Kerida Johnson aka Hempress Sativa recently unleashed her debut album called Unconquerebel on the 7th January 2017 – a significant date in Ethiopia (and especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) which still use the old Julian calendar and marks the date for the celebration of Ethiopian Christmas.
The thirteen track album has been carefully crafted by Hempress Sativa and Executive Producer, Chris Lion for Conquering Lion Records and had a simultaneous digital and vinyl release on 7th January 2017. Recorded primarily between Axx Studio and the legendary Mixing Lab Studio the album features a stellar line up of musicians including, but not limited to Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt, Robbie Lynn, Kirk Bennett Ian ‘Beezy’ Coleman, and Devon ‘Abdul’ Bradshaw.
Making the music accessible on all media platforms has been a key to the release of Unconquerebel given the background of both Hempress Sativa and Chris Lion as is the dominance of live instrumentation throughout the album.
Hempress Sativa was born to Rastafarian parents Doris-Ray Johnson and legendary drummer/ selector Albert ‘Ilawi Malawi’ Johnson of the Jah Love Sound System. It was her exposure to music at home that sharpened her skills and has manifested today in her expressive writing and delivery and is portrayed so clearly in sound system favourite ‘Rock It Ina Dance’ which was one of the first songs lifted off the album in 2016 on 7” vinyl in collaboration with buyreggae.com. The song appears with a brand new stop-start mix by Hopeton Overton Brown aka ‘Scientist’ and is guaranteed to get a forward anytime it is played by sound system selectors/ selectresses.
One of the first songs I recall listening to back in 2013 featuring Hempress Sativa was ‘Dread At The Control’ on an update of the enduring Ansel Collins Stalag 17 riddim put together by Micah Shemaiah featuring an all star line up also including T.J. (Likkle Briggie), Jahkime (Eesah), and Infinite.
‘Yes I’ve been rocking to this beat; from mi mami belly, Ilawi selecting the records DJ a Brigadier Jerry, from flash ’it in a Jah Love dance A gallop like a donkey”
Following the theme of sound system and an ode to live toasting is ‘Boom (Wah Da Da Deng)’ with the opening line ‘Well in come the Unconquerebel your highness Hempress Sativa the lyrical machine when the lioness roar no dog bark kick it off…’ –what follows next is pure fyah and gives the listener a glimpse of a live roots session in Vineyard Town at Jah Over Evil HQ’s. Italian Producer Paolo Baldini gets production credits on this sure fire hit.
‘Natty Dread’ has an underlying 70’s feel to it with a bouncy skanking riddim featuring live instrumentation and the inclusion of the only guest on the entire album Joseph Jackson aka Ranking Joe –a legendary DJ who started out as Little Joe recording his first single ‘Gun Court’ for Coxsone Dodd over the ‘Mean Girl’ riddim back in 1974.
Keeping in line with a broad range of themes on the album, the album opens with ‘Revolution’ a song with some strong horns arrangements with the Hempress asking the question ‘Are you ready for the revolution my people?’ and is an apt choice to warm the listener into the Rastafari teachings of songs such as ‘Jah Will Be There’ and ‘Heathen Wage’
Dub Robot is responsible for production credits on ‘We All’ which is introduced with sound FX and gives an instant feel of something magical in the production which complements Hempress Sativa’s vocal style and delivery with nothing rushed and has to be heard on a big sound system to appreciate it to it’s fullest.
Two of the most poetic songs on the album are ‘Twisted Sheets’ and ‘Black Skin King’ with the former previewed on 4/20 day and features an upbeat rhythm track. By contrast, ‘Black Skin King’ features a minimalistic rhythm track and enhances the sultry tones of Hempress Sativa.
Fight For Your Rights is one of four songs mixed by ‘Scientist’ and was previewed on 2nd November; Coronation Day and features a strong vocal plea from the Hempress calling for all Africans to unite and repatriate back to the Motherland and follows into ‘No Peace’
“There will be no peace, if peace is fought by war, love is what the world needs, equal rights and justice for all!”
Featuring backing vocals from Shereita Lewis and mixed by Devon Bradshaw is a cry for peace which is even more relevant given the events that we seem to witness on a daily basis across the world.
‘Skin Teeth’ is reminiscent of Horace Andy’s 1972 Studio One classic ‘See A Man’s Face’ featuring Devon Bradshaw and Courtney ‘Nam’ Diedrick on bass and drums respectively and is completed by another fine mix by DubRobot.
The album closes with the mystical ‘Made I Whole’ over a Nyabinghi riddim and rounds up an excellent debut album from Hempress Sativa and Conquering Lion Records which was launched in Kingston, Jamaica in January 2017 at Stone’s Throw Bar to a star studded audience and marks the first of many live tour dates planned across the world in 2017.