Jah Batta

1983, r: 2004

t’s curious to note that most music that would be labeled as “hypnotic” or “trance-inducing” turns out to be somber, contemplative, and bleak. Retaining momentum when you’re chipper has never been an easy task, and I surmise that upbeat repetitive songs that end up working do so because they are able to frame their cheerful melodies against a darker or calmer element, effectively changing the meaning of the original motif or vocal. For example, take New Order’s ”Bizarre Love Triangle,” where the perky synth hooks strangely sound more resonant and melancholy after Bernard Sumner starts singing in a calm resignation.

A similar case in point is Jah Batta’s 1983 album Argument, where animated deejaying is tempered by digital dub to create a sound that is both breezy and aquatic. The album is the latest Wackies release to be reissued by the legendary Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound crew from Berlin, and it turns out to be timely as Jah Batta (Tony O'Meally) was recently featured on Rhythm & Sound’s fine “Music Hit You” single, not to mention the influence that Argument has had on recent R&S; releases, especially on tracks where vocals freely wander around in a dubby haze.

Musically, Argument is built on classic riddims from the Studio One archives as well as contributions from reggae heavyweights Sly & Robbie, Jackie Mittoo, and Sugar Minott. Devoted fans will recognize a lot of the original backing tracks, which all have been remixed and dubbed up with plenty of spacey echo, harsh delay, copious reverb, and psychedelic sound effects. “Hold On Paon The Woman,” in particular, is a standout that has the drums completely drop out at random moments, adding heavy accentuation to Batta’s toasting and the quietly whining synth lines in the background.

Even with classics backing him up, the star here is Batta, an excitable deejay who effortlessly deflates all the pressure of the dub and turns the record into an almost joyous celebration. Even when he’s preaching about vegetarianism, telling tales of all-nighters, or lamenting losing his girl to Sugar Minott, he remains energetic and positive throughout the record. He interjects a tiny bit of singing into his standard toasting, which certainly makes things more accessible if you can’t understand what he is saying. But probably the most fascinating part of the record is how Batta can envelop the entire track in his hypnotic, rapid-fire delivery and his mantric repetition of small quasi-monotone phrases. Batta’s commanding exuberance is something you can easily find yourself getting lost into.

Argument is a great example of early, fun dancehall deejaying counterbalanced by trippy dub riddims. It’s a short album too (ten tracks and under thirty-two minutes,) so there’s less chance of it grating on you by the time you reach the end. If you love Souljazz’s Studio One DJs, Sister Nancy, or any Rhythm & Sound album, you owe it to yourself to check this lost gem out. And it sure as hell beats out George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” in the chirpy repetition department.

Reviewed by: Michael F. Gill

Reviewed on: 2005-01-14

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