Annicia Banks ‘Up Front’ EP (RawVue Music) 5/5

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Annicia Banks has toured all over the world, America, Asia, Africa, Europe and The Caribbean, singing backing vocals for legends like Dennis Brown, Bunny Wailer, Judy Mowatt and Sister Carol. And yet, ‘Up Front’ her new EP is also her first! It’s a shocking revelation when considering the power, quality and aesthetics of her voice. Annicia Banks showcases a treasure trove of talent with the release of this long-anticipated solo effort on the RawVue Music label, an independent label based in New York, USA. The first single, a cover of the Dennis Brown song “Love Has Found Its Way” featuring original saxophonist Dean Fraser, is such a steaming version that you want to keep it on the deck for several rewinds. Annicia paying respect to the original version, soars vocally in her own way, gliding over some great harmonies on the latter part of the song. The version would have made Dennis proud and it’s certainly the best one I have ever heard of this classic Reggae song.

Annica Banks is not only stunningly impressive as a vocalist, she also shines with some great songwriting, particularly on the powerfully rootsy song ‘Hush’. This revisits a lot of themes in Reggae but does it through a wise chorus line ‘Hush little soldier’ because ‘only the fittest shall overcome’. You see the thing is very simple with Annicia Banks. She actually sings from the soul over a considerable vocal range and does it naturally, no gimmicks, no auto-tune. Her voice truly lives up to that line in ‘Hush’ – “only the fittest shall overcome”. There is also a sense of essence to her voice, grounded firmly in realities clearly expressed on songs like ‘Free Free Free’ and ‘Jamaica Forever’ King Kohai, paying tribute to liberation and diasporic themes and a righteous sense of belonging. Finally, ‘Restore My Soul’ has some great vocal arrangements in a gospel idiom.

Overall a vital release that certainly addresses issues of under-representation of women Reggae vocalists. I am sure there are many more singers like Annicia Banks who have spent a long time out of the centre stage, as backing vocalists, who fully deserve the credit to be in leading roles, in front of microphones. In fact, it is a big injustice that this is her first EP and we look forward to a full-blown LP out later this year. Big Respect Annicia

Haji Mike