70 albums on from his 1995 long playing debut, Sizzla Kalonji provokes a wide diversity of opinions. Each new record he releases is hailed by some as a return to form and by others as evidence of decline. His one-time association with Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe and his well-publicised opposition to homosexuality have outraged liberal progressives. His singing voice, his lyrical consistency and his quality control are scrutinised like no artist in reggae – and few in popular music, bar Bob Dylan. Like him or not, every Sizzla album is an event and an interesting if sometimes frustrating listen.
And through all the controversy and hype Sizzla keeps on furiously working. In recent years he has been collaborating with important figures from his past (2010’s Crucial Times with Homer Harris; 2011’s unusually unified Scriptures using vintage rhythms by King Jammys; 2012’s The Chant recorded in Africa and produced by Dr Cave from Caveman Sound).
Album 70 The Messiah breaks the trend. Executive produced and written by Sizzla, recorded with long-time engineer Richard “Breadback” Bramwell at his Kalonji studio at 40 August Town Road, Kingston 7 – it represents a fresh chapter in the rebellious artist’s desire to strike out on his own.
Already some critics – especially in the USA – are hailing it as his best in years. Certainly it finds Sizzla’s songwriting and lyrics focused and engaged – even if a couple of rhythms sound like they were built on a basic toy keyboard. At the centre of its themes is Africa – a place where Sizzla’s music and visits are revered.
At the time of writing Sizzla is only booked to perform at one festival in Europe – Garance in France (which he admits is down to continuing problems over his anti-gay lyrics). But Sizzla has been in the news in Jamaica for more positive reasons. In December he gave a performance that was an antidote to an otherwise controversy-plagued Sting 2012. He has also been active as an influence on, and collaborator with, the island’s upsurge of cultural artists and live bands.
Sizzla spoke with Reggaeville about all these topics and more. Due to the poor quality of the phone line it was not always possible to hear his answers until the recording was played back. Yet he had plenty of opinions to share [follow the link to Pages 50-56 of the Festiville 2013 magazine].Read more…