Saturday night was a magical night at the Hamilton. Just down the street from the Whitehouse, the downstairs at the Hamilton came to full life with a night of reggae. DC’s Nappy Riddem came out in full force with a stellar 45 minute set. There are some bands that struggle with nailing an opening time-slot, but Nappy went above and beyond with their “dancehall funk” to get bodies on the dance floor and the party vibes going strong.
Mustafa Akbar serves as a great front-man for the group due to his intensive lyrical passages. This was clear from the first song, “I Wish,” which has become a staple in the band’s catalog. In his live delivery, the lyrics come to life and the authenticity is so-real you can’t fake it. Gordon Sterling is a very versatile guitarist. At points during the set you’ll see him locked in with the Riddem, but at other times Mustafa gives him a nod and Sterling starts ripping space echoey leads with uncut raw emotion. Charles Flye holds down the songs properly with tasty selections on the electric piano and organ. Rex Riddem’s electric ukulele is a strong addition to a traditional reggae band setup. Additionally his vocal work is a strong accompaniment to Mustafa Akbar’s lyrical finesse. This particular show marked Aaron’s first show on the drum throne. The first part of the set saw him sitting heavily in the pocket, but the second half it seemed as though he’d been with he band for quite some time. Patrick Cheng’s deep anchor and smooth bass walks made Aaron’s transition into the lineup very crisp. Nappy’s 45 minute set highlighted each bit of what makes their sound so special. Simply put, they made the most of their time and served as a great opener for Junior Marvin.
Junior Julian Marvin served as Bob Marley and the Wailers’ guitarist from 1977 until Marley’s passing in 1981. Junior is a staple on the reggae scene and is a respected guitarist in his own right. His style goes well outside the basic reggae chordal support role– he’s a full blown guitar master. This particular night Junior Marvin was recreating Bob Marley’s famous 1978 Jamaican One Love Peace concert. As he picked up his shiny gold PRS to start the recreation of the show we all knew we were in for a great surprise.
The historical signficance of the show is notable and must be included for context in this review. The 1978 event took place in Kingston, Jamaica at The National Stadium and featured 16 large reggae acts. During the set Marley united political rivals to hold hands during “Jammin’.” Though the event was a success in the grand scheme of things the show didn’t serve the underlying political affairs and violence. Nonetheless the event stands in history as “Third World Woodstock.” (Source: Wiki via William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower)
The set kicked off with “Lion of Judah.” The song was a rare cut in the live repertoire in 1976 and 1978. In fact the last time the song was performed live (to our knowledge) was at the 1978 Jamaican One Love Peace Concert. (Source) “Natural Mystic” and “Trenchtown Rock” moved the crowd into familiar Marley territory and the crowd energy began to grow in the underground venue. The “Natty Dread” and “Positive Vibration” saw the band hitting a groove in the pocket with some stellar backing vocals. The reggae “on the one” vibe was thrown down steady throughout the night as fans slipped into the irie vibes of Junior and company. Paapa is one of my favorite drummers right now in music, period. While his fills may sound subtle to the casual listener, the shuffles he plays are very intricate and detailed. War/No More Trouble” is definitely an appropriate song within the One Love Peace Concert context and many would find an easy way to extend that messaging into today’s times. Next came one of Marley’s most recognizable songs in the catalog, “Jammin,'” which does a good job of putting all elements of what makes Marley special into one song. The slight swinging vocals in the back compliment the verses meet the rasta sounds of Jamaica. Yet another anthem calling for Peace followed, “One Love/People Get Ready,” which has become a commonly covered song by reggae and rock bands alike. To finish up the set was “Jah Live.”
Junior told the crowd he’d concluded the set from the concert, a short one at that because of all the other artists who played the One Love Peace Concert in 1978. What Junior did next was keep the crowd going, but this time with his own original track, “Bad Mind People.” Junior’s career has continued even after Marley’s departure in 1981, he’s appeared on albums with the likes of O.A.R., Don Carlos, Bunny Wailer, and Jah Roots to name a few. In fact, Junior’s new songs are pretty strong and I encourage you to dig into his era outside of his time with Marley in order to understand how versatile of a guitarist Junior really is. In June 2014, Junior released a new track and music video titled, “Bad Mind People,” the themes of which carry over from other projects he’s been involved with. I found the placement of the song to be great. Check out the music video below.
After “Bad Mind People” Junior’s backing band kept the train running by executing the classic’s of one of the most sacred discographies in the history of music without flaw. All members shined in the final three songs of the set, “Turn Your Light Down,” “Wait in Vain,” and “Three Little Birds.”
The highlight of the night lay ahead with several encores on the horizon. Paul Reed Smith, the owner and founder of the iconic guitar company PRS, joined Junior on stage for a series of songs. In a nod to the recently deceased B.B. King Junior and Smith went into the classic “Thrill is Gone.” Last weekend Smith told me and Jimmy Herring that he had actually added a little intro part to the song in which the vocals come in at a slightly different point than normal, with the vocals not coming in on the “one.” The solos were great, the energy in the room was elevated, and it certainly was a cover that King himself would’ve approved. Smith stayed on stage for, “Stir it Up,” “Could You Be Loved” and “Exodus.”
In all, Junior Marvin still has the “it” factor and is an incredible band leader and guitarist. The musical legacy of Marley is one that will surely continue for centuries to come. Marley is like the Beatles or Zeppelin in the sense that they’re iconic legends, and legends never really die. On another note, it was nice seeing Junior Marvin supporting the rising DC reggae talent, Nappy Riddem, as part of the next generation of that special reggae energy.