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Nazarenes| Meditation

album review by John Powell

Nazarenes| Meditation

Ethiopian reggae outfit Nazarenes have hit a homerun with Meditation, a set of roots reggae propelled by a mind frame akin to Midnite, all sparse piano, one-drops, melodies, harmonies, and amazing use of horns. For those weary of what an Ethiopian reggae band sounds like: all songs are in English. Medhane Tewolde, Noah Tewolde, and Laurent ‘Tippy I’ Alfred make up the main songwriters, the first two the vocalists, who have a bigger range than Midnight’s Vaughn Benjamin (who appears on “The Lord Said”). All in all, Meditation covers some ground, tackling famine, global warming, love, loss, hope, and plenty of JAH praise.

The title track starts things out, interesting with an otherworldly chant, acoustic piano strumming over a tight rhythm section and succinct horns. “Get up in the morning/ at sun rise/ I start the day by facing the east,” it begins. “Bless my day/ fill me with joy.” Is it religious? In many aspects, yes, but they don’t preach and their message is more on being thankful for what’s there, and for working hard for what’s not. “Meditation” is spiritual without any Godliness apparent.

Next, “Food” fixates on old school Jamaican roots. Harmonies dance around the single word “Food”, escalating into almost 80s sounding groove. Percussion dominates here, along with the ever-excellent horns. The arrangement is wonderful, bouncing from minor to major keys, with just few enough words that you can easily learn to sing along- at which point you learn they have a bone to pick with globalizing governments.

“Mother” is a keeper, a praise of Africa. “You will no more suffer/ everything’s going to be better/ your time will come,” goes the chorus. The band is just so tight, the horns the most playful they’ve ever been. The lyrics are gorgeous, using many rehashed reggae themes but in a new light.

The best track, however, is “Mamy Blues”, with a reggae groove for the history books. Finally, the bass is turned up to where it belongs, and after a pretty little piano intro the band settles in to somber-yet-elegant instrumentation. A song about the earth and the abuse placed on it, “Mamy Blues” has an incredible message. It is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in years. I suggest getting the song off your iPod and onto some legitimate speakers. Turn it up and listen in.

Come “Politrickcians”, the last five songs have an 80s feel, more Steel Pulse and Aswad than Midnite. “Get Together” bellows with synth pan pipe and drums. The chorus has synth strings in cheesy arrangement, but the song, taken as such, isn’t bad so much as unfitting the decade of the album’s release.

“Destiny” warms over the bassline, but once again has the arrangement of an Eek A Mouse ballad. “Lonesome Lady” is classic one-drop and the album finishes with the reggae album must have title: “Love JAH”.

Meditation has great lyrics, excellent melodies, and is not what you’d expect when you hear Ethiopia. If anything, Nazarenes are proof that human troubles are universal. If you have found your roots music getting stale, here’s something new as familiar as your first reggae album.

Bottom line: Nazarenes don’t disappoint on roots reggae album full of positive vibrations and serious lyrical considerations.


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