Akasha: Mother of Exiles

This is a concept album from a Chicago Reggae band. Let that sink in for a minute. Traditionally Chicago Reggae is played to inebriated Cubs fans looking for momentary, background entertainment as they consume massive quantities of draft beer. It’s almost considered impolite to even listen to the band……
I kid.

Chicago Reggae has actually transformed itself over the years, from being a consortium of crowd-pleasers into something that requires more from the spectator. The evolution came with an influx of Ska, Reggae and Dub bands such as Deals Gone Bad, The Drastics, and the almost omnipresent Akasha.

Chicago was once a fertile oasis of Caribbean culture. After several deportations, and other incidents between law enforcement, drug dealers and real estate developers an exodus took place. Established families fled the chaos. Those who remained seemed mostly concerned with the latest trends. Jump Up Records’ Label head Chuck Wren made it a personal quest to import foundation Reggae talent from around the world to the city. By doing so he has helped extend the life of the genre in a not so fertile market.

As a backing band Akasha has played behind most of the remaining giants from Reggae’s seminal years. Johnny Osbourne, Carlton Livingston, and several others were highlights. They opened for Shaggy and received accolades directly from the headliner onstage. They also brought the scene together for monthly installments of “Simmer Down Sound” parties. In the studio they live up to the hype with their latest release, “Mother of Exiles”.

The album takes the listener on a journey, through the eyes of an immigrant, to America’s shores. They address the juxtaposition between the nation’s current anti-immigration movement and the uplifting poetry of Emma Lazarus, which would eventually adorn the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” changed the very significance of the statue. What was intended to be no more than a diplomatic gift became recast over time as the “Mother of Exiles”. One poem helped shape the entire narrative and world view of United States.

Lyrically Akasha’s album chases the poetic muse of Lazarus and her contemporaries. What happens next is an attention grabbing display of harmonic awareness exhibited by front man Cosmos Ray. If there are any cons to the album I would say that the 2nd song sounds like a remix of the first. Perhaps that was the intention, you never know with concept albums. The band itself has an almost flawless execution, obviously reaching the heights of proficiency by way of their many shows.

“The New Colossus” would take 20 years to find its way into the Statue of Liberty. Sadly Emma Lazarus did not live to see it. It often takes a while for people to realize true significance en masse. The artist’s responsibility is but to create. Obviously influence can be found everywhere.