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A night of skanking with Tarrus Riley

Last week, fans got their money’s worth at the Tarrus Riley Concert which was held at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) despite the high ticket prices which ranged from $20 to $100. The concert itself was superb. The bands performing gave their best.

By Fred Zindi

The sound quality met international standards and there were no glitches from beginning till end, thanks to Max Mugaba and his team.

Although reggae is no longer the same as it was in the 1980s, recently it enjoyed an upsurge as Jamaican groups such as Busy Signal, Christopher Martin, Morgan Heritage, Jah Cure and 38-year-old American-born Jamaican, Martin James Riley aka Tarrus Riley made it a force again in Zimbabwe. Riley thrilled Zimbabweans with old-school roots and lover’s rock plus contemporary dancehall.

The concert kicked off with opening acts which included Jah Prayzah (from 6pm to 7:30pm), followed by House of Stone, Killer T, Seh Calaz and Gary Tight. These supporting acts played till 1am when Tarrus took to the stage.

Jah Prayzah, who had filled up the HICC two weeks before, played to an empty auditorium, with less than 50 people in attendance for the sake of fulfilling a contractual obligation as he had to go to another function at the Castle Lager National Braai Day at Old Hararians Sports Club. However, Jah Prayzah gave a sterling performance despite the fact that there was hardly anybody in the audience to appreciate it as he shouted to an empty venue, “Masoja muriko here uko?”

All the opening acts were impressive.

Killer T, who had a fairly-sized audience, impressed them with his hits. Vanoreva Nhema took the top spot.

The crowd began to swell around 11pm during Seh Calaz’s performance, but he had problems moving the crowd. Surprised at the lack of response, he exclaimed, “This is a very expensive concert! Maghetto youths muriko here uko?” Still, there was no response and he left the stage in a huff.

By midnight, everyone in attendance was ready for the big event. It was time for Gary Tight to take over. He gave it his best shot and did a splendid job of what was expected from an opening act. His performance was nothing but spectacular.

Then came one of the most bombastic reggae bands around, the Blak Soil Band, which exhibited high energy. It featured the legendary Dean Fraser on a smooth saxophone-driven reggae ballad which served as a five-minute introductory song.

The crowd at first showed anticipatory excitement after the first note and enthusiastic appreciation with clappings after the introductory song. Then came Riley decked in a khaki outfit with the first song, coupled with occasional bursts of wild stage moves.

In no time at all, he had held the HICC in the palm of his hands as everybody was now in a skanking mood and singing along to Sorry Is A Sorry Word, Groovy Little Thing, Bless Me Life of A Gun, Don’t Come Back, Protect The People Jah, Getty Getty, No Wantee, Dangerous Love, Michael Jackson’s Human Nature and incarcerated Buju Banton’s It’s Not An Easy Road. These were all familiar tunes and the crowd sang along. After one and half hours of song after song, Riley gave the floor to the legendary Dean Fraser while he went to change from his sweaty outfit. Fraser hit us with a saxophone rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.

It drove many into a frenzy and the mature crowd showed their appreciation by loud clappings. In no time at all, Riley, a singer blessed with magical magnetism, was back on stage, this time dressed in a loose white shirt. This time around he jumped off stage and he dared to sing while mixing and mingling with the crowds on two occasions — a feat which some of our popular artistes seem to be afraid of — and he came back on stage with his hat and glasses intact. He called out a couple of female groupies to join him on stage and asked them to showcase their skanking skills. They did and Riley’s band members danced with them.

Riley, who is always incendiary in his live performances, set the house on fire as he went on to churn out more tunes such as Just The Way You Are and Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe.

Fraser, who frequently took sax solos between songs, did not only prove to be a saxophone virtuoso, but also showed extraordinary talent in backing vocals which he supplied with expertise to all of Riley’s tunes.

Towards the end, Riley announced: “Dean Fraser, remember you are not in Cuba, you are not in America and you are not in Spain. You are in Africa. So, play the people an African tune!”

Fraser started blowing a familiar tune. The crowd went ecstatic and to their surprise, the iconic dancehall artist, Winky D, who had just come from the Castle Lager Braai Day, suddenly appeared on stage. He straight-away went into Ma Problems Ese Disappear, backed by the Blak Soil Band showing evidence of a pre-show rehearsal and a possible collaboration prior to the show. He brought the house down and the delighted audience who were roaring at this surprise, went into a rapture. The Gafa president lived up to his nickname on the stage.

Riley then asked the audience if they were ready to go home. After all, he had been on stage for three hours. The crowd shouted “No! No! No!”

But wait a minute, the show can’t be over yet. Riley had not sung the tunes which are most familiar to Zimbabweans. He then belted She’s Royal and Gimme A Likkle One Drop. Then his set was over.

After Riley came Soul Jah Love, who performed well after 4am when the auditorium was half empty.

Everyone who attended this show expressed their satisfaction with Riley’s performance.

I met Farai, a reggae enthusiast the next morning and asked him if he enjoyed the Riley show. His remarks were, “Are you kidding me? That show was too bloody expensive. I didn’t go. Despite the cold weather, I went to Old Hararians where I got booze, meat, Jah Prayzah, Freeman, Ammara Brown, Andy Muridzo and Winky D, all for only $5. What more pleasure can anybody ask for? Right now I am still nursing my hangover.”

Indeed, this beautiful show had many challenges.

lFirst it was the two events that came on the same day, with one attracting over 15 000 people.

lThe second challenge is that there were no drinks at the HICC concert since Delta Beverages (who were pre-occupied with their own thing at Old Hararians) sought to promote their show and allegedly did not supply drinks to the HICC.

lThe third challenge was the pricing of the tickets. In this poor economic climate, one has to think twice before they part with their money, especially when they have been given an alternative choice.

lThen there was the case of the promoter engaging an artist who was also booked at another popular event on the same day. This confused the public as the artiste was advertised for both events.

lThe final challenge is the fact that Harare does not have a large concert-going population when compared to the hundreds of thousands of concert attending people in large cities such as Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria. Promoters in Zimbabwe depend on the small numbers that attend concerts to break even.

In a way, I feel sorry for the promoters as I am not sure that they made any money on this night. However, Max Mugaba and his team did a commendable job all the way by bringing into the country an artiste of international repute who gave us great value for money and made us forget all our troubles as we were skanking all night.

On a more sad note, former Jah Prayzah’s bouncer, Chris Nyemba, died in a car crash immediately after the Tarrus Riley concert. May his dear soul rest in eternal peace!
Bless up!

lFeedback: f_zindi@hotmail.com

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