Luciano: United States Of Africa

 

LUCIANO

UNITED STATES OF AFRICA

[VP RECORDS]

 

Dean Fraser’s best efforts aside, this is the most satisfying Luciano album in a long while. His singing is strong, soulful and committed, and his writing focussed throughout. In essence, United States Of Africa is a concept album, and driven by a vision of African unity that whilst rooted in awareness of colonial injustices, resolutely steers clear of blame, bitterness or self-pity.

“Ethiopia set the golden rule. I cannot chant my songs in a strange land,” he sings on Footstool, whilst Unite Africa opens with an extract from one of Emperor Haile Selassie I’s speeches and finds the Messenger pleading on behalf of the Motherland with the line, “Don’t let the system destroy our people.” Songs like these, King Of Kings and the title track leave us in no doubt of his broader cultural and spiritual remit. As a Rastaman, Luciano’s bond with Africa stretches back to the beginning of time and yet never once does he descend into empty rhetoric. That’s partially because he’s been touring the African continent for more than a decade now and therefore has plenty of actual experience to draw upon. Yet it’s also because in Frenchie of Maximum Sound, he has a producer capable of coaxing the best from him, and who knows what Luciano’s legions of fans want to hear.

Generally speaking, the singer hasn’t benefited from a cohesive “house” sound and style since leaving Xterminator in 1998. His output since then has suffered from sloppiness at times but the fact that these fifteen tracks could easily pass for Xterminator productions may explain why Luciano has again hit renewed heights both vocally and lyrically. Tracks like the autobiographical I Will Follow and Invasion [a cut of Ernest Wilson’s I Know Myself] would have sat well on any of his albums for Fatis Burrell, but the same attention to detail that distinguished his Xterminator productions can be heard here too, and especially in Frenchie’s choice of rhythms, his insistence on good song construction and impressive use of harmonies.

Highlights are plentiful, but include the tales of everyday struggle heard on Be Aware and Recession; also Welcome To Jamrock cut A No Like We No Like Them and Hosanna, which he’s voiced over Bunny Lee’s slice of Creation Rebel. Nor should we overlook Murder And Thief, with its references to “bad men shooting it out with the police.” If this song sounds especially heartfelt it’s no wonder, since a wanted man was gunned down at the singer’s home only months ago, after attempting to use two of his children as a human shield.

Life in Jamaica isn’t easy except you’d never know it listening to the tender Nubian Queen, or the gospel-infused Only Jah Can Save Us Now. That’s the magic of this particular artist though. He’s a joy-bringer, and United States Of Africa deserves a place among his very best work of the past decade.

 

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About johnmasouri
John Masouri is a long-time author and music journalist specialising in reggae and its many off-shoots including dub, ska, roots and dancehall. The author of Wailing Blues: The Story of Bob Marley's Wailers, published by Omnibus Press in 2008, he is currently working on a biography of reggae singer Peter Tosh, due to appear next year. In addition to book projects, he continues to write articles and reviews for Reggae Vibes (France), Riddim (Germany) and Echoes - formerly Black Echoes - which is renowned as Britain's No. 1 black music monthly. His work has also appeared in Mojo, Music Week, the Guardian, the Observer and the NME, as well as magazines in the US, Caribbean and Japan.

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