Album Review: Iba Mahr’s “Diamond Sox” LP Inspires Hope For Reggae’s Future

Sighting the Greatness of Iba Mahr From Afar

I consider myself spoiled by the reggae age in which I was raised. Bob Marley & The Wailers LPs, Peter Tosh LPs, 45s on the Volcano and Joe Gibbs labels set a pretty high bar with the way their music perfected the reggae sound. The excellence of Junjo’s and Joe Gibbs’ productions—and the way they served as a bridge between the reggae and  dancehall age that was to come—cannot be overstated. Their musical foresight was nothing short of miraculous. But in this season of reggae music’s evolution, the standard that I’m accustomed to is an increasingly hard thing to find. Full Review and Video After The Jump…

Every now and then, you will find a Busy Signal Reggae Music Again LP or a Stephen Marley Revelation: The Root Of Life LP or a Protoje Ancient Future LP that seem to say hey, remember me? I smile for a while and say it’s nice to see you again—and I hope that you’re not just passing through.

Then you may discover a Chronixx, or a Jesse Royal, or even a Kabaka Pyramid, all of whom bring about a renewed sense of hope and belief that there is a new roots movement in place, ready to raise the current standard of the music. Not to be misundertood: I’m not trying to sound like some “back-in-my-day” kind of old timer who doesn’t appreciate anything new or different. I just take this music—given the ways I first experienced it—very seriously.

But there is a new generation of artists on the rise that does bring about a lot of hope. In a way, it’s almost as if reggae decided to channel some sort of Marvel Cinematic Universe—saving all reggae kind from the dastardly clutches of those who don’t have the sense to maintain the standard, one artist at a time. Inspiring visions of some sort of Avengers-styled battle against mediocrity that sees these artists combine their strengths to collectively defend the integrity of reggae’s greatness.

But as is the case in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the heroes are released in phases. We seem to be entering phase two of the battle for reggae’s integrity. Enter a new hero. Enter the artist Iba Mahr.

Iba Mahr is rootical Rasta DJ who has been a solid contributor to the cultural reggae scene for a while now. We have watched him build up his fanbase and gain notoriety from his contemporaries and others within the reggae and dancehall fraternity. Given the current roots music revival within the reggae industry, “Iba Mahr From Afar” as some may know him, does well to strike while that iron is hot.

Riding the wave of the rather successful early summer Young Lions North American tour, that also featured Kabaka Pyramid and the Bebble Rockers Band, Iba Mahr brings forth his debut VP/ VPAL label distributed LP, Diamond Sox, which was released late last month.

You learn rather early into the unfolding of the LP, that Iba Mahr has a presence and can be a force in the current roots reggae renaissance and a voice for the future reggae time to come. The single “Glory Of The King” sets the tone early that Iba Mahr is not your ordinary artist, as he brings about a certain revolutionary rasta sound and perspective that makes you stand at attention. His ability to live right on the edge of the sound of his musical elders and the sound of his current contemporaries is highlighted on “Glory Of The King.” And that blend reveals itself to be the theme of the LP as you progress within the musical journey that is Diamond Sox.

A single like “Mama Rosie” appears as nuanced balance for the LP, as Iba Mahr expresses an understanding that no matter his perspective of faith or his passion in cultivating his talent in regards to his blossoming career, the journey can only be possible because of his love and appreciation for his mother and her guidance and her love in return.

Diamond Sox as an LP excels in its many lyrical moods and its ability to capture a variety of Jamaican musical seasons and talent for the shaping of its debut. Iba Mahr takes comfort in providing an LP that suits all reggae people. And you’d be hard pressed to find a debut LP, that features such a strong veteran presence when it comes to those that contributed their talent to the LP.

On the gaining-steam single, “Clean And Pure,” the one and only Capleton aka King Shango takes a ride on the Train to Zion riddim alongside Iba Mahr. “Clean and Pure” features a masterful rendition of the timeless Channel 1, “Death In The Arena” composition. It only makes sense given Capleton’s longevity and ability to stay relevant no matter the era, just as the riddim has been able to do. Personally speaking, this song fits rather cozily into my reggae box. A nod stylistically to the days gone by, always strikes a positive cord with me. Given the ease which which they glide along the riddim, the bounce that the riddim itself has, and the fact that it plays off the sound Iba Mahr established with the single “Diamond Sox,” which featured stellar production from Notis, catapulted him to unprecendentd reggae/dancehall prominence, as he highlights how some badmind people now “grudge him” for the Clarks boots that he wears.

Saxophone master Dean Fraser has fun with Iba Mahr in the ska breeze, on the appropriately titled “Having Fun.” Iba Mahr subtly channels an in form Rasta Got Soul era Buju Banton, as he takes command of the joyfully infectious ska production and really provides a joyous end to the emotional and spiritual ride that is the Diamond Sox LP. “Having Fun” is strategically well placed as the end of the album and really highlights the musical range that Iba Mahr can cover as a young artist.

Though “Having Fun” brings the album home, the single “Travelling Home,” brings a certain chill to the bone, as the Rockers-era influenced musical composition sets the tone for a lyrically thoughtful, yet musically haunting chapter within the LP’s structure. The song relies on a sound from a different time to serve as a reminder that in this time, the integrity of the music needs to be upheld at all times. “Travelling Home” proves that reggae lives where integrity is protected and love is sure.

“Travelling Home” works as a musical meditation, evoking a different time and speace, but the definitive moment of the album for me, is the look into the future that is the album’s title track, featuring Notis—not to mention the remix which also features the renowned if not outright legendary, Tarrus Riley.

For me, these songs are the standard if not the outright blueprint for how reggae music should progress in the future. They serve as proof that you can do something different, something that hasn’t been done before, and something rebellious, and still present 100 percent authentic reggae. I think the younger artists have mastered the doing of something different, and the doing of something that hasn’t been done before, and the doing of something rebellious, I just don’t think many of them have mastered the reggae part too well. But maybe my reggae box is just too small. Regardless the size of my reggae box, Diamond Sox the LP and Iba Mahr the artist, have most assuredly mastered the art and craft that is reggae, which results in a tremendous origin story.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the proof of a great movie, is that you can’t wait for the sequel. You sit through the credits until the end, awaiting the teaser for what is hopefully next to come. As the last cord fades away on the Diamond Sox LP, you might find yourself hanging around holding on to hope that you will get a view into what’s next to come as well. Don’t fret though when you realize the LP has truly come to a close. I don’t expect we have to wait too long for what’s next to come. The music will always be in need of the defending of its honor and integrity. So I am sure we will see Iba Mahr return not just in his sequel, but in other hero’s reggae story to come as well.

Purchase Iba Mahr Diamond Sox LP pon iTunes

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