Sounds like … extremely eclectic reggae, incorporating traditional and contemporary elements as well as jazz, pop, dance, and other stylesAt a Glance … Gravity is unlikely to appeal to all reggae purists or to those who prefer reggae in small doses, but it's an impressively crafted album that celebrates the musicianship of Christafari and the depth of their faith in Christ Jesus.
Gravity has been a long time coming. It's the first studio release in four years for Christafari, and only their fifth in their 14 years as Christian music's premier reggae band. Founded by singer/songwriter/producer Mark Mohr, who's also an ordained minister, Christafari has gone through its share of personnel shifts over the years. But the more things change, the more things stay the same. Christafari remains committed to musical excellence and, more importantly, sharing the message of Jesus Christ through their music to a culture largely comprised of Rastafarians. The title of this new release refers to our inevitable submission before the Almighty God.
Most would recognize traditional reggae if they heard it, immediately conjuring images of the Caribbean islands and recalling the music of Bob Marley. As produced by Mark Mohr, Christafari utilizes all the elements one normally associates with the sound—the characteristically heavy bass, the trio of female backing vocalists, the horn section, and the offbeat guitar part. The eight-piece band is also known for dabbling with the more contemporary form of reggae known as dancehall. Alternatively called toasting or ragamuffin in some circles, it features rap-like reggae vocals over energetic dance rhythms. Some even suggest that dancehall is a precursor to rap and hip-hop (as is clearly the case with contemporary hip-hop artist Shaggy).
The goal with Gravity, however, was to broaden the band's sound beyond Jamaica, encompassing all of the Caribbean. Mark and company successfully blends reggae and dancehall with touches of soca, calypso, ska, jamoo, salsa, rock, hip-hop, jazz, and pop. They even throw in some Indian chutney for good measure on the song "Colossians 3:16," which really isn't surprising since 40 percent of Trinidad's population is Indian.
All of this is accomplished without ever going over the top in production or performance. Unlike a lot of other reggae albums, Gravity is seldom monotonous and never obnoxious. The focus is on musicianship, offering slick piano and horn solos, solid walking bass lines, and great vocals. Though often quite authentic sounding, Mark is a bit reminiscent of Scott Hunter (Poor Old Lu). Musical highlights include the classic reggae of "Visions of the Father," the energetic dance beats of "Lion of Zion," the extremely eclectic title track, and the simply heavenly "My Sustenance." Despite its title, "Kingdoms in Conflict" blends acoustic pop and reggae without a hitch. "Here Comes the Morning" is extremely catchy, featuring some clever mouth percussion.
Additionally, Mark delivers strong lyrics in his songs, most often resorting to direct quotes from scripture and Psalm-like passages. Considering there are 22 tracks and 73 minutes of music, Gravity isn't really worth getting into track by track here. Suffice to say, the songs are obvious and plainspoken without being clichéd. Aside from the vertically focused tracks, he offers sharp and straightforward theology on "Only Way." He offers a smart reaction to critics who say it's inappropriate for a Christian artist to sing "Rastafarian music" in "Hypocritical System." It also should be noted that all the tracks are woven together with links and introductions. There's not a moment of silence to be found, and it's sometimes very clever–listen to the smart "Telephone Game" intro that precedes "Hypocritical System."
This epic album unfortunately will have a tough time finding an audience. From one point of view, Gravity is a very eclectic album, which a number of people struggle with. Despite its eclecticism, the differences between tracks are subtle. However, reggae is still something of a niche genre compared to pop music, and some still prefer it in small doses rather than more than an hour's worth. I imagine that a number of reggae purists will also object to the somewhat experimental blends presented by Mark. And of course, if the past ten years are any indicator, there are still those who will object to their notion of a Christian artist embracing what they deem as the music of a pagan religion.
Those who look past such quibbles and misinformed views will be rewarded by a celebratory musical experience that praises God for the gift of his son, as well as the gift of music gathered from various cultures around the world. What's more, Christafari is a fascinating ministry, called to share the love of Christ with those disillusioned by Rastafarianism. Although I can't necessarily say Gravity has kindled in me a newfound passion for reggae music (i.e. not enough to make me listen to it all the time), it's nonetheless a unique and creative album made with excellence for a target audience that doesn't hear the Gospel nearly enough.