Artist: Alpha Blondy.
Personnel: Alpha Blondy (vocals) backed by his 13-piece Solar System band.
History: Alpha Blondy (the name translates as first bandit ) is being touted as the premier African reggae performer and as one of the most exciting new artists in the Jamaican-dominated genre.
Born Seydou Kone in 1953, Blondy was raised in the multi-cultural environment of the Ivory Coast. He absorbed Islamic traditions from his family, learned French by reading the Bible and picked up English in school. His early influences were soulmen Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding and, surprisingly, rockers like Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd.
Blondy spent three years in New York studying to be an English teacher in the early '70s but that goal went by the boards when he discovered Bob Marley and reggae. Blondy performed occasionally in Harlem clubs but also suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. He also spent time in a psychiatric institution in the Ivory Coast.
His performance on an Ivory Coast television show in 1981 prompted a local producer to take him into the studio to record his first album "Jah Glory." It became a huge success in Africa and Blondy cemented his popularity with four more albums and tours throughout Africa and Europe.
Blondy's first American album, "Apartheid Is Nazism," was recorded in 1985 but was released only last year by Shanachie. His "Jerusalem" LP, due later this year on Shanachie, was recorded in Jamaica with backing from the Wailers.
Sound: There are some West African flavorings in Alpha Blondy's arrangements and multilingual slant but he is a committed reggae artist who displays a confident grasp of the fundamentals. His lightly textured voice recalls the non-firebrand side of Bob Marley and the title track of "Apartheid Is Nazism" (one of the LP's two songs in English) demonstrates he's not one to pull any punches. But there's a certain lack of snap that leaves the album more competent than truly gripping.
Shows: Variety Arts Center, Saturday.