Circles Album Review - Kaleteur News

Art and Culture Review…A Political Message with Musical Flair

MAY 26, 2013 | BY  | FILED UNDER NEWS 

By Dr. Glenville Ashby
Singer and composer Yusseff Ahmed strips the musical genre of rapso from its signature gritty and grim appeal, injecting a joie de vivre that seeps through every rendition. His protest songs are imbued with hope. Fatalism and calamitous showdowns are shelved.

This is the new mode of rapso – catchy, thumping and elastic – yet poignant and revolutionary. Surely, with Circles, Ahmed has finally etched a place among the finest ambassadors of the art form. His vocals are crisp, odic, catchy, and robust. Song after song is delivered with attitude, angst, even a touch of gravitas. Ahmed still cares. Social consciousness resounds throughout. He exhorts, cajoles, and at times inveighs against the establishment, and his message pierces the airwaves…unrepentant. From the prophetic “Winds of Change,” which intones the imminent fall of political tin gods, to “People Power” – a battle cry for individual empowerment through reason and knowledge, Circles is thematically sound with each track rallying around the banner of liberty and self determination.

In “Got a Gun,” the bedeviled inner city is cautioned to reflect. It is musically blasé, but is ingeniously salvaged with the addition of a more colourful and energetic Spanish version. Society must be overhauled! The inhumanity and duplicity must stop! We are all accountable, and are equally culpable. The CD’s title explores the oftentimes debated topic of contemporary society and its fast paced, circulatory, almost autonomic character.

Why rapso hasn’t exploded is debatable. Maybe its candid, shoot-from-the-hip messages are far too invidious. After all, social truths are bitter pills, better left unswallowed. Maybe it foments fissures and awakens social somnambulism, creating frightening scenarios Change, as we well know, is never readily embraced.

Rooted in extemporaneous musical poetry and popularised in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, rapso is defined by its raw social and political slogans. And there have been many noted messengers. Brother Valentino and Brother Resistance have sure left their imprints. And there are others in the Diaspora, equally skilled in the craft.

For his part, Ahmed remains authentic, a fundamentalist, essentially loyal to tradition.

His concerns are the same – social justice, economic and political transparency. His Remember Lulumba, reassures his fans that Ahmed is still on top of his game, lyrically. But when provocative social justice messages are interwoven with snappy bass lines, innovative musical synthesisation, and acoustical refinement, they assume a different veneer that is palatably optimistic. This is strength, the uniqueness of Ahmed’ work – persistently fresh and unpredictable.
In this, his third CD, singer and composer Ahmed travels a long distance to cement his place among rapso’s elite bards. It is a long, winding road that can sap the resourcefulness of many upstarts. Interestingly, Ahmad steps outside the fold of traditional rapso, foraying into an eclectic blend of musical rhythms. It is a herculean, if not visionary musical effort. Surely, every song is not equally captivating, viz., The Journey has just begun,” that suffocates from banal musical riffs and vocals that lacks Ahmed’s trademark exigency.

Circles is a resilient and artistic undertaking that is well produced. The UK-born musician who spent his formative years in Trinidad has managed to fuse classical rapso rhythms with the pulse of Latin music and the melody of calypso. It’s a marriage not so much of convenience, but of growth and creativity. Will he have his fair share of detractors? Sure, but has any musician ever been left unscathed when venturing into unchartered waters? At times, the price of growth, if not crowning success, is dicey. Has Ahmed sold out for the taste of commercial appeal? The jury is still out. What is certain, though, is that his message remains as driving and socially relevant as ever. And that may just hold some critics at bay.

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