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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Monday, September 21, 2009.


K’Naan & DJ J collaborate on The Messengers, a tribute album to the music of Fela Kuti-Anikulapo, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. This is a true tribute and not just an excuse for K’naan to drop new, or leftover, or second-rate, or gimmicky tracks. No matter how big a fan of the music created by the Fela and the two Bobs triumvirate, you will find some new snippets of information and music revealed to you in this new relaese. If no more than hearing conversation featuring the voices of the creators, this project makes us smile.

Listen and the beauty will be seen. These tracks are wisely chosen: some tunes well known, others less popular but ultimately all of the tunes work together; a puzzle successfully assembled.


Period’s musical vault is more significant than Fort Knox, the former location of U.S. gold reserves. The dollar may have gone off gold but the music continues to mine the enduring ore of past creations.

Plus, J. Period is a deft tailor, sewing beats together and embellishing the suit with double stitches—little snippets of sounds, beat shifts like a perfect off-kilter cut of cloth accenting the suit with slashes of color, or folds of innovative pleats, not to mention the mixing and matching of what initially might seem like “totally, that shit don’t go together.” But  when you hear it, you say like, well, ok, go ahead then with your bad self.

Also, dig the spoken interludes in between, over, and all up around the beats. Period must have some bloodhound up in his ears to be finding all of this stuff and figuring out how to mix and match, how to crazy quilt a beautiful musical cloth.


Additionally, he’s deft on the mixing board. The heavy manners of technically tight production values—that’s J. Period’s usual trademark, and it’s stamped in spades on this project.

Secondly, it is interesting how K’naan re-recorded previously composed verse, retrofitting his cadence to the reggae lope. K’naan’s syllables hiccupping up and down while the bass does wind—say ‘wine, wine, round n round.


And for me, the new vocalizations are more effective in communicating the sound and sense of the old lyrics than earlier recorded versions. Take that love song, “Fatima,” about K’naan’s first girlfriend who was murdered in Somalia. The lyrics are emoted over Bob’s “Stir It Up.” Make me fiend to hear what J-man would do with something like “Waving Flag.” It’s not just the voice, it’s the arrangement of the backing mixed with the rhythm rapping.

I have for a long, long time wondered when rap artist would begin doing their roots music, meaning when would they take on the music that influenced them, that they like, and give us their own versions of what moves them. This is a stirring answer to my wondering.


You know it would have been easy to fuck up this Bob Marley tribute. Bob’s music is so well known, so beloved, and so done right from jump street—remixes and covers are hard to do and come out stronger than anything but a pale shadow (yep, not even a dark shadow, but something fading to pale) compared to the fully-rounded  color of the original.


Bob man! He is a composer and craftsman of the highest order, so to come behind, trying to fly like him, is dodo birds compared to dread-plumaged eagle. Yet every time I listen to this K’naan/J. Period segment, I get caught short wanting to hear more, surprised that it is over so soon. That’s a good sign.

Kalamu ya Salaam is a writer, musician and film-maker based in New Orleans, USA.

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