Monday, 16 May 2016

IN THE GROOVE: Richie Spice and Dre Island bring rootsy reggae splendour to sold-out Redbones show

 CENTRE STAGE: Both acts brought a terrific mix of conviction and charisma to their performances.

The Kingston live music scene is constantly making room for new additions. The latest is Fuzed, a new six-month series from music lovers and creative partners Tandra Jhagroo and Vivian Thomas, who say their intention is to bring to the market “what we are not seeing”. Meaning, the kind of organic concert experience, with acoustic-based performances and artist pairings, that you’re hardly likely to find anywhere else.

Consider Friday night’s show at Redbones that brought together a veteran like Richie Spice with relative newcomer Dre Island – two fascinating reggae talents, Rasta to the core – who won over the crowd with compelling stage presence and by taking the time to forge a rapport with the audience. And what an audience they got: a standing-room-only, sold-out crowd that swelled as the night wore on.

We first came across Dre Island when he collaborated with Alaine on her last album, Ten of Hearts. He’s been making strides in his own career ever since, combining the lyrical wizardry of Damian Marley with the earnest vocal delivery of Jah Cure to create a sound that’s as captivating as it is intriguing. Today, he’s part of that wave of new-age reggae ambassadors – Jesse Royal, Kabaka Pyramid, Chronixx – who are taking the world by storm.

Dre Island is militant, introspective and connects with a terrific singing voice that he uses to terrific effect. Another plus: he has a pair of talented, high-energy backup singers in tow and the fierce support of his backing band, the Jah Kingdom Warriors. On tunes like “Bless My Heart”, “Ring the Alarm” and “Rotten Apple Tree”, he sings about strife, inner struggle and youth empowerment. But then he raises the stakes as he delves into “Hide Away”, a cover of the reggae classic “Skylarkin” and “The Rastafari Way”.

He’s alternately spiritual, but consistently melodic. A truth-seeking messenger on the mic, who makes confessions like, “Sometimes I wonder where I got this voice from, this love of music from.” Regardless of the answer, the passion that’s so obviously driving this artiste has him on a collision course with fame and household-name-level status.

Back in the day, a lot of people probably felt the same way when they first heard Richie Spice, a stalwart who continues to blaze his own trail with enormous charisma and the hits to match. Working out with his faithful bandmates, The Element, the veteran crooner had us singing along to his arsenal of catchy jams, buoyed by his signature mix of conscious vibrations and intermittent sweet talk. The crowd ate up his renditions of “Ghetto Girl”, “Brown Skin” and “Groovin’ My Girl”, as his fans always do at his live shows.

In between songs, he makes small talk, pays tribute to “the famers” and makes mention of his upcoming album (still untitled) that will feature cuts like the simplistic lover’s plea “No Leave Me”. But, as ever, he saves the real crowd-pleasers (“The Plane Land,” “Gideon Boot” and “Marijuana”) for his big finish, wrapping up his set to loud cheers and encore requests. Naturally, on Friday night, he obliged with “Street Life.”

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