By Shelah Moody
Photos Courtesy of Zach Weinberg of Tuff Gong Worldwide
“It was like heaven!”
This was famed reggae drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis’ response when asked how it felt playing with Ziggy Marley and the 40 piece Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
I must agree with Davis, because hearing the original music of Ziggy and Bob Marley accompanied by cellos, violas, trumpets, trombones, violins, flutes, bassoons, clarinets and timpani in a world class acoustic setting was an ethereal experience that was well worth the wait.
June 18 marked David “Ziggy” Marley’s orchestral debut, and also commemorated the 40th anniversary of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Exodus” album. Ironically, June 18 was also Father’s Day, and what a way for a first born son to pay homage to his iconic father.
Reggae Night XVI/KCRW’s World Festival at the historic Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, CA, was a music lover’s dream come true; a literal movement of Jah people.
Around 7 p.m., veteran Jamaican vocalists Keith Rowe and Phillip “Texas” Dixon, aka Keith and Tex, backed by the LA- based Steady 45s band, kicked off Reggae Night XVI with a grand celebration of ska and rock steady. Dressed in criss white suit jacket and black slacks, Keith and Tex wooed the crowd with soulful, Ethiopian-inspired harmonies and jubilant rhythms, performing 60s’ and 70s hits such as “Down the Street” “Tonight” and “Stop That Train.” Reminding us that many Jamaican artists started out singing in church, Keith and Tex performed a ska-infused gospel medley of hymns such as “If I Had the Wings of a Dove,” “A Little More Oil in My Lamp Keep it Burning,” and Jester Hairston’s “Amen.” (It was Sunday, after all).
Next up, Coventry, England’s renowned punk and ska band, the Specials, featuring Terry Hall (vocals), Horace Panter (bass), Lynval Golding (guitar/vocals), Gary Powell (drums) Nikolaj Larsen (keyboards), Steve Craddock (guitar), Tim Smart (trombone) and Pablo Mendelssohn (trumpet) hit the stage with fervor. Unlike the sweet and dandy grooves of Keith and Tex, the Specials were more hard edged and erratic, belting out horn and harmonica infused hits such as “Ghost Town,” “Message to You Rudy,” Toots and the Maytals’ “Monkey Man” and “Little Bitch” from the 1980s cult classic “16 Candles” starring Molly Ringwald.
At this point, I must interject that the Hollywood Bowl is not your typical venue for reggae music—in the U.S. at least. It’s a place where you can get a three course gourmet meal and wine delivered to your box seat. One member of the Specials caused a bit of controversy when he told the audience to try the house crème brule. I tried to order crème brule from one irate waiter who’d gotten eight requests for crème brule, which was not on the menu.
Despite routine bag searches at the Bowl, revelers still managed to sneak in the Healing of the Nation, which led host Aaron Byrd of KCRW to declare during intermission that the evening felt more like 420 Day than Father’s Day.
Around 9 p.m., the Marley magic began. Headliner and eight time Grammy winner Ziggy Marley (on electric guitar) and current touring band: Santa Davis, (drums) Takeshi Akimoto (guitar) Adam Zimmon (guitar), Rock Deadrick (percussion), Pablo Stennett (bass) Gawge Hughes (keyboards), Tracy Hazzard (vocals) and Kamaria Ousley (vocals) took the stage and performed several original songs spanning three decades including “Personal Revolution,” (a song that reminds us that change starts from within and we are beautiful and powerful) “Tomorrow People,” and “True to Myself.” As Ziggy performed his pro-cannabis composition “Wild and Free,” the bowl lit up bright green.
Then, in one stunning moment, Ziggy introduced conductor Thomas Wilkins and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The mellifluous horn and string sections began the first few riffs of Bob Marley’s “Top Rankin,” and it became of the night’s most majestic beautifully executed pieces.
Ziggy’s original songs “On the Beach in Hawaii,” (which he wrote at a yoga retreat) featuring a modern hula by Hazzard and a guitar solo by Akimoto and “Love is My Religion” (the title of his first solo album) were also beautifully arranged and orchestrated. By the time they got to Bob Marley standards “Get Up, Stand Up” and “Is This Love” Ziggy was smiling and skanking; his shirt was soaked, and people were dancing in the aisles.
Ain’t no party like a Caribbean-Classical-Rasta party!
During Ziggy’s cover of Bob Marley’s peace anthem, “One Love,” from Exodus, the Bowl lit up in vibrant rainbow colors and thousands of people sang its ubiquitous refrain “Let’s get together and feel all right” in unison.
Ziggy could not have picked a better closing piece than Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” which bought all of the elements together, showcasing reggae’s classic one drop riddim in 4/4 time and the full sound and harmonic structure of the Orchestra. For the grand finale, Ziggy brought his two young sons, Gideon and Abraham, on stage to greet the massive.
Hopefully, Ziggy will add more songs to his classical repertoire and take this show to symphonies around the world and maybe even release an album with a world class orchestra, as both Bob and Ziggy Marley deserve to be included in the pantheon of great composers who inspire hope and change.
The Ziggy Marley brand continues to expand. In February, Ziggy picked up his eighth Grammy Award for his self-titled album on the family’s Tuff Gong Worldwide label. In the fall of 2016, Tuff Gong Worldwide launched the “Ziggy Marley and Family Cookbook” promoting nutritious meals made with non-GMO ingredients. In May, Ziggy partnered with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, launching his new “One Love” flavor at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, with proceeds funding his One Love Youth Camp in Jamaica. At press time, “Ziggy Marley” is still in the number five on Billboard’s Top Reggae Album charts.
Follow Ziggy Marley on tour: www.ziggymarley.com