K’NAAN / “K’naan Bob Marley Tribute Mixtape”

PART TWO. (2 of 3)—K’Naan & DJ J. Period collaborating on The Messengers, a tribute to the music of Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. k'naan & j period.jpg A couple of things quick before I turn commentary over to Mtume. First, so far, this series is a true tribute and not just an excuse for K’naan to drop new, or leftover, or second-rate, or gimmicky tracks. No matter how big a fan of the music created by the Fela & 2 Bobs triumvirate, you will find some new snippets of info and music revealed to you. If no more than hearing conversation featuring the voices of the creators, this project makes us smile. Well done. Truly, well. Done. Listen and the beauty will be seen. These tracks are wisely chosen: some tunes well known, others less popular but ultimately all of the tunes work together; a puzzle successfully assembled. j period 04.jpg J. Period musical vault is more significant than Fort Knox, the former location of U.S. gold reserves. The dollar done gone off gold but the music continues to mine the enduring ore of past creations. Plus, J. Period is a deft tailor, sewing beats together and embellishing the suit with double stitches—little snippets of sounds, beat shifts like a perfect off-kilter cut of cloth accenting the suit with slashes of color, or folds of innovative pleats, not to mention the mixing and matching of what initially might seem like “totally, that shit don’t go together,” but then when you hear it, you say like, well, ok, go ahead then with your bad self. Also, dig the spoken interludes in between, over, and all up around the beats. Period must have some bloodhound up in his ears to be finding all of this stuff and figuring out how to mix and match, how to crazy quilt a beautiful musical cloth. j period 02.jpg Additionally, he’s deft on the mixing board. The heavy manners of technically tight production values—that’s J. Period’s usual trademark, and it’s stamped in spades on this project. Second, and tres interesting to this ear, is how K’naan re-recorded previously composed verse, retrofitting his cadence to the reggae lope. K’naan’s syllables hiccupping up and down while the bass does wind—say ‘wine, wine, round n round. k'naan 18.jpg And for me (and, yes, I am surprised by this), the new vocalizations are more effective in communicating the sound & sense of the old lyrics than earlier recorded versions. Take that love song, “Fatima,” about K’naan’s first girlfriend who was murdered in Somalia. The lyrics are emoted over Bob’s “Stir It Up.” Make me fiend to hear what J-man would do with something like “Waving Flag.” It’s not just the voice, it’s the arrangement of the backing mixed with the rhythm rapping. I have for a long, long time wondered when rap artist would begin doing their roots music, meaning when would they take on the music that influenced them, that they like, and give us their own versions of what moves them. This is a stirring answer to my wondering. bob marley 49.jpg Ya know, it would have been easy to fuck up this Bob Marley tribute. Bob music is so well known, so beloved, and so done right from jump street—remixes and covers are hard to do and come out stronger than anything but a pale shadow (yep, not even a dark shadow, but something fading to pale) compared to the upful color of the original. Bob man, he composer and craftsman of the highest order, so to come behind, trying to fly like him, is dodo birds compared to dread-plumaged eagle. Yet every time I listen to this K'naan/J. Period segment, I get caught short wanting to hear more, surprised that it is over so soon. That’s a good sign. Next week come the Bob Dylan. Now, that, I’m sure, will be interesting: K’naan & J. Period have done afrobeat & reggae, now come folk&rock. Oh, what a revelation this project is. —Kalamu ya Salaam           Forward Respect! Seen?! k'naan 41.jpg

"He made music for us. You know, 'Children learn your culture / Or you won't get no supper.' These are the words that I felt like - coming up, growing up - that he was talking to me. And because of that, I'm looking at my culture. And because of that, I'm sharing with you my culture." —K'Naan from "Introduction to Bob Marley"
The first thing that comes to mind about K'Naan and J.Period's Messengers series as a whole, about the entire concept, is that it reminds me of Breath of Life in a way. It really is a conversation. Breath of Life is my and Kalamu's conversation (although, these days, it's mostly Kalamu's conversation) not just with the readers, but also with the music, and beyond that with the musicians. In a similar way, The Messengers is a conversation, a form of personal communication. It's a conversation between K'Naan and J.Period. It's a conversation between the two young hip-hoppers and the music, the beats, the rhythms. It's a conversation between the young artists (K'Naan and J.Period) and the elder artists (Fela, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan). And most of all, it's a conversation between the musicians and the listeners. If this is a conversation, what's it about? It's about the same things that all great art is about: truth and beauty. (What else is there to be about?) I know my definition of art makes art sound like something heavy and serious and hugely significant. And sometimes it is; sometimes, truth is serious as a heart attack. But there are other times when truth is about humor—a big smile, an ironic glance or even a body-shaking, eye-tearing belly laugh. Sometimes, beauty is about the deep love we feel for our families, our culture or our gods. There are other times when beauty is about the way a DJ hooks up a beat, or the way an MC pauses to catch it. Truth and beauty can be sacred. Truth and beauty can be profane. Truth and beauty can be important. Truth and beauty can be frivolous. All of these things are us, and we are all of these things. But no matter the genre or style, if we're talking about art, at some level we're talking about truth and beauty. These are the things we humans are made of. We have nothing else good to give. And honestly, on a spiritual level, there's not much more we need. k'naan 08.jpg What's so true and/or so beautiful about what K'Naan and J.Period are doing? The answer is, they're tapping into the essence of the style of music we call hip-hop. In hip-hop, we have no traditional instruments; no formal musicianship; no sheet music. No songs, even. It can be said that all music is built on the music of the past. But in the case of hip-hop music, we LITERALLY build on music and musicians of the past. Hip-hop is the most modern of the major styles of black music not just because it is the most recent but also because it is the only style that is created using recordings instead of instruments. Hip-hop is a referential music. It refers back to the past and it is endlessly self-referential. Despite this obsession with the past and with the present-moment, hip-hop is also a music style obsessed with the future. Just ask Andre 3000, a great MC of the 21st century who gave himself a 31st-century name. The Messengers: Episode 2 uses the music of Bob Marley as its foundation, its inspiration and much of its text. When K'Naan raps, it's in the form of a respect poem for Bob but it's also a peace poem for the soldiers ("Johnny Was"), a romantic poem for the lovers ("Fatima/Stir It Up") and a blues poem for the hooligans ("Belly Full"). When J.Period cuts and pastes his vinyl, his digital files, and I suspect, his video recordings, he's doing it not out of disrespect or ignorance or a lack of ability to be a 'real' musician. He's doing what he does out of love. Remember, neither J.Period nor K'Naan stand to gain financially from this endeavor. These recordings are not for sale. These sounds are offerings, free to all. J.Period and K'Naan are offering their sound tones and poems both to us, the music lovers, and to Fela, Dylan and Marley, their elder musicians. They're doing what they're doing out of respect. They want to share their respect for their elders and for the art of their elders. But the hip-hop generation shows its respect in the oddest of ways. Hip-hop DJs and MCs don't worship great art in solemn mausoleums. They don't attend university to learn the ways of the masters. They don't dress up, nibble cheese, sip wine and listen in silence. Instead, they come as they are: baggy jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. They love the art so much that they chop it into tiny bits. They don't want to just look at the art or just hear the art. No, they inhabit the art. After dis-assembling the art, they re-assemble it; but in putting the art back together, the pieces are mixed up and out of order (sometimes accidentally, sometimes purposefully; sometimes ironically, sometimes ridiculously). And then, as if they hadn't already done enough to offend the art gods, they then paste their half-yelled, rhythmic appreciation atop the re-assembled sound-collage. k'naan 44.jpg Is this okay? Is is right? Is it good? Is it art at all? I could give you my answer (and you can easily guess it for yourself), but every man, every woman must judge for themselves. I would like to think Fela and both Bobs - if they should ever hear these tributes to their lives, their beliefs and their art - would hear the respect and the love. I would like to think they'd know these young men mean no harm. The way I hear it, K'Naan and J.Period simply want to get as close as they can to the warm glow of genius, even if that means ripping holes in the sacred text, burrowing out a space and yelling their agreement as beautifully as they can. And there's one last thing I'd like to think. And that is, if the elders somehow don't feel the respect or the love and respond to the feeble attempts of the youngsters with silence, criticism or even derision, I would like to think that the youngsters will apologize for the intrusion, thank the elders for their consideration, and keep on keeping on. "You can please some people some of the times," one of the Bobs taught us years ago, "But you can't please all the people all the times." I paraphrase. But still, seen? —Mtume ya Salaam K’naan Bob Marley Tribute Mixtape Playlist k'naan marley cover.jpg Free J Period/K’naan Marley Tribute Download 01 “Introduction to Bob Marley” 02 “Belly Full (Messengers Remix)” f. Kardinal, Steele & Bajah 03 “War Through Poetry / Sun Is Shining (Interlude)” 04 “Shot the Sheriff (Messengers Remix)” 05 “Fighting a War (Interlude)” 06 “Johnny Was (Messengers Remix)” f. Netic the Rebel 07 “Need You So (Wailers Interlude)” 08 “My Country / Small Axe (Messengers Remix)" 09 “Love Lights Burning (Interlude)” 10 “Fatima / Stir It Up (Messengers Remix)” 11 “Satisfy My Soul (Outtro)”  

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