Akae Beka – Living Testament

by Feb 28, 2024Artist, Reviews

Upcoming: Akae Beka - Living Testament

Release Info

Label
Before Zero Records/Trinity Farm Music/Go A Chant Productions/I-Roots Records
Format
CD / LP / DR
Street date
February 16, 2024
Contact
Bandcamp

Tracklist
1. Stone Of The Corner
2. Going On A Mission
3. Rebellion Running
4. All Around Man Yard
5. Who Will Go For Us
6. Holding The Amen Key
7. Keeper Of The Gate
8. Who Is The Rejector Who Is The Reductor
9. Cream Of Joy
10. Reforms Unseen
11. S On The Chest
I can truly say that one of the most enjoyable and challenging experiences I have had in my life (and I mean that in a good way) (a GREAT way) has come in my journey to becoming a fan of the great Vaughn Benjamin. I’ve told the story many times so I’ll keep it brief here but, in my younger years, I wholly lacked the capability to take in his work. It would go right over my head and the fact that Midnite, at the time, had SO many was something that I found so gripping because I just…. I just could not get there! What the hell were those people hearing?! A few years later I would figure it out (I think I would figure it out) (I’m still working on it) as everything that was once so cryptic, skeletal and without emotion changed to my ears and I would go from being someone who, frustratingly, couldn’t get “it” to someone who DELIGHTED in the journey to comprehension and whether I ultimately was correct where I landed was of no importance to me AT ALL. That process of taking in what Benjamin saying (and being able to hear it in the first place because he has a tendency to mumble) and the thoughts behind it is musical FOOD to someone like me and, again, I am SO happy that I made it here. It’s been a lot of work.
I can truly say that one of the most enjoyable and challenging experiences I have had in my life (and I mean that in a good way) (a GREAT way) has come in my journey to becoming a fan of the great Vaughn Benjamin. I’ve told the story many times so I’ll keep it brief here but, in my younger years, I wholly lacked the capability to take in his work. It would go right over my head and the fact that Midnite, at the time, had SO many was something that I found so gripping because I just…. I just could not get there! What the hell were those people hearing?! A few years later I would figure it out (I think I would figure it out) (I’m still working on it) as everything that was once so cryptic, skeletal and without emotion changed to my ears and I would go from being someone who, frustratingly, couldn’t get “it” to someone who DELIGHTED in the journey to comprehension and whether I ultimately was correct where I landed was of no importance to me AT ALL. That process of taking in what Benjamin saying (and being able to hear it in the first place because he has a tendency to mumble) and the thoughts behind it is musical FOOD to someone like me and, again, I am SO happy that I made it here. It’s been a lot of work.
The first display we get from the venerable chanter on Living Testament is also one of its finest and one which, most fitting sets the tone and the FOUNDATION for what is to follow, Stone of The Corner. This drum-heavy selection is of the type which, more often than not, closes out releases such as this one, but regardless of where you place it, its CLASS is a large attribute for Living Testament. Stone of The Corner definitely is a prayer and a tribute as you might imagine (and, to some degree, you could probably say that about much of Benjamin’s work) but it also has elements of observing and honouring THE Foundation of all things in a most basic and instinctive way – almost as if NOT doing it is the difficult part. I heard this tune and I almost felt like crying because not only does it begin this album, it also begins potentially YEARS of fun I am going to have working through it. “This shall be for me”, indeed. The vibes take a tick up in pacing for the second selection, the vibesy Going on a Mission. When I got to this one, I thought that the very first words said would set the tone for what was to come:
“Music stimulates man propensity – fi sing a song joyful, gratefully”
In typical Vaughn Benjamin fashion, however, I was wrong and the “mission” to which he is referring here goes a bit deeper and broader, oddly extending things straight to the courtroom [!] where much of the tune takes place, actually.
Big people loyal in infinity
Going on a mission for His Majesty
Festival of sound where the people be
Now dem ahgo drop dem all accuracy
Lifting the level of intelligence-y
KNOWLEDGE NAH GO SI YAH WAH JAH WISDOM SI
What wholesomely and inna what creepy –
Inna opposition to di order weh be
Biotech: A mixture of man and machine
That’s di direction inna nanotech speed
Who is di loser and who inna di lead?
WHO IS STANDING UP IN FRONT OF DI JUDGE TO PLEA?
Di records of procedure inna stenography
TELLING A CANARY OF A SNITCHING STORY
Of course, you don’t take the court as a literal place and where I am now with Going on A Mission is seeing it as THE courtroom of all courtrooms, where the final judgment takes place (and how things can go against you or in your favour). HOWEVER, with that being said, as you trace the tune, it gets into such a fine and downright crispy detail that, even should you approach it in the most superficial of levels — literally thinking Akae Beka just… made a song about going to court — YOU WILL STILL GET SOMETHING FROM THIS ONE! Going on A Mission is damn near stunning and I also love how they just allow to play itself out instrumentally.
Next up, we continue and get this Rebellion Running on a piece even slightly stronger than both which precede it on Living Testament (and most of the ones following it as well). First of all, I have to mention the riddim and PACING of this track: IT IS GOLDEN! There is something so utterly attractive about how this one kind of crawls along before exploding and, all the while, Benjamin is going about his business- rarely, if ever, paying attention to what is going on behind him (and I can specifically not liking when he did that when I was younger listening to his music. Now it’s a charming aspect of his work to my ears). Rebellion Running is a social commentary for me, focusing on, largely, anti-violence ideology (it almost reminds me of a song you’ll be well familiar with from Capleton by the name of Jah Jah City). If you scratch any level on Rebellion Running — anyone at all — what lies beneath is brilliant [“Cosmopolitan city – third world dense”]. He talks about the impact, literal and spiritual, that violence can have on the world and how important it is for us to attempt to make amends for it. The picture painted isn’t completely a dark one, as the artist does present the occasional glimpse of light in the matters also. If you were happy about it on Going on A Mission, then you will absolutely LOVE how Going on A Mission ends as the final ninety seconds or so is nothing but music and it SCALDS!
With a plod that is as infectious as anything on this release, Trinity Farm Music’s composition shines and were they of the mind to present a dub of this and pretty much any other song here, someone might complain, but my mother never named me “someone”. And just because this paragraph hasn’t run on long enough (and I want to put the video for the next song in this following gap), I’ll mention All Around Man Yard here, where the music is also allowed its fair time in the spotlight. Before that, however, Benjamin delivers a message regarding the importance of treating the world (and everything (and everyone) in it) as good as you possibly can. We all have to live here and so will our children and their children’s children and so forth, so it is imperative that we find and maintain some healthy balance here. It doesn’t go quite so straight (because that would be boring), but that is what I take here and ‘All Around Man Yard’ is another excellent offering.
I’m pretty sure I mentioned something wayyyy back there about the first single from Living Testament which released a few weeks ahead of the album. That lovely creation and biblical Who Will Go For Us, easily stands out as one of the many highlights from the album for which it signaled. From a purely sonic standpoint, it’s rather easy to see why TFM chose it as a single. It is very catchy (with that bounce) and it sticks with you.

WHO WILL GO FOR US?
JAH HERE AM I
SEND ME

Benjamin steps nary a foot outside of the basic scope of the subject here but were you looking to take a slightly more tangible approach here, you could very well look at Who Will Go For Us as a track about being faithful, loyal and committed to principles and maybe even other people. If you’ve listen to enough of his work, you know very well it is one of the central themes that he has consistently written on and it is, once again, on full display here. Who Will Go For Us begins, arguably, the single strongest stretch of progress on the album as it is followed by my single most favourite song on the entire album, the blistering Holding The Amen Key.

I’ve seen the battleaxe yah-
Firm ancient time
I’ve stand up inna di chariot when armament ah fly
I control di horses an still ah fight
Split-second decision, presence of mind
Athletic comfort take a motion of shine
Coordinated of Jah, mobilize
FLIGHT AND PURSUIT, WHO IS RUNNING BEHIND
When dem dun know, time longer than twine
And this journey can come along for the ride
Witness hardship and soul-sacrifice
For the principle of goodness briefly in a line
JAH KNOW IT’S MORE DEFENDER ASSURE AND ARRIVE –
AGAINST ALL DOMINION THAT EVIL CONTRIVED
THE WISDOM OF JAH IMPLEMENT AND PRESCRIBED
Removing with equity and still sure to decide –
Justice with swiftness, hands-on applied
Some flailing away as defending a lie
When they wrong, even the root caan right
Protecting the harvest from mildew and mold
Fire that purify soul, curious gold
Sheen of the spirit, force-field tenfold
Scattering the centering, crystal ball
Chalice of the earth, clouds of smoke
Waters of the earth, filters float
Faceless defender in deep sen dem forth
Who’s approaching the gate?
Mental teleport
Intercepting the scene, no one rocking the boat
Stealth rider come in, deadly report
AMONG THE MINISTERS OF THE KING’S HIGH COURT
TEARS! ABSOLUTE TEARS! This isn’t a GAD-like torrent of words. It is more structured and exact and, at least to my opinion, it has no equal on the whole of Living Testament. BOOM! Continuing that ultra-high level are both Keeper of The Gate and Who is the Rejector Who is the Reductor. The former sounds extremely familiar to my ears and it is a lovely composition espousing on the wonders of the ultimate Custodian of Records. The riddim on Keeper of The Gate, though it may be the very definition of ‘minimalistic’ at times, GLOWS! It is SO BEAUTIFUL and Benjamin puts it to might use. I will say that Keeper of The Gate, the second shortest song on Living Testament does come off as a bit brief, though THE shortest tune here, coincidentally Holding The Amen Key, does not have such a setting at all. For its part Who is the Rejector Who is the Reductor, well keeps the quality high on a note which struck me as sort of subtly BRIGHT (if that makes any sense) (any at all) within a message which appears to be intent on crushing negativity and poor behaviour, in particular, wherever it may be found. This tune definitely requires a hefty amount of attention as it features several lyrical BOMBS from Benjamin.
Who is the rejector of the peace thread?
Who is the reductor of the truth grid?
Spiraled with speed have proceeded
They distract and deliberately misleaded
Cream Of Joy is one of the highest points of interest that I’ve found on Living Testament. Just listening to it — based strictly on HOW IT SOUNDS — I do not love this one. It’s decent. It has a very basic riddim behind it which doesn’t do much at all (it does develop later on, but not by much and it doesn’t do so permanently either). It’s serviceable and not much else. HOWEVER, when you really listen to what is being said, Cream Of Joy slowly begins to tick up just a little. The vocalist says that while the sweetest things in life do certainly exist, reaching them does not come easy and will require some work and effort [“There’s work to do in life. There’s pain, sorrow and strife. There’s problem-solving time, in all strata of life. So we better be behaving civilized, in the vicinity the courteous kind”]. That’s fantastic and the way it is presented may not make it so immediately accessible to some people (or that may just be my issue, alone) but if you do find yourself not LOVING what you hear, musically, I will say that, as the words say, don’t have a problem with putting in a bit of work because what you’ll receive will be worth it.
The curious Reforms Unseen is much better as it wins both lyrically and instrumentally (like that guitar) and does so instantly. Not all is bleak, even when it may seem so as there are those factors which may not be as immediately perceptible as others that are still working in our favour [“Through you don’t believe, you have no tangibilities. Haile I Selassie I reforms unseen”]. The album’s closer, S on The Chest, does suffer from an undeniable amount of… desync and disassociation (it literally sounds like two (or three) different songs are playing simultaneously at certain times here, especially early on) but, apart from that, you have a selection of serious quality. Where I am currently with this one is that S on The Chest is a kinda/sorta praising track. It’s set in a way where it lifts up certain forces as “superpowers” but they are such WELL BENEATH the level of The Almighty. You observe their power, it is undeniable [“Every disobedient youth, a pure bump and bruise”], yet DWARFED by that of His Majesty. What results is, as I said, a more complicated method of giving praise and one standing within the scope of a social commentary, but one no less potent at all. I also have to mention that, despite the awkwardness of it all, I do so thoroughly enjoy the delivery on S on The Chest. It is as ‘low-tech’ as you can imagine but dazzling at times and fully appropriate for the purpose of distributing this particular message.
I do want to say that, as far as criticisms, I would have had no problem had they fleshed Living Testament out more with two or three dubs. A few of these songs would definitely work well in that form in my opinion (like Keeper of The Gate and Rebellion Running) and TFM have done that before on prior releases as well (I was actually surprised not to see any dubs on this album, actually) (they did an album by the name of Move Different by Fikir Amlak just last year. It had three dubs and one of them, for a tune called Higher Place, was SPECTACULAR! It was really, really good. Never an expert on the subgenre (or anything else, for that matter), but that track was probably one of the best displays of Dub music that I’ve heard recently and I wish they would have given this one a similar treatment.
Overall, judging it for what it is and even by comparison to some of the artist’s other work, Living Testament is excellent. My immediate thought of what about it, especially, stands out to me right now might just be how accessible it is. I don’t say this much about the work of Akae Beka anymore because I’ve done so many of these and I can only judge it with my own ears which have been well indoctrinated by now but, if you are not at all familiar with the artist or if you are and just have never been able to fine an appropriate place to ‘jump in’, this may be the turn for you. That is a credit that I’m giving to Trinity Farms Music as pretty much ALL of their work is like that, that I’ve noticed. They focus on heavy Roots Reggae music, primarily, but it is a very open and PLEASING style with artists who may not be known to more casual fans of the genre (people like Ras Abja and original nine fingers, Xkaliba) Now, with that being said, at the same time the album will not alienate long time fans (I don’t think THAT is even possible) (at least not on a good Akae Beka album) and if you are at all like me (seek help), Living Testament figures to provide you with YEARS of delight to come. This may be the final Akae Beka album recorded and released but it means, tangibly, nothing at all. This man has left us with SO MUCH to do in digging up the messages within these wonderful songs. That is a ‘job’ which has no end and it will EVOLVE. A month from now, I won’t at all be shocked if my thought and even if my POINT OF VIEW has changed for each and every song on this album. It’s happened before. When THAT is your legacy and THAT is what you have done, there is no such thing as an ending. The first great Reggae album of 2024.
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