Imagine this…around 18 months ago, someone told you the world would be under a pandemic, with lockdowns, and restrictions on a scale never witnessed before. Live music would be prohibited and we would in many countries around the world be cooped up in our rooms learning a new word in our vocabulary – to zoom. With all this a cacophony of theories and counter-theories on masks, vaccines, social distancing and 5G.
Meantime, musicians have been as busy as ever trying to survive. Online collaborations and ‘live’ streaming concerts are no substitute for the real thing. Yours truly has between lecturing online and surviving, done a lot of radio shows online from home. During this time I have heard everything on COVID-19 musically but a complete release was needed to soothe the soul in these troubled times. Yes Dub gets us skanking but this release is different, it gets you thinking. ‘Higher Level’ with vocals from Fikir Amlak and production by BriZion is the most forward-thinking remedy to these kinds of blues we are living through. It’s a beautiful heartfelt release, 7 songs and accompanying Dubs and from the get-go of the title track, there’s a calming ambience that is as inspirational as your most sweet herbal experience.
Fikir Amlak and BriZion have over 200 releases between them, Akashic Records, based in Atlanta, Georgia, have a catalogue of 50+ releases, so this is no lightweight release. It’s a seriously pieced together complete concept livicated to the powerful meditative messages of Rastafari. From start to finish, you get the story, vibe, and allure of this blessed project as a calm sense of oneness and determination on a way of life. However, all you orthodox Dubheads might be in for a disappointment. The release is not about the weight of basslines or the trickery of all those delays and effects normally associated with Dub. And Amlak as a singer sounds so poetic and soul searching. This album takes a different path that fits somewhere between Dub and Chillout/Ambient but somehow almost creates a sub-genre of its own. I am not sure what to call it but the poetic aesthetic of the lyrics and music is outstanding. For instance ‘Last Time’ could be a love song just going by the title, but it’s about the struggles of life. ‘Better Must Come’ has a message of hope for a transformation to a better time and state of being, but it feels like it’s about a relationship. And the closing track, ‘The Journey Goes On’ has such an attractive groove that makes you a Fikir Amlak fan for life.
‘Higher Level’ takes you just there, to another level of consciousness and being. It’s the perfect remedy in these very toxic times that allows you to breathe easy and think about a better future. Blessed works from a truly gifted and unique singer, and full credit to the producer, BriZion and the label Akashic for such a vital project.