Keeping the Marley name current

Reggae music, four decades out, still tends to fly under the pop radar. This is unfortunate for the bank accounts of the genre’s stars and for commercial music at large — a business that desperately needs a dose of Jamaican soul. But for the fans it means instead of pricey stadium shows they get to hear top musicians up close and personal in intimate venues. Such was the case at the Ky-Mani and Stephen Marley show on April 27 show at the Orange Peel.

Unfortunately, the concert started off on a low note with opener Jah Lite Posse. The local off-kilter act consisted of a front man who produced stream of consciousness hip-hop, MC-style, accompanied by a DJ and a tween on hand drums. Now, I know from experience that vocalist Berhane is an apt songwriter, but his freeform came off more like reggae karaoke. And it dragged on for a mind-numbing hour.

Happily, Ky-Mani’s appearance on stage quickly turned the show around. The 30 year old progeny of Bob Marley and table tennis champion Anita Belnavis is easy on the eyes and has a warm, easy voice. He opened with his father’s “Forever Loving Jah,” an energetic yet deeply spiritual number. If the audience had any question about Ky-Mani’s dedication to Rastafari — his father’s spiritual practice and the philosophy with which most conscious reggae is associated — this opener paired with oversized Lion of Judah and Emperor Haile Selassie flags let the singer’s leanings be known.

Both Ky-Mani and his brother Stephen, the show’s headliner, are practicing Rastas and they use both recorded material and live performances to spread that message. However, the live performances have a more church-like air while the CDs of both artists show off pop sensibilities.

In true reggae style, Ky-Mani called out to the ladies in the house and performed a love song of his own creation. This was followed by Bob’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” — perhaps an unfortunate choice in that it begged comparison between father and son’s song writing talents. While the younger Marley has skills, he’s not yet matured to his father’s command of a lyric.

While it’s understandable that the Marley offspring want to keep their father’s legacy alive (and who better to perform his songs than his heirs?) this reviewer can’t help but wonder if the children are, to some extent, contractually obligated to sing their father’s songs. Marley shows tend toward a 50/50 ratio of Bob songs to new works. Fans expect it, even demand it, but it’s an interesting question as to what sorts of work these young musicians would make if they could step out from the shadow of their legendary father.

Stephen Marley appeared on stage as soon as Ky-Mani finished his set, playing to the mood of the audience with songs like “Mind Control” and “Burning and Looting.”

At 34, Stephen is a seasoned performer after growing up in the Melody Makers with his brother Ziggy, sister Cedella (all are the children of Rita Marley) and half-sister sister Sharon. He’s a calm, relaxed performer who seems at home on the stage and comfortable in front of an audience. The second-eldest son of Bob Marley is also an accomplished songwriter and producer.

Stephen’s rendition of “All Day All Night” from Ziggy’s album Music was probably the catchiest song of the evening, making excellent use of the back up singers (not to mention the other dozen or so people on stage) and a cool, well-placed jangly guitar solo by the singer. Actually, if anything, the guitar solo was too short, and I usually detest guitar solos. But the hallmark of Stephen’s performance was tight, poppy numbers and flawless delivery, showcasing this artist’s ability to put on a sophisticated and professional show that still has the relaxed feel reggae fans seek.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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