Mark Mohr and Christafari- Gravity (Lion of Zion LZD-6527, 2003)
‘Imisi- Visions of the Father (Lion
of Zion LZD-6528, 2003)
Reggae is so often affiliated with Rastafarianism that it can be a bit jarring to hear a different spiritual ideology expressed via the music’s familiar choppy rhythms. But there is a Christian reggae scene out there, and you need not be a follower of fire-and-brimstone prophecy or or fast-talking TV evangelists to enjoy it.
Contemporary Christian music does not hesitate to to embrace current trends, so it’s no surprise that Christian musicians with an ear toward Jamaica are much more likely to adopt dancehall over roots. Both of these releases have more of the latter than the former, and both will appeal to reggae listeners
regardless of religious affiliation.
Christafari has come a long way in glorifying Jesus through reggae. The name pretty much applies to front man Mark Mohr as well as the band that supports him, and Mohr’s dreadlocked appearance goes well with his evangelical fervor and knack for creating inventive reggae. On Gravity he’s a defender of the faith from varying perspectives, blasting the “Hypocritical System,” taking refuge in the Almighty as a “Hiding Place” (which, interestingly, follows a song called “Cannot Hide”) and pleading for unity as eloquently as any reggae personality on “Broken-Down Communication.” Vocally, Mohr shifts easily from straightforward singing to DJ-style chat, riding the mixture of roots, dancehall, techno, dub and hints of global-reaching fusion.
The sonically odd intros and outros that crop up between songs actually disrupt the very continuity they’re likely seeking to build, but the songs themselves are a nicely satisfying lot.
‘Imisi (“Image”) is a Christian reggae band that includes members from the Pacific island of Tonga, and their warm, breezy roots sound is reflective of both their geographical origins and firm but gentle spiritual message. There’s a guest shot by Christafari on the title track of Visions of the Father (the song also appears on Gravity, in fact) and the album was co-produced by Quino (from California reggae band Big Mountain) and Mark Mohr.
‘Imisi keep their pulsating tunes clean and uncluttered, with just a tinge of pop sensibility in the vocal harmonies and instrumental layering. Like Christafari, they don’t seem to feel the need to drench every song in overwrought tent-revival emotion, giving tracks like “Babylon System” and “Go On (the Conflict)” the power to speak for themselves and achieve sufficient impact because the subject matter isn’t shoved down anyone’s throat. Other high points include the peppy “Into Zion” and “Everything,”
which packs a jumping groove reminiscent of the Jamaican rocksteady era.
Make no mistake- these releases don’t pull any punches in pointing to Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation. But if you’re the easygoing type (as most reggae fans are), that ought not discourage you from checking these out. Good reggae is good reggae, and this stuff fits that description.