generally do, which is part of the reason I write them this way) has really given me the opportunity to go back and just ENJOY so much of Fenda’s previous output. While I can DEFINITELY say that Living Fire hasn’t aged very well at all, Jah Elements is probably a little better than we gave it for being at the time; Fulfillment, which was always strong, is still as formidable today as it was when it released in 2009 and Better Days is fantastic and it always has been.
I also find myself now wondering if Fenda has received his credit in terms of being a writer. Just flashing through some of the older pieces and I’m damn impressed by small cuts of what I’m hearing all these years later. He doesn’t really jump out at you as being terribly unique in any way, initially, but Fenda always provides different perspectives on tried topics and really just has an interesting way in delivering his messages which, for an overthinker like myself, is always a good thing (even if takes me a few years to realize it). All of that surely had something to do with my heightened anticipation level for Eternal Fire
and, think about it: Even if you’d call yourself a casual fan of Chuck Fenda’s – doesn’t “A NEW CHUCK FENDA ALBUM” just sound so nice?! Damn.
I can actually recall hearing about this one sometime maybe last summer for the first time. I knew the title, there was a single and there was even a release date in September 2022 (which supposedly coincided with the birthday of his new wife) and though, clearly, it’s taken a bit longer to manifest, we now have gotten our [digital] paws on it. Fortunately, not only does Eternal Fire live up to my expectations, it also brings to light a very interesting other quality the Fenda possesses. Come my friend, let’s discuss!
Chuck Fenda’s music, when he’s near his best, is very ENTERTAINING! While not a quality often attributed to the genre, certain individuals like Fenda who specialize in Roots Reggae really make some very appealing and VISUAL vibes; this is the case for ESPECIALLY Capleton and others such as Tiwony and Queen Omega. Chuck Fenda’s music is compelling, it’s dramatic, powerful; he has this thunderous voice which immediately grabs your attention when he turns it up. And we get doses of all of that throughout his brand new album, Eternal Fire.
Getting things started is Chuck’s Prayer, which is basically an intro where Fenda gives thanks for all things including the inspiration for the work which is to follow. It also utilizes a very cool and streamlined cut of the Satta Massagana Riddim (… which, apparently, I am incapable of hearing without singing One Away by Sizzla in my head).
The first full tune on Eternal Fire is the song for which it is named. This piece takes on the EOP’s Capture Land Riddim (itself a take of the old Promised Land Riddim) and does especially. Certain things and actions cannot be quickly and neatly dealt with. They require a far more LASTING type of cleansing is the heart behind this one and he’s correct: Certain nastiness [“Unuh better gimme back mi country or else it ahgo steep. Who sell out di airport, who sell out di beach. Who ah pressure poor people, mek no food nah eat. A who rape di likkle girl and bun her inna di street. Who turn dem youth yah inna gunman and dem gal dem inna freak. Round yah nah easy, man ah drop like leaf. Bloody city, bloody town, mi si pure bloody street. A dis Marcus Garvey did preach”] just is reserved for a special type of punishment. I LOVED the lyrical ode to Capleton (and one, more veiled, may’ve actually been to the great Vaughn Benjamin) [You find an old tune called Negus I Rastafari and let me know what you think) and just the entire track is a big one and clear winner for the album.
The well travelled Call On Me is next featuring Fenda alongside looooooooong time partner (musically speaking) the golden voiced Cherine Anderson. I was actually quite surprised when research revealed that this tune hadn’t yet found its way to a previous Chuck Fenda album, but were you living under a giant rock about a dozen years or so ago and missed it, enjoy Call On Me. It’s definitely a large detour from the track preceding it here, however, Call On Me, for what it was (a romantic song), was excellent and though it certainly lost some of its luster (though it may be old enough now to have replaced “luster” with nostalgia) over the years, it’s still one of the biggest selections here and…. likely on any other [compilation] release that you will find it on. Because it fits, I will skip ahead just a bit and also mention previous single, [Something] So Real, which features another very nice vocalist in Krisique. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of Call On Me, in my opinion, but it is another decent romantic/lover’s track neatly done and an asset for this release.
Next is the all kinds of fascinating Song For Mama. I use the phrases “obligatory mama song” and “obligatory ganja song” to describe not only that particular offering but to, essentially, say that such creations are STAPLES in Roots music. You’ll hardly ever find an album with at least one of them and though the former is what Song For Mama is, it is your ‘standard’ song for mama. Learning about Chuck Fenda’s story, you come to find out that he was raised by his grandparents and he never knew either of his parents very much at all. So his Song For Mama comes with a bit of a twist as he doesn’t (and couldn’t) take that standard route of presenting his mother as this angelic/all righteous figure; instead Chuck Fenda is extended the proverbial olive branch to his mom; he’s offering her forgiveness.
A weh mi ahgo seh to mi likkle daughter
Everyday she ask ‘daddy where’s ya mama?’
My whole life was a disaster
Mi nah know no mama nor no father
But my grandparents was there-
To show mi so much love and they care
This, no child shoulda ever bear
My people – I’m hoping that you hear
Even though I don’t know you mama, I wish I coulda see you mama
I wanna hold you and hug you
And tell you how much I love
I FORGIVE YOU MAMA!
FOR LEAVING ME MAMA!
I just wanna hold you and hug you
And still tell you that I love you
He goes on to elabourate on just how much of a negative impact not having his parents in his life had on his life and how many things he missed out on, especially as a youth. It’s kind of a heartbreaking piece but, just like I said, it is an extremely unique perspective on a topic which Reggae knows very well, just probably never quite like this. Next is that “obligatory ganja tune”, Mi Love Marijuana. With big tunes behind him such as All About The Weed and Gwaan Plant (which was a decent sized hit, in retrospect) Fenda is definitely no rookie on the subject and you can well call Mi Love Marijuana one of his strongest drops of its kind. It’s a bit more laidback, but also quite melodic and just a nice and easy listen on Eternal Fire. You will have an extremely difficult time shaking this chorus out of your head – TRUST ME.
The middle portion of Eternal Fire REALLY begins to heat up and, to my opinion, provides it with some of its most memorable material altogether. A really good example of this would be the ‘aggressively free’, Ready Fi Guh Warn Dem. I’m not even going to sit here and attempt to break this one down to any degree (it has a few different directions that it goes in) and I’m not going to overrate its value either, but when I told you that Chuck Fenda made an entertaining brand of Roots Reggae, ideally I had in mind music such as Ready Fi Guh Warn Dem. Though it doesn’t necessarily what I would say would be the artist at his best — though it is strong — listening to Fenda attack this one in several different ways is just fun to listen to. It just is. Even stronger is previous EOP produced single, Gideon Hot from a few years back, which is a master class.
Dem stand up inna di way but, alla now, mi nuh si dem
Hide, dem ah hide – people mi couldn’t be dem
Anyting di people waan, yow, a dat mi ah gi dem
Drop di one yah straight ova mi then
My ting no deh a gun nor under gal dress
A di poor and di needy mi come fi address
People deh inna crisis, people inna stress
HOW SOME BOY AH FIGHT OVA GAL WID DEM SILICONE BREAST?
Ratsafari, HIM a di highest
Lion Of Judah, no boy can test
Red, Green & Gold, wrapped round mi chest
Who ah pray fi wi si wi fall, di whole a dem get left
Di gideon hot, di gideon hot
Ah chat dem ah chat cah dem have mouth fi chat
Di gideon hot, di gideon hot
DEM SEH WEH DI FYAH GONE, TELL DEM SEH MI EVAHOT
Di gideon hot, di gideon hot
Come outta di way and mek mi tun it up a notch
Di gideon hot, di gideon hot
Drop di one yah like an attaclapse
A just sweat and tears and pain
You haffi work hard inna life and gain
Wi no frighten fi career, wi no hype over fame
Wi nah stop call on Fadda God name
MI A ONE LION WEH NO BOY CAN TAME
My energy; No devil heart can drain
Tell dem every day nah go be di same
Fi left di whole a dem ah go right dung inna di lane
Along with that scathing lyrical performance, you take a close and careful ear to that riddim behind Gideon Hot [Phoenix Riddim]. As things progress it, ever so slightly, begins to bloom and really nice and subtle sounds come into play that were not there at the head (almost sounds like a horn I’m hearing). It’s just an outstanding and PASSIONATE piece and one which well livens up this set.
Chuck Fenda’s Gun John Crow was the title track of another EOP riddim, this one from 2021 (just caught myself from actually typing the name of the riddim) (wouldn’t want to insult your intelligence) (WICKED tune from Amlak Red Square on that riddim – Ain’t Right), and it was another very strong selection. Dealing with those who…. are just nasty, no good and disgusting wastes of flesh, Fenda (in a not too dissimilar method to the title track) outlines some of the pure viciousness that exists in the world [“This couldn’t be a blessing. It must be a curse. ‘fore things get better, take a turn fi di worse. People all ah pray and get gunshot inna church”] and what should happen to those who carry it out.
The vaguely familiar Yard Mon Ina Foreign is the sole misstep that you will find during the middle of Eternal Fire and it isn’t a giant one and, to be fair, I do enjoy it more having heard it now a dozen or so times, but it will require work. The approach here is fragmented and it lacks really any cohesion of any type (I think it’s the second verse which I would just call SLOPPY. There’s nothing really going on there and it literally just STOPS at one point and the chorus comes in) and I would presume that not much planning went into and it was the result of a vibe. Sometimes they work, here, it did not.
On the other side of that would be Dreadful, which certainly isn’t the most ‘manicured’ piece that you will hear. It’s a bit all over the place as well, but in this case, it actually works quite well (and that is true despite the fact that the riddim on that one isn’t anything special) (it’s very minimal. You hardly notice it, really). Dreadful is broad. It goes in a few different ways (one of the longest songs on the album, only shorter than THE longest, So Real, by a couple of seconds) but the prevailing one, at least for me, deals with PRIDE and respecting and HONOURING one’s background [“Mi ah walk wid Marcus Garvey print pon mi chest. Martin Luther King’s words never go to rest”]. I am very interested in seeing what, if any, response to Dreadul there will be by the masses, I could definitely see opinions well varied in its case.
The single finest moment on Eternal Fire also comes in here as I found myself slowly, but surely, entirely captivated by the HEAVY Ah Nuh Mistake [grrrrr!]. This track is another which finds Fenda appropriating the necessary amount of fire to those who are not living right but this time he takes things even higher lyrically and does so backed by a GORGEOUS riddim from Echo One. Ah Nuh Mistake also has an ATTITUDE about it. Though not the most intrusive tune you’ll find on Eternal Fire, there is a certain level of…. almost quiet confidence present here that cannot be overlooked: It’s almost as if Chuck Fenda is speaking from the future and saying that if you continue to do the things you are doing, THIS is what happens to you. I know it 100% because I’m seeing it right now! What results is not to be missed and one of the single best tunes that I’ve heard from him in some time.
Walk By Faith came from Grammazone a couple of a years back and enjoyed a pretty good run in its day, actually. I had forgotten about it but when I saw the tracklist for Eternal Fire, wonderfully and almost immediately, it came back to mind. I’m probably not the only one who will have had that experience so maybe its presence here will give Walk By Faith another well deserved run out because it was excellent. For me it was about seeking comfort. If you’re going through any type of bad moments or traumatic experiences in life, turning your focus to a higher source can help ease your burden – a message conveyed beautifully here.
Oddly, Eternal Fire reaches its conclusion with two more romantic styled cuts, Dance For Me Baby and Just Ah Lil Bit. Neither one of these do much of anything for me at all, but I will give the former just a bit of credit as Dance For Me Baby was Chuck Fenda’s take on Digital One Production’s Reggae Genesis Riddim from last year, which was golden, so you can enjoy it that (though, CLEARLY, I am not the target audience for this type of a song) (and the Reggae Genesis was a strange riddim because, for as lovely as it most certainly was, it didn’t feature many good songs for some reason. Most of them were just kind of average if I recall correctly). Just Ah Lil Bit doesn’t have the riddim behind it going for it. It is my least favourite song on the entire album and I would have preferred that they didn’t include it at all, but that’s just me.
Overall, the ending and maybe one subpar other piece don’t manage to drag down Eternal Fire very much at all in my opinion by its end and, instead, what we have here is a largely SOLID effort and, as I said (or at least I think I did), I don’t think anyone will be disappointed with what they hear here. Going back to another earlier point that I’d like to underline a bit. If you’re looking for a more exciting type of current Roots project, definitely Eternal Fire is something you’d be interested in. If you listen to the title track, it is the type of song you should expect (both in terms of sound and approach) to hear throughout the album named after it as well. Also, if you haven’t been paying great attention, it’s pretty much just the type of release that Chuck Fenda does. Eternal Fire IS A CHUCK FENDA ALBUM (duh!), true and through. What is to come in 2023 may just be (hopefully it is) spectacular, Eternal Fire is not a spectacular album, but it is very strong and a welcomed early year surprised from one of the genre’s most proven of soldiers.