Series of shows
The month of February is now behind us. It was the period during which we annually celebrate Reggae Month and Black History Month respectively, here in Jamaica. During the 2011 revival of the celebrations, as is customary, a series of “live” concerts featuring Jamaican music were held on Wednesdays on the grounds of the Edna Manley College, on Arthur Wint Drive, in St. Andrew. The weekly event was coordinated by the Jamaica Record Industry Association, (Ja.R.I.A.), and financial sponsorship for same came from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, The Jamaica Tourist Board, Jam-Pro and Red Stripe.
The weekly events were culturally inspiring but, for some reason, not many Jamaicans took the opportunity to come out and experience it. So, for what is worth, this writer is going to attempt to take you on a look back at those concerts.
Week 1: Wednesday, February 2; Heritage Night
The first show of the series got off to a good start on the night dated above. On that evening a sparse audience experienced some very good performances. The best of which was delivered by the now world famous Jolly Boys. But to begin at the start though, the opening night of the series was “dubbed”, “Heritage Night” and featured such acts as, The Aquaba Drummers who were the opening act followed immediately by the singing of the National Anthem. Another drumming act, Drum Circle, took the spotlight next. Both drumming acts served up wonderful diets of delightful African styled drumming during their performances. Their contribution was thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated by the gathering. Another set of drummers of the same ilk, The Maroon Boys, should have appeared but didn’t.
.The drummers were followed by the Nexus Choir. This group seemed fewer in numbers on this occasion than when I saw them last, the size of the group have shrunken despite its growing popularity. One must note however, that the smallness of the group didn’t take anything away from their usual smooth performance. Their set featured a series of traditional Jamaican Folk Songs as well as a few popular ones. Their act was very well received. They departed and were requested to do an encore they eventually closed their set with one titled, “Heaven Called an Election.”
At this juncture a break was taken for a band change. On resumptions, the audience was then introduced to The Jolly Boys, a group of musicians whose average age is around 70-75. The Jolly Boys is now world renowned and is currently the most popular set of Jamaican musicians touring the planet. This group also has the distinction of charting number one songs in more than eight major European countries over the past two years. The Jolly Boys took the stage and immediately stamped their class on the event. The over 60 plus years of experience they’ve garnered working together, as a group, was evident from the delivery of the very first song they performed titled, “Water Boy”, This was followed by, “Talking Parrot”, “Linstead Market”, “Iron Bar”, and “Golden Girl.”
Albert, the lead vocalist of the group, kept speaking to the audience during their set. During his discourse he introduced the members of the band to the gathering as well as informing about the group’s upcoming album titled, “Great Expectations.” They continued by performing tracks from the new album titled, “Perfect Day”, “How Do I Feel”, “Go To Rehab”, “Riders On The Town” and “Ring Of Fire.” The Jolly Boys closing number of their set was one titled, “The Passenger.” They departed the stage but was demanded to return by the audience who kept shouting for More “Jolly Boys” and “Soldering.” The Jolly Boys returned and obliged accordingly by performing, “Soldering.” Mention must here be made of the fact that the audience was totally enthralled with group’s the performance. So much so that some of the young people present kept dancing to the mento flavoured music throughout their set.
After the Jolly Boys act the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, the Hon. Olivia “Babsy” Grange was then introduced to address the gathering. During her presentation she gave a ‘special Big-Up’ to the Jolly Boys. She spoke about their longevity and remarked to the young people present that the group is an example of what hard work and dedication to one’s craft can achieve. She spoke also about the power and beauty of Jamaica’s music and the love the world has for it. She then introduced John Baker, (a Caucasian), and referred to his love for Jamaican music. Mr. Baker is the man responsible for making the Jolly Boys an international renowned musical group. He is also the group’s manager and the producer of their upcoming album. The minister also hailed Albert, the lead vocalist, as the first and original “Rude Boy.” The minister also appealed to the young people present, (most of whom are students of the college), and especially to the students of the school of music by telling them that they now have the responsibility and opportunity to preserve the music. She said it is now in their hands and it is up to them to now take Jamaican music further, to an even higher level. She went on to congratulate the organizers of the month long event, Ja.R.I.A, and wished Reggae Month all the success.
The final act was the celebrated, award winning pianist, Dennis Ruston. He started his set with his signature song, the Flintstone theme from the cartoon series. He then introduced a female singer named, Tonia. She sang, “Redemption Song”, “Sammy Dead”,
“Everyday is a Holiday” and a few others.
After this act the first show in the series of the Reggae Month concerts came to a close.
Week 2: Wednesday February 9, Ska Night
The second concert in the Reggae Month series of shows got underway on the night dated above. This was the night to experience
Ska Night. In following a now established procedure the Aquaba Drummers started things off. Their now ritualized African styled drumming was again offered and accepted. The National Anthem was sung next by Jeneva Williams. The Anonymous Band, (an aggregation consisting of students of the Jamaica School of Music), then took to the stage. After their introductory instrumental piece they went on to supply accompaniment for acts such as Carlene Davis, Grace Thrillers and The Edna Manley Dancers. That section of the programme provided a gospel ingredient to the evening’s proceedings.
Nambo Robinson and The Idren Workshop was the band that followed and they immediately launched into delivering an offering of
Ska classics including, “Eastern Standard Time”, “Freedom Sound”, “Confucious”, “Addis Ababa”, “Occupation” and others. Saxophonist, Michael “Bammy” Rose, a Jamaican residing in Canada was featured as a special guest musician.
After the refreshing set offered by Nambo and the Idrens then came time to feature Rodney Small, musicians from St. Vincent who is a graduate student at the Jamaica School of Music. Rodney Small is a master Steen Pan musician and he gave a scintillating performance as he mesmerized the audience with his playing of some classic Jamaican Ska and Rocksteady songs.
The final act of the evening was actually a collage of several popular acts coming together to perform as one. The act was introduced as Earl “Chinna” Smith and the Inna De Yard Band project. Several vocalists who were not individually named made contributions delivering such songs as, “Let Them Try”, “Everyday Is A Holiday”, “Right Track” among others. The band then accompanied The Abbasynians who sang, “Get Up And Fight” and the classic, “Satta Massa Ganna.” The audience wanted more from the Abbasynians but was denied as “Chinna” informed them that the Group didn’t rehearse any other song. Pam Hall was the following act and she sang, “Belly Full” and “Truly.” Kiddus I, a veteran Reggae artiste now based in France was then called on to close the evening’s proceedings, he performed his hit songs, “Cheer Up” and “Keep The Faith.”
Week 3: Wednesday February 16, Rock Steady / Reggae Night
On this night, as dated above, Rock Steady and Reggae were the featured genres. The venue was packed to capacity this time around. Again, the Aquba Drummers started things followed by the singing of the National Anthem. The first vocal presentation was
given by the Assure Gospel group, ( a four person Acapella unit). They were followed by Carol Lawrence. After which the Pentereh Band performed.
In the second section of the show the perennially popular Fab 5 Inc. was called to make their contribution. Fab 5, an aggregation celebrating 40 years as a musical unit started with the band leader and bass player, Frankie Campbell, introducing the band members individually. He informed the audience that their presentation will consist of all original Fab 5 Inc.songs. They then began their set with one of their major hits,” Who – Wha'”, followed by “Read A Psalm”, “One DraW”, “Asking For Love”, “Shaving Cream”,
“Jamaican Woman”, “Land Of My Birth”, “Land Of My Birth”, “Give Thanks and Praise”, and “Love Fever.” One can consider Fab 5″ s set one of the high points of the evening’s musical offering.
At this point the concert shifted from showcasing musicians with years of experience to presenting musician who exhibit youthful exuberance. The Uprising Roots Band was called on next to perform and they immediately got the crowd rocking again, their contribution consisted of songs such as, “King Rasta Love I”, “Blessings Keep On Flowing”, “Marcus Mosiah Garvey”, and “Sky Fire” among others. The Uprising Roots Band is a fresh, new, musical aggregation on the National music scene and special mention must be made here of the band’s bass player. He was most animated during the band’s set in which he gave a special individual performance all through. Next up was another new band on national scene, The Raging Fire Band, said to working out of the parish of Clarendon. The Raging Fire Band also added some intensity and youthful heat of their own to the event that was established by the set for young musicians. Their set began with them doing, “Long Time”, “Count The Days”, “If You Run From Yourself”, “We Are One With The Spirit” and “Judgment Day.” All of Raging Fire songs were originals and the lead vocalist / lead guitarist, was very good.
Another band change at this point brought together both years of experience and youthful enthusiasm. This took the form of the Anonymous Band doing the accompaniment to Barrington Levy, Cocoa T and Big Youth. Barrington Levy was introduced first and he came on delivering, “Too Experienced”, followed by, “Vicey – Versey Love”, then “Living Dangerously.” Cocoa T walked on to the stage at this point and quickly launched into his hit song, “Tune In”, followed by “I Can’t Go On Without you.” Cocoa T and Barrington then both sang, “Tune In” again together. Both singers began to interchange while delivering their offering. Barry then sang, “Everyday I Love Her A Little bit More”, while Cocoa T did some ad-libbing. Cocoa T next sang, “My, My, My” and Barry answered with “On The Telephone.” It was at this juncture that veteran Dee-jay Big Youth decided to enter the fray, joining the two artistes on stage. Barrington Levy continued singing, this time he was into, “Broader than Broadway” which he followed up with
“Black, Black Roses.” Big Youth then did his first piece by joining Barrington in singing, “Revolution.” Barrington Levy, bent on dominating the proceedings began singing, “Murderer.” Cocoa T then took over and sang, “Turn On The Heat.” Big Youth then stepped up to the front of the stage and sang his hit, “Gun A Nuh Supp’n To Play Wid.” Barrington Levy then sang, “Mine How Yuh Run Up Yuh Mouth” followed by “Money Move”, after which he left the stage. Big Youth then got the opportunity to sing two more of his hits namely, “Hit The Road Jack” and “Screaming Target.” Cocoa T again took centre stage and belted out; “No, No, No” then he also took his exit. The large audience didn’t want him to leave just yet and demanded an encore but this was not accommodated as the compare proceeded to call on seasoned campaigner, Bob Andy. And right from the word go Bob Andy started with his hit song, “I Deserve The Right.” The band seemed to falter a little right there but they quickly regained their composure and continued to properly assist Bob as he sang”, “Fire Burning”, and the “Sun Shines For Me.” Bob Andy’s set came to an end right there.
A quick band change was made and it then became time for the world renowned Sly and Robbie and the Taxi Gang to take up the slack. The ever popular Don Drummond classic, “Far East” was the number Sly and Robbie started their set with, followed by, “Eastern Standard Time”, “Real Rock”, “No Supper Tonight”, (which featured Trombonist, Nambo Robinson on vocals). Trumpeter, Vivian Scott was then arris featured singing, “Cool Out Son.” Nambo Robinson was again featured in a vocalist role on, “Looking My Love”, “La, La, La, La, La”, “World A Reggae Music” and “Hey Mambo.” Third World’s lead vocalist, Bunny Rugs then came on to sing the Nina Simone”s classic, “Baltimore.” Sly And Robbie then did the instrumental versions of their hits, “Shine Eye Gal”, and the “Taxi” rhythm Theme song to put the lid on their set.
The last band change for the evening was made while Seretse Small spoke and introduced the winning band of a competition he organized. The band, Dub Tonic, then performed. During their set the band first performed an unnamed instrumental number dub wise style. They then did one titled “World Crisis” which featured the lead vocalist / lead guitarist. They followed up with one titled, “Hold On Still” and they ended their set with, “Shine Eye Gal” which they did in dub wise fashion. Dub Tonic’s performance on this night took the form of a send-off performance before they made the trip to Malaysia to compete in the World Band Competition in which three possibility exist that they might walk away the winner of US$100,000. Dub Tonic’s stint brought the curtains down on Week 3 of the Reggae Month series of concerts.
Week 4: Wednesday February 23, Dancehall Night – The alternative
On this night the grounds of the Edna Manley College was overflowing with people who came out to experience this, the final night
of the Reggae Month series of concepts. I got to the venue just in time to see the Jamaican hard core Heavy Metal Rock band, Downstairs take to the stage. This musical aggregation is one of the few brave set of Jamaicans who are actually swimming against the established musical style that prevails here in Jamaica. They are proud to say they are Heavy Metal Musicians and the play Heavy metal music. Their first number was a Heavy Metal version of Gregory Isaacs’ hit, “Love Is Overdue”, they next did two of their own compositions, “Spirit” and “Sweet Dreams.” The act that followed was introduced as Michael Harris. This group was new to me and they represent the new alternative music movement that is currently growing in popularity in Jamaica. Their set involved such song as their innovative adaptations of, “Live and Let Die”, “Over The Mountain”, “So Much Trouble”, and an original titled, “Whinning On The Table Top.” Next came another Rock / Reggae fusion group, Gibby. This band did a great set also mixing Reggae with Heavy Metal Rock music deftly and in a inventive way. Rootz Underground Band followed and did quite an inspirational set before they made way for top Dancehall artiste, Junie Platinum, Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica, Ce-cile and last but most importantly, Sizzla Kolange.
Sizzla Kolange was the man called upon to close off the month long series of Reggae Month concerts.