Meta and the Cornerstones want reggae fans to feel the “peace and love” but also to fight against intolerance and injustice. The multi-cultural band has produced an unabashedly inspiring CD with “Ancient Power”, their second album, and they’re taking the message on the road.
|Meta Dia in concert.|
“In all my travels, I’ve learned to be more tolerant and to balance things because tolerance brings peace,” said lead singer Meta Dia. “Peace, love and harmony – that’s the whole context.”
Born in Senegal, Dia grew up listening to music from superstar Bob Marley and other Jamaican singers, which influenced his decision to become a musician himself. The name of the band is taken from a line in a Marley song: the stone that the builder refused will always be the head cornerstone.
Marley wrote the lyrics after being shabbily treated by the "light-skinned" relatives of his father’s side of the family, according to biographers, and the song turned out to be a correct prediction. The Marley name is now known universally, and one of Bob’s offspring, Damian, is a guest on “Ancient Power”.
“When I started understanding Bob Marley’s music, his spirituality inspired me a lot, so it was really great to do something with the family,” Dia told SWAN before a recent show in Paris.
For the 32-year-old singer, who has been living in the United States since 2003, the ambition is to build consciousness on the cornerstone of his music. The band’s fervent lyrics in English, French and Wolof tackle subjects such as Africa’s history and the plight of refugees.
“They stole everything we had … they divide the land,” goes a line in “Loneliest People”, which describes refugees as “wailing for help”.
|Dia and his guitar.|
The overall message of the album though is love, cliché as that may sound. In fact, some of the lyrics can seem a bit passé, as if one has already heard the same thing in countless reggae songs. But Dia’s warm, appealing voice helps to banish cynicism.
“I grew up with messages of love for the mother, love for the people, and things like that,” Dia told SWAN. “It’s great to express how you feel when it comes from the heart.”
On moving from Senegal to the United States, Dia initially performed as a rapper, but although audiences liked the work, he said he felt uncomfortable.
“The language barrier was difficult because I was rapping in Wolof and French, and I also felt that American hip-hop was not my reality,” he recalled. “When American MCs do hip-hop it comes from a real place, and it can be aggressive, but I couldn’t feel myself connected to that.”
His current music does have hip-hop elements, but it’s essentially a fusion of reggae, Afro-pop, rock and Soul, with echoes of other genres. A subtle Arabic groove underlies the reggae beat on “Silence of the Moon”, for instance, while a folk ambiance pervades the acoustic track “Anywhere For Love”. On the latter, Dia performs with just his guitar for accompaniment, his voice full of emotion.
In the Cornerstones' case, the varied background of the band members puts a new spin on the term "world music". Keyboard player Aya Kato is a classically trained pianist from Japan; guitarist Shahaz Mintz is from Israel; drummer Wayne Fletcher and bassist Rupert McKenzie are from Jamaica; and Daniel Serrato is an American from Texas.
“I saw this guy come into the elevator and he had a guitar and dreadlocks, and I also had my guitar, and we just looked at each other and started smiling,” Dia recalls of his first meeting with one band member. He came to know the others through community jam sessions and other events.
The mixture of “creative differences” from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and America seems to enrich the band’s music. And when one throws in the Africa-Jamaica link, “Ancient Power” can be rather affecting.
Recorded at Marley’s famous Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, the album also features 70-year-old reggae icon U-Roy (the original “toastmaster”) as well as the contemporary artist Capleton.
“Recording in Jamaica was like a dream come true,” Dia told SWAN. “The vibrations were completely like the way I felt it in my heart, maybe even more.”
As Dia performs songs from the album on his current tour, he hopes audiences will also be able to feel these special “vibes”.