'Hope River' - Floats Sasco's quality, values, principles
There is a certain standard and quality of music that reggae and dancehall lovers expect - rhythm-driven tracks matched with lyrics that either speak out against injustices or highlight the artiste's journey and success.
Agent Sasco is not intimidated by the weight of that mandate, especially for his newest album - Hope River.
"Like any industry, there will be a broad spectrum of the word 'quality'. I can't say I know what people use to weigh the quality of Jamaican music, but I can tell you what I think the key deliverables are for our music," Agent Sasco reasoned with The Gleaner.
"First off, it is the vibe - the way our music makes a person feel. Then, there are the musical elements - from the rhythm, melodies, [and] lyrics to the mix and mastering. The beauty of music, though, is that ultimately, quality is decided by listeners on a case-by-case basis," he explained.
His 14-track album is inspired by his life growing up in Kintyre, with the title of the album borrowed from the river that borders his community. He takes some autobiographical steps on tracks like Banks of the Hope, So Blessed and Mama Prayed. The 35-year-old entertainer says that most of the content on Hope River is him sharing some of the principles and values he lives by.
For the first album recorded at Diamond Studios and under his new label of the same name, Agent Sasco has collaborated with a host of fellow artistes. "Making Hope River was a great experience, and working with all the artistes was a major part of that. From Stephen Marley to Spragga, Stonebwoy, Kabaka Pyramid, Dre Island, Wayne Marshall, Chevaugh, Queen Ifrica, Tony Rebel, Romain Virgo, Jah Vinci, Tessanne Chin, Tosh Alexander, Majah Hype and Glacia Robinson. I must also thank all the producers and musicians and engineers who contributed to the making of this album."
With some of the artistes that he has worked with, the musical connections were instant. As for his collaboration with Glacia Robinson on Mama Prayed, he first met her at the 2018 Rebel Salute launch, where he previewed the song to her. "The following day, she was at Diamond Studios recording. Even with a very packed schedule, she made the time to do it because she said the song resonated with her."
He also points out that Grateful, featuring Stephen Marley, is one of the songs that focuses on a core value - gratitude - that relates to his own upbringing growing up in Kintyre, where he and others in the community would often 'trust' from the shops. He utilised the nutri bun programme at school (Hope Valley Experimental), and found various ways to stretch resources, and for that he is not only humbled, but grateful.
"I hope it can do for listeners what it does for me. The album is fresh, evolving and diverse with traditional elements giving a variety of textures in a cohesive way," he said.
Agent Sasco's involvement in the production of his previous album, Theory Of Reggaetivity, not only provided him with learning experience, but motivated him to establish Diamond Studios in his home. Having the studio made a difference - not only in allowing him to formally accept producer credit, but also because "working at your own pace and convenience makes the creative process much more rewarding, and because the studio is located at home, it also adds a level of comfort which is also reflected in the music".
Sasco plans to do more songwriting and producing in the future and has already started working with a few of his fellow artistes. "I definitely plan to continue growing in that capacity," he said. As an entertainer for the past 17 years, he says he is always on a mission to maximise his potential.
"This album is another milepost on the journey - I certainly don't consider it a destination as I pursue continuous improvement. It feels very much like we are nearing cruising altitude, seat belt signs are about to be turned off," he said. "That means not limiting my creative direction in any way and going with the flow, that's the flow of the Hope River," he said.
The Winning Right Now artiste's approach to producing Hope River appears to be paying off. It debuted at number four on the Billboard Reggae Album Chart and also sold out at local stores such as Fontana Pharmacy, which had stocked the album in time for its release.