Ras Shaggai,
I Awake
(Conscious Vision, 2002)

You've only one life to live and you've only one heart to give. There's only one life that you live, so live positive.
- Ras Shaggai, "Peace Inna the World."

Everybody needs a little reggae. I ran into Ras Shaggai on a Saturday afternoon at, well, let's just call it an unpretentious venue. It would be safe to say that no one came there with the primary intention of listening to his music or his philosophy. In fact, this middle-aged dark man with waist-long dreads was probably the only person there who knew who or what "Jah" was. Perhaps I was just up -- or maybe down -- for it, but Ras Shaggai's music hit me right that day.

Born, raised, and educated in Ohio, Ras Shaggai has always been about music. Twenty years ago, he spent three years in the Caribbean and, in the midst of the native culture and music, found his calling. Since then, he has sang and played reggae with a number of bands, spent time in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and has had a string of musical accomplishments. I Awake, his solo debut, is an independent release.

Recorded in New York and Jamaica, I Awake has a cast of dozens of session musicians and Shaggai colleagues who laid down a rich, solid vocal and instrumental accompaniment for the 12 tracks on the disk. A first-rate horn section can be heard throughout the 11 songs written or co-written by Ras Shaggai. A female group, the Daffodils, gets credit for excellent background vocals on several cuts. Keyboards, guitars and percussion amply and competently flesh out every tune.

If you were around in the '80s and bought White Lion's album just because it had "Radar Love" on it, track 3 on I Awake might sound a little familiar to you. "When the Children Cry," the only cover in the collection, is one fine song and Ras Shaggai makes it his own. This jazzy version is a perfect showcase for his voice. Chevelle Franklin joins him with supporting vocals that give you chills. Add the delicate piano and flute background counter melodies that mesh with the drum and cymbal rhythm line and you end up with something that you can't help putting on CD repeat. If once isn't enough, Shaggai has included a second version, without Franklin, as a hidden track.

I Awake is nothing if not filled with messages. Although all of the original songs are characteristically danceable, several -- "Reggae Risin'," "Dance Culture" and "Raw Riddem" -- are about the music itself. Reggae is the music of the Rastafarian culture and its tenets are in the lyrics of every song. "Pressure Cooker" and "Double Standard" speak of frustration and consequences caused by inequality and injustice. "Work Together," "Positive Way" and "Peace Inna the World" make suggestions for alleviating those negatives and living well despite them. The most unashamedly spiritual tracks in the group are "I Awake" and "Rastaman Intercession." If the former were the first thing everybody heard when he or she woke up, I'm sure there would be a statistically recordable decrease in A.M. road rage, office anxiety and general mean-spiritedness.

Everybody needs a little reggae. Ras Shaggai's I Awake has proved to be a great place for me, definitely a former reggae virgin, to get a start on mine.

- Rambles
written by Valerie Fasimpaur
published 30 November 2002

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