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Wednesday, Nov 28 2007 | 14:12

Reggae became a planetary music thanks to Bob Marley. But if this now universal style of music has become the voice of the voiceless, the CNN of ghettos worldwide and one of the most important genres on the African continent, it’s also thanks to Alpha Blondy, messenger of reggae music in the Ivory Coast. Alpha has been in Jamaica to record his music since his very first album “Cocody Rock”, released in 1984, partially produced by the famous Jamaican beatmaker Clive Hunt.

“It’s Clive, a Jamaican, who told me I should sing in African language and create my own style. We went to the Hope Road studio with The Wailers”, Alpha remembers. “And in a nick of time, we made “Cocody Rock”. It was mixed the next day”.

This time, Alpha chose the ex-Wailer Tyrone Downie and the “riddim twins” Sly & Robbie to work on his new album “Jah Victory”, the one that’s gonna be praised by his most demanding fans. The story of this record is the story of a certain idea of faith. Faith of Alpha Blondy for his music, his destiny, his God. “At every step of the way, God has appeared. We were in Paris mixing and after the recording was over in Jamaica, I felt like adding new songs. I told Tyrone “you know, if Sly & Robbie were here, they would do the rhythm”. Half an hour later, someone pops his head in the studio and Tyrone recognized him at once: “Hey Robbie! What are you doing here?” He was giving a concert and he popped by the studio to pick up a bass guitar. That’s how Robbie played bass on “Wish You Were Here”, and many more tracks”.

For “Jah Victory”, everything started in the Ivory Coast. Then it traveled to France for programming. Then, the album took shape in Jamaica, at Tuff Gong, with the gang of Kingston musicians Alpha calls “the Jamaican brotherhood”. Then the songs travelled back to France where Tyrone and Alpha recorded the kora, the backing vocals and the voices. “We added the rumba reggae spirit with Didi Kalombo, a singer from Zaïre, and we also had all kinds of instruments from Maghreb, as well as bagpipes on the “Wish You Were Here” cover, and some accordeon. The record travelled worldwide, it started in Africa and came back to Paris”. The result? A flamboyant 19 tracks album that’s rootsy and innovative at the same time, between emotion and revolution, sung in French, in English and in Dioula. Typical Blondy style. Who else could have had the idea to cover the famous Pink Floyd anthem “Wish You Were Here” and turn it into a reggae jam with bagpipes on the chorus? And what can be said of “Les salauds” (“The Evil Bastards”), a song in cinemascope without a backing beat that denounces “the firemongers journalists, the mythomaniac politicians, the corrupt priests and greedy imams” with a backing track of synthesizers and crying guitars? Without naming it as such, Alpha speaks about this civil war that almost destroyed the Ivory Coast, an African paradise torn apart by the absurd concept of “Ivoryness”. More danceable, “Bahia” speaks about Alpha’s love for Brazil and its deep sensuality. A country in which Blondy’s popularity came to him as a surprise. “I didn’t know I was that known down there. In 1995 we were invited for a Brazilian tour. When we arrived in Bahia, we were taken to the concert hall. We arrived in front of a huge stadium, and for me Brazil equals football, so I asked the promoter which were the teams playing, and he told me the stadium was for Alpha Blondy’s concert. I thought I was gonna sing for a thousand persons, ans I had an audience of 25.000! For me. That felt akward”.

Unconditional disciple of Bob and personal friend of the Marley dynasty (he sung with Rita and considers Ziggy as part of his family), Alpha pays hommage one more time by adapting in French the “Crazy Baldheads” tune, which becomes “Sales Racistes”. “Since I was a student in the United States, I’ve always done covers of Bob’s tunes in French so people at home could understand his lyrics and their awesome power. I’ve already recorded French versions of “War” and “I Shot The Sheriff”, which became “J’ai tué le commissaire”.

Impossible to name all 19 songs, even though they all deserve to be: “Ne tirez pas sur l’ambulance” (“Don’t Shoot The Ambulance”) that speaks about Ivory Coast’s destiny, “Mister grande gueule” (“Mister Big Mouth”) and its African sounds, “Le bal des combattus” with the old school Congolese roots aroma, “Jésus me donne tout” and its typical Blondy melody. “It’s the roots reggae of Bob Marley that conquered the world. That kind of reggae, sensual and revolted at the same time, is coming straight from the heart”.

“Jah Glory” in 1982, “Jah Victory” 25 years later. Alpha Blondy hits the nail on the head, and he doesn’t intend to stop. “I’ll be doing reggae music till I die. I always feel like making music. For my kids. I recorded 18 albums, and “Jah Victory” is the best one”. And one needs only to listen to it to agree with Blondy. (written by Olivier Cachin)

Tracklisting:

01. I Wish You Were Here
02. Sankara
03. Ranita
04. Ne Tirez Pas Sur L’ambulance
05. Demain T’appartient
06. Bahia
07. Mister Grande Gueule
08. Africa Yako
09. Cameroun
10. Jah Light
11. Le Bal Des Combattus
12. Tampiri
13. Les Salauds
14. Sales Racistes
15. Ikafo
16. Jesus
17. Gban-Gban
18. La Planete
19. La Route De La Paix

The album Alpha BlondyJah Victory” (Mediacom) is going to be released January 25, 2008.

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