On Keepers of the Flame, Israel Starr hasn’t found his voice—that’s been clearly under control for a solid decade now—rather, he delivers with a high level of conscious consistency throughout the full-length album. Balancing light and heavy, ranging from soulful ruminations to dancehall heat, and promoting positive vibes all the while, it’s a challenge to find a fault on this true cultural and musical triumph.

Even the album cover is poignant, as explained on the artist’s Facebook page: “so the photo is of whanau marching in Wellington on 1 August 1980, during Māori Language Week, to demand that the Māori language have equal status with English. Seven years later on 1st August 1987 te reo Māori became an official language of New Zealand”.

As a reviewer, it’s an honor to follow an artist for many years and then receive, at the time of its release, their definitive magnum opus. Israel Starr has done exactly that, alongside some stellar guests including two leading poets (New Zealand’s Te Kahu Rolleston and Jamaica’s Mutabaruka), a reggae royal (Luciano), an international dancehall don (Million Stylez), and a dubwise Kiwi legend (Tiki Taane; formerly of Salmonella Dub).

The album’s tone is set with the title track, which finds award-winning slam poet Te Kahu Rolleston spitting fire about fire, on a brooding production led by a heavy bassline. In an intriguing move, the ensuing “Sound Art Riddim” is essentially instrumental: all blasting horns, sound effects, and vibes. Then comes “Gods Corner”, a celebratory Rastafarian duet with Lutan Fyah.

“Cool Calm & Collected” opens with a series of questions, leading to ‘explain the universe and spin in a ball; explain to me which entity is keeping score’. With Million Stylez and Riddim Cartel on board, atop the chop, this is a cool cut indeed. The ensuing interlude is an interview excerpt (no IDs will be spoiled here), echoing out on ‘the truth is there’. At this point, it is beyond evident just how special this album is.

The Kunta Kinte nod to open “Woe Unto Those” is proper mystical, giving way to digital drums, tough bass, and emotive lyrics. The track, wisely the longest on the album given its gravitas, is also a perfect pairing, as the veteran Luciano and the confident younger Starr complement each other exquisitely. “Beat You Down” is in a vintage style, guitar and keys standing out, yet with unexpectedly biting anti-misogynist lyrics surrounding the catchy hook: ‘never let them beat you down, cause you don’t have to take it’.

“Spiritual Healing” (with Lomez Brown and Natural Roots) and “Spread The Love Around” are perhaps the most expected tunes here, but the combination of voices and strong messages lifts them above any preconceived notions. In between is a fun interlude, “Soundman Smoko”, which literally returning listeners to the reggae party.

The horns are consistently solid throughout this release, and on “Rewind” they share the melody work with a catchy key line. Referencing some great singers, this song also recognizes the role of the selector in the dance. Lyrically, it’s one for the rub-a-dub enthusiasts, with a nice (but short) deejay interlude; however, it’s actually more so a modern lover’s rock tune, which thematically leads right into “Rub a Dub”. Next is another thoughtful interlude: liberating music indeed.

Binding fearlessness and ancient wisdom, “Future Navigator” is the first of two consecutive Reality Chant features; the second, “I De Slave”, the album’s closer in a traditional sense, is a haunting and thought-provoking work by Mutabaruka. Then come the two bonus tracks, a terrific Tiki Taane dub mix (of “Keepers of the Flame”)—ominous and devastating—and a Jarreau drum and bass remix (of “Gods Corner”)—transporting the original’s Rasta stylings to a different dancefloor.

Overlooking this album is sheer folly, so acquiring the vinyl will be a necessity. Currently it’s on Apple Music and Spotify, so choose the former since it pays artists twice as well.

More info:
Israel Starr Facebook
Keepers of the Flame – Apple Music

The Groove Thief
.the future of dub is the present.
Exclusive Reviews + Interviews // Facebook // Mixcloud (Archive) // SoundCloud
Co-Founder: Pomegranate Sounds
Owner/Operator: Pomegranate Hi Fi
Writer: NiceUp
Editor: Global Reggae Charts Magazine