Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Roots Reggae Rules PM's Independence Gala

Michael A Edwards, Observer writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Prime Minister P J Patterson (left) presents the Independence Award for 2005 to Joseph Hill of the group Culture. (Photos: Garfield Robinson)

After overcoming a difficult opening third, the 2005 edition of the Prime Minister's Independence Gala at Jamaica House Saturday night admirably found its footing as a roots reggae showcase and a fitting tribute to late reggae king Robert Nesta Marley.

A colourful and busy opening panorama featured dance and acrobatic troupes going through their paces amongst the Carifolk Singers, who sang versions of Marley classics like Lik Samba and culminating in a somewhat subdued live performance of Coming In From The Cold by Roy Rayon.

Multiple Festival Song winner Rayon would return to give a more typically high-energy rendition of his Festival winners, including Love Fever and a modified Give Thanks And Praises in which he sings 'we are still alive' rather than 'we are 25' - as he has been doing since 1988, a year after the song won when Jamaica celebrated 25 years of Independence.

He was preceded by the night's first awardee, concert pianist Orett Rhoden, who did an intricate reading of Marley's One Love that he followed up with Chopin's Waltz No14 in E minor. Chopin, arguably, is Rhoden's favourite composer.

Neville Garrick (right), former art director and confidante of Reggae great Bob Marley, accepts the Independence Award for 2005 from Prime Minister P J Patterson.

The first section also included the first of two on-stage "raps" between Marley's long-time art director and confidante Neville Garrick, and the reggae icon's granddaughter Donisha Prendergast. After Rayon's set (which survived a brief power failure), the evening hit it's main low point in a dance and drum tribute entitled Nyabhinghi, performed by L'Acadco.

What could well have been a stirring exposition of one of the foundations of the reggae culture fell victim to excess (not to mention sub-par sound) and came close to bathos, with some members of the audience politely applauding to signal their desire for a premature end.

The next act, however, former I-Three Judy Mowatt, took the proceedings back toward transcendency. After opening in urgent manner with We Need Jesus and Heal Our Land (an extrapolation from 1 Chronicles chapter 7), she rounded out the set with three timeless gems from the roots reggae era.

First up, her own peerless Black Woman with its irresistible "la-da-da, la-da-da" vocal hook. Then, taking time to greet Marley's widow, Rita, in the front row, she invited her former I-Threes colleague to join her on-stage for the next number.

Sly Dunbar (left) and Robbie Shakespeare display their Independence Awards presented to them by Prime Minister Patterson last Saturday night at the Prime Minister's Independence Gala at Jamaica House.

Rita Marley declined, however, to which Mowatt responded by dedicating Marley's No Woman No Cry to her before closing with a high-spirited rendition of Redemption Song.

Though his first moments were somewhat tentative, Bajan reedman Arturo Tappin proved to be the night's "Most Valuable Player" delivering an impassioned set on several instruments. First up on tenor sax, he did the classic Jammin with much flair, evoking the "honking" style made famous by late jazz master Illinois Jacquet.

He was then joined by Judi Emmanuel, herself in sparkling form, for a romp through the salacious Guava Jelly (famously covered by Barbra Streisand, among others).

This time playing flute, Tapping thrilled the audience by scatting over his own notes on the mouthpiece in an extended solo. He would pick up soprano sax before returning to the tenor, where he closed that segment with an ebullient 'no-hands' solo of sheer blowing prowess. An added treat was the un-billed appearance of Irish rocker Sinead O' Connor, who delivered a suitably impassioned reading of War.

The Carifolk Singers would return with more of ska-era Marley, such as Simmer Down, and musical director Peter Ashbourne led the band through his own tribute to Marley. Both those sets followed a much improved second appearance from the pair of Garrick and Prendergast, this one focussing largely on Marley's triumphal entry into Zimbabwe for that nation's inaugural Independence ceremonies in 1980.

Garrick related that many of the country's poor and working-class had stormed the ceremony upon hearing Marley's concert, to which the authorities responded with tear gas.

"However, through to Jah works," he closed, "the tear gas was steered toward the royal box."

The "riddim twins" Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, on drums and bass respectively, then took the stage and gave a welcome exposition of the syncopative skills that have landed them on a reported 200,000 recordings over their long and storied careers. Their on-stage audio snapshot included instrumentals of Murder She Wrote, Worl' A Reggae and perhaps the finest of them all, Unmetered Taxi.

The final featured act was the indefatigable Joseph Hill and Culture. Sharply dressed in black and white combos (Hill's ensemble included spats), he gave yet another sterling representation of the globally felt force that is roots reggae, laying down gems like Stop The Fussing and Fighting, See Them A Come and the controversial Two Sevens Clash throwing in the '80s hit She Want Money for a good measure of levity.

Garrick, Tappin, Rhoden, Culture and Sly & Robbie received the Independence Award for 2005, and a magnificent looking Gene Pearson sculpture was presented to Rita Marley on her late husband's behalf.

With the entire cast back on stage and the opening salvos of the now customary fireworks filling the air, the audience filed out of the Jamaica House grounds having gotten a powerful reminder of the music which propelled Independent Jamaica onto the world stage.

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