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I-Wayne in Oakland

I-Wayne in Oakland

I-Wayne in Oakland

By on - Photos by Jessica Dore - Comment

An evening with one of the most morally-militant and passionate performers in modern reggae.

Sampler

During a one-week tour that began in Humboldt County, California and wound up in Portland, Oregon, I-Wayne came through the Bay Area blessing the East Bay at Oakland’s New Karibbean City club. The fresh-faced yet evidently seasoned Bobby Tenna, a Jamaicain singer/songwriter currently based in Oakland, warmed up the crowd with a short set followed by a brief encore. Particularly impressive was the crowd’s eager response to Tenna’s encore, even though it meant waiting longer for the feature presentation. Boasting a warm, personable stage presence, a sweet, old-time vocal style and smooth, friendly energy, Tenna is an artist surely worth keeping on the radar.

With an also impressively smooth transition between sets, I-Wayne popped out on the stage donning a windbreaker of rich reds, golds and greens with Ethiopia in block letters across the back. Departing from his familiar look—a towel-draped-on-the-head—he came with locks wrapped neatly beneath a classic black bandana. Sliding into the title track from his sophomore studio release 'Book of Life' (2007), he wasted no time showcasing his versatile, characteristic singing style; the breathy and gentle, yet intention-laden vocals that have set him apart from other reggae artists, both roots and dancehall alike. Beginning with a slower tune and gaining momentum as the set progressed was a demonstration of confidence. If you’ve come armed with an arsenal stocked chock full of crowd pleasers, why give it all away up front?

Moving on to one of his biggest tunes, Don’t Worry, from his debut album 'Lava Ground' (2005), I-Wayne continued on the slow tempo tip, moving further with an even slower song, Life Seeds. The rhythmic tranquility of the set’s early selections was balanced by a soulful and provocative storyteller’s delivery; an unparalleled performance style that was engaging, theatrical and ripe with personality. Whether offering the uplifting message of self-love in the stinging tune about the skin-bleaching trend within the black community in Bleacher, or testifying in his controversial yet paradoxically soothing anti-abortion hit Don’t Worry, I-Wayne dipped into both his debut and sophomore studio albums equally throughout the set.

I-Wayne is one of those artists that make a writer wish she’d more stingily reserved the use of certain words in past reviews with other artists; words like ‘intense’ and ‘focused’ for example. Employing a unique, physical method of sharing with evocative, illustrative hand gestures and dramatic, engaging shifts in attitude and mood, I-Wayne’s performance showcased the young star’s idiosyncrasies (like that teeth sucking sound he makes that punctuates his tracks) that set him apart from his contemporaries. In lieu of fast paced dancehall rhythms, the energy of I-Wayne’s performance was contained within his attention to diction and movement in alliance with the drum beats. And yes, there was a live band. Although they weren’t particularly of note, it’s always telling to see an artist as a front man. In the case of I-Wayne, who seemed always a step ahead of the group (but not to the point of distraction) it only amplified his disciplined nature, mirroring the strict ethical content of his music and character. The keyboards, which pumped out the sounds of synthesized brass, conjured fantasies of an I-Wayne show complete with a multi-piece horn section, especially during the tune, Good Enough. Visualization can lead to manifestation, right?

I-Wayne could have easily jumped on stage and launched immediately into his monster hit Can’t Satisfy Her. The audience, lethargic from a late start, would have demonstrated a burst of energy and then flickered out during the remainder of the set studded with slower-tempo tunes. Instead, he took his time, saving the biggest tune for last. In spite of a diminishing crowd as the lights burst on for last call at the Karibbean City, the band slid into the jungle rock riddim and the big tune played for all who stuck around. I-Wayne’s biggest hit to date, which could have been a guaranteed climax, was saved and played last, for the smallest crowd in the lit up room. It could have been called upon at any time of the night to lively up a fading audience, but then again, that would have been too easy, and I-Wayne just isn’t that kind of artist.

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