Summer’s Over… Almost
“Me again, Knocking on your door, til’ all your walls come tumblin down. Me again, like Jericho before, Babylon walls come tumblin down”– Rocky Dawuni
I began to lose interest in reggae about the time it began to put me to sleep, about the time it became a really big deal, in fact, too big worldwide, about the time Bob Marley died, and all his disciples and imitators and assorted reggae wannabes were content to roll a fatty and coax a beat from the drum machine with about the frequency of a heartbeat. I wonder how many marijuana (medical, of course) spliffs are extinguished in parched lips to the sound of reggae every year?
Some of the best reggae happened before I even knew what reggae was, e.g. the Desmond Dekker hit ‘Israelites’ in 1968. Then when the Jimmy Cliff film vehicle ‘The Harder They Come’ came out in 1972, that defined reggae for me. It was only with some persuasion that I began to listen to Bob Marley, and accept his primacy in the genre. Reggae had its Dylan, and had moved beyond its Elvises and assorted pelvises.
But when Bob died, so did reggae, for me, at least. You can have the dreary doleful masters of doom that followed, with their laconic litanies and dissertations on prophetic nothingness that basically killed the genre, long since robbed of any joy or happiness. Rita was okay, and Bob’s multifarious brood, particularly Ziggy, performed mightily—and still do—to carry on the tradition, but something had gone, and dance-hall music was now king.
That’s why it’s such a pleasure to see Ghana’s Rocky Dawuni perform his high-energy and lyrically intense form of the genre. It not only harkens back to Bob’s lyrics, but to the melodic intensity that preceded it. The fact that Rocky is a native African repatriating its long-lost American musical brother genres only adds impetus to the emphasis. At McArthur Park last week he did not disappoint. Sure he struts it up a bit heavy for my more philosophical tastes, but it’s all in good fun, and all for a good cause—peace on the planet. That was the highlight of the past week for me.
This week, LA’s best musical bets (freebies, that is) revolve around its bread-and-butter go-to world music genre, musica Mexicana, in effect multiple genres all uniting under one red-green-and-white flag. That includes the venerable band Quetzal, revived after its Grammy-winning Smithsonian Folkways album ‘Imaginaries’ and with new direction under the influence of its new album ‘Quetzanimales’, which is much much more than the combination Chicano rock and son jarocho that is Quetzal’s trademark sound. That’s Friday (tonight) at McArthur.
Saturday night on the same stage are Santa Cecilia, from East LA just like their buddies from Quetzal and the up-beat counterparts to the former’s intense political activism. They came out of obscurity a couple years ago to be one of the hottest acts on the world music circuit today. It should be good. And Ricardo Lemvo will feature his Afro-Cuban rhythms at LACMA earlier in the evening if that suits you; two-fers would be possible.
But the summer’s not quite over yet, not really. Grand Performances is back in town downtown next week with DakhaBrakha (no, they’re not from Senegal; try Ukraine) and Carmen Rizzo on Friday night, and Saturday night it’s Malaysian songbird Yuna with her eclectic international pop stylings. Sounds good… but I won’t be there. I’ll be long gone, for a while at least. This bird has flown.