It is hard not to think of Marvyn Gaye’s classic What’s Going On as the introductory track threads spoken word through the beguiling background sounds. And even as that spills over into the first proper track, A Mothers Love, the same vibe prevails. But as things get going it is clear that Iyah Syte comes from a more reggae-infused place rather than the urban soul of the aforementioned Motown icon, but he still makes for a useful reference point.
So, the Soul Journey of the title is more one of an emotive, empathetic nature rather than a sonic one, though that isn’t to say that the soul sound doesn’t find its way into the album, mixing and matching with R&B, old and new, reggae roots and no small amount of pop infectiousness.
When You Love is a glorious song, one that takes the tones and textures of the Caribbean and weaves sumptuous harmonies through the soundscape and which seems to blend reggae immediacy and gospel ornateness, not that the two genres are that far apart anyway, but to be honest, it isn’t hard to join the dots between any genre worth its salt.
Voice of Jamaica revels even more in almost a capella celebration, the additional percussion and musical motifs secondary to the ebbs and flows of the vocals; spacious, powerful and poignant. At the other extreme, Stray Bullet takes the Reggae groove into overdrive, the beat and buoyancy of the song matching the urgency of the lyrical message and Highest Grade mixes the genre’s timeless traditions, skanking ska salvos and a looser, dancehall ease with a more modern take on things, the sound of the past being reimagined for the present and in doing so creating a sound for the future.
Plant Seeds carries a deeper and more brooding message, reminding us that reggae and its associate styles and scenes were, like most of the most powerful and long-lasting genres, born of poignant political need and have long acted as a social commentary. Similarly, Justice is both rabble-rousing and infectious and the album ends with the wonderfully genreless, or perhaps genre-fused Great Ones, a heady blend of folk-ballad and sundrenched torch song, political statement and history lesson; part entertainment, part informative lecture. That’s the power of music, at least in the right hands. Iyah Syte is the right, safe, pair of hands.
It’s a cool album, one that transcends mere music, as the artist’s name spells out, an album about Saving Youth Through Entertainment. Now when was the last time an artist took on a mission this worthy? Not for a long time, I’ll wager.