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Reggae Takes Higher Ground in Wailers' Hands

May 19, 1989|CONNIE JOHNSON

With the death of the charismatic Bob Marley in 1980, reggae lost much of its luster and its popularity seemed to be on the wane for several years. But with the emergence of groups such as Grammy-winning Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers--a group composed of Marley's children--and recent hits like UB40's "Red Red Wine," reggae shows signs of finally earning real road-based popularity.

Wednesday night at the Universal Amphitheatre, the Wailers--formerly Bob Marley's backing band--played an hour-plus set that was long on fire and urgency and even showed an occasional burst of high-spirited invention.

Percussionist Irvin (Carrot) Jarrett danced like a man possessed, his nearly waist-long dreadlocks whipping the air as the band took Marley's signature "Exodus" to higher ground. Lead singer Junior Marvin, smoothly assured and authoritative in his dapper white suit, revved up the crowd on "I Shot the Sheriff," but a mid-song plea to "free James Brown!" merely drew polite applause.

Bob Marley often expressed dismay that his music never attracted a sizable black following in the United States, so it's noteworthy that the audience at the Universal contained young black reggae fans who were children when Marley was at the peak of his fame in the '70s.

Headliners Third World espoused Bishop Desmond Tutu's anti-apartheid sentiments at the end of a song that urged listeners to let the "reggae jam boogie getta hold of you." Talk about a jarring philosophical stretch .

Third World has gained favor with black record-buyers on the strength of the vibrant, Stevie Wonder-produced "Try Jah Love" and a great version of the O'Jays' "Now That We Found Love," but Wednesday they concentrated on new material. The new songs sounded fine, but "Now That We've Found Love" they're not.

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