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Weekend Reviews : Pop : Blend of Styles at Marley Fest

February 20, 1995|DON SNOWDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What's a sure-fire way to leave your audience wanting more? Do a 10-minute set without performing your No. 1 hit.

*

That's what reggae dancehall star Ini Kamoze did at Long Beach Arena on Saturday, though he did return to perform "The Hotstepper" during his encore, to the delight of the capacity crowd at the 14th annual Bob Marley Day Festival.

But his segment, and others during the event's first day, showcased the recent change in reggae performance conventions.

Kamoze represents a new breed whose success stems from video, dance-club re-mixes and the hip-hop school of performance--i.e. brief. But if his set was just an extended tease leading to "The Hotstepper," its direction hinted at future possibilities.

Kamoze, with his gangsta look and two homies hanging out onstage, was backed by a deejay who supplied the backing tracks. The intriguing thing was the music the deejay played--pure Jamaican bass-and-drum dub tracks without a trace of hip-hop or American R&B mixed in.

That approach recalled the early '70s in Jamaica when "toasters" rapped over rhythms at sound-system dances. That style helped trigger hip-hop, which helped trigger the modern reggae style known as "dancehall." Talk about full circle.

Kamoze, a touted roots reggae singer in the mid-'80s, dropped out of sight for several years before "The Hotstepper" hit the top of the U.S. pop charts a few months ago. Whether it's a conscious decision or a coincidence remains to be seen, but the idea that he may be looking to combine the '90s gangsta image with the 25-year-old foundation of the sound is fascinating.

Steel Pulse (headlining all the Marley Day shows, including a second day that was scheduled Sunday at Long Beach and today's San Diego Sports Arena bill) represented reggae's old guard--acts that, like Marley, built their reputations on live performance and message music.

With 20 years of songs to blend in with the strong material on its current "Vex" album, the English band's vibrant 75-minute set demonstrated that it remains a formidable live unit. And they put to rest that old notion that reggae is a one-dimensional sound. Steel Pulse wove two decades of reggae elements--arena-shaking bass lines, light R&B-influenced songs, deejay interludes by keyboardist Selwyn Brown and the jazzy singing of David Hinds--into compelling arrangements and performed them with consummate stage savvy.

It was a far cry from the woeful performance by deejay Patra earlier in the day. Her dancehall/hip-hop blend and in-your-face female macho stance made her "Queen of the Pack" a gold album. But Patra lacks Kamoze's performing skills, and that left her with nothing but attitude, pelvic gyrations and two athletic female dancers writhing through Kamasutra positions.

Veteran Jamaican band Inner Circle has taken an unorthodox route to mainstream success with the use of its "Bad Boys" as the theme of the "Cops" TV show. The song has a magic hook; the bulk of its show-closing set was musically proficient but lacking in pizazz.

Part of the Bob Marley Day appeal is its ambience--the free-flowing audience, sound systems, crafts booths and even carnival rides for kids this year.

That made Inner Circle's decision to close with Marley's "Lively Up Yourself" and the One love / One heart / Let's get together and feel all right chorus of "One Love" so appropriate--the event allows people to do just those things.

* Bob Marley Day Festival with Steel Pulse, Ini Kamoze, Inner Circle, Terror Fabulous and Junior Reid plays today at San Diego Sports Arena, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., San Diego, 2 p.m. $21.50 - $26.50, (619) 224-4176 .

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