Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Ijahman Levi - Haile I Hymn (Chapter 1) (1978)


  

Released in 1978

In the midst of punk and the roots/punk "crossover", this 1978 release was quite an unusual one. Yes, it is a Rasta devotional roots album, but it contains only four extended tracks, which differentiates it from much of other roots reggae albums of the time.

Ijahman Levi was born Trevor Sutherland in Jamaica in 1946, but moved with his parents to the United Kingdom in 1963. I was always under the impression that he lived up in Jamaica's Blue Mountains, as his music seems so authentic. The albums he released, were, however, recorded in Jamaica.

TRACK LISTING

1. Jah Heavy Load
2. Jah Is No Secret
3. Zion Hut
4. I'm A Levi

The music on the album is of a melodious, easy feel, despite its Rasta message and rootsiness. There is no speaker-shaking dub rhythm, more of nice deep, rumbling bass and slowly skanking guitars. On the opening track "Jah Heavy Load" there is some rock-style lead guitar as well as an infectious rhythm and some crystal clear cymbal work. Levi's voice is surprisingly light and tuneful. He is certainly no Prince Far I or Big Youth growler. He sings as well, as opposed to "toasting" semi-spoken vocals, which was common on many contemporary roots tracks.

"Jah Is No Secret" is over ten minutes long. It once again has a catchy melody, an attractive vocal and a lively but seductive backing. Levi and his band just get into a groove and off they go - bass, lilting guitar, horns and percussion. It is very much a different approach to roots reggae. There is nothing of the prophetic warnings of much roots material. This is all about celebration and joie de vivre. Despite its devotional message, it never sounds preachy or doom-laden. About half way through the track, Levi introduces the "Rivers Of Babylon" verses into the song, as the guitar continues to skank enjoyably along. Its ten minutes positively breeze by.

"Zion Hut" is over thirteen minutes long. It has a traditional Rasta drum rhythm to it, such as found on Bob Marley & The Wailers' "Rasta Man Chant". The vocal is never grating and the effect of the track is that of a smooth balm, its subtle bass massaging your ears. This beautiful bass drives the song along effortlessly. "I'm A Levi" is shorter than the previous two tracks at a (comparatively) paltry six minutes plus! It is a lively, upbeat number and it goes without saying that the bass is superb.

This is a highly recommended, different roots reggae album.

B-

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