"Fence Cyan Hold": Ziggy Marley Blows Roof Off Historic Howard Theatre, Washington, DC

Ziggy Marley Live at the Howard Theatre, Washington, DC
June 13, 2012

I know one thing for certain after leaving the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday night:

The Howard can’t hold Ziggy Marley and his collective of multi-talented musicians.

He nearly torched the place during his 2-hour set, backed by some of the finest musicians in reggae right now, even declaring at one point “I’m out of my mind tonight!” during the fieriest performance of “Still The Storms.”

It may as well have been Christmas.  Ziggy Marley in town to kick off his 3-month summer tour of North America?  I’m in.

Of course there are no Melody Makers, that collective of Marley family talent that helped guide real roots (and radio-friendly) reggae through the slackness of late-eighties dancehall and forward through the “mind-numbing” reggae experimentof the mid and late nineties.

Gone are Stephen, Chris, Sticky, Chinna, Squidly, Raphael, and the beautiful, and dutiful, Sharon, Cedella, and Erica.

No worries though…Why?

Because Ziggy now tours the world with the tightest collection of musicians the Marley name can muster.  And two of those musicians put on a virtual clinic for fans in attendance – drummer, and former Rhythm Raiders/Soul Syndicate co-founder Carlton “Santa” Davis, and lead guitarist extraordinaire Takeshi Akimoto.

If there is a more talented, more technical, or more brutal reggae drummer on the planet than Carlton “Santa” Davis, then he hasn’t made it through D.C. yet.

Founding member of the legendary Rhythm Raiders and Soul Syndicate, Davis’ style is the definition of percussion.

He beats the drums like they owe him something.

The thing is, he does so with such ease and efficiency, at times he looks like he’s asleep while his arms reach every inch of the drum kit.  Such a technical drummer.  Always holding the riddim so tightly, and with such control, that the tension is more than palpable to say the least.  Ziggy’s band is deeply rooted by Davis’ drumming.  It’s truly a spectacle to watch.

Reggae and rock guitar have a strange, yet essential relationship.  The introduction of the American rock guitar into reggae dates back to 1973 when Ziggy’s father Bob Marley used American session guitarist Wayne Perkins to play the famous guitar solo on “Concrete Jungle.”  In a stroke of genius, Marley would later recruit American guitarists Al Anderson, Donald Kinsey, and British rocker Junior Marvin to bring that stadium “rock and roll” sound to his own music.

Ziggy takes a page from his father’s book by enlisting the immense talents of Takeshi Akimoto.  An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, he has played alongside the likes of bluesman Taj Mahal and jazz musician Raya Yarbrough, and has been a staple of Marley’s collective since 2006.

It’s difficult to describe Takeshi’s talent as a guitarist because I’ve never really seen the guitar used to this effect in reggae.  Sure there are great guitarists in reggae. Earl “Chinna” Smith, Al Anderson, Donald Kinsey, Junior Marvin, Tony Chin, Ernest Ranglin, Cat Coore immediately come to mind.  Takeshi Akimoto is quickly earning his way into these ranks and winning the hearts and ears of reggae fans the world over.  He knows exactly where to be in a song, and is almost unnoticed at times, working with a slight touch to accent the tune.  However, he is also capable of taking over the stage with some of the most searing guitar solos I have heard in reggae.  A profoundly technical and unassuming lead guitarist, don’t let him fool you – he is as real as it gets in reggae.

I could go on for hours praising the perfection that is Pablo Stennett  on bass – or the brutal percussion solo by Rock Deardrick (Ben Harper, Chicago, Kenny Loggins) during “Still The Storms,” or the jumpy rhythms of keyboardists Michael Hyde and George Hughes.  However, the true star among stars that night was one David “Ziggy” Marley.

First, let me say that I have a profound respect for Ziggy Marley, not only as a musical talent, but also as a torch-bearer for this genre of music that his father so prolifically spread throughout the world in the last years of his life.  I also respect him as a humanitarian,  environmentalist, and proponent for the legalization of marijuana.  He emerged on the international scene at a time when it was not cool to be playing positive, radio-friendly reggae music.  Dancehall slackness ruled the time and it was more popular to rhyme about punanny, cocaine, and violence than to celebrate “New Love” or ask “A Who A Say there ain’t no Jah?”  Ziggy Marley, along with his immensely talented “Brothers and Sisters” forged their own path in a style of positive reggae that seemed to be on life support after the tragic and untimely deaths of of it’s founders and figureheads: Marley and Tosh.

I have said it many times before, and I’ll say it again here:  there were only a hand full of roots artists who had the courage to stand for this music when nobody else seemed to believe in it:  Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, and, of course, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.  All of them deserve credit for guiding us through the bleak days of the late 1980s and the 1990s, all the while ushering in a new a style which would become popular at the turn of the millennium: modern roots.

His new songs take on new life when performed live.  He segues seamlessly into “Get Out Of Town,” a tune from his new Wild and Free album, and one which routinely fails to inspire me when I listen to the album.  However, performed live on Wednesday night, it is a standout.  Hearing it live gives me a new perspective on this tune and I haven’t stopped listening to it since.

He follows with “Personal Revolution,” perhaps the strongest track from the Wild and Free album.  It was no surprise that “Justice-Get Up, Stand Up-War” was a crowd favorite.  “Justice” almost always makes an obligatory appearance at a Ziggy Marley show, and rightfully so, as it is his signature tune, and maybe his best.

The highlight of the performance was “Still The Storms” from the Love Is My Religion album.  This tune has considerable strength as an album track, but it can move mountains when performed live.  Rock Deadrick’s percussion solo absolutely brought the crowd to their knees.  He assaults the congo drum producing shotgun blasts that I swear you could hear across the Potomac.  Note to Ziggy: Female vocalist and dancer Tracy Hazzard had men questioning their marriages that night.  WOW!  Other highlights included “Jah Will Be Done,” “Rainbow In The Sky,” “True To Myself,” “Tomorrow People,” “Look Who’s Dancing,” and “Positive Vibration.”

While preparing this review I asked lead guitarist Takeshi Akimoto how he felt about the performance:

“The energy was really good that night,” is how he described it.

It is a pleasure to watch Ziggy mature as an artist.  No longer the idealistic young kid bouncing around the mic singing that poppy brand of reggae we all know and love, he is now a man singing about internal struggles, the evil of politics, the glory of life, and the importance of love and inity.  It’s not so much a darker Ziggy as a Ziggy who has tired of carrying the weight of everyone’s expectations.

He’s Wild and Free at last…


Ziggy Marley – Vocals & Guitar
Santa Davis – Drums
Michael Hyde – Keys
George Hughes – Keys
Pablo Stennett – Bass
Beezy Coleman – Guitar
Rock Deardrick – Percussion
Takeshi Akimoto – Guitar
Tracy Hazzard – Vocals

Please visit Ziggy’s website at www.ziggymarley.com

*Many thanks to Michelle Rodriguez at Tuff Gong Worldwide, Ltd. for all of her help!  Also to Ras Mikey for reaching out to Ghetto Youths International.

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