Review: Alpha Blondy, Alborosie & Gentleman in Paris, France 4/14/2011
04/18/2011 by Wally Fall
The 3-Act Healing of a Nation
Gentleman, Alborosie and Alpha Blondy
@ Zénith in Paris, France April 14th 2011
Have you ever experienced going to a big show not having completely recovered from a terrible food poisoning, which made you spend almost the whole day in bed? Obviously normal people would call it off and rest even if it was to see Gentleman, Alborosie and Alpha Blondy at the Zenith. For as we all know, health should always come first. Well, normal people probably don’t know much about Reggae music and its healing powers. But today, you will have an exclusive insight on how this music can affect a receptive body and mind.
Thursday afternoon. Almost 6pm and I still feel weak; I’ve got fever and a terrible migraine that prevented me from working at home almost all day. I will stop eating pizzas for a while now. It’s almost time to go and I receive a text saying, that my pass is at the door waiting for me. I take some paracetamol pills (I never take them usually), grab some last piece of strength out of my pocket and off we go. What wouldn’t you do for seeing a show at the Zénith!
When I leave the Porte de la Villette tube station people to walk towards the venue, I don’t even have the strength to watch people as I usually do. I’m still dizzy and all I want is to sit down as quick as possible. All I know is that plenty of us are converging towards the same spot. When I get in front of the huge stage, one guy is on the mic facing the thousands already gathered in, alone with his guitar. His name is Jahcoustix and Gentleman brought him along for all his shows in France. I had probably heard or read the name already but that was it. He’s got a tremendous presence and he captures the audience who is quick to sing the chorus with him although they don’t seem to know him well yet. It’s Another Day is sung along by the crowd just before a very deep True To Yourself and a wonderful cover of Bob Marley’s Caution to finish his show, leaving people asking for more. In the meantime I had rapidly found a seat not too high near the sound and lights guys. It’s the first time I watch a show from a seat but so far so good. Let’s see what’s coming next. It’s Gentleman alongside his band The Evolution who first take on the stage with his usual simplicity and joyful energy. Between Paris crowd and Gentleman there is a special relationship and he cannot ignore it. Almost all his tracks are classics here. From Good Old Days to Different Faces people are jumping and cheering along with him and he doesn’t need to do much to convince us that he’s still here to keep killing Babylon bad mind.
Never over using the pull ups he always requests them just when needed to make sure people are still onboard with him, without jumping too high or screaming too loud. As if he was saving up some energy for later. And just when you think he’s relying on classics to make he show he drops a brand new tune where he tells again that his music doesn’t need Facebook to be around just before going back in time with Lonely Days and the powerful Jah ina Yuh Life again from Journey To Jah, where it all started. On a song like Changes I realise I don’t feel any headache no more and when Intoxication follows, I don’t feel dizzy any longer. From then on, it’s strictly pure classics till the end. No matter what, Dem Gone is still the anthem everyone is waiting for though. He leaves us already looking forward for the next time we can sing it along with him again.
After greeting us with a perfect “Paris, comment ça va?”, Alborosie kicked it off with a rough Kingston Town to set the pace without leaving us wondering too long what his plan was : He came to set the Zénith on fire, and he didn’t really want to loose time on this. One thing I forgot from the last time I saw him in Summerjam 2009 was his indefectible love for ganja that is declined in many of his tracks more or less subtly. Better less than more actually and I believe that is what people love about him.
He says things in the most straight forward way possible. No Cocaine, Waan The Herb, etc. You add the electronic drums, which invite the sound system atmosphere on stage and you don’t need much more to make a venue foggy. During the break just before, I talked to a cool guy called Julien who confessed to me that the most Jamaican of all Sicilians was the only reason of him bringing some friends to the show tonight. When he hears Real Story he’s ecstatic. Still Blazing and his friend is crying of joy. Truth is Alborosie’s tunes are proper roots tunes no matter what he’s talking about and when he’s going into dancehall he’s into its original vibes not the slackness and the other nice stuff we hear nowadays. And we love that. Kingdom of Zion closes a really high standard performance from Alborosie and I will never listen to him the same way again.I’m over 30 years old now and it’s only when Alpha Blondy arrived on stage with the first notes of Jerusalem surrounded by his two massive bodyguards that I realised I had never seen him on stage before then. At this point I remember the 1987 Revolution album played over and over again in the family car by my dad a trillion times at least. There is electricity in the air and in these troubled times in Ivory Coast, we know he won’t miss saying a few words about the crisis in his beloved country. I realise that I’ve been standing since he arrived on stage. And so is everybody in the Zénith without any exception for the very first time of the evening. When the track really kicks off and the bodyguards quickly run back on each side of the stage to let him start his show, we all start dancing and singing as one man. That’s when you realize you’ve always known that song. I really didn’t know I would be able to dance tonight.
It doesn’t take long before Alpha speaks his mind about the recent crisis in his country. When he introduces Course au Pouvoir, he thanks the UN and France to have sent troops in the country to restore order and asks his fellow-countrymen and women to stay together and warns not to let politicians to set division among them. At this moment you know you’re very lucky to be here at this very moment. In a time when artists are forced to dilute their true message in shady concepts or smoothen lyrics, it’s very energising to hear Alpha speak so clearly about politics, togetherness and relationships so explicitly. People are happy and dancing but people are listening. Juts next to me a mother with her two sons dances like a teenager. The two boys don’t seem to know the man too well but they’re dancing along as well.
Timeless Cocody Rock, Brigadier Sabary or even Peace in Liberia (that is adapted to Peace in Côte d’Ivoire) are there to prove that the message is still the same after all those years. So is the determination. And a new track like Vuvuzuela is just here for him to say that you can sing all those serious things without taking yourself too seriously. But you have to say something when you’re an artist because too many people are listening. Believe it or not my pains were over at the end of the show. But I didn’t run back home this time.