Sunday, May 01, 2011

Michigan Bands: Music Review: The Lion Of Judah Hath Prevailed; The Process Meet Ghetto Priest



Music Review: The Lion Of Judah Hath Prevailed; The Process Meet Ghetto Priest

"The Lion Of Judah Hath Prevailed; The Process Meets Ghetto Priest" is a seven-track EP from the Saginaw, Mi based roots-reggae rockers, five of which are alternate mixes of the title track by London reggae artists and producers Congo Natty and Adrian Sherwood, and American artists and producers Skip "Little Axe" McDonald and David Harrow. The seventh "bonus" track is "Ghetto Life", a sneak-peek release from Ghetto Priests forthcoming record, "Sacred Ground" (On-U Sound Records 2011). Both songs are worthy additions to any reggae collection. Your DJ will know what to do with the rest.

The Process will be appearing for their second release party Saturday, May 7th @ The Elbow Room in Ypsilanti. The show starts @ 9:00pm.



Band: The Process
Website: www.theprocessonline.com
Recording: The Lion Of Judah Hath Prevailed; The Process Meet Ghetto Priest (2011 Temple Gong Recordings)
Members: David Asher,Garrick Owen, Bill Heffelfinger, Gabe Gonzalez, Seth Payton
Additional Mixes & Performances by:Ghetto Priest, Little Axe, Adrian Sherwood, Congo Natty, David Harrow.
Produced by: Negus Dawit & The Wizard Of Light (see last photo insert for actual credits)

review by Mitch Phillips, April 2011


Hail The King Of Kings, Praise His Name -


It occurred to me on first-listen to the title track of "The Lion Of Judah Hath Prevailed; The Process Meets Ghetto Priest" that reggae music, particularly the Rastafarian variety, may have more in common with God-fearin, Jesus-luvin' Christians than it does with dope-smoking, dread-headed stoners. Of course, The Process are neither, but 'Judah does give a nod to bible-inspired traditions of Judaism and Christianity.

The lyrics of the title track are replete with references to "Jah" (Jaweh or God), "Babylon" (that bustling land of confusion - you're soaking in it) and "Zion" (generally, any "promised land"). Even the title itself is lifted directly from the book of Revelations:

Revelations(5:5) 'and one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.'

In this case, however, 'The Lion of Judah' refers not to the biblical son of Jacob or to Jesus, but to the Orthodox Christian Emperor of Ethiopia who appears on the cover; Halie Selassie I (i.e. Ras Tafari Makonnen), who ruled from 1930 to 1974.

Selassie is recognized as the returning biblical messiah to certain mansions of the Rastafari tradition who purported his divinity when news of his coronation and official titles (i.e. "Conquering Lion Of The Tribe Of Judah", "King Of Kings" and "Elect Of God") reached Jamaica. By tradition, Selassie was the 224th Ethiopian emperor in an unbroken line of succession dating back to King Solomon and The Queen of Sheba - and, at the time, the only black independent monarch in a heavily-colonized Africa.

Selassie appears in the sepia-toned cover photo of the CD in full military regalia, complete with a safari-style helmet and an officer's cape befitting nobility. He stands triumphantly with one foot perched upon his latest "trophy"; presumably a cache of chemical weapons used against his people by Mussolini's Fascists who invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Selassie's triumph must have been short-lived, however, as he was forced into temporary exile shortly thereafter.

In 1936, the deposed emperor addressed The League Of Nations, pleading for help and moral sanity from the body and to make good on its commitment to collective security and help defend his people. Although considered to be one of the greatest speeches of the era, it resulted in only 'partial and ineffective sanctions' against the Italians.

His words did, however, earn him another title: Time Magazine's "Man Of The Year". But more importantly, it lay bare the moral hypocrisy of The League Of Nations (and, I'd argue, the U.N. to this very day) and it's members who were clearly motivated only by self-interest.

"God and history will remember your judgement," Selassie declared in his speech.

Those words would prove to be prophetic, particularly in regard to the decades of Rasta-centric roots reggae that would follow, propagating Selassie's pastimes with religious zeal to an infectious, skanky rhythm that would capture the imagination of the world.

God, History, Conscience


"The Lion Of Judah Hat Prevailed" is a worthy musical testament to Halie Selassie. Ghetto Priest sings that narrative with reverent humility ;

"1892 a child is born, in a ancient land called / Ehtiopia, in the province of Harar / Lij Tafari he is named, a divine personality / Crowned the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, ....By His name RastafarI"

The lyrics continue in the best tradition of socially conscious roots-reggae, proving The Process, if not intergovernmental organizations, have remained loyal to their stated mission since 1992, '...to fight ignorance, apathy and social retardation' - albeit against overwhelming odds (see American politics and television). If only our leaders were so steadfast and determined.
Asher points a finger with the lyric:

"The rich fall into temptation and foolish hurtful lust / Greed envy and craving for power, drowns men in destruction / Propaganda is only a tool, just a tool of the foolish / Take heed, and beware of jealousy / life is not in the abundance of possessions..."

But equal to the history and the social conscience of this track is the praise, which ascribes all the mystical qualities befitting a divine entity to Selassie. It's here I find similarities to Christian pop & rock, where exaltations are heaped-on in biblical proportions. Ghetto Priest sings:

"Standing like patience on a monument, smiling at grief
Blood sweat and tears for the sake of peace
He sits upon the highest regions, overlooking all
the harder they came is the harder they fall"


Asher sounds like a shaman with an attitude over a skanky, staccato clav:

"When I see the lightning and I hear the thunder
I know man and woman have made a blunder
Jah makes the winds His messengers, flaming fire His ministers
At his word the mountains rose and the valleys sank down"


Finally, the chorus marches you on to the summit with an urgent proclamation:

The Lion Of Judah hath prevailed!
Hail The King Of Kings praise His Name (praise His Name)
The Lion Of Judah hath prevailed!
The footsteps of His Majesty is not in Vain (not in Vain)


Spirituality, history, social justice - not exactly the kind of subject matter you'd expect from a group of folks who are so often depicted as dope-smoking, dread-headed slackers by pop-culture media. In light of that, I suppose I'll have to reconsider my pre-conceptions about Christian rock and pop music. Some other time, maybe.


Three For Five From Two

"The Lion Of Judah..." follows The Process' 2006 release, "Weapons Of Mass Percussion" which really only included two new songs ("Rasta Soldier" and the percussive instrumental "Weapons Of Mass Percussion Pt.2") and a litany of dub mixes and re-mixes that relied heavily on previously released material. Like it's predecessor, 'Judah', unfortunately, is light on new songs.

This record includes no less than five re-mixes of the title track, which were created over a three-year span by a host of artists and producers in Saginaw, Flint, London and LA. Exactly who needs five mixes of the same song is a question probably better left to DJ culture than to me.

In any case, there's a flavor for every palate; a "Chilled Mix" with American bluesman Little Axe (aka Skip McDonald, aka Bernard Alexandar), a "Well Toasted Mix" featuring London jungle producer and toaster Congo Natty (aka Conquering Lion, Rebel MC, Blackstar, Tribe Of Issachar, X Project, Ras Project), two versions by London dub producer Adrian Sherwood (one featuring Congo Natty and one pure Dub) and finally a mix by the restless and elusive David Harrow (he's recorded dozens of top artists in as many genres and pseudonyms).

On second thought, if you have the opportunity to work with this calibre of producers and performers, why wouldn't you release five versions of your new song? Hedge your bet. While "The Lion Of Judah Hath Prevailed; The Process Meet Ghetto Priest" may be light on the scale, don't complain 'cause you're getting the good shit here.


Everything Is Different In The Ghetto

The seventh and final "bonus" track is "Ghetto Life", a sneak-peek release from Ghetto Priest's forthcoming record, "Sacred Ground" (On-U Sound Records 2011). Ghetto Priest (aka S.G. Townsend) co-wrote and co-sings on the title track and appears in Harrow's mix as well. If "Ghetto Life" is a fair representation of the Priest's work, you'll want to catch the full-length when it drops sometime later this year.


Track By Track


1. The Lion Of Judah Hath Prevailed - The vocals of Ghetto Priest fall like rain over the keyboard motif while David Asher roars on like the thunder to a skanky, percussive clavinet, then builds to the triumphant declaration of the chorus. The synth-stab programming of Bill Hefflefinger and the heavily-affected guitar wanderings of Garrick Owen ride on the bedrock rhythm provided by Gabe Gonzalas and Seth Payton. Unmistakably, the sound of The Process.

5. Adrian Sherwood Dub Mix - Here things take a turn for the trippy. The verses are stripped from the mix, leaving only heavily affected back-up vocals and Asher's chorus. Emphasis is given to the guitars and some freaky spaced-out synth pads.
2. Little Axe "Chilled Mix" - Like it's name implies, this version dials it back a bit, dumping the synth-stabs and adding shuffling, brushed drum sound to the mix. The keyboard motif is replaced in the chorus with a squelchy fuzzed-wah guitar and a lead is tagged onto at the end ala Carlos Santana.

3. Adrian Sherwood Mix Featuring "Congo Natty" - Timbales take over for the drum kit. In addition to the original vocals, Congo Natty is added in the mix, "toasting" (kind of a mono-melodic vocal riffing) lightly over the verses which have been rearranged chronologically, beginning with Selassie's birth. The squelchy-fuzz-wah guitar from the Little Axe version is still present, as is the heavily-affected guitar of Bill Hefflefinger and Garrick Owen. Delay and echo are added selectively to the back-up vocals.

4. Congo Natty "Well Toasted" Mix - Here 'Natty riffs to his heart's content - I imagine a Rasta soldier tromping through the brush, Armalite slung over his shoulder, muttering whatever verse comes to mind to stave-off boredom and bolster his faith along the way. You'd think he was born there until he lets-on with a thick British accent for half a line, "I come from-a London where we cannot be tamed-a." Sherwood mixes the timbales a bit wetter, as well as the back-ups vocals which seem to echo out into the darkness.


6. David Harrow Mix - Like the dub mix, emphasis here is given to syth pads with the addition of a bass-heavy patch and sheer echo effects which add some breadth and headroom. The chorus is given the (a'hem) lion's share of space, repeating again and again - even when the music has dropped off completely.

7. Ghetto Life by Ghetto Priest - A battery of timbales takes you directly to the chorus: "Everything is different in the ghetto," Priest sings to a grave and plodding tempo. The verses illustrate that fact in a variety of ways, but one line sums it up: "What's good is bad / what's bad is worse / living with this ghetto curse." A lonely melodica riff elicits the visage of some forgotten street that leads to nowhere, emphasizing the soul-sucking desolation of his surroundings. 'Priest gets inside his lyric, sounding dejected by his surroundings, until desperation takes over and his voice rises high and clear above the "ghetto stream" where, perhaps, hope might be found. Strategically-placed vocal samples and synth pads add contrast. A delay-enhanced polyrhythmic high-hat keeps the whole thing moving along very nicely.

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