Everywhere I go lately people ask, "What's up with Reggae?" They wonder which show they should buy tickets for, Reggae on the River or Reggae Rising, or if the whole thing is going down in flames. While I've been following the battle pretty closely, I honestly don't know. I talked with Carol Bruno the other day, she is "100 percent positive" that Reggae Rising is going to happen. The folks at the Mateel are just as adamant that Reggae on the River is going to prevail one way or another. A judge/mediator does not decide crucial issues until just three weeks before showtime. Reggae tickets typically approach sell out by this time of year; add to that the fact that the Planning Department just decided to drop this year's paid admission by 2,000, and Reggae fans are facing a tough decision.
Lately I've been saving these Reggae updates for the end of the column, but this week is different. By chance three artists booked for one Reggae show or another are in town this week. African diva Angelique Kidjo, who is listed as a performer on the Reggae on the River website, closes the CenterArts season at the Van Duzer Thursday, May 10. Later that same night dub musician Dr. Israel performs at Red Fox Tavern. He provided vocals for Heavyweight Dub Champion at Reggae last year and, like Kidjo, he's listed on the coming RotR lineup. (The Dub Champs are on the Reggae Rising bill.) Then on Sunday, May 13, Ziggy Marley plays at the Arcata Community Center. He and his brothers are at the top of the bill for Reggae Rising.
Angelique Kidjo (right) remembers playing at Reggae on the River years ago as part of Africa Fête, but she was completely unaware that she's listed as a headliner this year. In fact, she will not be here. She spent the early part of this year on tour with the young pop star Josh Groban, who has a guest spot on her just-released album, and come early August, she'll be on the East Coast opening for him again.
Kidjo's disc, Djin Djin, came out May 1. When we spoke Monday she was in Portland on a whirlwind promotional tour with shows almost every night. It goes that way all summer. She admits she's tired, but, she says, "You find a rhythm."
Born in Benin, Kidjo moved to Paris with her mother when she was a girl. She's lived in Brooklyn, New York, for the last 10 years, but she still considers herself first and foremost an African. "I can live anywhere in the world, but Benin, that's where I'm from. That's where I was born, where I was in the beginning, that's what made me the person I am."
She says she doesn't mind touring; she loves to travel. "I just don't like all the security stuff you have to go through from one airport to another. You have no more rights when you're traveling. But they find nothing because I am not a terrorist. I'm against violence, definitely."
In fact she's an official UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. "It's basically traveling in Africa, being in contact with children. I must be the voice for them and see what we can do to improve things for them. The kids relate to me because of my music and also they know that I'm on their side."
She explains that the title of the album, Djin Djin, "is the sound of a church bell. It's a wake-up call for everybody on our continent. It says now it the time to make your life worthy. Do you hear the clock ticking? That's what I am asking."
The latest press release from the Dimmick Ranch lists Dr. Israel among a group of artists booked for RotR who have "asked to come onto the Reggae Rising lineup," something Israel's booking agent confirms. When I called "Doc" Monday night at a club in Brooklyn (his home town) he told me, "To tell you the truth I've kind of been trapped in confusion. I haven't really had a clear take on what's going on. If someone says I'm jumping ship, I couldn't tell you what ship I'm jumping off of. I know we had a great show at Reggae last year with Heavyweight Dub Champion and I was excited to come back and do that this year along with my own set. Of course I'm not talking directly with anyone involved with the festivals, just with my booking agent. I don't think anyone knows what's going on. It's pretty crazy."
Whether he plays here in August or not, Dr. Israel will be in town Thursday, May 10, for a solo show at the Red Fox Tavern. "I've been working on a new record with vocals centered on roots reggae, classic old school style. The tracks will range from old school roots to jungle, drum 'n' bass and hip hop. I've been working some with the Mad Professor. It looks like it will be executive produced by Bill Laswell - we've been doing a lot of work together." Then there's the short film he did for Palm Pictures, a futuristic tale with Rastas, revolution and Thai boxing, but that's a tale for another day.
I'm assuming I don't have to explain much about David Nesta "Ziggy" Marley, leader of the Melody Makers, voice of the Rasta jellyfish in the cartoon movie Shark Tales and the eldest son of Rita and Bob Marley. Need I mention that his last album, Love is My Religion, earned him a Grammy as "Best Reggae Album"?*He's touring with the amazing sacred steel player*Robert Randolph and The Family Band, which should draw in some of the jamband crowd, all of which means you might want to get a ticket early since the show is likely to sell out. Is he playing at that festival on the Eel River in August? His website says he is, and it links to Reggae Rising.
Friday at the Indigo, Urbanstyle presents the very urban rapper Twista from Chicago's westside. Born Carl Terrell Mitchell, Twista was formerly known as Tung Twista - his deft, high-speed verbal gymnastics once earned him the title of fastest rapper in the world. He's definitely big time: A 2004 release was No 1 on the Billboard album and singles charts. He's ready to drop a new disc this summer, Adrenaline Rush, with production from the likes of The Neptunes and Kanye West. So what's he doing at Indigo Friday night? Rapping as fast as ever.
Also in the hip hop vein, a show Saturday night at Mazzotti's featuring DJ Abilities- a turntablist out of Minnesota, of all places. He's best known as a prizewinning battle DJ, and he's on the road with Hieroglyphics associate Z-Man. Silentarmy and the breakdancing Humboldt Rockers fill out the bill.
If you don't know the players, you might see this Thursday's pairing of bands at the Jambalaya as kind of odd. The jazzy Luscious Ladies don't quite go with the hard rockin' band The Generatorz. Here's the deal: Generatorz vocalist Madi Simmons' daughter, Lorenza, is one of the Ladies.
"We're splitting the bill," explained Luscious Lady Melody Walker, who called Monday afternoon around the time I was trying to find her number. I'd made a bet with Tamaras the other day at the SLAM Fest, when I told her that the a cappella group AkaBella was on the SLAM bill because they'd won the KRFH Battle of the Bands, Tamaras did not believe me. "We totally won the Battle," said Melody. (Sorry Tamaras. Pay up.)
I should explain that AkaBella and the L. Ladies are basically the same group - well, Melody, Lorenza, Lauren Smith, Verena Reece and Nola Pierce are in both. Courtney Weaver and Leah, vocalist for Bump Foundation join them, and the Ladies have a (male) jazz trio for back-up: Lenny "Nipsy" Pettinelli on keys, Jon Murdock on bass and Jonathan Kipp, drums.
What does it sound like? "Sultry jazz, R&B and soul hits of the last century," said Melody, adding, "We really do hit something from every decade - Lucille Bogan to TLC."
Melody has a busy weekend. Friday night, AkaBella is part of a huge show at the Bayside Grange, a benefit for Six Rivers Charter School that also includes two high school bands, 801 Warning and Power Toast,plusThe Ravens andThe Rubberneckers. (The 'Neckers have a gig at the Pearl Wednesday, May 16, with Robert Szeles from Kiss The Girl.)
Then there's a Saturday night gig at Portuguese Hall where Melody plays with the samba troupe Bloco Firmeza for an Inferknow benefit. The funky Bump Foundation plays too, DJs JSun, Danny, Loren, Gerber, Touch and Red, spin in the backroom, Bay Area Afrobeat band Albino! is the headliner. Proceeds benefit the pyromaniacal Inferknow's plans for Area 74, a Burning Man-esque outdoor concert venue near Fieldbrook.
The Bucky Walters is another band with a busy weekend schedule. Saturday the jamgrass boys hit the Jambalaya sharing a bill with Portland's "junkbox blues" duo, Hillstomp. Friday The Walters play Muddy's Hot Cup with The FreeLove Circus, a crazy little thing put together by "intercontinental super clown" Shea FreeLove, the guy you've seen on the Plaza escaping from a straightjacket or pounding nails up his nose. He's enlisted The B.W.s along with members of AkaBella, WoMama, North Coast Dance, New World Ballet and Humboldt Circus for a musical journey into Humboldt-style circus weirdness.
The worker-owned Arcata pub Humboldt Brews has been a vital, consistent source for live music for some time now, running shows in one genre or another almost every night. This week that means bluegrass by the Compost Mountain Boys on Thursday, Nucleus jamrockin' on Friday for a grads bash, Massagana's reggae Saturday, and reggae/rockers Mobile Chiefing Unit jamming for a Ziggy Marley after party Sunday. After that, it's closing time - for around three months. Plans call for a major remodel. Says band booker Andy, "We will be moving the stage to the back of the building, expanding our dance floor, making more room for the restaurant and [creating] a bigger, better venue for music." The club will be sorely missed this summer, but the upgrade sounds great to me.