Sugar Minott

African Soldier

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Appalled by the famine in Ethiopia and the continuing brutality of South Africa's apartheid regime, Sugar Minott began composing songs in direct response, a project that eventually evolved into this full-blown concept album. There's no arguing with the DJ's passion, and here he delivers up a vocal tour de force of such heartfelt power, he will rarely equal it again, and certainly never across an entire album. Emotions quiver across the tracks -- compassion, anger, heartbreak -- and alongside them all is an unwavering faith that underlines every word. Lyrically, too, the album is a masterpiece. Inspired by overwhelming world events, Minott put pen to paper and conjured up words to match the emotions and situations, at least once he got going. The opening lines of the opening song, "Mandela," is a real clunker -- "Dear Mr. Mandela, I think you're a jolly, good fella" really is abysmal -- but he quickly hits his stride a few lines down, and then there's no looking back. Sometimes a single line reverberates across an entire track; "Africa is calling for its people," for example, echoes down the grooves of one track, until in the distance one can almost hear the continent beckon its far-flung children back home. But "Africa Is Calling," a funky/light roots revision of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," is one of only a handful of songs where the music matches the power of the words. A child of its time, the album is virtually strangled by its synth-heavy arrangements. Ragga, of course, can carry a very militant sound, but this isn't ragga, but the synthetic dance sound popular in the States at the time, all fine and well for superficial dancefloor hits, but soul-sapping for more meaningful material. It was a valiant effort though, and Minott probably thought that, by sugarcoating his record in a disco-y gloss, his clarion cry would be heard even in Babylon. Of course, it wasn't, and he thus condemned African Soldier to the frontlines of the musical fashion wars. And what should have been his musical masterpiece, a record to rival Exodus, was buried along with the flotsam of the synthi-age. His passionate words deserved better.

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