Zama Rripa is a singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist in the Americana/Roots genre. He performs as a street busker and alternates between Miami and Los Angeles. Zama plays guitar, harmonica, drums/percussion and keyboards as well as working with musicians from around the world. He regards himself as a protest singer and his songs often have an important underlying spiritual or political message.
This album, American Soul, consists of thirteen tracks that vary in style but can essentially be classed as Americana. Zama is a songwriter who belongs to a rich lineage of Americana artists like Bob Dylan, The Band, Bruce Springsteen, Kris Kristofferson and Sixto Rodriguez. Artists in this genre tend to be completely authentic and write from the heart; Zama Rripa is no exception.
He’s blessed with a warm, distinctive voice that equally lends itself to bluesy rock ‘n roll or country/folk ballads. Opening track Live and Let Live belongs to the former style and is somewhat of a manifesto. From the opening lines, Rripa shows a gift for Dylan-esque poetic lyrics: “I got a million ideas blastin’ my mind, like a trillion pounds of dynamite, gonna blow sky-high like the continental divide…”.
Like many a good artist, he uses his art to express political dissent and his own spiritual worldview, which is essentially live and let live, his ‘Golden Rule’. He essentially preaches the path of the individual over being governed by corrupt politicians: “Keep your hands to you, keep my hands to me, it’s peaceful individuality….”. This is set to a classic rock style, with some mellifluous lead guitar interspersing the vocals.
Live Your Thing is musically quite a contrast, an acoustic folk-tinged ballad. Lyrically, it’s about finding out that Donald Trump has become your President and the hysteria that ensued. Again, though, his message is positive; follow your heart and don’t give in to negativity. It’s good advice that many should heed.
Left Behind is a story song based on John Mellancamp’s Pink Houses. It’s a very well written song that attacks government oppression and racial issues, the anthemic chorus running: “Ain’t this the USA? Land of the free, home of the brave? It ain’t you and me that’s changed, it’s the nature of the state.“ A very apposite message that deserves to be widely heard, and a real album highlight.
C503 swaps the political for the personal, this one a deeply affecting ballad about how old people are often neglected by their families and how they face their final years in solitude: “When you’re nobody’s memory, life is a long, cold December day….”. A heartbreaking but beautiful song.
Stone of Freedom is another highlight with an interesting premise: how would Jesus be treated in America today? This intriguing question is set to raw and raucous blues rock, featuring a classic guitar riff on the singalong chorus. Underlying this premise is his essential anti-totalitarian message: “Man can’t serve two masters, and you can’t serve love when the State is your pastor….”.
The title track comes next, an epic at six and a half minutes. To my great pleasure, it’s a song that conveys Zama’s message of freedom whilst cutting down to size the political pontificating of the tax-dodging Bono from U2. Musically, it’s mid paced country rock that allows some fantastically satirical lines to shine: “Now Brother’s back but where’d he go? Eight years sharing earphones with Mr. Jones, he got tax evasion vertigo!“.
Blowback is another pointed political song about how people’s tax dollars go towards funding wars, summed up succinctly by lines like: “We pay for it twice, that’s how the story goes….once with our taxes, two times with our souls…”. I don’t see too many songwriters out there who write with this kind of profound depth and moral seriousness.
He puts the politics to bed on the following Forever Sung, a lovely country/folk ballad based around crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar augmented by gorgeous vocal harmonies throughout. It’s essentially about the power of music itself to bring joy and happiness to people. This positive mood flows into the optimism of There’s Better Things Ahead Than Any You Leave Behind, the kind of You’ve Got A Friend-type comforting song that every good songwriter should have in his/her canon.
The healing power of love is depicted in tenth track Tenderly, another fine ballad which features some typically deep and soul searching lyrics: “There’s fear and desire inside of me, both an angel of fire and a demon seed.” Missing Milestones is another affecting song, about being too busy working to enjoy the important moments in life.
Stuck Between The Middle Blues (Where Rain Always Comes Before Rust) returns to the raw and ragged blues rock that he does so well, this one a reflective but also entertaining song about trying to find your direction in life whilst cherishing your freedom. Great track and another epic at six minutes.
The closing All Along is aptly another very insightful political song, based on the chord changes to Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. Lyrically, it’s about Ed Snowden, the Wikileaks whistleblower who released documents about global surveillance programs.
Musically, it’s by far the most radical departure on the album with a quirky, insistent drum pattern and distorted vocals. It clever interweaves classic protest songs by Dylan and Nina Simone into the lyrics. The full impact of this song is best appreciated by the accompanying video and it makes for a powerful closing statement.
Overall, American Soul feels like a labour of love and an album that was waiting to be made. In a just world it would go down as an important artistic document of Trump-era America, and maybe it will. With the feistiness and penetrating insight of Dylan’s early years as a protest singer combined with the hard won wisdom borne of experience, Zama Rripa is a songwriting force to be reckoned with. The album runs the gamut of emotions people go through but, for all the superb satire and takedown of political forces, ultimately American Soul is simply about the timeless human condition and our difficult path through life.