It was on one of those typical Dutch autumn days, when stormy weather and heavy rainfall afflicts everyone who leaves home for no matter what purpose, that I set out for a cultural reggae event at the "Melkweg" in Amsterdam featuring Tony Rebel, Sugar Black & Lehbanchuleh and Jah Mason.
About 22 hrs. I entered the venue and was just in time to capture the SAME Band - the backing band on this "Jah By My Side '98" tour - warming up the reggae massive with an excellent instrumental which marked the entrance of the up-and-coming cultural singjay Jah Mason (a cousin of Tony "Lalibela" Rebel). His visage topped by a turban the Bobo dread opened his set with "Alkibulan" across the "Addisa-baba" riddim. The choice of this opener proved to be a good one as the song was immediately recognized and well received by the large audience present. Jah Mason continued with "Have And Them Want" - a song he recorded for Kariang Records - which was followed by his version on the "Africa" riddim entitled "Money Dem A Run Down" and other uplifting conscious songs like "Prayer", "Natural Vegetable" and "Hard Mama Work". Jah Mason is one of those young performers who belongs to a new generation of cultural artists which includes Sizzla, Determine and Anthony B. It was mainly the latter who was brought to mind witnessing Jah Mason's stage performance and the singjay style in which he delivered his songs, but it can't be denied that Jah Mason definitely has developed a style of his own.
Next were Sugar Black & Lehbanchuleh to take the stage. They have been responsible for some truly excellent records in the past few months and I was somewhat excited to know that I was about to witness a live performance of these two fine roots singers. And yes, they fully lived up to expectations. From the very first tones of "Start The War" up to the last song of their set - a rendition of Sam Cooke's gem from way back "Change Gonna Come" - Sugar Black & Lehbanchulah delivered a well-balanced and solid vocal performance. Songs like the Beatles' "Let It Be" (across the same riddim Anthony B utilized for his first hit "One Thing"), Bob Andy's Studio One classic "Unchained" - that smoothly switched to Garnett Silk's "Love Is The Answer" thus paying tribute to the so sorely missed Archangel - "Oh Jah" and the Dennis Brown songs "Here I Come" and "Love Me Always" (featuring Jah Mason) were expertly presented to the massive. Perhaps the only minus of their set was the shortage of self-penned original songs.
Then the impressive stature of Patrick Barrett better known as Tony Rebel appeared on stage causing enthousiastic and warm reactions. With his killer tune "Sabbath Meditation" he opened his part of the show immediately setting the pace for what turned out to be a solid cultural performance of an artist who actually made his debut in 1988 with a tune entitled "Casino". Tony Rebel always utilized a smooth chanting style of dancehall consciousness - as he eschewed gun lyrics and slackness - thus building a reputation as the deejay/singer whose work has spearheaded the cultural revival since its inception in the early nineties. He worked his way through a selection of his best known songs like "Good People", "Africa", "Chatty Chatty Mouth", "Fresh Vegetable" and Celebrate Life" and performed renditions of Culture's anthem "Jah Jah See Them A Come" and Garnett Silk's "Splashing Dashing". He ended his performance with the swinging easy "Know Jah". After the enthousiastic audience shouted for more Tony Rebel (joined by Jah Mason and Sugar Black & Lebanculah) came back for an encore, which actually contained some of the undisputable highlights of the entire evening ! Rebel's anthem from 1996 "Why Be Afraid aka Jah By My Side" was the first tune that overpowered the crowd completely and really blew them away. "Jah Will Never Let Us Down" across the "Lecturer" riddim was the next killer which eventually gave him the opportunity to introduce the members of the SAME Band.
With Bob Marley's "Easy Skanking" - which got an exciting interpretation from Sugar Black & Lehbanchuleh, Tony Rebel and Jah Mason - and the inevitable "One Love" came an end to a thoroughly satisfying reggae evening.
After the show I was able to speak to Sugar Black. He told me that he - just like many other starting artists in Jamaica - tried to make his entrance in the music business by participating in some JA local talent shows. After a while he got the opportunity to make his first recordings and some of his tunes appeared on compilation sets of Yammie Music Inc. and the U.K.-based Saxon label. However things changed completely when he went to Donovan Germain's Penthouse to do an audition. There he met Tony Rebel who proved to be very important for the further development of his career. Sugar Black teamed up with Lehbanchuleh (formerly known as Norbert Clarke) and they started to record as a duo for Penthouse, Bobby Digital, Richard Bell's Star Trail and of course Tony Rebel's "Flames" label. "Oh Jah" was actually the first tune they recorded for Tony Rebel and by now they already have recorded quite a number of songs for Rebel's "Flames" label. By the end of 1998 VP Records will release their debut album entitled "Change Gonna Come" which also features artists like Anthony B, Jah Mason and of course Tony Rebel. Speaking of Tony Rebel...he joins us and starts telling me about the annual "Rebel Salute" event which takes place at Manchester in the parish of Mandeville JA. "Rebel Salute" is a strictly cultural event where e.g. the selling of meat and alcohol isn't allowed and the lists of artists who contribute only contains strictly "roots & culture" related names. The forthcoming "Rebel Salute" - to take place at 16th January 1999 - will welcome on stage such great artists like Luciano, Cocoa Tea, Morgan Heritage, Buju Banton, Capleton, Sizzla, Anthony B, Jah Mason, Sugar Black & Lehbanchuleh, Tony Rebel and many many more !