by Gardy Stein
Album Review: Hempress Sativa - Unconquerebel
After Jah9 and Xana Romeo, another powerful female artiste puts her release on the international agenda: Kerida Johnson aka Hempress Sativa presents her debut album called Unconquerebel. With thirteen tracks, the lioness roars at us from the den of Conquering Lion Records, with executive producer Christopher Mattis pon di controls and additional mane-shaking by DubRobot (We All) and Paolo Baldini (Wah Da Da Deng).
Release date and cover are laden with symbolism: while the former falls on the celebration of Ethiopian Christmas, the latter displays an unignorable homage to the high culture of Egypt and, of course, to the cultured high of Cannabis. This conscious construction of meaning is reflected in the lyrics as well. Among the issues touched, we have anti-war slogans in No Peace ("There will be no peace, if peace is wrought by war!"), spiritual musings in Jah Will be There, Made I Whole or Heathen Wage and the rebellious outcries such as Revolution or Fight For Your Rights that gave the album its title.
Except for the only feature of the release, the skanky Natty Dread which brings veteran MC Ranking Joe to the fore, the release is held in a deeply meditative, instrumental Dub style. It's actually a pity that none of the songs has a Dub version, as it would have been a pleasure to listen to the pure melodies enfolding under the cunning hands of masters like Errol "Flabba" Holt, Earl "Chinna" Smith, Kirk Bennett, Devon Bradshaw, Robbie Lyn or Stingwray.
Twisted Sheets, the most melodious track on a wonderful Roots Reggae beat, is actually the only one about the weed that gave the singer her name, and with the bedroom-tune Black Skin King, she boldly elaborates on the "sheets" metaphor.
The ultimate strength of the album, however, is the radical appreciation of Jamaica's rich soundsystem culture. With Rock It Ina Dance, the Hempress takes us back to a time where the success of a singer was so directly linked to his or her ability to ride any riddim and find the right words to make the audience listen that studio recordings were secondary in importance. These Dub School vibes are continued in Boom, during which Sativa welcomes us to the J.O.E. Yaad in Vineyard Town and grants us a glimpse of what it might be like to experience this artiste live.
"When the lioness roar, no dog bark!"