Various Artists

Chant Down Babylon [Charm]

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Jamaica's pop music has to be the most politicized in the world, with scores and scores of recorded sides railing at the political, spiritual, and economical abuse that Babylon (an encompassing term that includes all cultural forces that create oppression) dishes out daily on the sufferers of the world. This island-wide musical outcry against the misuse of power has been going on steadily since at least the late '60s, and it is curious that one of Jamaica's greatest exports -- its pop music -- is often so intensely critical of the island's government. All this anger and complaining, though, has at its heart the belief that music can actually bring about cultural and political change, and Jamaican musicians have been "chanting down Babylon" for long enough now to know that it does have an impact. This generous, 20-track compilation gathers recent examples of the subtle and oftentimes not so subtle art of Babylon-bashing, ranging from a pair of impressive Sizzla tracks, "Longway" and "No Pain," to an unusually restrained Toots Hibbert on "Prayer of David," to Capleton's thumping, blustering "It's Meditation." Luciano delivers an interesting cover of the Melodians' classic rocksteady-era hymn "Rivers of Babylon," a song that sounds warm and soothing but is really about struggling with hopeless resignation "in a strange land." Also worth noting is Lloyd Brown's "Sitting Hare in Limbo," which is a version of Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting Here in Limbo," and one wonders if Brown's title is a mishearing of Cliff's song, a simple printer's typo, or an odd, brilliant metaphor that wonderfully visualizes the central point of the song. At a time when slackness appears to be the dominating strain in Jamaican music, it is inspiring to hear these anthems of righteous indignation delivered with such obvious passion. Pop music has never sounded so sure.

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