IVORY COAST: Yitzhak Rabin - Alpha Blondy
From traditional roots reggae to afrobeat to sweet ballads, this peace-seeking album has it all...
When we think of visionaries for peace our minds are often drawn to figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela whose ideas fortunately got to see the light of day, with long-lasting change affected in their name. As the son of an Israeli, I grew-up all too aware of the chaos that has plagued the region from which my ancestors hail, from even before my family arrived to the land of milk and honey in the 1950s up until this day, as the situation continues without a proper resolution. However, the name Yitzhak Rabin was one that I was wholly aware of from a young age that stood out from the crowd when discussing Israel, as it was perhaps the only name that could once upon a time generate real feelings of hope and optimism for the seemingly lost cause that is peace in Israel.
“...he used the deep connection that various people groups have associated with the city of Jerusalem as a theme to unite people...”
Known as both a war hero in his younger years and a peace-making icon in his second stint as Prime Minister, Rabin’s story is one that is tinged with tragedy due to his assassination in 1995 before he was able to complete his vision of the Oslo peace process. Unlike the likes of aforementioned bastions of peace Gandhi and Mandela, Rabin was arguably a more complicated figure. His decision to negotiate with Yasser Arafat despite masterminding a series of terrorist attacks including the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics tarnished his reputation and legacy in the eyes of some, yet for Ivorian singer Alpha Blondy it merely served as a mark of respect.
Three years after Rabin was killed, Blondy dedicated an album in memory of the Israeli by naming it after him. As the child of a Muslim father and Christian mother Blondy felt a strong sense of responsibility to use his music as a vehicle to promote a message of unity. Initially making his name recording Bob Marley covers, most notably his remarkable version of War, Blondy's signature move soon became to make music reggae music in an array of languages. On top of this he used the deep connection that various people groups have associated with the city of Jerusalem as a theme to unite people and even though this is prevalent elsewhere in his back catalogue it is arguably never as pertinent as when he appeals that "Rabin is alive", a message that seems to suggest that it is his wisdom that we must bury the hatchet and find a middle ground for the sake of humanity.
Though such a pure message of peace is of course one that should be praised, Yitzhak Rabin is an alum that should be held in far greater regard due to its musical quality. Before the title track the album begins with another memorable banger New Dawn, one of the only tracks in which Blondy sings in English. His multi-lingual approach to song writing is one method of promoting a message of global harmony, but even through his music he does this too. Saraka has elements of Raï and North African music implemented with some beautiful incorporation of the flute, whilst the absolute earworm Assinie Mafia introduces aspects of afrobeat separating him from other reggae artists as he blends together the music of his homeland with the music of Jamaica.
That said, this does not mean that Blondy has to rely on external inflections to make himself stand out from the crowd. Songs like Les imbéciles is real roots reggae as he slows the groove right down to make the sense of protest feel more pertinent. Other tracks include particular musical elements which just hit the spot, such as the phenomenal horns on the bop Hypocrites and the gorgeous guitar riffs on Maïmouna. Just when you think Blondy can do it all, he comes out of left field with the sweetest of ballads, Les larmes de Thérèse, a song where he manipulates his voice to sound almost like a different artist than on the other tracks whilst maintaining the same loveable and hopeful twang.