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Abdel Wright

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 01, 2005
Category: World


 

 

Abdel Wright

How’s this for a Cinderella story?

The boy never knew his father. His mother was mentally ill, so her son was taken from her when he was nine months old. A series of orphanages followed. At 12, he was living in an SOS children’s village in Montego Bay, Jamaica when Johnny Cash — who had a house nearby and was a strong supporter of SOS — came to give a Christmas concert.

Cash stood with his guitar and harmonica and sang impassioned songs about what was wrong and how it might be made right, and the kid said to himself, ”I want to do that.” There was a guitar in the school’s office. The boy looked at it longingly. The superintendent gave it to him. And the boy taught himself how to play.

Well, not exactly. He stole in order to buy musical instruction books. And then, before graduating from high school, he left the SOS home and turned to crime. In short order, he was caught with a gun — in Jamaica, that’s reason enough for a policeman to shoot to kill. But he was spared. And sentenced to five years in jail.

In jail, he began writing songs. And thinking differently: ”I sat there, I repented, I said, ‘You know what, I don’t want to be a part of this crime and violence in this country anymore. You know, I want to make a change.’”

Now comes the beauty part. He gets out of jail. Starts playing the circuit. Meets Dave Stewart, once of the Eurythmics, and convinces him to be the executive producer of his CD. Gets invited to play on a South African stage with Bono, who proclaims him “the most important Jamaican musician since Bob Marley.” And, in August of 2005, releases his first CD.

Nice story. But it’s what in the grooves that counts — what’s the deal with Abdel Wright’s music?

Two things. Absolute sincerity. And its polar opposite, super production.

Yes, he may come on stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and his songs may blister the wicked, and you can’t help but think this is Bob Dylan in dreadlocks.

In the studio, though, something else happens. Lyrics about taxes and corruption and the fall of Babylon — strong, angry lyrics, but not lyrics that would make you put a CD in heavy rotation — become poetry. Because there are righteous, hip-hop rhythms underneath. And because the instrumentation and the David Stewart touch are magic. What sounds good coming out of your speakers sounds even better delivered direct to your brain via your iPod.

Sometimes urgency can be beautiful. Sometimes a fairly rigid form like reggae can be taken from the street and expertly glossed without losing its soul. Sometimes a kid who is programmed to fail turns out to be a role model.

When was the last time you tapped your feet to righteousness?

To buy ‘Abdel Wright’ from Amazon.com, click here.