Ras Teo‘s long-awaited collaboration with producers Zion I Kings (ZIK) rocks in the deepest roots reggae tradition. With JAH David Goldfine in the producer’s chair, Ras Teo gives fine voice to songs full of thematic elements that range from Rastafari to spirituality, and meditation.
By Midnight Raver
The Celestial Rockers Showcase is a four by four-song vocal and dub showcase which features a host of players and vocalists. ZIK lay down the riddims with JAH D (drums, bass, percussion, guitar); Andrew “Drew Keys” Stoch (keys and trombone); Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred (rhythm guitar, keys); Andrew “Moon” Bain (lead guitar); Patrick “Aba Ariginal” Tenyue (trumpet); and Ben “Ashanti Selah” Smith (kette).
I recently spoke with JAH D about how this project came together:
“Ras Teo linked me to play bass on a song he did with Pablo Gad that Ashanti Selah out of London produced. So he had me play bass in sort of a work-for-hire capacity. So I started linking him with riddims and he voiced a couple and he did really well like two of them I sent he voiced the same day and I loved what I heard. So we did two more and called it an EP. This format of four and four (four vocals, four dubs) is something we gonna be using a lot in the future.”
Celestial Rockers Showcase kicks off with “Gone Ah Search,” a song that mocks those who elevate religion above righteousness and features Ras Teo’s signature vibrato in the finest style. The riddim is vintage ZIK, a modern roots reggae track with a throwback appeal. With majestic horns and exquisite backing vocals by the Mighty Diamonds, this track is sure to impress every listener. Ben “Ashanti Selah” Smith’s dub mix gives the track renewed life with spacious elements which allow for plenty of dub effects and echo, giving the track a lighter touch. Smith also brings the rhythm guitar forward in the mix which gives it a cadence and skank that many dub tracks lack.
The lilting “JAH Waterfalls“ is my favorite track on the album. The tune has a downtempo vibe with a cool and calm feel that just draws you in. Enough has not been said about the vocal stylings of Ras Teo. The man has an angelic voice which would be a blessing to any musical genre. As fans, we are profoundly fortunate that he chose reggae in which to stake his claim. Andrew “Moon” Bain is supreme on lead guitar, weaving a beautiful web of licks throughout the tune. His dub mix of “JAH Waterfalls” is just as impressive, bringing his “digital ancient” sound to the mix and displaying his talents earned over more than twenty years as a producer and dub engineer.
The final two vocal tracks, “1n2n3” and “Cooyah Cooyah” are as impressive as the previous tracks. Both tracks speak to Ras Teo’s faith in Rastafari and his abiding spirituality which leads him through his days. Dub masters JAH David and Tippy I take the controls on the respective dub mixes, totally transforming the tracks into surreal soundscapes that they are now legendary for creating in their projects.
Celestial Rockers Showcase is the very first album from ZIK which features drum programming, a change that Ras Teo was not really open to at first. JAH D addressed this new endeavor by the world-class production team.
“Yes this is actually the first Zion I Kings project where I used programmed drums. Ras Teo didn’t even know until I told him. He was telling me that he didn’t really want to do any work with programmed drums or programmed riddims and I was like ‘you know this album is programmed drums.’ And he couldn’t believe it but he told me to keep them, you know, not to mess with them. It was all a result of this COVID thing you know. I was locked up and didn’t have access to other drummers. So Ras Teo said don’t do them over live. And I even asked Moon and he said the drum sound was mad and that I shouldn’t do them over. To me it almost sounds like more vintage than our usual drum work.”
So will ZIK use programmed drums in their future projects? Probably not. In fact, they will be collaborating with uber-talented producer and musician Roberto Sanchez to create their drum sound.
“Roberto is really amazing” explains JAH D. “He’s got a great studio with excellent equipment. On the drums he is a tuning master. We had a great drummer in Junior [Richards] and we always recorded in real nice studios with Tippy or someone engineering but our drum sound would vary a lot. The sound of Roberto’s projects is very cohesive because of the consistent tones and style of drumming he uses. So when we mix an album, that is something we are always striving for, this cohesiveness in sound. Roberto is always set up at his studio a certain way, mic’d a certain way, so it makes my job as a mixing engineer so much easier.”
Celestial Rockers Showcase is livicated to the late Andrew “Drew Keys” Stoch whose contributions on keyboards and trombone always served to help make the Zion I Kings roots reggae sound so timeless. JAH David spoke eloquently about the loss of Drew Keys during our recent interview.
“Drew Keys, what a great bredrin. He is such a great musician, such a great friend of mine and a bredrin in the faith same way. He was like the chief musician among us like he was way more schooled than any of us. When we would try something new, or try something kind of risky or try to push the boundary he was always the one to verify ‘yeah this is ok.’
Drew was the man. Drew could hear a song and tell you like the chord progression just from listening to it. He had perfect pitch and that is rare even among trained musicians. He was a trombonist and he was head of the trombone squad in high school you know. He just added so much to our productions like color wise, and textures.
His knowledge of music allowed us to explore all realms. Drew knows exactly what is going on theoretically all the time whereas me, Tippy, and Moon may have to step back sometimes and ask ourselves ‘Yo is this right? Can we do this?’ Drew had that confidence that we needed as a band. Drew can never be replaced. We will really miss his writing and his ideas for sure.”
Celestial Rockers Showcase is perhaps Ras Teo’s best work to date. It is clearly evident that he has a certain synergy with Zion I Kings, and JAH D in particular. Ras Teo and JAH D carefully selected the riddims for this project from Zion I Kings’ vast catalog. As they say Iron Sharpen Iron. Ras Teo is not only in a top vocal form on this album but he is also a much more evolved lyricist as well. Celestial Rockers Showcase will not only be one of the year’s best reggae albums, but it will also stand as a landmark release in Ras Teo’s career. More Life…