The one thing everyone can agree on about Sizzla is his work ethic. So following 2011’s John John production (and recent high point) The Scriptures with two more idiosyncratic albums in early 2012 comes as no great surprise. Both are African-themed, but where The Chant (for Sizzla pioneer Everton ‘Dr Cave’ Moore) hits higher individual heights, In Gambia’s eclecticism feels more focussed as a whole.
While The Chant grew out of Sizzla’s 2010 stay in Zimbabwe, In Gambia germinated from a well-received trip to the West African nation in 2008. Most tracks were recorded there, by Ras Murphy and Richard ‘Breadback’ Bramwell (Sizzla’s engineer at his August Town commune Judgement Yard), before getting some crisp post-production by Stainless Records’ top remixer DJ Karim Thompson.
Unlike its rootsier companion collection, which favours an odd mix of live instrumentals with cheaper-sounding digital rhythms, In Gambia strikes the organic/synthetic balance via hip hop and dancehall sounds. The backings are sparse: simple canvasses for Sizzla’s pro-African messages. Tempos range from the furious Gesseh-style djembe-drums of Welcome to Africa to the agonizingly slow Woman of Creation. The only one-drops are the uplifting, previously released seven-inch Blackman Rise, and the delicate but insistent Feed the Children.
The words, too, are basic yet effective. “Like I was told, Africa is the streets of shining gold,” chants Sizzla over the lone acoustic guitar of Make a Visit (showcased in different form onstage in Gambia). On the closer, Branded African, he asks, “If Africa is so poor, why does Europe keep coming back for more?” – here, he’s likening the harvesting of doctors and other experts for Western industry to snatching slaves. Liberal-progressive listeners will be disappointed, however, by the carefully worded but still condemnatory lyrics to the 90s hip hop-derived Nothing Can Wrong, which advocate heterosexuality and multiplication for all. Whether the individual listener is offended or not, this is a topic many will wish he would leave alone.
Having made albums with Jammys, Caveman and Homer Harris, now Sizzla has reached back to a more ancient past. Less impressive than The Scriptures yet more consistent than The Chant, In Gambia is well assembled, nicely produced and gives voice to his harder, danceable side.