The Beat

Used to be that my friends who hated reggae complained that reggae records nearly all sounded the same. Now my friends who used to love reggae have the same bitch – and I’m starting to, uh, empathize. A lot of discs that pass through this reviewer’s hands sound like they were created by the same robot, programmed with stale rhythms and a limited lyrical vocabulary (“peace” – “love” – “destroy Babylon” – “irie”). Any musical style can begin to sound complacent when players stop challenging themselves to expand ist boundaries.
So Peeni Waali is literally an act of musical and spiritual regeneration, manna for those of us hungry for a revitalized reggae. The various artists listed on the cover – Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dennis Bovell (an unbeatable team), Lee Perry, Robbie Shakespeare, Rico, Dean Fraser – are a tip-off that it is a special and classy recording.
But all these talents could have resulted in a monumental clash of egos without a fruitful synthesis. It took one genius arranger/producer to connect these musicians. The genius is a Swiss man by the name of Fizzè.
Fizzè is a great style-blender, in the vein of Adrian Sherwood or the Suns of Arqa. No reggae purist, he’ll skank an Irish jig (“Irish Irie”), ply the Ellingtonian jazz touch to a geggae groove (“Satin Doll”), or put down a funk beat that is Jamaica, Queens, as well as Jamaica, Jamaica (“Paper Mensch”).
Anyone can blend reggae with diverse musical styles, but to do so tastefully, beautifully – there’s the rub (a-dub). Exotic instruments, acoustic and electric (balafon, ukulele, harp), add surprising coloristic touches. The 16 songs cohere into a suite: a kind of reggae-goes-global anthology.
“Peeni Waali” is Jamaica talk for “firefly”. This super session offers as delicate and unique a light as any firefly. Get this disc. Count the purchase as a vote for an uncomplacent reggae, a soundtrack for spiritual renewal.
The Beat, Vol. 11, april 1992 by Norman Weinstein