One of life’s chief lessons is the consistency of change. The Earth, once conceived flat, is now thought to be round. The Book of Enoch, Noah’s great-grandfather, was obscured for generations until three copies were brought out of Ethiopia by a prominent European explorer. Events like these have triggered paradigm shifts in the evolution of human thinking, yet the same principle applies to individual growth as well.
Akae Beka is the current manifestation of an evolving consciousness. Following a quarter of a century as lead singer and co-founder for the legendary, St. Croix-based band, Midnite, Vaughn Benjamin was inspired to intensify his light when life situations led him to revisit the Book of Enoch. He then realized his preparedness to answer the calling of a sacred oath described therein, the Akae, the Beka, one and the same. Much like the archangel Michael who was responsible for the truths pertaining to the secrets of creation, so does Benjamin today accept his role in a parallel time of rampant deception and broken taboos in the arenas of world leadership. Always rooted firmly in the teachings of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I, his personal evolution and reaffirmed purpose is manifested in his newly declared name.
Vaughn and his brother Ron Benjamin, sons of Antiguan music legend Ronnie Benjamin, Sr., together sowed the seeds of Midnite in 1989. During the mid-1990s, the band embarked on a 5-year sojourn in Washington DC, where they became area legends for their nightly 3-5 hour sets. Albums such as the debut Unpolished (1997), Ras Mek Peace (1999) and the seminal third release, Jubilees Of Zion (2001), collectively set the tone for what would become more than 60 albums leading up to 2014. That year, their album Beauty For Ashes (a Midnite – I Grade collaboration) was named ‘Reggae Album of the Year’ by iTunes.
Though his signature voice and edifying poetry graces an incredibly vast catalog of recordings, Akae Beka was unleashed by Fifth Son / VPAL Music in November 2015 with the debut album, Homage To The Land. The sophomore follow up, Portals, was released in collaboration with I Grade Records in April 2016. Livicated, released October 2016 on the Zion High Productions label, is the third and most recent project continuing Benjamin’s reputation for prolific output. JahSayDo, the fourth release under Akae Beka, will be released on March 31, 2017. Still he explores and introduces ancient, esoteric knowledge in ways applicable to present day realities.
Akae Beka is accompanied by the following players of instruments: Peter Willock (drums and percussions), Lyndon ‘Ras L’ Williams (bass), Edmund Fieulleteau (guitar), Legrand Lee (guitar) and Suren Fenton (keyboards). Consisting mostly of former Midnite band members, the Akae Beka sound builds on a strong foundation of trance-inducing performance experiences across five continents and countless festivals such as Bonaroo, Outside Lands, Reggae on the River, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Summerjam, Rototom Sunsplash and Reggae Jam.
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Raver Reviews: Akae Beka’s ‘Homage To The Land’
On Homage To The Land, the debut album by Akae Beka, Vaughn Benjamin forges a new path with a familiar sound. This most recent Vaughn Benjamin/Fifth Son collaboration has the signature high quality production, however with a more refined sound than previous efforts.
Akae Beka’s debut album Homage To The Land, released by Fifth Son/VPAL on November 6, 2015, was viewed by some to be the second incarnation of Midnite. On the album Vaughn Benjamin brings his unique brand of reggae with strong orchestral and jazz elements – an agile, buoyant, multi-layered sound characteristic of Fifth Son productions. Benjamin’s chant and call is backed by mandolins (“All We Be”), violins (“Right Away”), flutes (“World Citizenship”), and a whole host of brilliantly-played horns, including trombones, trumpets, and a wicked bari sax (“Homage To The Land”). The playing on the album is nearly flawless. The Fifth Son players are methodical and precise on guitars, nimbly picking apart each tune with exactness and command.
Homage To The Land is a laudable debut effort for Vaughn Benjamin under the Akae Beka moniker. As players of instruments the band is in top form as they construct a ten song set that should satisfy even the most devout and discerning of Midnite fans. Although the band experiments with an assortment of new instruments, the album’s sound does not become buried nor does the album sound overproduced. A solid album from start to finish and proof yet again that Vaughn Benjamin is one of reggae’s most dynamic talents.
Portals takes you even deeper into those ethereal, nebulous spheres which you didn`t think exist beyond what can be described as the meditative St. Croix style established by Midniteand Dezarie. Almost two decades have passed, since Midnite`sUnpolished and Dezarie’s Fya initiated a process of continuous ideological, musical and personal mystification within the manifold and ever-creative space of Reggae music. More and more, cloudy soundscapes began to grow around clear drum- and off beat sounds, wrapped in mysterious baselines in order to eventually from a melancholic soundscape in which pictorial and symbolic lyrics reason around ancient transcendental truths. In deed, the unique and unusual, singing style of Midnite frontman Vaughn Benjamin has always been crucial to this melancholic and impressionist style, and as Akae Beka, he now represents the current manifestation of deep spiritual Roots Reggae.
The music on Portals, which is the second album Benjamin released under his new stage name, flows natural like a mountain stream, cleansing the mind with the pure and cool water of thoughtfulness. Just like the Midnite album Beauty for Ashes, a product of I Grade Records, which is also located in St. Croix, Portals, too, let Lloyd “Junior” Richards take care of the drums, who bestows this unmistakable and unpredictable Midnite groove on the whole album. Further developed, however, than many previous Midnite releases in terms of the quality of sound and mix, the album subtly sets itself apart from the mother project, just as much as it is similar to it.
Portals is a homogeneous potpourri of thirteen songs, similar in approach yet different in implementation. Instrumentally, the album sometimes counts on distorted guitar lines, for example, in Heavy Low and Well Said, on layers of synth pads with loads of reverb as in Changes, or on concise brass contours as in Ideals of the Emperor. As usual, Benjamin’s lyrics come along well reflected; a stream of consciousness, allegorical and symbolic, yet pregnant with meaning and full of life’s teachings, as the chorus of Like Rhyme elegantly shows: "as perceptions change in time, people go through similar things same time, experience tells a story if you don’t mind, cause life to flow like rhyme."
In By All For All, Benjamin builds a wall of mysticism around the core of his message, which, however, makes it so interesting to listen to him. The album’s naturalness climaxes in Orderly, a graceful homage to Jah creation, in which the chirping of birds beautifully merges into a sound collage with the other instruments. With a mixture of lead synths and guitar dubs, plus an inventive drum beat, the title song Portals acoustically pushes you back and forth on a psychedelic and fast-moving scenery, more and more towards “the entrance of the portals.”
The only feature guest on this album is also from St. Croix. On Let Babylon Go, Danny I adopts to Vaugn Benjamin’s singing style so well that it makes you think the both of them must be brothers. Well, they descend from the same musical family, that’s for sure. Some sounds in Be Kindly almost have a spooky flair, while Simplest Long rather creates a positive mood through its dry dub style. Dem a Warriah is a heavy and serious tune with a somewhat African touch to Benjamin’s articulation and on the album`s last song, where melodicas merge with lead synths, a straight one drop helps the lyricist to finalize his message with the words Love is the Mainstay.
Portals continues the saga of top-class spiritual impressionist Reggae, and those who love Midnite will also find great pleasure in the mystic world of Akae Beka.
After Homage to the Land and Portals, Livicated is the third studio album of Akae Beka and the second one this year, but the first in cooperation with Zion High Productions outta Florida. Fans have been used to expecting several albums a year since the times of Akae Beka’s predecessor Midnite, from which the band evolved around frontman Vaughn Benjamin in 2015 after the dropout Vaughn’s brother Ron on bass and the addition of Suren Fenton on keyboards. We have also witnessed Midnite working with a variety of producers throughout their career which has brought forth almost 60 albums since 1989.
Akae Beka’s two recent collaborations with I Grade Records from St. Croix (Portals) and Fifth Son Records from New Mexico (Homage to the Land), both bore solid long players which have represented the band on the musical landscape since their transformation from Midnite to Akae Beka. Both albums take their strength from a continuous desire to grow spiritually and musically, yet, they stay true to the unique meditative St. Croix style which was developed throughout the years and can be held responsible for the homogeneity of Akae Beka’s music as well as the steady attention it gets from a continuously fascinated and Rasta-inspired massive in Jamaica and elsewhere. Simultaneously, from release to release, small and subtle alterations in the process consistently shape the music’s representation and help to keep it interesting.
Now it’s not a secret that the newest collaboration with the so-called ‘Zion I Kings’, a producer team consisting of Laurent “Tippy” Alfred from I Grade, Andrew “Moon” Bain from Lustre Kings and David ”Jah David” Goldfine from Zion High, was not supposed to reinvent the wheel, but instead, to continuously inspire those who have learned to love the mystic teachings and appreciate the detailed and often cryptic elaborations of Akae Beka which can carry reference from pretty much every knowledge accessible for mankind, from ancient religious teachings to contemporary findings in natural sciences. Whether or not you think that this album is but a sequel to Portals, and whether or not you were expecting new, more inventive musical developments or even more innovative rhetoric, I only want to reveal this much: on Livicated, a variety of treasures is hidden behind a curtain of familiarity. This invites those who are just discovering the island of Akae Beka on their musical ocean and want to explore it further as well as those who already know what awaits them and who feel inspired to go deeper and look behind the curtain.
No matter what, experts and newcomers both will find pleasure in identifying subtle aspects of sound aesthetics and vocal performance, and those who love to rack their brains over symbolism, ancient scriptures and wordplay might just have discovered one of their favorite albums. Whether or not you read the album’s title as the Rastafarian deconstructivist version of the English word “Dedicated,” or as a variation of “Levitated,” most definitely, this one is a dedicated piece of art which indeed seems to be levitating slightly above this world.
Lean back, get your headphones – and dictionaries – out and tun up di level for Livicated, twelve conscious reggae songs brimming with self-realization, mysticism and music skills.