With Yellowman, Dennis Alcapone & U-Roy
Yellowman - Respect Jamaica 50 - Live At The IndigO2, London

There are no surprises at the IndigO2’s latest installment of the Jamaican independence fiftieth anniversary celebrations, as more of Jamaica’s reggae’s aristocracy skank into London Town. There’s much talk of “back in the day” and predictable dialogue about racism and freedom. Dennis Alcapone might say he’s “shocking and electric”, but in truth he looks more like an Iranian Barry White.

Nevertheless reggae is musically fascinating and its bass led rhythms irresistible, from Bob Marley’s early dark notes of struggle to the dub experiments of Augustus Pablo. The music of the assembled preserves the genre’s essential earthiness. Mixes, or in dub parlance, versions, abound, from Yellowman’s takes on fifties classics like ‘Blueberry Hill’ and Elvis’ ‘In the Ghetto’ to country standards such as John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ and even ‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning’. While the toasters come and go though, the backing band is relatively unchanged throughout.

“Jamaica team come with we. We are them security,” says Yellowman, dressed in combats and doing his utmost to emulate the gymnastics at the five rings event taking place across the consumption strip in, what is for the next three weeks, the North Greenwich Arena. Skanking across the stage like he’s on strings there’s been no relaxing in his energy over the years. All this despite having a cancerous tumor excavated from his jaw in the mid ‘90s, which permanently disfigured one side of his face. So called because of his albinism, in 1981 Yellowman was the first of the reggae dancehall artists to be signed by a US label, spending a large part of the eighties boasting of his sexual prowess until, belatedly, developing more socially conscious preoccupations in the nineties. Both are in evidence in his set here. As he removes his shirt to show off the washboard stomach that shows no sign of subsiding, simulates sex and performs press ups he also pokes mischief at the police.

In contrast, U-Roy has the gentle, wise and enlightened air of the ancient Kung Fu master. Although he’s the godfather of toasting, the chat over an instrumental riddim to which hip-hop owes a huge debt, his blend of mellifluous tunes, like the archetypal ‘Soul Rebel’, form the evening’s only straight songs.

Sadly The IndigO2 is only half full as reggae no longer seems to command a young, black coterie. Nevertheless it remains a far and welcome cry from the soulless, corporate surroundings of the former Dome and is a reminder of the true values of popular music. A gig that, if not metaphorically offbeat, never feels downbeat.

Words by Adrian Cross
Photo by Richard Gray

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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