Road to Zion
Dub Against Blackjack 12” and Digital Download
Crazy, adrenalin pumped, mental ska infused electro dub, that was the best way I could think of defining this EP when I first heard it. ‘Dub Against Blackjack’ is the latest output from Italian trio ‘Road to Zion’ and it is fair to say that this was quite a contrast to the Jah Roots Hi-Fi singles I was reviewing the day before. Hands up though, I must admit this is not a style that I am an expert on, but I found it pretty exciting and it fair knocked my socks off!
As an introduction, have a listen to this SoundCloud clip, you will get a better idea of what I mean. If you are primarily a roots and dub lover, perhaps ease yourself in gently with track four, ‘Free it Jungle’. This one has more of that choppy reggae sound that we love and cherish.
Road to Zion
Road to Zion are made up of founding member Massimo Jah Mekis (Producer, MC), Winston Cobe (Producer, Bassline) and Davide Albrici (Trombone). They are a talented group, I do love their inventive mixes and Davide's trombone lines are to die for. But underneath the lively, high tempo sound, the heartbeat of the group is very much about social consciousness and music with a message. They care passionately about how their music connects to the listener.
The Monkey Temple
Wanting to understand more about what drives them; I caught up with Massimo and Winston. To kick off and as I have an interest in how groups use artwork, I asked Massimo what was the significance of the monkey imagery that appears on the record sleeve?
'The concept is we follow jungle rules. More natural and more simple than the Babylon system, especially in the ‘first world’ where capitalism divides people and culture. We share with people freedom messages against the corrupt political system and the police control.’ This was not quite the answer I was expecting, shame on me for my preconceptions! I think I was anticipating something more superficial, when in fact Massimo’s words sum up how each aspect of what they produce has meaning, and how the concept of social revolution underlies what they do.
Winston added, ‘The sound is more digital than other songs in our discography. Music and lyrics strong, ‘militant’, but we did it really naturally. Our musical and cultural background is big, not only reggae and dub so we're trying to put it all in our sound, to create something sincere with all the different elements combined together. For example the concept of the monkey temple (their last album), is at the same time a sense of a new beginning, a new tribe, a new society and, at the same time, the stories about a society with all the problems that we know very well like power, corruption, authority, etc.’
Roots and Culture
With the single being pretty frantic, I asked the boys why that sound, rather than just mirroring traditional, slower Jamaican roots? Massimo replied, ‘The frantic sound recalls the message of social revolution which is inherent in the album. The rhythmic lines mingle with thumping bass. The trombone makes much more ‘revolutionary marching music’.’
Despite the up tempo sound and with Jamaican roots culture being an obvious influence, I asked how important this was to the group. Massimo answered first, ‘Road to Zion are inspired by Roots Culture coming from Jamaica (I travel every year in East Jamaica to discover Rasta Culture with respect and conscious mind) and mix it with new dub experience, especially with new dub come from France and UK like Panda Dub, Zion Train and Kanka. After that we put our music in our time, our year, with different messages especially in lyrics.’
Winston added, ‘Music and culture from Jamaica is our common heredity. The experience of Jamaican people for us is a journey that we have to do with our own story and personality. You can talk about spirituality, about social facts and about your own feelings and story, only one of them or combining all these aspects together, but with a sounds and lyrics that have a true meaning for you and for your reality.’
He continued, ‘Reggae can be spiritual, can be militant, I think that in fact it's an incredible combination of these aspects, but reggae can't be only entertainment with empty words. So we write about ourselves trying to find our own sound, in a never ending journey to discover the human experience that we call roots and culture, the message or sound system culture, an experience about love, slavery, revolution and so much creativity.’
21st Century Reggae
It sounds to me that groups like Road to Zion are a natural part of the growth and development of roots music and culture. They believe in the spirituality, the message of defiance and rebellion, but mix in their own experiences of being young in the 21st century. For me their combination of electro dub and lyrics that make you think works. I wonder if an innovative producer like King Tubby was around today, whether he would have gone in this direction, would he have been influencd by modern 'dance' music? I am glad we have producers and musicians carrying the torch in the modern world. It is quite comforting to know reggae’s future is in safe hands and that it will also grow and develop with the ideas of young talented artists. Long live the monkeys.....!
If the Road to Zion bug has bitten you head to their bandcamp page where you can order the 12” and download. Be sure to check out their ‘Monkey Temple’ album as well. Finally, check out this superb video, I think this sums up Road to Zion very nicely.....
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Bless, Paper Lion