By Jen Cheshire
“Aaron Nigel Smith released his debut solo album In Our America, on his Aya World label, in partnership with Tuff Gong International, on March 8, 2019. With reggae songs that speak truth to today’s turbulent times, In Our America offers positive messages and inspiration for everyday activism. Songs from the new album were performed on February 6th at the Bob Marley 74th birthday celebration at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, as well as at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, CA, on February 23rd. On March 10 Aaron appeared at Wynwood Yard in Miami in a special album release showcase performance.
An educator and internationally touring musician known for the Emmy Award-winning PBS TV show Between the Lions, Smith is also founder of 1 World Chorus, a nonprofit organization serving youth in the United States, Kenya and Jamaica. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, Aaron has produced and released five albums for children, including 1 World Chorus Celebrates Bob Marley in collaboration with Ziggy Marley’s Tuff Gong Worldwide.
In 2017, Aaron was designated an Official Bob Marley Ambassador by the Marley Foundation. He has performed at venues ranging from Pickathon to Lollapalooza, with lots of schools and community groups in his regular touring schedule. This summer, he and his band will also perform at Wolf Trap Theater-in-the-Woods in Virginia.
Produced by Jubba White of Dubtonic Kru, In Our America is comprised of a collection of songs inspired by events in the USA and around the world. Aaron says, “I feel compelled to speak up about the state of our country and our world, especially political changes in the last two years.” – Majesty Media Press Release, March 5, 2019
When I was asked to review this album I jumped at the opportunity because, even though I knew nothing about Aaron Nigel Smith, I had seen the videos of a couple of the tracks and was excited.
The album “In Our America” opens with an intro track with a snippet of the National Anthem, followed by a child quoting “ In our America all people are equal”. This intro sets the scene for an album with a very political message, interspersed by interludes with other equally deceptive statements.
Track 2, “More Love”, talks about how it is up to the generations to pass on the philosophy of love making the difference. More love is needed in the family, the community and to immigrants and refugees. The Rastafarian message of love for our fellow man has always been the basis of reggae music and this is emphasized on this track.
This Rastafarian theme continues in the following track, “Rasta Run The World”, a call for Rastas to run the world with peace and love, saying that reggae music could “stand up to wickedness with a melody”.
“Trenchtown Rock”, is a remake of the classic song by Bob Marley. Aaron Nigel Smith has made this track his own but without losing the essence of Bob in the process. I think it is one of the best covers I have heard of this song.
Next up is one of the interludes I mentioned. This interlude is stating some blatant lies that are believed by many, that black lives matter and that immigrants and refugees are welcome here in America.
Track 6 “Ring The Alarm” features Mic Crenshaw. My initial reaction when listening to this track was “Whoa”. Aaron Nigel Smith does not hold back when letting us know how he feels about the government and especially the leader, with lyrics like “We don’t want no racist nazi, hateful wanna be, p***y grabbing, cheating, lying, thief, leading our country”. I envision this line being sung out by concert and festival goers for many years to come. This is a memorable line from a song that is calling on us to rise up and resist the resurgence of hatred. The force of this message is re-emphasized by Mic Crenshaw’s rap bridge which includes the lyrics “All the filthy deeds and dirt, like feces spread upon the earth” and “The ignorance feels comical”. Although no name is mentioned, it’s obvious who these lyrics are referring to. On an optimistic note, Aaron continues the song with “Love is going to rise again. Can you feel the swell?” I give massive credit to both Aaron Nigel Smith and Mic Crenshaw for having the courage to come out and say what many of us, not only in America, are thinking.
Once again the Rastafarian influence comes into play with the next track, “Rasta Shuffle” featuring Eden Rain. This song calls for unity and a peaceful revolution, standing up to the politicians who are seeking division.
Track 8 is “Real Situation’. The song speaks of the rise in hatred, calling on us to check out the real situation, not to go by what we are told but look to the facts. The second half of the song talks about what we are doing to the planet. It urges us not to ignore the signs but check out the real situation before it’s too late. This track has a jazzy fusion feel to it with a beautiful flute throughout the song.
Next up is another interlude, this time focussing on the misinformation about the progression of women’s rights.
In “Vision”, Aaron sings a song of thankfulness for what he does have, although acknowledging the hardships in life, but sharing his vision “I’ve got a vision, I’ve got a light. I’ve got a feeling that everything will be alright”. This is an upbeat song with some interesting instruments embedded in the riddim, listen closely.
The following song “Skate Rat”, features Zosia McGregor, daughter of Freddy McGregor. This is a love song Aaron dedicates to his wife, talking of how he has loved her since he was a “Skate Rat talking smack”. This is a catchy sing-along song.
“Light It Up”, needs no introduction. Once again it’s the obligatory “weed song”. It has a South Sea Island sound but mixed with a big band influence and a wicked trumpet solo.
Track 13, “Jah Bless Africa”, opens with an African chant and goes into a prayer for Jah to bless Africa and all her descendants and to extend a hand in the fight for equality.
The lie “In our America, people and the planet are valued over profit. Diversity is celebrated”. followed by a gospel choir singing “Oh Freedom” the post-civil war freedom song, closes out this magnificent album.
If Aaron Nigel Smith continues to make records of this quality, I believe in years to come he will be up there with the iconic revolutionary artists like Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and Lucky Dube, speaking out against the injustices of this country and the world, in a strong, unfettered way.
If you value reggae music with a serious message then check out (and buy) “In Our America” by Aaron Nigel Smith.