Buju Banton

Inna Heights

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Off-island fans of Buju Banton could only listen in amazement at the transformation the artist underwent during the mid-'90s. Debuting internationally in 1993 with the highly diversified Voice of Jamaica album, two years later Banton offered up the gorgeous, introspective 'Til Shiloh, and by 1997 he had grown into a mature superstar with Inna Heights. "My favorite thing about being able to bring across reggae music as a part of my culture...is sharing the excitement of it, the joy of it, the pleasure and splendor it bring." So Banton explains on one of the "Inter Lingua"s on this set, wherein he briefly meditates on his music and personal philosophy. And with Inna Heights he succeeds beyond most people's greatest expectations, capturing the glory of Jamaican music in virtually all its forms, imbuing it with the excitement of the dancehalls, yet ensuring that its cultural underpinnings shine forth. As with Shiloh, Heights opens with an a cappella prayer, but closes with the striking "Circumstances," another virtually a cappella piece that is an emotive cry against violence and the circumstances that breed it. The 19 tracks in between (including the four "Lingua"s) sweep across the spectrum, both musically and thematically. Reaching back in time, Banton and DJ vet Jah Stitch deliver up the jubilant skafest "Small Axe" (no relation to the Wailers classic), while Banton revisits the reggae age with a soulful Toots Hibbert for a phenomenal version of the Maytals' classic "54-46 Was My Number" and moves into roots territory with the Marley-esque "Hills and Valleys"; all three are standouts amidst a myriad of fabulous tracks. The bouncy "Redder Than Red" has a calypso lilt, while the anthemic "African Pride" and sufferer's "Mother's Cry" both boast Afro-beats. Lush romantic numbers, upbeat, contagious pieces, among them the sparkling hit "Love Sponge," and onto the superb dancehall of "Love Dem Bad," a combination number with Red Rat -- Heights has it all, musically and thematically. The cultural numbers resonate with wisdom and faith, and all are absolutely mesmerizing. The thoughtful "Hills," the lovely, introspective "Destiny," the optimism and strength of "Close One Yesterday," the infectious prayer "Give I Strength," its glowing ambience heightened by Ras Shiloh's emotive vocals, and the heartfelt appreciation of the "Single Parent" -- every one is a classic. In fact, virtually every song on this album is phenomenal; some are deftly self-produced, the bulk expertly overseen as always by Donovan Germain. Banton attained brave new heights, and in the process recorded a masterpiece.

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