CROWD PLEASERS: Junior Gong (centre), with Assassin (left) and Aidonia. Below, Virgo in his element.
With his signature towering locks, all-black uniform and competent backing band, Damian Marley wondrously erased any shadow of a doubt regarding his capacity to still electrify a home audience. His headlining performance at Saturday's International Night 2 of Reggae Sumfest delivered the popular hits, of course and, amazingly, the sort of full-bodied magnetism that effortlessly reels in onlookers.
From the hard-hitting thrill of "Bun Dem", "Set Up Shop" and "Hey Girl" to the Christopher Ellis-assisted "Beautiful" (done originally with Bobby Brown), Junior Gong's set came off as a mesmerizing triumph, eventually heightened by a segment dedicated to his iconic father ("Exodus", "War", "Could You Be Loved?") and a showstopping blitz performance of "Go Hard", alongside dancehall star Wayne Marshall, Assassin and Aidonia.
A Junior Gong performance almost always elicits an encore request, and this Sumfest stint was no exception, met with the kind of deafening cheers reserved for music's true power players. "Affairs of the Heart" already delivered, the reggae superstar obliged with a sequence featuring "Road to Zion", "Welcome to Jamrock" and the early-career tune "Me Name Junior Gong" before making his final exit.
Marley and Miguel aside, memorable sets also came from Chronixx (a high-energy showing from the fast-ascending reggae singer-songwriter of such hits as "Warrior", "Behind Curtain" and "Smile Jamaica") and Romain Virgo, a young veteran in a strong (vivid yellow) suit and compelling shape vocally.
Meantime, offering crowd-pleasing excerpts from their recent theatrical production, Breadfruit, NoMaddz had little trouble forging a solid connection with the MoBay crowd. And the same goes for reggae-pop newcomer Berry, certainly one to watch, who covered the likes of Fantasia and Emeli Sande yielding highly commendable results. Then there was creative multitasker Ashley Martin, who (attired in a sparkling black and silver number) served up an eclectic, vocally rich potpourri featuring hits by everyone from Bruno Mars and Adele to Dawn Penn and Rihanna.