Words by Eddie STATS Houghton and Jason “J-Rockaz” Orford, Photos by Zack Cohen
Early last week LargeUp was included in a select roster of A-list journalists invited to Quad studios in midtown Manhattan to preview the forthcoming Stephen Marley LP Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life. It’s hard not to bring unreasonably high expectations with you to a session like that and riding up in what we’re pretty sure is the elevator Tupac was shot in only added to the heavy manners. The music– an almost entirely organic and acoustic set of roots reggae, a sort of rebuke to the current digitized and auto-tuned state of Jamaican music–did not disappoint. Even more inspiring perhaps, was the chance to hear it and get some insight into it’s making in an intimate setting with Stephen himself who, of all the Marley progeny, channels his father most strongly both in his bearing and his musicality.
As the name suggests The Root of Life is only the first chapter in a two-part concept album. The first half, as Stephen explained it, is a return to the traditional science of roots reggae, composed with minimal use of synths and samplers. Even the most non-traditional elements–Afrobeat vocals from the cast of Fela: The Musical, a guest rap verse from Wale–were clearly chosen to underscore the rootsical themes. As much as it might seem like these sounds were meant to be heard in back of a breezeblock studio somewhere in Kingston, somehow the the album’s message–“Jah Army” exemplifies an urgency that pervades throughout the whole long-player–hit even harder with the neon lights of Times Square blinking headlines about Japan’s radioactive disasters and the math behind the financial crisis through the venetian blinds. In combination with Part 2: The Fruit of Life–which traces the flow of reggae into its confluence with hiphop, soul and a more eclectic range of sounds–Revelation Part 1 has the potential to be something of a game-changer. Of course even with the prophetic aura that clings to the Marley name–and Stephen in particular–its impossible to say what will trend or meme in this hyperlinked mess we call civilization and what will sink into obscurity.
But soon enough we got the chance to test the reaction of the world at large. At 11pm last Wednesday, a considerable line of ticketholders from all across the red, gold and green spectrum came out on a school night, staking claim to half the sidewalk outside of BB King’s. A few minutes later we step in and instantly observe the people dem bubbling and bouncing to the music, like ocean waves across an unexpectedly crowded dance floor.
DJ Norie from Power 105.1 is running the dancehall massive through a nostalgic early 90’s dancehall set, conjuring memories of basement bashment hooky parties that only some in the crowd can relate to. A serious Tarrus Riley lookalike enjoys the company of his dreadlocked and headwrapped empress while we park at the front of a peanut-punch gallery of true JA rudegals who toasted chorus after chorus, winding their waists to almost every hit tune throughout the night. At 12:15 The DJ says, Who’s calling out from work tomorrow? And the room goes wild. It’s going to be good night.
First up is Mojo Morgan (the latest solo artist from Morgan Heritage) and next was the one Richie Spice. Richie didn’t have to do or say much and he didn’t. Everyone sang along to his chunes, excepting some of his newest material (which we previewed here) and even that was nevertheless well-received by the crowd. Richie was followed by the legendary Barrington Levy, young at heart and looking as fresh and clean as ever in a purple New Era complimented by a classic purple RL polo horseman shirt and in true Kingston fashion, a pair of Major Damage-style jeans with deliberate slices and rips. More important, he almost stole the show when he was asked to do an encore. He gracefully explained that he needed to brief because it’s time for the star of the show. Stephen enters, acapella voice first and suddenly you’re asking, Is Bob Marley alive? Seconds later it’s clear the answer is, Yes. Living through his children, that is.