Jamaica is an island of contrasts. The magical beaches and verdant landscape provide an unlikely backdrop for political discord, restless youth and gun culture. Alongside a history of rebellion co-exists an incredible musical heritage that boasts a score of artists who made music that made a difference. One dreadlock Rasta is ensuring that the roots and culture legacy lives on. Perhaps the most captivating and enigmatic performer to emerge from Jamaica in the last twenty years, Sizzla is set to release his new album, 'Bob Ashanti'.
Twenty-three year old Sizzla began his journey as Miguel Collins, born of devout Rastafarian parents and raised in the close-knit community of August Town. The 1980's witnessed a dancehall explosion and with the music came the lifestyle; drugs, gunes and "slackness" (vulgarity). Sizzla watched carefully, collecting his lyrical ammunition. Formally adopting the Rastafarian faith, with it's no-holds-barred advocacy of repatriation, slavery reparations and the use of ganja, he joined the ranks of the Bob Ashanti in the mid 1990's. Bobo is Jamaican slang for African, Africa being the spiritual home of the Rasta. The name Ashanti derives from an ancient religious tribe, similar to the Israelites.
The Bobs stand against all forms of oppression or modern day slavery, which have been forced on them by Babylon, the western world. Shunning institutionalized education and religion they have built self-sufficient communities and live frugally according to their strict beliefs. The Bobos' refusal to toe the establishment line together with their often controversial pro-change diatribes inspires supporters and alarms their opposes.
Sizzla began to develop his own uncompromising style whilst serving his musical apprenticeship with the Caveman Hi-Fi sound system. For him the music is a vehicle for his message, and in 1995 he grabbed the opportunity to spread the word far and wide. Kick starting his recording career with a release through the Zagalou label, he then teamed up with Bobby 'Digital' Dixon for a series of singles. Extensive touring with fellow roots and culture artist Luciano followed, earning Sizzla critical acclaim.
1996 marked an important turning point for Sizzla who began working with producer Phillip 'Fatis' Burrell of Jamaica's foremost modern roots stable, Exterminator. From the outset their relationship was one of mutual respect and inspiration. A run of successful singles led to the release of Sizzla's debut album, 'Burning Up' (RAS). The alliance again proved fruitful a year later with the follow-up, 'Praise Ye Jah' (JetStar). Securing his position as a top conscious reggae artist, he set about cultivating his role as a spriritual messenger. Sizzla's combination of Rasta principles and up-to-the-minute dancehall rhythms made his hard line approach more palatable. A brilliant and passionate performer, Sizzla broke boundaries, appealing to those looking for something new, music with depth.
His major breakthrough came with the release in 1997 of the now classic album, 'Black Woman and Child' (Greensleeves). Bearing all the hallmarks of Bobby 'Digital' Dixon's dancehall-influenced production, the impact on both the reggae and mainstream markets was phenomenal. The evocative title track, issued as a single, rapidly achieved anthemic status. Along with universal praise came Sizzla's first nomination for Best International Reggae Artist of the Year at the 1998 MOBO Awards and a place in various magazines' top 100 albums of the year.
Sizzla has since released no less than seven albums, including 1998's 'Kalonji' (Jestar), which saw the single "Rain Shower" play listed at Radio One and last year's 'Royal Son of Ethiopia' (Greensleeves). 1999 also saw him receive his second MOBO nomination. A constant presence in the reggae charts worldwide, Sizzla's fire shows no sign of abating.
If success brings media interest then Sizzla is no exception. But although he is a prolific recording artist, he remains a mysterious figure, having little or no contact with the media. To many Sizzla is a dichotomy; music is a vital means of delivering his message yet he doesn't support the music industry, believing it to be another corrupt and oppressing institution. Not wanting to be seen to endorse the industry, he is wary of any involvement with press and promotion - and has granted only a few interviews to date. His rare live appearances are always sold out.
Whether or not you share his philosophy, there is no denying that Sizzla is a gifted musician who has the courage to stand by his convictions, even at the risk of his career. Like Bob Marley before him and the black Muslim rap artists of today, Sizzla is all about truth through music. A principal figure in the 90's roots and culture revolution, he has inspired dispossessed Jamaicans and newcomers to reggae music alike.
But the revolution is far from over. With the release of his brand new album 'Bobo Ashanti', Sizzla look set to continue his reign as conscious reggae's biggest star. His most complete album to date, produced by Phillip 'Fatis' Burrell, showcases Sizzla at his best. 'Bobo Ashanti' is an epic and heartfelt journey along the Rasta path, each song reflecting common themes; Bablyon's corrupting influence, the disenfranchisement of ghetto youth, oppression of the black nation and Sizzla's abiding faith in Jah.
He has an ability to fuse passionate lyrical styling with deceptively simple rhythms that take in range of genres from staccato dancehall and gentle roots reggae to surprisingly commercial R&B and soul arrangements. Glorious opening track "The World" is a modern take on the pulsing dub beat and a call to conquer the evil west by rejoicing in Rastafari. Sizzla's plea for truth on "Courage" is set against a lilting guitar hook. He asks the ghetto youths to follow King Selassie and "Grow U Locks" on a punching dancehall rhythm. The R&B influenced closing track "Must Rise" is an earnest appeal to black people to find strength in unity. All share Sizzla's unmistakable voice, one moment gospel-like and next pure fire.
This Bobo Ashanti cannot be ignored. Embracing his roots and culture heritage, Sizzla has taken all that is great in reggae music and made it his own.
Let him save your soul.
Let him save your soul.