Shelah Moody, Reporting.
What a Bam Bam!
The month of May brought many legendary reggae acts to the Bay Area, including Toots and the Maytals at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco (05/18) and Reggae/Dance-hall/Hip-Hop icons Damian Marley and Nas at the Fox Theater in Oakland (05/25).
Despite an ongoing recession and a fundraiser for the Democratic Party featuring President Barak Obama at the Fairmount in San Francisco , Marley and Nas played to a sold out house.
Prior to their performance, Damian and Nas made a special appearance at Rasputin record store in Berkeley to sign posters copies of their latest CD “Distant Relatives” (Republic Records).
Super fan Felicia Curtis was one hundreds of people who stood in line in the rain that overcast Wednesday afternoon in hopes of meeting Nas and Damian Marley. Curtis was decked out in the Rastafarian colors of red green and gold and Bob Marley memorabilia, as fine drops of precipitation fell on her dreadlocks. Curtis sees Bob Marley as a champion of diversity and peace, and believes his music is especially relevant in light of the wave of violence that has recently plagued Jamaica ’s music capitol, Kingston. Curtis said she came to the signing because she had the day off and said she was unable to purchase tickets because the show at the Fox Theater was sold out. White had been listening to “Distant Relatives” on the way to Rasputin and described it as a culturally dynamic collaboration.
“What do I like about Damian Marley—I love everything about him,” said White. “I love his style and I love the fact that he’s been in the music business for so long from such an early age and he’s keeping his father’s legacy alive. Both Nas and Damian Marley are socially aware of what’s going on, on different levels.”
Thanks to our longtime friendship with Marley’s road manager, Ali “Pretty” Cooke, we had the privilege of watching and documenting Nas and Damian Marley from the wings of the stage. There was special seating set aside for the children of first and second generation Jamaicans who are living in the Bay Area. I call these children the “Baby Bumps,” because I knew many of their mothers when they were pregnant with them. You can see what happened when one of them got a hold of my camera.
Backed by a dynamic Jamaican band called The Council, it was non stop energy when the prince of reggae and the prince of hip hop took the stage. Nas performed his string of hits including “Hip Hop is Dead” and “If I Ruled the World” and Marley performed hits from his two Grammy winning albums “Halfway Tree” and “Welcome to Jamrock.” The two came together on their first collaboration “Road To Zion,” tracks from “Distant Relatives” and Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” leaving the audience hungry for more.
Backstage after the show, I caught up with backing vocalists Ros Williams and Rovleta Frazier, who definitely got a workout while freestyle dancing during Marley’s version of his father’s song “Exodus.”
“I feel exhausted but good; it was a great show,” said Williams. “We go to Santa Cruz from here.”
I asked Williams to pick her favorite part of the show.
“I really love the ends when Nas and Damian come together at the end of ‘Africa Wake Must Wake Up.’ It’s such an iconic moment, such a photographic moment for me.”
“The show was smashing, I had a wonderful time, it was full of good vibes and energy,” said Frazier. “It was good for the people.”
Next, I waited for my turn to interview Damian Marley in his dressing room, where he was surrounded by family and friends. While Damian was being interviewed by Carmelita Harris of Irievision TV (Channel 29) San Francisco , I approached his longtime bassist and best friend, Shiah Coore.
Shiah, like Damian, is also the son of a music legend--Stephen “Cat” Coore, guitarist, bassist, classical cellist and founding member of the band Third World (the first reggae artists to appear on “Soul Train).
Shiah Coore is an alumnus of Berklee College of Music in Boston and majored in music production and performance. In their teens, Damian and Shiah founded a group called the Shepherds, who cut their teeth performing at large scale festivals such as Reggae Sunsplash ’92 and Sunsplash ’92 Bob Marley Tribute.
“I’m a big fan of soul and R&B, and I would love to play for some of those types of artists, said Coore. “That’s one of my dreams, but I’m still living my dream right now.”
I asked Coore what the energy was like between Damian and Nas on stage, and the relationship between reggae and hip hop.
“Hip hop and reggae are from the same roots, it’s like a tree with different branches. We honor hip hop and we respect hip hop. The energy is incredible, they have a natural chemistry. I’m glad to be a part of this. This is a magical moment for me.”
Which brings me to my brief conversation with the man of the hour, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, who was born to Robert Nesta Marley and beauty queen Cindy Breakspeare (Miss World) in 1977. I asked Damian how he felt after the show.
To clarify: Damian refers to himself, like many Rastafarian's, in the royal “we.”
“We feel irie, you know, nice show, Oakland . It’s the first time we got to present the album live for the Oakland people, and they received it well so we’re feeling good, you know.”
Damian also gave us some background on “Distant Relatives,” which in my opinion will receive a Grammy nod in the reggae and hip hop categories.
“Distant Relatives” is collaboration between Nas and myself, themed upon Africa and all of the relatives of Africa , which basically encompass all of humanity. It’s an album that goes back to the roots of things. The music has that kind of feel, it has a blend of reggae, hip hop and African influences.”
Damian and Nas first worked together in 2005 on the track “Road To Zion” on “Welcome to Jamrock.”
“He called me also to do some work for his ‘’Hip Hop is Dead album,” said Damian. “Unfortunately, the track we did together did not make the album in the end. We started working on ‘Distant Relatives’ early last year. On an off we’ve been in and out of the studio working on it.”
I asked Damian about some of his favorite tracks on “Distant Relatives.”
“It would just depend on the mood,” said Damian. “When I’m reminiscing about my friends, it would be obviously a track called ‘Friends.” If I’m in more of an intellectual mood, I’ll listen to ‘Patience.’ If I’m in an aggressive mood I listen to ‘Nah Mean” or ‘Dispear,’ If I want to cool out, I listen to ‘Count Your Blessings.’
We have a track for every purpose.”
During their “Distant Relatives Tour” Damian and Nas also hit the Jimmy Kimmel and Tavis Smiley late night shows.
“This is the second time I’ve been on the Tavis Smiley show, and I wanna tell you seh, I like his show. Most of the TV shows I go on, I usually sing and rather than sit down and talk. We didn’t sing on his show, we just sat down and talked to him. He’s a man I really respect, how he presents himself on her sho, even when he was on BET. It was privilege and an honor for me to be on a show like that.”
It was on of Damian Marley’s biggest fans, 13-year-old Lucayo Casillas, who addressed the white elephant in the room. What is your reaction to all of the violence in Jamaica , particularly over the hunt for gang lord and the drug lord Christopher “Dudus"Coke. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/73-killed-in-West-Kingston
“When you put titles like gang lord and drug lord, you start to paint an image of a person,” said Damian. “Most people don’t really know this person. I’m saddened at what’s going on in Jamaica right now; it weighs heavy on my mind personally. I’m sad that there is all of that violence, and quite a few people have died over the last 48 hours. It’s a very unfortunate situation.”
It should be noted that I did approach Nas, who agreed to say a few words for Streetwise for this blog but his flack intercepted and squashed the interview, so maybe next time.