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Respect Jamaica 50

Respect Jamaica 50

Respect Jamaica 50

By on - Photos by Emma-Louise - Comment

Damian, Julian and Stephen Marley, Tarrus Riley, Morgan Heritage and more in London.

The summer of 2012 marked both the London Olympics and the anniversary of Jamaica’s 50th year of independence. All over England’s capital, dedications to both events could be seen on nearly every street corner. If it wasn’t a brightly coloured string of Olympic bunting, it was a poster with the characteristic red-green-and-gold helping advertise a reggae-related event, or even something combining the two such as images of Usain Bolt marking the entrance to a venue. In all of this, South East London took centre stage by hosting a majority of the Olympic games as well as the Respect Jamaica 50 shows- a celebration of the music that has emerged from Jamaica since it’s independence.

What was most evident from the line-up was the preference for older artists (and traditional reggae) over newer talent (aka dancehall), therefore brushing over the past 10 or so years of Jamaican music history. This neglect could however be due to the practical elements that can prove to be a hindrance. Visas, cost and repeated past cancellations all have an impact. For the purpose of this rundown, United Reggae chose to attend the performances by the younger artists on the bill.

Damian ‘Jnr. Gong’ Marley – Friday 27th July

The legendary Damian Marley, who firmly crosses both the reggae and dancehall scenes, opened the celebrations. As the audience were watched over by 30ft picture of Hallie Selassie, the younger artists from Marley’s Ghetto Youth International crew kicked the night off. Black Am I performed his signature tune Black Am I in a multi-coloured Selassie waistcoat, (his performance was summed up perfectly by a guy in the audience: “a good effort”) and Chistopher Ellis sang a mixture of his father’s tracks and his own, namely the romantic ode English. Ellis was joined on stage by the ever-energetic Gappy Ranks to perform over Stephen Marley’s Jah Army Riddim. Wayne Marshall paid tribute to the absent dancehall artists through chatting Bounty Killer-style before performing his version on his own production, Matrimony Riddim. His catchy 2010 hit, My Heart closed his 15 minutes on stage.

Damian Marley bounded on stage (followed by a man who proceeded to wave a huge flag for the remainder of the show) to give an energetic performance of his early 2012 hit, Set Up Shop. Damian’s well known charisma shined through as he engaged the already star-stuck crowd in a call and response to Get Up Stand Up and proceeded to remind the Indig02 of his success in other genres by performing a selection of tracks he did with Hip-Hop star, Nas – namely the more hard-hitting tunes, Despair and Patience. As Damian pogoed around the stage to Exodus, various other members of reggae’s royal family appeared on the stage.

Marley Brothers

Julian Marley’s brief performance seemed one-dimensional compared to his brother’s - and from the other end of the crowd could easily mistake him for his dad- however, it would be hard for anyone to follow the likes of Damian Marley. Stephen Marley’s rendition of his own Jah Army riddim with Damian brought the crowd back alive. It was easy to see just how much the Marley’s were in their element on stage as Stephen paid homage to Buju Banton, laughing as he deepened his voice dancehall style to do so. Jo Mersa, Stephen’s son, firmly held his own on stage with his father and uncle. His performance of Bad So, his cut on Audacity Riddim, was on point giving us a peak into the future of the Marley family (and it looks very healthy). The finale was something of a Broadway musical affair; The Marleys the Musical, with an all-star family and friends line-up, culminating in a tribute to the great Bob – a musical montage of hits such as Could You Be Loved and One Love culminating in a Welcome to Jamrock (Damian’s own tune) crescendo.

Tarrus Riley/ Gyptian/ QQ – Wednesday 2nd August

If anyone thinks that reggae attracts a predominantly male following really needs to go to a Tarrus Riley show. By the end of the night there was an army of women in their late twenties, following Riley’s directions of “hand on your heart, hand in the air” creating the sense that the room was about march into some kind of love-and-conscious-vibes battle…. or maybe that was just a daydream… anyway…

QQ of Stookie fame kicked off the night to a sparse crowd, who when asked to sing along, did so half-heartedly with uncomfortable eyes darting about the room, and his rendition of Stookie reminded you of why he’s probably better off as studio artist. This was followed up by a more promising soca-influenced five minutes, with QQ energetically bounding about the stage in his tight yellow trousers to Hopscotch and his hit track with Ding Dong, Skip to Mi Lu.

A bearded Gyptian followed on afterwards to whoops and sighs from adoring ladies. Since the last time I saw Gyptian perform (at Brixton Academy in 2011), he has toned down on the repeated scales, but you are still left feeling that he mainly exists in the shadow of his former Hold Yuh glory. Saying that, Gyptian’s cuts on Matrimony riddim and Overproof riddim were certain crowd-pleasers after a lesser response to tunes such as Mama Don’t Cry. As the eagerly awaited, Nah Let Go and Hold Yuh, were performed, it was clear that it will continue be very hard for Gyptian to out do the success of these tunes.

Tarrus Riley and the Black Soil Band have to be one of the most perfect combinations in reggae. The band’s continual, smooth and warm sounds mixed with Riley’s rich voice work wonderfully and together they make being on stage look effortless. As Riley made a mysterious, slinking entrance on stage singing Shaka Zulu Pickney, the rest of the audience appeared out of nowhere. Dean Fraser’s sumptuous sax rang out through the entirety of the 30 minute-ish set. A playful call and response section between Fraser and Riley showed, not only the closeness of the friendship, but also the level of talent they share between them.

A performance’s popularity can often be judged by the amount of camera phones in the air and Riley’s performance of Good Thing Going triggered off a sea of small, square–shaped lights slightly raised above the audience’s head. As Riley invited various members of his backing band to give solo performances, an amusing pantomime of “give them an inch and they take a yard” emerged as Riley mocked feeling ‘outdone’ by his colleagues. A quick musical reference of Buju Banton’s Champion indicated that the importance of dancehall was not lost. The grand finale of She’s Royal, saw Gyptian and QQ emerge on stage and Riley jump into a crowd of adoring fans.

Shaggy/ Morgan Heritage/ Raging Fyah – Sunday 5th August

The penultimate night of the Respect Jamaica 50th shows, and the official Independence Day, began with the warm bassy rhythms of Raging Fyah, who delivered a very tight performance, even being able to pull off the rock-style clichéd solo sections for each member of the band.

The interlude between acts was hosted by Mandingo, who’s lecture on Jamaican and English politics was received with mixed responses, demonstrated by the sound on his microphone being turned down at certain intervals, and uneasily restored at other times.

As Morgan Heritage prepared to start, Robbo Ranx introduced the set, leaving the audience wondering who was actually supposed to be hosting the event. After five years away from the stage, it was no wonder Morgan Heritage started off with the aptly named The Return. The passionate theme of ‘returning’ ran through the set, especially as Gramps took centre stage and spoke emotionally about coming home.

These emotions were continued as a break took place for the 100m Men’s Olympic finals in which both Jamaican athletes Usain Bolt and Johan Blake were racing. Huge plasma screens in the Indig02 lit up just in time to see both Bolt and Blake consecutively secured gold and silver. As the venue roared, out from the excitement came the sounds of Down By The River, which the audience sang along to in a true celebratory style.

The references to dancehall continued, as with the previous shows, as Morgan Heritage’s own take on Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam was performed. Gramps and Peter spoke to the audience asking about the various dancehall artists they admired, before demonstrating the different styles themselves- Peter adopting the persona of Mr Reggae and Gramps, that of Mr Dancehall. Jemere Morgan, Gramp’s son, joined his family on stage, displaying, just as was done with the Marley show, what is in store for this family in the future.

The altercations between hosts Robbo Ranx and Mandingo continued on stage (and off stage it seemed) as it took frustratingly long for the stage to be set up for Shaggy... But it was worth the wait.

Shaggy’s set was mostly about him showing off his dancehall CV, with as much attention on him, and only him as possible. As I recall the show, I can barely remember the band even being there. He energetically ran through his greatest hits; Long Time on Street Bullies riddim, Oh Carolina, and proceeded to gyrate his way through an extended version of Bombastic. Co-star Rayvon joined him on stage to perform Angel and Summertime, all of which could quite easily have been just left to the crowd to sing.

The self-proclaimed ladies man gave a speech about how “women never get caught” giving himself a smooth opening into It Wasn’t Me. What became apparent throughout the show was just how many of Shaggy’s songs have been collaborations... Rayvon performed Big Up as well as the aforementioned tunes, Red Fox appeared of stage to sing his parts of Bashment Party, even one of the Gold brothers emerged to add in his section to Sexy Lady. Shaggy’s newer tune with Wayne Wonder, Make Up, however was left up to Shaggy himself.

As Shaggy reminding the audience that tiredness was not an option, especially as they just witnessed Bolt break yet another world record, an excitable soca-ending brought the night to a close. And yes, the audience did appear tired out by the end, but that surely is a marker of a great show…

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