Album review

Bob Marley & The Wailers - Kaya Deluxe Edition

Bob Marley & The Wailers - Kaya Deluxe Edition

Remastered 35th anniversary of laid-back classic...

“Me really a country boy at heart,” Bob Marley told me on the release of Kaya, a declaration that took me by surprise. Bob had a fearsome reputation as a Trenchtown dread, a former rude boy turned Rasta, well able to take care of himself in the urban jungle of Kingston. This was no PR spin; Bob had known and survived the hazards of ghetto life. Yet here he was extolling a very different existence in idyllic terms. “Me grow up a farmer, and at the end of the day it nice to sit in the hills, listen to the rain fall on the roof and everyt’ing sweet mon.”

This was, in part, Bob acknowledging a part of his biography not widely known; his early years struggling not among west Kingston’s partisan yards but in the rural hills of St. Annes, where he was born (and in 1983 laid to rest). Bob the Farmer – this was news!

The country boy narrative also fit Kaya, a laid-back affair that was consciously directed, like its predecessor Exodus, at a wide audience. Yet where Exodus had tempered its mellifluous love calls – “Three Little Birds”, “Waiting In Vain” – with righteous militancy, Kaya was all dreamy and reflective.

This too was intentional. After his near assassination in ‘76, Marley wanted to cool down the fevered climate surrounding his persona and politics. Better to kick back and ponder than provoke. It was time for the aptly named “Easy Skanking” (‘Excuse me while I light this spliff’) for “Kaya” (ganja), for an escape into the personal.

Often considered the slightest album of Marley’s Island canon, Kaya boasts few iconic tracks – “Is This Love” became a hit, “Satisfy My Soul” a lesser one – yet it remains complete unto itself in mood and charm. Largely drawn from the same sessions as Exodus, Kaya was mixed in Miami to give it a separate identity, its pensive, shimmering atmosphere arriving partly from a clutch of older Wailers songs from the group’s sojourn with Lee Perry.

“Kaya” itself is a simple, catchy call for herb once rain has closed down activity, though its middle eight surges unexpectedly to let Bob brag ‘feel so good in my neighbourhood’. More cryptic is “Sun Is Shining”, whose apparent reverie is punctuated by anguish. If ‘the weather is sweet’, as the languid rhythm affirms, why the need for Marley to come to the rescue’ and declare ‘where I stand’? Though this remake loses the appealing melodica part of the original, it’s still a highlight, and has gone on to have the oddest afterlife of any Marley song, with multiple techno remixes for the Ibiza generation.

The jogalong of “Satisfy My Soul”, another update, is less arresting than the scratchy original, though like “Misty Morning” it benefits from some sweet, Stax-style horns. The latter is another weather song and another enigma. While someone is ‘out there having fun’ (a woman presumably), Marley struggles with the mental churn of philosophy, the riddle ‘You give your more to receive your less’ perhaps referring to the reward for his work being a murder attempt.

Dualities run through the rest of the record. “Crisis” contrasts the suffering of the many with the indulgence of their oppressors, just as the nyabingi chant of “Time Will Tell” asserts ‘you think you’re in heaven but you’re living in hell’. “Running Away” is less a song than an inward interrogation about Marley’s motives for escape, concluding ‘you can’t run away from yourself’.

That leaves the twin love croons, “Is This Love” and “She’s Gone”, amiable enough but hardly Marley at full stretch. The JA single “Smile Jamaica” wasn’t on the original Kaya, and its sprightly rhythm doesn’t quite belong, but it remains an example of the magic that often flowed when Marley and Lee Perry worked together. The bonus CD of a Dutch concert from 1978 doesn’t add much to Marley’s live canon, but it makes up in atmosphere and performance what it lacks in sound quality, which is, at times, a great deal.
Neil Spencer

Pic credit: Adrian Boot

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Rating: 8 / 10

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