Thursday, March 04, 2010

Alborosie Review

Originally published on

lborosie, aka Alberto D'Ascola, is a Sicilian-born reggae artist. He started performing reggae in the early nineties with the Reggae National Tickets, and has relocated to Kingston, Jamaica to be closer to the music and the home of rastafari culture. He released his debut solo album, Soul Pirate, in 2008, and a different version of this album,Escape from Babylon in 2009 via 101 Distribution. This version, with a longer title and slightly different tracklist, is being released via the venerated reggae label Greensleeves.

The idea of a Sicilian rasta isn't as big a stretch as it might initially seem. The most convincing Italian hip hop artists are from the South, so it makes sense that the South would produce convincing reggae artists as well. Sicilian is it's own language, only partially related to Italian, so learning a patois of English wouldn't have been hard for Alborosie, who grew up knowing two languages, and knowing the power that the unofficial language holds. Like Jamaica, Sicily is a relatively poor island, looked down upon by the mainland. Both islands are full of gangsters, both have strong cultural traditions, and both places understand what it is to struggle to survive.
Alborosie is also the real deal in every respect. He's a rastafarian, he sings in unaccented Jamaican patois, and he understands the music and the culture. He's also a talented musician, playing many of the instruments on the album. He combines the musicality of roots reggae with the harder electronic edge of dancehall, and his voice switches between the bark of a dancehall toaster and the soulful singing of a roots artist. Songs like "Humbleness" and "Dung A Babylon" show off his gentler side, while "Blue Movie Boo" pulses with a frenetic rhythm.
He makes his connection to roots reggae explicit by sampling Horace Andy on "Money" and "No Cocaine," and in his lyrics, which are steeped in rastafari philosophy. He sings about rastafari concerns such as praising the herb ("No Cocaine), criticizing materialism ("Money"), and criticizing Babylon. At times it feels like Rasta 101, and most of this is turf that has been covered many times before by countless reggae artists. Even the title is generic rasta. That's not to say that it's not authentic or heartfelt, but it doesn't break much new ground, and feels cliche at times. One exception is "America," a different take on Babylon that calls out America for it's infractions against the world.
Escape from Babylon to the Kingdom of Zion may not have the most original lyrical content, but it is solid musically. Alborosie manages to stay true to classic reggae while incorporating modern elements. The result is 18 songs that have the soul and melody of roots reggae with the harder edge of dancehall, proving reggae's place in the 21st century.

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