Giant Stepby Andy Davis / 29.05.2012
“Wake up! wake up!” Trenton Free Radical’s Giant Step launches auspiciously with the 5FM playlisted, Maxi-Jazz blessed single “Tomorrow’s Day”. And it’s a fine way to bring us into this debut album. One I had been looking forward to hearing ever since I stumbled upon the video for the album’s real single, “Mr Mandela” which we dropped last year. A timeous, feel good reminder of Madiba’s high horse on the high road politics. And it soon becomes clear that Trenton and Free Radical are pursuing a musical direction purpose built for reggae-friendly, white guilt artists such as myself.
I guess the real travesty here, (as you know Mahala articles always got to have some beef, so let’s kick it on the front foot), the real travesty here is that 5FM were offered the single “Mr Mandela” back when it dropped in early 2011 but refused to playlist it. Why? For it’s overtly political content. Well that’s how the story I was told goes. But yeesh man! Anyway, that programming manager and the state “youth” broadcaster have since parted ways. 5FM are already playing “Tomorrow’s Day” let’s see if they do what’s right and give “Mr Mandela” the high rotation air play it deserves. Because seriously, this is one helluva pop song. The lyrics are right on point to address the current leader-vacuum and resultant climate of lowest common denominator expediency politics and penis freak outs that we’re currently being subjected to, while the real issues get swept under the carpet.
“Mr Mandela you’re one helluva a fella and I want to be like you. You fought the war of peace and still smiled after all that you’ve been through, white persecution of the poor, the black, the brown man, me and you, you rise above retaliation… cos that’s what you do…”
Add catchy, dubby basslines and jump up riffs and it’s a pure politicised pop joy. A crash course in South African liberation history that you can shake your bum to. This a white boy’s musical love letter to the big man, so heartfelt and earnest and with a bassline that’s so damn catchy, it leapfrogs the cheese.
5FM, (and the rest of South African radio for that matter), the ball’s in your court. Do the right thing… Moving right along. The obvious fear after a single like that, is that the rest of the album would fail to live up to the standard. “Tomorrow’s Day” and the presence of Maxi Jazz should’ve given you a hint of this band’s pedigree. But if you’re still doubting, the ballad “Mama” will make you cry a little if you’ve ever spent enough time out of South Africa to really miss her. And if you were an adult in the 90s and did your 2 year voluntary ‘conscription’ in London, this song is going to resonate from the base to the heart chakra. Expect “Mama” to become the official song of the Homecoming Revolution soon. Here’s a bonafide tear jerker, an anthem for anyone who has ever experienced the cold exile of greener pastures.
“Because mama I only said I’d be gone for a short while / And mama, everyday I miss your smile / And don’t be listening to all those things they say because me and many more will be coming home soon.”
Not sold yet? What about the pure infectious groove and no holds bar politics of “Barefoot Hope”, a story about a street kid that makes you believe that pop music can still be a proper platform for politicization. Trenton and Free Radical’s Giant Step is pop music the way pioneers like Marley, Dylan and the Clash imagined it. A powerful protest voice. Not the default ditties about love, sex and the club a la Bieber, Brown and LMFAO.
Yes there are songs on the album that don’t resonate as deeply, but would certainly get crowds moving on a dance floor. I dare you to try not wiggle your ass to “Sunless Sundays”, and the three remixes of this bassline at the end of the album. It’s a kind of ode to warm weather, beaches, braais and flip flops. You can see the oke holed up in a shitty bedsit in Croyden, penning this while thinking about December in Ballito. On a more sensitive tip? “Try” could well be a soulful personal salute to the Mankind Project. The final few songs on the album don’t really hit as powerfully as the first 6, but there’s gold in this album. In truth, releases like Giant Step make my job easy. It’s a privilege for me to be the one telling you about this. And while you may call me a cheeseball, a reggae-friendly, white guilt artist (as I did myself), there are songs here that hit deep, deep nerves. Go get it.