Review: Tarrus Riley, Gyptian & QQ @ Respect Jamaica 50th
08/03/2012 by Angus Taylor
Respect Jamaica 50th in London, UK @ IndigO2 8/2/2012
★★★ PHOTO GALLERY HERE ★★★
An event as big as Respect Jamaica 50th, stretching across twelve days, slap-bang-in-the-middle of the London 2012 Olympics, is never going to run like clockwork. But none of that matters if the people are entertained. So it was on Thursday night - when the sheer power of modern reggae's favourite son Tarrus Riley (with his mentor Dean Fraser) and the BLAKSOIL band wiped away a few earlier minor logistical irritations, proving that when music hits, everything falls into line.
By day nine of the celebrations, the neighbouring Olympics was taking its toll. The heavily forewarned transport and congestion issues - remarkably absent at the start of the games - seemed to kick in. Traffic came to a standstill in parts of central London, and huge numbers of spectators pouring out of the main o2 arena from the gymnastics meant tickets and passes took longer to be collected from the understaffed box office than usual. It didn't help that the show, clearly under a weekday curfew, started at seven thirty sharp - meaning Reggaeville was unable to reach the smaller Indigo2 in time to see the opening set by London's progressive roots singer Natty. Moreover, one of the most interesting acts originally advertised on the bill - Jamaican music/performance art/comedy polymaths No Maddz - did not appear for reasons unknown.
Chief support, dapper young dancehall artist QQ and heartthrob crossover sensation Gyptian, performed over backing tracks rather than with a band - but both delivered. Kareem Dawkins, aka QQ, with trendy Sean Paul style mohawk and dressed in yellow pants and pointy shoes, sang with a raspy exuberance. Eyeing the predominantly female attendees, the slightly built, limber showman opted not to begin with the dancehall fare for which he is known. Instead he moved to the lovers department with Gregory Isaacs' My Number One (tee-ing up Gyptian's cover of the same) serenading an audience member during new track Change For The Better (at the end, he showed his tender years - he is just 18 - asking her "Can I get a hug?"). Finally he raised the tempo, gyrating to his hits Stookie and Hopscotch and his own cut to RDX's Skip To My Lou.
By ten to nine it was time for Gyptian's appearance. His purring delivery might be an acquired taste for fans of harder reggae music yet a phalanx of young ladies had formed in front of the photography pit - and his arrival in black jacket and shades drew piercing screams. Conversely, his voice dropped deep for the intro to the roots one-drop of My Fadda Seh, before taking the pace down as the now near capacity venue swayed to the heartbeat drums of Serious Times, followed by his rendition of My Number One. Nah Let Go and My Name is Gyptian were both pulled up quickly to huge response, although nothing like on the level of his pop hit, the tenderly filthy Hold Yuh. "A lot of things go on in Yard" he said of Jamaica's anniversary, "Imagine if we got the resources we need".
High pitched comedian Ping Wing - a fixture of London community reggae shows - shared some amusing pun-based routines including the Olympic condom and the dangers of hiding an illegal cigarette in one's armpit. His main skit on Michael Jackson climaxed with him throwing his Jacko hat into the crowd and pleading for its return. Then, at five to ten, the BLAKSOIL band, led by a denim-attired Dean Fraser (just two days shy of his birthday on August 4th) struck up his soprano sax version of the Heathen to play in Tarrus - no stranger to London but headlining the venue for the first time.
Tarrus' flawless fluid tenor rang out to the tune of Shaka Zulu Pickney from off stage - and soon he appeared, heavily bearded, all in black, with his locks plaited behind his head. The slickly professional musicians - perhaps mindful of the curfew - jumped from song to song without pause, coming in with the title piece to third album Contagious, anti domestic violence plea Start A New, and a serious appraisal of Michael Jackson with Human Nature. Next Riley and his "big bredda" Dean sparred with voice and hornplay question and answer riffs to Redemption Song.
"Big up Tappa Zukie in the building" said Tarrus singing the opening to Tappa's My Lord on the Full Up rhythm and giving his Beware some lyric changes to encourage team JA to win gold. During another track from breakout second longplayer Parables, John Legend's Stay With You, Tarrus entered into a lengthy and somewhat contrived musical interlude where again he duelled with Dean's sax. However it did give him the chance to bring on Gyptian and QQ as well as remind us that he used to be a deejay: when additional guest Swagga Fari sang Buju's I Wanna Be Loved letting Tarrus imitate the incarcerated star's gravelly rockstone.
Ingenious covers of Legend and Robin Thicke's Superman and were to be expected. More of a surprise, however, were tributes to Beres (who headlined last October's date here), Sugar Minott, Gregory yet again (Front Door) plus Tarrus' father Jimmy's Love and Devotion. The set closed with She's Royal (the entire upstairs balcony upstanding) and Good Girl Gone Bad. Riley, Fraser and BLAKSOIL then returned for recent single Dream Woman on the Chill spot riddim before asking the audience to alternate putting their hands on their hearts and in the air for Africa Awaits Its Creators. With a final "One love, see you soon, Rastafari" Tarrus left Dean Fraser on stage to instruct us that "Reggae is a music of struggle... of liberation... of the people for the people... a music of love".
It would have been nice to hear more "struggle" songs such as Eyesite, System Set and Larger Than Life although these may well have felt inappropriate for the festive mood. Likewise, there were no acoustic numbers - since fourth record Mecoustic, having been tested in Europe, is only now about to go on general release. This show might have got off to a less than perfect start - but Tarrus, like Superman, saved the day. Stand by for the next night's report featuring Toots Hibbert, who has his own acoustic album ready to drop... [READ THE REVIEW HERE]
Watch Tarrus Riley feat. Dean Fraser with Gyptian & QQ on stage: