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More Life 2016

More Life 2016

More Life 2016

By on - Photos by Robbie Golec - Comment

Tarrus Riley, Spice, Assassin, Mighty Crown and Metro Media live in London.

On a crisp spring night, as April turned to May, historic, atmospheric Brixton Academy hosted its second annual More Life concert. Promoted by Another Level and Flames Radio, this event has built a reputation for slickly run, eclectic curations featuring reggae and dancehall, sound-system and stage-show, singers and deejays, from Jamaica and foreign. Slightly less diverse than last year but tighter in terms of artist ability, More Life 2016 kept on giving. To borrow headliner Tarrus Riley’s most commonly repeated phrases, it was “the full hundred”.

More Life 2016 - Tarrus Riley

Following a warm-up by Flames Radio that had the 5000 capacity venue singing along to Sizzla, opening sound Metro Media took the stage with legendary Kingston hype-man Sky Juice. Bedecked in a bizarre two pattern red and blue suit, which he removed to undulate his ample belly, this 24/7 showman worked the old theatre to its high ceiling. Behind his abdominal gymnastics and abominable stories Metro dropped a mix of crowd-pleasers and dub specials from Supercat, Beres, Barrington Levy and Queen Ifrica. During a stunning soul section - including Johnny Adams cover of the ‘Stones Salt of the Earth, Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers To Cross and Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna ComeSky Juice stood arms outstretched as if preparing for a 5000 strong embrace. “God bless all people whether black white or Jamaican” he said “I love my country and I respect my sound”.

Rockstone deejay Assassin gave a proficient performance over backing tracks. Dressed in red trousers, black jacket and shades, his voice is resonant as on record. He has a reggae album out, Theory of Reggaetivity; its logo emblazoned across his t-shirt. However, he rightly judged the crowd wanted dancehall hits Anywhere We Go, Good Over Evil, Sekkle and Cease and Idiot Ting Dat (natural segue into Capleton’s cut on the same rhythm Or Wha?). He did find time to drop some reggae too – his 2013 wordplay atop the Heavenless, The Mix Up and the horn drenched Priority. “It's about time for me to make my exodus. Give thanks” he said, leaving an Academy taken up a gear. (The only criticism would be the quietness of the rhythms at times).

More Life 2016 - Assassin

Announced as “the Queen of dancehall” by hosts Daddy Ernie and Monikah Lee, Spice made a fearsome case for this being so. Again, she worked to tracks, but with the volume at a visceral level. The modest casually-dressed person who spoke at the Red Bull press conference the preceding Thursday was now a turquoise wigged dominatrix who had women in the audience chanting every lyric. Where previous year’s predecessor Macka Diamond spent most of her time talking, Spice was all about the music and the physicality. “I’m looking for some bad gal tonight” she demanded “be bad and brave with it”.

And everything she demanded she got – whether her dancers doing splits and headstands or the grinning men pulled from the front-row for a gyrating contest. As well as showcasing material like Kartel duet Romping Shop and new tune Indicator, she demonstrated the singing talent used to serenade Tarrus with Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday in the press conference. She belted a filthy version of Adele’s Hello down a prop telephone and reshaped Rihanna’s Work into a response to a man bereft of the necessary abilities. Spice can be added to the small yet important list of modern dancehall artists who deliver way beyond expectation on stage.

Tarrus Riley and his Blaksoil band with saxophonist Dean Fraser belong near the top of a much larger list of capable contemporary reggae acts. He’s played Brixton before, always slick in his presentation and tremendous vocally. But this time, the singer all in white under the ever-present woolly hat, something felt different and more spontaneous. Besides songs such as Beware, Contagious, My Day, and Sorry Is A Sorry Word, he and Dean sang and blew through John Holt’s A Love I Can Feel, Garnet Silk’s Mama Africa, Buju’s Untold Stories and, further demonstrating its reciprocal impact, Rihanna’s Work. Tarrus brought out keyboardist Christopher Smith to sing George Michael’s Faith and then Assassin, who shared Africa from his new album.

More Life 2016 - Tarrus Riley

“Allow me to introduce myself again - Omar singy singy Tarrus Riley” Tarrus announced, sounding unprecedentedly open about his name and lineage, “Omar is a prince. Because my father is a king from Kingston, Mr Jimmy Riley.” This was the prelude to a rendition of recently departed dad Jimmy’s Love and Devotion. “A lot of people thought I wasn't going to be here. Make some noise for my father. A real soldier. Heart of a lion”. Difficult times didn’t stop Tarrus from producing one of his most special appearances – capped by an emotion eruption to Stay With You and She’s Royal.

At 4am, all that was left to do was hand over to ever-dependable Japanese sound Mighty Crown. “Are you ready to go home or are you here to see Mighty Crown?” asked Sami T “Cheese on bread! Look how far we reach. Never thought this Japanese boy would close the show”. The majority of people stayed, having been heavily impressed by their appearance at More Life 2015. Mighty Crown are in the business of delivering impressive dubs and exclusives – Busy Signal, Jah Cure, Chronixx, you name it – alongside vintage favourites by Dennis and Bob. A fitting end to a show where one born entertainer followed another.

The sound at Brixton Academy, which usually dampens even the strongest talents, was unusually clear (the lyrics to a new song by Tarrus could be heard). But the final ingredient was the mood of the revellers. Chatting, singing, smiling, flouting the smoking ban; not since Bob Andy at the 50th anniversary of Independence, has London felt so like Jamaica for one night.

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