I’ve been meaning to post this for ages, but in the immortal worlds of George O’Dowd AKA Boy George time won’t give me time. On August 6th my beloved island of Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence from the United Kingdom. As you can imagine, this is quite a milestone so there are plenty of events happening across the world to mark the occasion. One of Jamaica’s biggest imports is undoubtedly its music. I’ve already discussed Bob Marley’s indelible mark on popular culture, but in addition to Bob, there have been many other artists and musicians who helped to craft and mould the sound we’ve all come to recognise as reggae. Enter one of my favourite venues, IndigO2, who announced several weeks ago that there were playing host to a remarkable 12 night residency featuring some of the biggest names in reggae. We’re talking legends such as Jimmy Cliff, Yellowman, Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths, Lee Scratch Perry, Maxi Priest, Toots and The Maytals, John Holt, Sly & Robbie and many more (see flyer above for full line up). As soon as I heard I knew I had to take in at least a couple of shows.
Junior Gong kept us waiting for a while, but boy did he deliver.
Last Thursday I was honoured to attend Damian Marley’s high-energy set at the 2400 capacity venue. Following a hectic day at work, and one of the hottest days of the summer, I arrived feeling fatigued but excited by the prospect of seeing Damian along with several other Marley siblings, live in the flesh. The show was scheduled to start at 8.30pm, but it wasn’t until one hour later that 1-Xtra DJ Robbo Ranx arrived onstage to introduce the opening act. Up and coming Roots reggae singer Black Am I casually strolled on and proceeded to perform a four (or maybe it was 5?) track set. Although there were a few gems in there, the audience were growing weary (self included) and his laidback delivery and audience unfamiliarity made for a slightly uncomfortable performance. He shouldn’t have been made to perform more than two songs in my opinion. Next up was singer Christopher Ellis, son of the legendary singer, Alton Ellis. This set was much better. He performed to the crowd, threw in a song or two by hisfather and introduced Gappy Ranks who whipped the audience up into a frenzy. The last of the opening acts was Wayne Marshall, and it’s safe to say they saved the best till last. Now here is a man who knows how to perform. Sensing the audience may also be unfamiliar with a lot of his work, he threw in tracks by Bounty Killer, Wayne Wonder and tested the audience’s knowledge of classic reggae hits.
Next, the lights dimmed and the band warmed the crowd with an exquisite rendition of Bob’s Sun Is Shinning (which was apt because it was during the day at least). Within minutes Damian was on the stage bouncing away to a bass-heavy reggae rhythm. The singer/deejay the took us through a 90 minute musical journey which featured tracks from his three album catalogue as well as re-worked covers of his father’s extensive discography. Despite his laidback off-stage demeanour, he is a firecracker of a performer much like his Dad. He bounced, jumped, swayed and held his lengthy locks, while delivering tracks like ‘Beautiful’ and the dub heavy ‘Land of Promise’.
The crowd went wild when Stephen Marley took to the stage
Just when we thought the show had hit its peak, Damian (nicknamed Junior Gong) then brought to the stage siblings Julian and Stephen. While Julian encompasses the more politicized/social aware aspects of the Marley legacy, you can tell Stephen and Damian are also influenced by the contemporary Dancehall style of reggae. The two brothers bounced off each other while performing, injecting even more energy as well as humour into the set. As the clock approached midnight I did begin to fret about what time I’d get to bed, but didn’t want to leave until the end. When Damian bellowed ‘Jamaica, Jamaica’ I knew that signalled the start of his breakthrough hit ‘Welcome To Jamrock’ and we were almost there. The show ended with an family performance of ‘Could You Be Loved’ where the boys were joined onstage by Cedella Marley, and after singing and dancing my heart out we finally left to get some rest.
I strongly recommend you check out at least one of the Respect Jamaica 50th shows. Click here for details of remaining shows