Album Review by Jen Cheshire
“Born on December 12, 1988, Kumar McCarty Bent was raised in the parish of Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica. As a young man he found himself frequenting sound system hubs in the neighboring parish of Clarendon, where he would purchase dub plates for resale in other sections of the island. It was not long before he found himself ghostwriting for upcoming artists, most notably Duane Stephenson who hired Kumar for a project in collaboration with producer Christopher Birch.
A working relationship was then established with Birch, and Kumar grew into a full-fledged artist, known originally as Damari. His artistic development continued with productions from Notis Records before he was approached by Raging Fyah to become the band’s lead singer. Damari then became the world renown Kumar, helping the outfit to break beyond a local industry usually unaligned with band culture to become one of the forefront bands of the Reggae Revival movement.
The rest, of course, is history. Yet this is a history still unfolding and one in which a 30-year-old Kumar has returned to life as a solo artist, feeling renewed and experiencing new heights of creativity. The first single of this new phase, ‘It’s Alright’ (produced by Nebulus Records/Big Yard Music) is a signal to his longtime supporters that Kumar’s usual strength of voice and depth of message are not going anywhere, anytime soon. At the same time he is evidently evolving beyond the usual genres and sounds that have previously accompanied his words. Going forward, Kumar is delving deeper into various sources of inspiration and he invites us all to join him the rest of the way on his incredible musical journey.” (Excerpt from Kumar’s Bio)
I was excited when asked to review Kumar’s debut solo album as I was a big fan of Raging Fyah. I have also met Kumar a couple of times and found him to be a sweet, humble young man.
The album opens with an introduction called “There Is No Movement Without Rhythm”. An infectious African beat creates a background for Kumar’s philosophy of this musical journey. In spoken word, he talks of how music takes us to places and people and elevates us. “Melodies that carry you to different places, visualizing faces, embracing these stages. Creating, elevating to the highest regions of our minds”. There are many instances when I don’t always agree with the selection of opening songs on an album, but this one is perfect, setting the scene for the album’s journey.
“Trading Places” is a very poignant song to a marching beat, which I believe, without him saying so, is describing Kumar’s journey upwards with Raging Fyah and his difficult decision to break from the band to follow his own dreams.
The following track, “Sailing” has the same musical feel that a lot of the US bands have. I’ll admit I didn’t like this song to start with because it was so different from the true Jamaican feel that we have come to know from Kumar. Having said that, after listening to the album 3 more times it has grown on me, and as the theme of the album is the journey through cultures, it fits well.
Joined by Chevaughn, Kumar brings us “Live Another Day”, a rock fusion song about how having fame and fortune isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and doesn’t make you happy. If they had to make the choice, they would trade it in and go back to the beginning “just to live another day”.
“Grain Of Sand” feat. Agent Sasco has the same underlying beat as the previous track making the flow from one track to the other seamless. The riddim on this track is a lot more complex with horns etc, filling it out into a big production. The song emphasizes that no matter how much you think you are a big man, you are as small as a grain of sand to JAH.
With a mystical, somewhat Eastern-sounding backing, Kumar brings a reminder of what this album is about with an interlude called “My Life – My Message”.
Kumar’s next track definitely has a message. “Dry Bones” is questioning if we are programmed to think in a certain way and speculating that we are all owned by the establishment, which results in us living in a war zone. He sings how he can’t wait to escape the program.
“One Day” is a song about life’s choices and what you do with them. How sometimes you get off on the wrong track and don’t know how to get back home. Some youth become gunmen and can never go back. It continues that however lost you feel, some days you just have to be a Moses.
A complete change of mood comes with the next track. “Loyalty” is about a broken relationship. Kumar sings that loyalty seems to be missing in the world today. Despite this, he is recovered from the hurt and is happy.
In “Race of Your Own” Kumar is joined by M-1 of the US Hip-Hop duo Dead Prez. to bring us a song to make us think about the way we treat the resources of this world, “Where will we go from here when the rain is all gone?” They are encouraging us to be wiser than before and to not be discouraged when fighting for change but to make small changes ourselves and continue on, alone in a race of our own.
The next track is a new mix of the recently released, highly acclaimed single, “Remember Me”. This is a call to JAH to not forget him and assuring that he won’t become a sellout to the system. With the famous line from “Oh Freedom,” the post-civil war African American freedom song, “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave”, this is a powerful anthem.
A piano version of “Dry Bones” is the penultimate song on the album. I love both versions of this song but I think this is my favorite. It’s a simpler sound with piano and strings. It’s beautiful.
“Jamaica”, the closing track, should be picked up by the Jamaican Tourist Board. It has a catchy rhythm and enhanced by the horns, made me want to get online and book a ticket to Jamaica. This is the song to take our minds off the craziness in the world right now.
I always add at the end of my reviews to buy the complete album so as not to miss out on some tracks that you initially skip over, but this album is a perfect example of that. When I first listened there were a couple of tracks that I didn’t feel right away. Now having listened to the album 3 times, there isn’t a track I don’t like.
Well done Kumar, it was worth the wait!
Release date May 1, 2020