Inside: Is the Jamaican dancehall musician a playboy or a conscious lyricist? Plus, the new album, video release, live shows in Florida, New York and Ontario, Canada and a critique of Sorry.
The conscious-driven lyrics and commentary in his songs are usually about the things that happen in daily life. The Jamaican reggae and dancehall artist I-Octane seems ready to talk about all of it, from beauty standards to being in love, his girlfriend stretching out his T-shirt to suicide and a higher power, even some things most people try to overlook.
In a sea of songs that do unintentional harm his lyrics rise above, simply because they are authentic and address real issues going on around him.
His high energy live performances are unbeatable, hence the name I-Octane. The fuelled physicality he exercises on stage is the opposite of what the classic idealized version of overseas reggae performers outside of Jamaica are supposed to be like, stereotypically calm, relaxed and laid back even with the flashing of the proverbial dreadlocks. Irie.
I-Octane is quintessentially dancehall in all its diversity. He is his own reggae-style-MC hype man on stage, imparting stories, commentary, interacting with the audience in Jamaican patios, working the entire platform, jumping to the rhythm of his live band, inviting women to “dance” with him, his shirt invitingly undone like a ‘70s disco king in his trademark dark shades and sometimes donning lavish gold chains around his neck.
In a vehicle on his way to Canada after a special appearance at the famed SOB’s in New York on April 17, the singer-songwriter made sure that everyone knew that April 29 was his birthday and again in a video promoting his live show in Brampton (a city in the Greater Toronto Area or GTA as opposed to the City of Toronto) to take place on April 30. He turned 38. He’s doing several live shows in Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean, including appearances on Hot 97 in New York and 103.5 the Beat with Papa Keith in Miami that coincided with a release party, to support his new album.
Despite looking, sounding and acting like a playboy I-Octane integrates positive and socially conscious topics into his work intentionally. His rockstar persona doesn’t mesh with the lyrics or the titles of his songs. Some of his most popular songs to date include Mama You Alone, and No Love Inna Dem.
He sees the unhealthy obsession in young people believing that they have to bleach their skin, in Black Skin, as detrimental to culture as gun violence, which he addresses in his real-talk scheduled appearances on his Facebook page. He writes about rising above the things that stand in his way in Rise Above, the first song on the album. You’re Beautiful, Loyalty, Greatness, Selassie I Work, and Self Made are just some of the aptly titled music on the recently released 15-song album, I Am Great, created with Billboard-charting producer Troy “Troyton Music” Hinds.
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This last song got me dancing in my seat and thinking about perseverance. That’s what the power of music can do to get you to look beyond your current situation, beyond the now.
Many subgenres of reggae and dancehall are represented on the new album and showcases his talent. He released several singles from the album and visuals leading up to its full release, including the hit Sorry and the song’s music video.
For Sorry, I-Octane walks into a church like a confident classically-trained virtuoso. His overcoat fitting just so. Dreads flowing down his back, he takes a seat at the piano, plays the instrumental part and sings a tune millions of us have heard many times before. I-Octane, whose name is Byiome Muir, begins and ends Sorry with a melody that sounds very much like a sample of English singer-songwriter Phil Collin’s song Another Day in Paradise. One crucial difference is that in the middle part of the song Muir sings an apology.
Where Collins sings, “She calls out to the man on the street / ‘Sir, can you help me? / It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep / Is there somewhere you can tell me?’” Muir sings “All who me hurt more than words can explain / from yuh nuh deserve it I’m sorry / Inflicted wounds cause you heartaches and pains / Oh God I’m sorry … ”
Muir continues in a musical confession on one knee with open arms raised to the altar: “Anybody weh me hurt out there me say me sorry” and in the middle, over two verses, he asks God, his brother, his children and their mother for their forgiveness — while playing a similarly haunting, but quieter, theme in repetition on the piano.
He sings in Jamaican patois and standard English throughout most of Sorry and uses autotune sparingly, although unnecessarily. Autotune is usually used when someone’s voice is on the weaker side, to cover up the flaws and imperfections. I-Octane doesn’t need the vocal assistance. In any case, it sounds like another instrument and becomes stylized like a part of his sound.
For his enigmatic presence alone it’s worth seeing him live in concert. His powerful lyrics will carry him far as a performer, much farther than it already has. Sorry is the perfect song to help get him there.
by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird
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