One day awhile back, in the run up to the 2012 installment of the Victoria Ska Festival (The longest-running such festival in North America and the best week of music Vancouver Island has to offer) I came home to my friend calling me over to the computer. "I wanted to show you this. This guy is playing at Ska Fest this year," is all she said before she showed me this, the video for "Something to Believe" by Blitz the Ambassador. It's a theatrical-style video with a slow narrative build, and I was antsy but by the time the man called Blitz appeared with his impassioned, aggressively intelligent rhymes I was hooked.
Who is this guy? Where did he come from? What's his deal? I can't wait to see him. Blitz did not disappoint in the least. Touring behind his second record, Native Sun, Blitz the Ambassador (A name I can never say enough because of its sheer awesomeness) and his Mighty Ensemble Orchestra obliterated the crowd at the outdoor stage that warm July night. The band crushed and Blitz himself looked like a commander up there on stage, directing his soldiers and basking in the adoration of the dancing mass in front of him. Both of his records, the aforementioned Native Sun and the impeccable Stereotype, became regular staples of my listening diet.
There are so many reasons to love the music of Blitz the Ambassador. His lyrics are sharp, literate and street-smart. He can boast like the best "Ringtone clones, my rhyming's a breath of fresh air/Who the hell want with Blitz from the underdog/16 bars better than your whole catalogue," but it's not the only thing he does. He raps with such eloquence and positivity, it's impossible to ignore.
Maybe I love him because of his elastic flow. It's a powerful weapon that can be methodical and deliberate like "Something to Believe" or Blitz can blow your face off with speed, an African chopper of the highest caliber.
"You got a city behind you, I got a continent, yes!" There, in that short little refrain, is the reason I find I am increasingly drawn to Blitz. Ever since I first heard Bob Marley's Survival record, raising the profile of Africa has been of utmost importance in my own life. While Public Enemy and the Roots and Blackalicious, to name a few, have taught me to be proud of the colour of my skin (Not that anyone taught me otherwise, just to be clear. I just wasn't brought up around such pride), few artists have encouraged me to think about my own ties with the place that birthed all human life, as tenuous as those ties may feel at times. The need for African artists to cross over to larger Western audiences is as high as ever. As more and more money is pumped away from the continent, often in the form of precious resources, it is all too easy for people to turn a blind eye to these places that seem so far away. This lack of attention and knowledge can lead to the perception that Africa is a place of darkness, locked in the past. Luckily we have a guy like Blitz, thankfully becoming more and more high-profile in Hip-Hop circles, reminding everyone that Africa is place of Great Light and its safety and vitality is of the utmost importance to all of Human Kind.
Last fall I left the sleepy little Island I call home to travel around Spain with a friend. The plan was to go to Morocco at some point, an experience that made my heart swell in ways I can't explain, but as I was poking around I saw that Blitz would be playing in Marseilles, France shortly before we were "due" in Morocco. Our whole trip was re-routed to some degree to get there, but we made it happen. We met up with a wonderful Couchsurfing host (If you haven't Couchsurfed before, I cannot recommend it highly enough) who was equally stoked to see Blitz and off we went to the Fiesta Des Suds. We were clearly the three most enthusiastic people in the crowd, shouting and dancing with reckless abandon, garnering smiling acknowledgment from Blitz and his Orchestra. And when we waited around after the show and said simply "Greetings from Victoria!" we were welcomed and hugged without hesitation, with recountings of our beloved Ska Fest popping up quickly. It was a reminder of the sense of community that prevails in all of Blitz's songs and performances.
That tour was in support of the utterly perfect Warm Up EP. If this EP was merely a warm up, how great could the album it was leading up to be? We are about to have our answer. Afropolitan Dreams hits the world this week and if the world is a just place, it will be blasting from speakers across the globe, reminding people that they're all in this together and that music is there, to give us strength, help guide us through the darkness and give us something to dance to when we come together for the Revolution. But really, the world isn't just, and only a very small portion will hear the record. But if all us who get this thing into our ears help to spread it to the ears of other people, we can spread this positive, Afro-powerful message of unity across all kinds of artificial boundaries. When we listen to Blitz the Ambassador we're on the road to success.