Review: Shaggy, Morgan Heritage & Raging Fyah @ Respect Jamaica 50th
by Angus Taylor
Review: Respect Jamaica 50th in London, UK @ Indig02 8/5/2012
More than any other thus far, the penultimate night of Respect Jamaica 50th seemed loaded with expectation. For, on top of Independence itself looming the next day, it carried a host of additional baggage. There was the return of the reformed Morgan Heritage: back on a London stage for the first time in five years following their solo career hiatus. Then there was the return of Shaggy, one year after the ill-fated One Love Peace Festival, where time management errors led to him having just twenty minutes to play. Add to that the men’s 100 metres race featuring Usain Bolt and Johan Blake (with the potential to nearly double Jamaica's standing in the London 2012 Olympic medal table) at 9.45pm during the show - and even the final concert for Independence on the Monday with Jimmy Cliff, Bob Andy, and David Rodigan was given a close run for the most portentous of the series.
But before all that, came another important landmark: the British debut of Kingston's Raging Fyah, one of the critically acclaimed scene of academically qualified Jamaican bands that have for some years now been tipped to sweep reggae back to the foundation. Where their fellow exemplifiers of this trend, dub poetry outfit No Maddz, failed to make it into Europe for their summer tour, it was left to Kumar Bent and co to represent a phenomenon well known to aficionados on the continent, if not so much here. And represent they did: playing their bottom-heavy trad-roots, and once again showing that live they are on a whole other level than their recorded output thus far. Unlike at Summerjam in Germany, the sound levels on Bent's vocals were high enough to hear his languid voice in its full definition. There is a palpable UK flavour to their sound: Music Isn't Biased could almost have been sung by Matumbi (and name checks a British experience, the Punky Reggae Party). As you might expect from music grads, each member played a solo on their instrument as a finale. The rise of the bands has been perhaps overstated by some European commentators, hoping everything will revert to the days of old, yet an impressive Raging Fyah appearance in the UK shows it is gathering momentum.
Minor technical problems arose when the announcer Mandingo’s microphone was switched off mid appraisal of Raging Fyah’s performance – earning the engineer a sharp rebuke from the veteran journalist and producer. At Ernest Ranglin the previous Sunday Mandingo had made an expansive and inclusive speech about how Jamaicans and non Jamaicans alike had contributed to the music’s 50 years since independence. Today he didn’t flinch from the harder realities of the colonial experience: reminding the audience that Caribbean migrants to Britain had helped rebuild the country post Second World War – putting up with hostility and racism in the process.
Morgan Heritage were originally billed as the headliners for the event. Yet by the night before it had been decided that Shaggy would close the show and the Morgans would have the 9pm spot. Announced by Mandingo’s co-host Robbo Ranx the five siblings, all bar lead singer Peter playing instruments, were a reminder that live bands in Jamaica are nothing new under the island sun. Their multi-genre absorbing, hook-laden take on reggae might be a little too sweet for some of the roots purists who champion Raging Fyah but the house was packed with true believers tonight. Starting with The Return, the clarion call title track to their forthcoming taster EP it was clear from the impassioned looks on the faces of Peter and his sister Una in particular that they were overjoyed to be back together.
They powered through blistering renditions of Don’t Haffi Dread, A Man Is Still A Man and Can’t Get We Out, proving that pound-for-pound in passion energy and commitment they rivalled Tarrus and the Marleys for strongest live presence of the 12 days. “We’ve got works to do” Peter, Una and big Gramps harmonised as Lukes struck his guitar and Mojo his percussion, clearly happy to resume what Gramps has called their “dayjobs” after time for family and individual careers. Mojo came from behind his drums to rap on Liberation and chant Capleton’s Jah Jah City while Peter imitated Jah Cure and Ras Shiloh’s cuts on the same rhythm - right down to the latter’s distinctive vibrato. Imprisoned Buju Banton was saluted with the Lord’s Prayer.
But the highlight of a by now emotionally charged evening was still to come. At nine forty five the show stopped for the 100 metres to be broadcast on video screens. As Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Johan Blake took gold and silver the applause from both venues was deafening as Peter danced about the stage in delight. He and Gramps then taught an elaborate lesson in the differences between reggae and dancehall (with Peter as “Mr Reggae” and Gramps as “Mr Dancehall”) giving the deep voiced keyboardist a chance to toast some rockstone lines from his own Coulda Deejay. Gramps son Jemere, already taller than Peter, came out to showcase the next phase of the mission. To crown their ninety minutes the group sang two songs that were quite critical of their homeland - Nothing To Smile About and Tell Me How Come - yet the euphoric masses received them in the spirit they were intended.
Tempers flared, however, when both Mandingo and Robbo Ranx attempted to mc the interlude between the Morgan Return and Shaggy’s arrival – with Mandingo’s mic being turned off for a second time. Thankfully the tension was swiftly resolved and the festive mood continued. But with the official curfew at midnight, the band change still in progress by 11pm and no Shaggy to be seen – those who remembered the fiasco at One Love Peace began to fear that lightning might strike twice.
Fortunately we were spared a repeat disaster. For at eleven fifteen Shaggy’s group, featuring Dubwise Browne on guitar and Lenky Marsden on keyboards, finally set up and the man of the moment arrived. He soon explained that his lateness and the lineup switch had resulted from him coming direct from the Olympic Park where he had been watching Bolt race in person. Wearing a Jamaican Olympic t-shirt and with one trouser leg rolled up the gruff superstar met an audience eager to see and hear him and already blown away by the previous musical (and athletic) performances. Long Time – containing the apt lyrics "Them can’t get me out of the race" – gave way to a rock driven Mr Boombastic, and a James Bond flavoured Oh Carolina. He asked "Where my ladies at?" prior to Strength Of A Woman; and during It Wasn't Me told fellas not to confess to cheating like Tiger Woods but to lie like Bill Clinton. By this point he was flanked by singer Rayvon and deejay Red Fox, his hype-men and partners in crime.
"Are you tired?" demanded Shaggy, "Was Bolt tired?" before making the room bounce to the Baddaz rhythm to Can't Fight This Feeling. He also showcased newer material in the form of this year's Wayne Wonder combo Make Up. Having rustled an extra fifteen minutes, his encore yielded controversial club banger for Jamaica 50th On A Mission, Church Heathen and a frantic Feel The Rush which he described as "Not for the faint hearted". One of the most trenchant criticisms of the Respect Jamaica lineup was that dancehall wasn't well-represented so it was great to see one of its greatest ambassadors to the mainstream restore some balance. He'd given the people an hour of his time, perhaps less than he should have, but with everyone in the balcony standing and roughly fifty percent of the venue screaming - he'd seen in Independence Day with panache.