A criticism lying at the feet of many modern reggae artists is that too many have moved away from what made the island music so special: one-drop rhythms and conscious-raising lyrics. Replaced instead with its muscular cousins in dancehall and reggaeton, the mystical vibrations blowing through the air often turned into status reports choking in the smog of misogyny and materialism. The genre even came up with its own term for this devolution, labeling these mostly myopic cuts as slack songs. One of the bands that has avoided the slack and maintained ties to the roots while expressing current social condemnations is Raging Fyah, whose latest album, Everlasting, is a glowing example.
The path to enlightenment is direct, if not coarse, with life’s harsh reality buttressed by spiritual faith, as horns sound the call on the title track, and a warning that the world is tumbling. Marcus Garvey and Jesus Christ are name-checked in quests for equal rights (“Justice”), as J Boog and Busy Signal lend support to “Live Your Life,” and its conspicuous use of the Bob Marely lyric, “lively up yourself.” There are candles-lit slowdowns like “Ready for Love,” and colloquial fun as on “Dash Wata” which hints at the melody of “La Bamba,” but the majority here are pointed rallying cries.
Jesse Royal jumps in to shake up “Humble,” while “Raggamuffin” deploys an infectious chorus that takes hold in the memory banks long after the absorbing track subsides. Prayers to Jah flow from “Try Again,” into the symphonic overtones of “Get Up,” before Busy Signal returns on the dappled funk of “Would You Love Me.” Fingers snap and birds sing, tethered by a bassline pulling heavy duty on the summer-lite “Happiness,” while the quintet wants to talk to the boss and get the world straightened out on an expressive “Wondering,” carrying the blues through the closing notes of “Getting Dread.”
While peers have adopted harder edges to their musical approach but let the subject matter slide into banality, Raging Fyah has kept the bubbling ire of its predecessors alive in its penetrating lyrics and classic beats. Everlasting is an album that does have a soft side, finding time to encourage the positivity of life. But, it also seeks the guidance to answer the hard questions that have been absent from reggae’s dialogue for too long.