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Alborosie in Rotterdam

Alborosie in Rotterdam

Alborosie in Rotterdam

By on - Photos by Magda Herter - Comment

Real roots reggae rocks Rotterdam... Alborosie is in the house!


Alborosie - Rotterdam

It’s a long time since the reggae community welcomed a newcomer to its fold with the same enthusiasm as has been extended to Alborosie. Yet this 34 year old Italian son of a policeman has now emerged as the most unlikely ‘great white hope’ of a reggae renaissance. Fuelled by the ‘best reggae act’ MOBO award for 2011 – which brought him ‘great joy’ - and a new album release, the Alborosie and Shengen band reggae roadshow hit the mid-point of its 15 date tour in Rotterdam and Utrecht in late November.

Supported by the talented brass-infused 10 piece reggae band Danakil from France on both nights, the bar was set high for the main act. But wielding a righteous attitude - via an 8 member entourage - comprised of Alborosie, 2 female vocalists, 2 pianos\synth, lead and bass guitar, stirred up by determined drumming, the main act certainly deserved its status. Rotterdam’s OffCorso and Utrecht’s Tivoli venues rocked on consecutive nights for over one and a quarter hours to the sounds from this new high priest of reggae.

The Rotterdam show was prefaced by the surprising announcement of Burning Spear’s imminent arrival – date to be announced! Thereafter the maestro sprung forth, with the band swinging into Kingdom of Zion and Alborosie preaching that there be No Cocaine because instead he Waan the Herb as he’s a Herbalist (“if you love marijuana say yaay!” he exhorts his audience in the ‘no smoking’ venue). Prancing, signalling, remonstrating and smiling at his audience, a high powered rendition of Real Story followed, before the rap-infused treatment was given to Camilla. This provoked a rapturous response, as Sandy Smith lit the night segueing into My Boy Lollipop, ably aided by Giuseppe\Tony Tarantino’s trumpet. And all the while Alborosie was bringing the audience to a peak, challenging them to dance ska better than all their predecessors in Lyon the night before.

Drawing on his 3 works of art (i.e. C.D.’s ‘Soul Pirate’, ‘Escape From Babylon’ and the latest ‘2 Times Revolution’), the audience were treated to a musical feast. Though loftily calling in the new album’s title for a spiritual and musical revolution, the package presents as a remarkably coherent and high quality mix of roots reggae, Latin, hip-hop, soul, lovers’ rock, 80s synth-lite, 90s rap-infused and traditional toasting ingredients. It is rare for any artist to fuse such influences whilst retaining the purist’s impact – but Alborosie manages it with aplomb, both on disc and in action (live).

Money (introduced with Marleyesque ‘Y- Ooos’), Respect, Police and Sound Killa kept the show’s tempo at fever pitch. Alborosie may not say much between songs, but he has plenty to say in the lyrics that come pumping out at a remarkably high velocity. The precision vocals (and choreography) of the female singers Annakim and Smith again came to the fore in Still Blazing, allowing them to hit the high notes - serving to sharply yet sweetly contrast with the serious gravel pit vocal effect of Alborosie himself.

It was fitting that the artist then took time to advise his audience that a life ‘without spirituality is like a tree without roots” – hence the warning: ‘Jesus He’s Coming’. This was the moment for another superb rendition, wonderfully augmented by the girls’ vocals – whose presence ably compensated for the absence of a brass section. After the band’s drummer (and leader, Dave ‘Prime Time’ Green) had taken the microphone to unleash Murderer, Alborosie returned to stage teasing his audience with the accusation that: ‘I leave the stage for one minute and you guys betray me’. So it was apt that he should remind us all that he cannot be stopped as he’s Rolling Like A Rock, so please step away, don’t get in my way. O.K., no argument there.

Having introduced his fellow musicians, the show’s encore featured I Can’t Stand It (with space odyssey sound effects remarkably well restrained in a dub roots reggae format) together with International Drama a beautiful ‘one drop’ Italian import allowing Tarantino to indulge his considerable Pavarotti-style talents. Little doubt but that the set’s last song Kingston Town reflects Alborosie’s desire to see the end to a tough but successful tour, enabling him to retreat to and recover at his home in Jamaica.

As part of a 15 date European tour the following evening saw the party hit that quaint cobblestoned city of Utrecht – where the playlist varied little from the previous night. Despite the impact of the international recession and the fact that the concerts were held midweek, both were very well attended - ensuring a big welcome for ‘the man from Sicily and Jamaica’. Unlike some of his contemporaries this artist has a keen sense of his whereabouts, as he extended warm greetings to his Rotterdam and Utrecht audiences.

Alborosie has succeeded where many have failed. Blessed with a wondrous voice - together with the capacity to play guitar, bass, drums and keyboard, on top of an apprenticeship as a sound engineer and producer – this force of nature competently combines the various strands of the reggae family in a single showing. In summary, the key asset in this artist’s bank is his wonderfully rich vocal versatility, used to give expression to a host of influences and to present as all things to all people in the reggae arena.

He has worked hard to build a musical career, effectively starting at 14 years of age. His first recording contract was signed (by his father on his behalf) at the age of 17, prompting a decade of touring and ~8 album releases. Not least amongst his efforts was – despite considerable popularity in Italy - a move to Kingston, Jamaica in 2000, which was a ‘not nice’ experience in the early days. Allegedly this move had little to do with being a musician, as he claims he ‘could have been a fisherman’. However for a man with accumulated musical success enabling him to perform at Sunsplash at 22 years of age it is unlikely music was ever far from his motives.

Yet it was a notable relocation given that many other stalwarts of the business were moving out of this impoverished and strife-torn island (e.g. the legendary and incomparable Burning Spear’s shift to New York). But it was this relocation, together with a burgeoning musical reputation, that has enabled him to work with many other musical luminaries such as Black Uhuru’s Mykal Rose, Luciano, Kymani Marley, U Roy, Horace Andy, Junior Reid, Sizzla, Etana, Gentleman, Jah Cure, Beenie Man, Morgan Heritage\Gramps, Steel Pulse, the Tamlins, Sizzla, Shabba Ranks, Queen Latifah and by gift of technology, with the late Dennis Brown. Some serious networking going on here! A tantalising treasure from these liaisons is the recently released limited edition ‘Alborosie Specialist and Friends’ double C.D. with 27 tracks – surely to be a collectors’ item in time to come.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Alborosie has no time for homophobia. Likewise unlike most of his reggae contemporaries he is not afraid to jeopardise popularity by speaking his mind. Whilst the reggae genre has been to the fore in raising consciousness about the injustices wrought by racial discrimination, Alborosie is prepared to take a wider lens on the world’s wickedness, even daring to demand that America should ‘call back your soldiers’ from foreign shores.

In this artist’s opinion ‘people remember you not because you have a big house and big cars’. Whatever the future holds for Alborosie, he will certainly be remembered – and still have the option of a ‘big house and big cars’. His fortunes will be closely monitored by many. Hopefully unlike his predecessor and hero Bob Marley this will not include the C.I.A.! Whilst it’s clearly a case of ‘so far so good’, the prospects for a reggae chartbuster a la Marley or UB4O now seem strong. The genre and the artist could do with it ... though you don’t always get what you want and Alborosie claims to have no such ambitions. But the smart money is on this genius going the distance. Much respect!

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