Monday, February 1, 2016

"Another Perspective" album by Amen BK

'Ask the question and you will learn the lesson' – for Tunisian-born rapper and songwriter Amen Ben Koussa, these words are more than simply lyrics to a song; they are words to actively and wholeheartedly live by. Listening to his recent debut-album Another Perspective, his apparent intention to constantly search for new and creative ways to answer the questions posed is made abundantly clear. Luckily for us, the album's appeal doesn't stop there; not only does it present an opportunity for contemplation in audible form, but it convincingly manages to do so whilst at the same time maintaining its overall function as a very pleasurable listening experience.

Of course, it is one thing to be able to rap well, but being able to truly say something is another thing altogether. Perhaps one of the most rigorous tests of lyrical quality is the question whether the words themselves continue to effectively portray their message once they have been stripped down to their bare essentials. It is in this sense, perhaps, that the artistry involved in Another Perspective becomes clearest of all; though it is evident that the artist is able to skillfully use the medium of rap to convey his message, it would seem like he may be just as appropriately described as being a poet first and foremost. As such, his lyrical worth –as is often the case- may well lie in the unique and unfamiliar descriptions of various universal themes and concepts. In Unfair Trials, for example, the listener is urged to resist that all too familiar tendency towards adopting a narrow and embittered outlook on life, and is stimulated to resist it by 'setting the view on panorama' instead. Interestingly, and in this case specifically, the album's recurring theme of tackling various different perspectives is dealt with in both the literal and figurative senses – two very different ways of approaching any given concept – proving that Amen BK has very much taken to heart the age-old wisdom of 'practicing what you preach'.

Though the lyrics themselves might just as well have functioned as an excellent spoken-word performance, they have without a doubt been further enriched by the vast array of sounds present throughout the album. With an eye on the wide plethora of influences that have made their way into the project, including the use of Flamenco, Jazz, Reggae, Rock, Opera, Classical, Blues and Soul-orientated instrumentals, it would have been all too easy for the album to have unintentionally become an unguided missile of sorts. The attentive listener, however, is likely to conclude that in fact, nothing seems to be farther from the truth; upon listening to the album, it gradually becomes more and more clear that nowhere has this broad pallet of influences been incorporated simply for diversity's sake. Instead, the taken approach seems to have been the only possible way of doing justice to the vast amount of different topics and themes covered in its forty-five minutes of running time. This beautifully appropriate synergy between music and lyrics is perhaps nowhere more evident than in 'El Baile De La Vida' (The Dance Of Life), which almost instantly invokes the vivid Spanish imagery consistent with the influences that it so strongly draws upon.

Much of the album's apparent cohesion may be attributed to the consistent usage of a central, 'conscious' theme. Though it takes on various different forms throughout -dealing with issues of social justice, politics and spirituality to name a few- the aforementioned theme nonetheless functions as the album's main reference point. The way that these topics are approached, however, ensures that the album is never caught lingering in its confrontation with injustice; by putting a positive spin on many strongly contested issues, it seemingly successfully promotes conscious thinking without ever becoming cynical in its nature.

Another Perspective might thus be described as being somewhat of a two-headed monster; a musical effort that is consistent in its method whilst maintaining its diversity at the same time. The overarching feeling one takes away from it, and perhaps from Amen BK's work in general, is that we're dealing with a man who might well be described as being an artist in every sense of the word; though his music is suitably geared towards being a pleasurable listening experience, the vast array of words and ideas presented throughout feel more like baring witness to some kind of interior monologue. In many ways, it is perhaps reminiscent of our own conflicting understandings of the complex world around us. Almost without exception, the mark of all great artists has arguably always been their ability to communicate the questions and conflicts imposed on them by their reflective nature, and consequently, their inability to go through life without doing exactly that. Though it is perhaps early days, Koussa's work seems to exhibit many indicators of such a notion. Even though Another Perspective quite convincingly demonstrates that there is no such thing as an absolute truth, it would seem like madness to deny the musical and lyrical potential on display here - whichever way you choose to look at it.

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