Clothed in a traditional headdress, yards of wooden necklace, and jangly bracelets, Jamaican native Queen Ifrica seemed to demand the audience's attention in between her songs without so much as an "ahem." "This song is for all the men out there," she announced. "As little girls, the women get all the things they want. But then they become all the single mothers raising the babies. Listen to me women, raise your little boys as men, not as little boys. Raise them to be men for the future generations." She then launched into one of her biggest hits, "Below the Waist", an upbeat raga dancehall tune that, despite its sunny nature, is actually about the circular nature of domestic abuse. While Santa Cruz's Moe Alley often features reggae acts of yesteryear, on its July 16 Queen Ifrica/Tony Rebel showcase, the venue nearly packed the house for two artists who are still very much prominent forces in the Jamaican musical charts.
Backed by a live band consisting of a rhythm section, guitar, keyboards, and three backup singers, Ifrica swung from song to song, only breaking the music to dispense modern Rasta philosophy on the audience. As she flowed from her songs, she generally took the pattern of singing in a bored, soulful style as reminiscent of '70s roots reggae as '70s funk. But, after establishing a groove, the band would snap into double-time as Ifrica leaned forward and chatted in a thick, heavy, rapid, raspy ragamuffin style. Her voice was impressive in both forms, the low, boldness of her pipes quaking the system as she sang and the wild, fiery thump of her deejay style as she got the house jumping.
Interestingly, while Ifrica is known as one of the major artists of rasta dancehall (as opposed to the "slackness" of the other current popular deejays) she seemed to pitch a belief system that was more in tune with popular culture than the archaic and ritualistic methods often seen in old Bob Marley or Abyssinian movies. Before launching into "Daddy", a song about sexual abuse, she exclaimed "Take time to look at people. If you look deep enough in their eyes, you might see something there," and then continued "Women, we must ask for equal rights not as women, but as people. Equal rights as people."
As Ifrica sang, the three backup singers shifted with her from roots music to dancehall. But, instead of functioning solely as a reggae harmony trio, they seemed equally influenced by swing music of the '40s, acting as a foil for Ifrica, instead of just as musical support.
Immediately after Ifrica exited the stage, the show's promoter jumped on and asked the crowd, "Are you ready for Tony Rebel? Then let the show begin," at which time, Tony Rebel bounced on stage mere minutes after Ifrica left, supported by the same backing band.
While Rebel is also one of the main cultural forces in dancehall, his performance seemed more dedicated to the party than reflection. After a short instrumental entrance based on "Cherry Oh", Rebel snapped into a set composed of his main hits. He bounced through one of his earliest, "Fresh Vegetable", a song that might be incredibly filthy (I've not yet mastered Jamaican slang and innuendo) before morphing it into a cover of Inner Circle's "Sweat".
Continuing the upbeat nature of his set, he announced his "Sweet Jamaica", which is also based off the "Cherry Oh" riddim, as the Jamaican national anthem. Although the set was fairly structured, when one audience member shouted "Play 'Sweet Aroma'!", Rebel spent a few moments teaching the song to his band. While they didn't quite master the tune in their 25-second tutorial, Rebel's freestyle skills were exemplified as he created a new version of the song, fitting the lyrics into the unusual version of the music being played.
Near the end of the set, they played an extended version of 1998's "If Jah Is by My Side", first performing the song normally, then pushing it into an instrumental showcase, then re-singing it in Spanish, before finally giving each of the backup singers a chance to show off her pipes.
More than two hours after the show began, Ifrica re-took the stage and Rebel and the Queen bounced their rapid sing-jay style off of each other, getting the audience to boogie down as they increased the bass and speed of their respective delivery. Although that was the last song of the evening, and the entire band exited the stage and the music stopped, the throb of the music seemed to radiate through the audience as they made their way out into the silent evening.
Santa Cruz local, Emmanuel Selassie opened the evening with some modernized '70s roots reggae based off the Marley template. While the music was energetic and featured some interesting vocal quirks, every song seemed to have the word "Jah" in the refrain, which did get a little tiresome, although the crowd was receptive. Even Marley didn't confine his music exclusively to religion. While the group shows promise, a branching out of their topics, or at least their characterization of said chosen topic, might propel them to the next level.
- Tony Rebel is a GIANT. He made everyone else on the stage look like a midget even though they were all of regular size.
- The girl next to me was tripping out on LSD big time. After I left the show, she was in the back of a pickup truck screaming while her friend tried to console her. Don't be that guy/girl, people.
- Everyone in the band was a dread-rasta, except the guitar player, who was a tall white guy with a Abraham Lincoln beard. He held it down, though.
- None of the backup singers wore shoes, while everyone else did.
- Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure that I fell in love with the middle backup singer.
♥♥♥♥ Punknews Love Connections♥♥♥♥
You: The middle backup singer in Tony Rebel's band. You had on a sequined vest.
Me: I had on a modified Philadelphia Phillies shirt that had the letters "PH" and "ADELPHIA" removed so that it just read "ILL." I think you winked at me, but it might have just been dust. Send me an e-mail. You can teach me about dancehall. I'll teach you about punk. It will be beautiful.