This 1986 album (released on CD by Shanachie in 1988) by Ivoirian reggae artist Alpha Blondy was a landmark both for Alpha as a musician and for African reggae artists in general. His third full-length album, it confirmed his status as a household name in urban West Africa, as a rising international star, and as a surprising heir to Bob Marley's throne. Though reggae made a powerful impression thoughout Africa in the 1970's, especially in the Anglophone countries of West Africa, Alpha was the first to really commit himself to the political message and musical style of reggae. Sonny Okosun of Nigeria had some international success with "Third World" in the late 70's, and Cameroonian saxman Manu Dibango made enough of an impression with his makossa style in the 1970's to record "Gone Clear" in Jamaica with producer Geoffrey Chung and the rhythm support from Sly and Robbie of Black Uhuru. But it was Alpha, who, as a result of "Apartheid", was able to record "Jerusalem" with the Wailers band after Marley's passing.
What amazes about "Apartheid" is that it is, indeed, reggae music, but has an incredibly fresh sound. Musically, Alpha takes the strong bass and kit drums from Jamaican roots reggae, lays on lots of horns and more engaging, imploring vocals, with notable African percussion; thematically, he praises the right and the good independent of origin and religion.
The powerful bass beat and pulsing horns on "Jah Houphouet" confirm both his right to roots rock and his difference from contemporary Jamaican reggae artists. In a typical African praise song, Alpha praises the now-departed autocrat of the Ivory Coast as a Rastaman for his infallible leadership and dedication to peace - a metaphorical flourish in line with Alpha's superficial flirtation with Rasta themes. Later, on the beautiful, slow swinging "Come Back Jesus," he implores Jesus (in English) to save humanity from its warring ways: "My own Jesus/ my heart Jesus/ my soul aches for you/ tear drops coming through." It's a powerful song, more about peace than religion.
Other pieces of note include the plaintive yet ecstatic "Apartheid is Nazism" in which Alpha specifically implores the United States to help end apartheid, and the vibrant "Sebe Allah Y'e" ("Respect Allah"), a song of encouragement sung in Dioula. This song distills Alpha's philosophy and particularly African style, as he blends rock guitar stylings, strong reggae bass, and African supporting percussion, while encouraging the listener to follow the golden rule.
Alpha's consequent output, both with the Wailers and the Solar System, has varied in quality, but "Apartheid is Nazism" is a monument to the early supremacy of his work with the Solar System. - Craig Tower
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