Concert Report: Burning Spear in Berlin, Germany @ Astra 2022
08/20/2022 by Gardy Stein
SUMMER HEAT AND OLD FRIENDS - BURNING SPEAR IN BERLIN | AUGUST 17, 2022
A hot summer day in Germany's capital Berlin is made unique by the presence of one of the few remaining living legends of Reggae music: Burning Spear! The veteran is in town for his only concert in Germany, the first one in 10 years – and probably the last as part of a tour, as the artist himself announced in an interview recently: "One thing I'm not gonna promise to people is touring. I don't think I will be touring again. Like going on the road for months, weeks." [IN THE NEWS - October 26, 2021]. Accordingly huge was the interest in the show which sold out all 1,500 available tickets, and when we arrive at 8pm sharp, there's a throng of people at the gates. Entering the spacious beer garden of the location, I spot friends and colleagues from every corner of the country and beyond: they came all the way from Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, Münster, Bersenbrück and Dortmund to be part of this special night, and even the Poland Reggae family made it, including the Ostróda Reggae Festival organizers Maken and Piotr.
Our hosts Christoph Tewes (Revelation Concerts) and Topline Events (Berlin) are busy getting all the important logistics done, and excitement is slowly building with each new arrival. At 8:45pm, opening act Vido Jelashe enters the stage. Backed by DJ Rouz (Blessed Love), the South African artist living in Berlin welcomes us with a few of his tracks, and tentative movement is the answer. The Astra Kulturhaus is packed by now, and when, at 9:20pm, MC Zazan Zazan announces the great Burning Spear, the response is immediate and loud. The members of the Burning Band have already taken their seats (or rather stands) behind their instruments: David Reichley (bass), Cecil Ordonez (lead guitar), Justin Martin (rhythm guitar), Jeremy Clemmons (drums), Vincent Hamilton (keys) as well as a fine brass section consisting of Micah Robinson (trombone), Clyde Cummings (sax) and James Smith (trumpet), and to the sounds of a light, spherical, bass-heavy intro, Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear steps into the limelight.
Dressed in ripped jeans, a white T-shirt, a tartan vest and a black balloon cap, he starts his performance with We Been There, and the moment his clear, unmistakable voice hits, something magical happens: the realization of sharing this moment in space and time, of being able to hear this man singing to us, live and in person, gives me goosebumps – and I'm certainly not the only one.
It's not just his vocal talent that he shares with us, though, but also his instrumental skills: during the next piece, he plays on two shiny red conga drums for minutes, accompanied by enthusiastic screams and whistles from the crowd. Picking up the mic again, the Spear then proceeds to sing a medley of Man In The Hills and Africa: "The foundation is in the mountain, and we been there – Africa! Kilimanjaro!"
Animated by guitarist Cecil, generous applause is shared, and the singer himself interacts with the audience by asking them to "Say something!" and "Talk to me, people!". Indeed, after the first minutes of excitement have passed, the crowd seems a bit inactive, especially when Burning Spear, despite his 77 years of age, starts dancing and hopping to the sound of the music. We should be dancing and hopping along with him, people! The collective hesitance might be attributed to the almost intolerably thick air in the concert hall, in part emanated by the people present, in part a result of the heat that hovered over Berlin like a dome all day, making everyone sweat already without movement.
When the artist asks, "Do you feel irie?", however, the reaction is immediate, raised hands and shouts of "Yes!" and waving flags and all. He then calls the love of God on us in Jah Nuh Dead, instigating at least a little motion in the place, and comes to a special part of this show. To a beautiful bassline that almost sounds like Marley's Natural Mystic intro, Burning Spear holds an intense speech: "Free Africa, free Africans! We are one people and one voice, coming together on this day. We need a spirit like Marcus Garvey in these times!" To commemorate the political activist, journalist and orator who was born on this exact day 135 years ago, the singer jumps into a lively delivery of his famous track Marcus Garvey, to which a lot of people sing along. Directly followed by Old Marcus, Spear vividly praises this special person's achievements, and behind him, the Pan-African flag of red, black and green is held up high. The singer continues with praises of the Most High in the subsequent Jah Is My Driver, he even dances and plays conga again, although by now, almost one hour into the show, he looks a bit tired, and a part of me wants him to stop and take a rest. The other part wants him to continue, of course, and from deep within he seems to find the energy to do just that.
A definite highlight, the well-known Days Of Slavery is enthusiastically received by the crowd, and the musicians take time to play a lengthy dub version. While I find the lead guitar a bit too rocky and screechy, the brass section deserves special mention – they bring in the playful roots spirit during the whole set! After they have left the stage at 10:48pm, the roaring applause brings back band and singer once more, and with Red Gold And Green and Postman, Burning Spear delivers two more hit songs from his catalogue. During the latter, he says, "Thank you for your presence, your time, your energy - maybe in the future we can do it again!" and, after a long and quiet extro, he also thanks his band, his team, and his fans. "Please be careful, watch your back and that of the person next to you. Love your life to the fullest!"
With these words from the wise, a wonderful night comes to a close. Understandably, the maestro goes straight back to the hotel to rest, and those who have hoped for an autograph or a picture join the remaining guests in the beer garden once they found out. Enjoying the warm summer night over a last drink, impressions of the concert and other stories are exchanged until well after midnight – feel free to add your favorite moment in the comments below!
PHOTOS BY KNIGHTHOUSE, FULL GALLERY HERE!