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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Reggae Roots Show at Bob Marley Fest

February 20, 1996|STEVE APPLEFORD

Reggae roots were the dominant force of day two of the annual Bob Marley Day Festival at the Long Beach Arena on Sunday. As Deadheads banged drums out in the parking lot, Marley contemporary Burning Spear set a sometimes solemn tone inside during his headlining set.

The gray-bearded veteran stood behind a pair of big red congas, singing songs that insisted on a common humanity and told tales of back-to-Africa movement leader Marcus Garvey. His warm and steady vocals weren't the most distinctive of the day, but his arrangements for his nine-man band offered surprising elements (including one lively Dixieland trumpet solo) that created a rich musical fabric.

If Burning Spear represented a polished version of reggae's traditions, then Israel Vibration--three charismatic singers who stood on crutches, their legs weakened by polio--offered a dramatic, contemporary mood, epitomized by the sly R&B groove and sharp keyboard melody of "Rude Boy Ashufflin." Israel Vibration quickly found an energetic mood with its tight Roots Radics Band, announcing, "God created people of different colors . . . to be beautiful to each other."

In a brief showcase set, young singer Yvad played reggae with an occasional jazz-pop element and simple messages. But the mostly romantic crooner rarely connected until he picked up an acoustic guitar for a rousing, set-closing song that declared "freedom is all I need."

The Jamaican vocal trio Culture found a rolling, up-tempo groove, and despite leader Joseph Hill's quasi-revolutionary garb, the group was focused mostly on spreading love for humanity. Their tribute song to Marley included snippets of lyrics from the master, and served to illustrate just how much he continues to dominate the entire reggae genre 15 years after his death.

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