The reggae music on the Nazarenes new album, Meditation, was born in the African-derived culture of Jamaica’s downtown black communities. The producer, Laurent ‘Tippy I’ Alfred is from the nearby island of St Croix in the US Virgin Islands where social consciousness – in the form of Rastafarian spiritual belief – is still a guiding factor in music making. The artists, born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to a family that worked for Emperor Haile Selassie – he who Rastas believe is a divine figure – offer an almost miraculous confirmation to reggae fans of the special bond between Africa and the diaspora. The Nazarenes, made up of brothers Noah and Medhane Tewolde, now live in Europe and their new record, Meditation, set to drop April 24, not only reflects the journey of reggae – from Jamaica, to the Caribbean, to the world – but also invokes organic, contemporary connections between Jamaica, Africa and people everywhere. Meditation is not simply a reggae album, nor is it a tribute to a Caribbean sense of spirituality. Meditation is a testament to the distinct and enduring capacity of reggae as a building block for communication in a multi-cultural world.
Opening with a meditative chant sung in English as well as the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge’ez, which is today only used as the main language in orthodox religious practice including the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, the Nazarenes pay homage their homeland. The title track sets the tone for the album and offers a seamless image of what is to come: dub reggae woven together with lilting harmonies, rock riffs and pop melodies, triumphant horns and uplifting lyrics like those heard on the first two singles to be released, “Food” and “On My Way”. Movement defines the album as the Nazarenes journey through bassy steppers reggae on “Mother” and “Lonesome Lady”, the creeping dub vibes of “Alive” and “Politrickcians”, the pop/rock arrangements of “Destiny”, “Mamy Blues” and “Get Together” to soulful alto harmonizing on “The Lord Said” which features Virgin Islands roots reggae standard-bearer Midnite. For “It’s Too Late”, Lutan Fyah, a leader for conscious roots and dancehall music in Jamaica, balances a reflective edginess against the Nazarenes’ soothing vocals. Cumulatively, Meditation is a 14-track statement from the Nazarenes that it’s not too late to protect the vulnerable, improve the environment and live in harmony with others, all to a solid foot-tapping, hip-moving, head-nodding soundtrack. Throughout, I Grade Records’ and Zion I Kings’ production value is on display in which the musical journey becomes a message unto itself, effortlessly enhancing the Nazarenes commitment to mobilize and motivate reggae and world music fans worldwide.
Meditation is I Grade Records’ first album project with an African group. I Grade Records’ founder and producer, Laurent ‘Tippy I’ Alfred says the chain of events that has linked Jamaica, St Croix, Africa, Europe and now the World is evidence of reggae’s contribution to world music and the Nazarenes place at the forefront of a new generation of global citizens. “It’s a special feeling to know that this album has so many points of connection from across the African diaspora and the world,” says Alfred. “It represents the unifying force that roots reggae has always been.”
The Nazarenes are very much in dialogue with their history as they move forward. The name, Nazarene, for example, was first noted in the Old Testament. A Nazarene was a title designating someone in the community who had taken a vow of devotion. As the contemporary pop/reggae group The Nazarenes, Noah and Medhane Teowolde are likewise devoted to their craft and their unique role in the global community. “Song writing is a process,” said Noah. “We go in deeper than name only.” Adds Medhane, “We sing from experience and with the belief that Marcus Garvey’s call for ‘One Aim, One Aim, One Destiny’ is possible across borders”.
Meditation crosses cultural, musical and national borders so successfully because its creators do too. Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to parents of Eritrean descent who later settled in Europe, the Tewolde brothers originally followed separate musical paths. Noah had signed with Virgin Records in the 1990s while Medhane was touring Europe with Culture Knox and other reggae acts. In 1996, and based on a mutual respect for pop melodies as well as careful and considered songwriting in the traditional roots reggae style, Noah and Medhane formed the Nazarenes. The group first established themselves independently on their self-produced debut album, Orit (2001), and later broke out with their Heartbeat/Rounder release, Songs Of Life (2004) before teaming up with I Grade Records for the first time on the single “Everlasting” which was included on the acclaimed compilation album, Joyful Noise (2009). On Meditation, their first full-length album since Rock Firm (2008), the Nazarenes return to their world music roots in the making of an album that truly confirms roots reggae as a vehicle for collective understanding and an artistic work that ultimately speaks to cultural unity rather than conflict.