It was hot enough at Sizzla’s Oakland show to turn a press and curl into an afro. As one photographer put it, it was so hot in the club, even the walls were sweating.
On Sept. 23, Grammy nominated reggae dancehall super star Miguel Collins, aka Sizzla Kalonji, backed by the Gumption band, literally brought the heat to the Venue nightclub in Oakland. Case in point, by Monday, Sept. 25, temperatures in Oakland had soared to a blazing 92 degrees, not cooling down until Wednesday, Sept. 28.
Sizzla’s first Bay Area performance in eight years was sold out, with people literally piled on top of each other to catch a glimpse of the musical leader of the Bobo Ashanti Rastafari Movement.
Incidentally, the Bobo Ashanti house of Rastafari was founded by Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards in the 1950s. The Bobo dreads are known for wrapping their hair in colorful turbans. In the late nineties, when Sizzla first emerged as a musical super power, I watched Sizzla meticulously iron a long piece of fabric and wrap his hair before a Long Beach, CA show, which is an art form in itself.
“Being in the western hemisphere, in a system designed to colonize black people and to keep them down, you have to get that knowledge of self; knowledge of being and where you’re coming from,” said Sizzla, 40. “When you go to Bobo, it reminds you of your true self, because you keep the Sabbath, you’re praising a black God; you have black men chanting and black priests and black empresses. It reminds you of your true African culture, your true ways. The Sabbath brings thing to re-memory. Apparently, it’s the foundation of our culture. All praise to the holy priest, Emanuel I, Selassie I, Jah Rastafari.”
Jah Warrior Shelter Sound System, featuring King I-Vier and Jah Yzer alongside DJ Danny Smoky kicked off the show, followed by the multi-racial, IrieFuse band, which combined heavy metal with roots reggae. The temperature rose as the Gumption band, featuring Phanso Wilson on drums, Kevo Gitz on guitar, Taddy P. Camp on bass and Dwayne Morris on keyboards took the stage and played a soulful set of roots and dub. Collectively, the band members have played with the likes of Beres Hammond, Maxi Priest, Luciano, Jesse Royal and other heavyweights.
Sizzla’s journey from his heavily guarded dressing room to the stage was a surreal, ritualistic experience, and so began the night’s deification of Sizzla Kalonji, whose name literally translates into hot, healing black seed. The air was thick and sweet with ganja smoke as a few rough looking handlers parted the crowd and cleared a path, cell phones and cameras set to video mode, onlookers stood on chairs and tables to welcome August Town, Jamaica’s favorite son as bowed in reverence, counted a few beats, placed his hand on his heart and began the few riffs of his opening song and raced onto the stage. (see link: https://youtu.be/uN8aZkEZ0NU).
What followed was a world class Bobo dread get-down that went on until curfew. Merging roots reggae with hip hop, dancehall and shades of seventies R&B, Sizzla kicked his legs high in the air and performed songs such as “Show Us the Way,” “Guide Over Us,” “Be Strong,” “Dry Cry,” “Woman I Need You” “Give Me a Try” and his signature composition, “Words of Divine.”
The event was not without controversy. One month before the show, it was announced that Sizzla’s show, originally scheduled at the fashionable 1015 Folsom nightclub in San Francisco had be cancelled due to pressure from the LGBTQ community. Sizzla, along with other dancehall artists, have been accused of promoting anti-gay rhetoric and inciting violence against members of the LGBTQ community. In a 2016, interview with Island Stage magazine Sizzla stated that he was not a man of hate, but a man working to end violence and promote education in his August Town community.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of Sizzla. I’m not an animal; I’m not a cannibal,” he said. “I don’t support violence on no level or no degree. What you need to do is to get to know Sizzla. If you don’t know someone, I don’t think that you should stand aside and criticize the person. Spend some time with the person; get to know the person and then we can see where we best go from there. You don’t need to be afraid of Sizzla; you need to be part of the movement for Sizzla. Love to the world. Yeah yeah! Don’t do that, ‘fraid a Sizzla fe wha?”