Positive Vibration

Ziggy Marley
Ziggy Marley

About a month ago I saw Ziggy Marley at the Yunfeng Theatre here in Shanghai. I love reggae music – used to be part of a reggae band, and I still write reggae songs for my blues band – but I didn’t catch a ticket for Ziggy for two reasons. First, because I didn’t want to spend the money. Second, because in the back of my mind I was thinking maybe it wouldn’t be – what’s the word here – genuine?

There is a line of thinking that says Bob Marley was the best thing and the worst thing that ever happened to reggae. The best, obviously, because he put reggae on the map and became an international superstar. But also the worst, because he was so celebrated and triumphant, and in his untimely death became a lionized legend – and the thinking goes, no one will ever be as great as Marley again. Meaning reggae is doomed.

Some say it has played out that way. The eighties were tough times for reggae. Despite the success of Black Uhuru, with famous rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare (who played with many, many reggae groups), fewer and fewer people seemed to pay attention after Marley’s death. As the eighties became the nineties, and especially as we moved into the 21st century, reggae has been making a comeback on the strength of artists like Toots Maytal, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Burning Spear and Eek-a-Mouse.

Bob’s oldest son with his wife Rita, Ziggy Marley first gained popularity as the leader of the Melody Makers, a band he formed with his siblings. That got old pretty quickly, however, and for the last few years he has been establishing himself as a solo artist. He came into Shanghai with a ten-piece band (including a Chinese-looking guitarist, who I’m not sure is a full-time member, two backing vocalists and himself), fresh off his success at the Grammys, where his recent album, Love is My Religion, took the award for best reggae album.

Ziggy played lots of songs from the album, including the title track, which I found particularly uplifting. “I don’t condemn, I don’t convert.” Also beautiful and inspiring was “A Lifetime,” as in “A lifetime isn’t enough to love you, a lifetime isn’t enough to live.”

During the show I took a break and caught up with some friends. In a circle of conversation there was a German guy I’d never met who agreed with me that the concert was going well, but complained that Ziggy was “just playing his dad’s stuff.” My first reaction was that Ziggy was splitting it 50/50 between his own and his father’s songs – and that was fine with me! They opened with a great Ziggy tune – I don’t know the name – which talked about the “children of Palestine” and right after that launched into a killer “Positive Vibration” that really blew the crowd up.

Thinking about the German’s comments, I realized that had been my fear coming into this whole thing – that Ziggy’s music wouldn’t be genuine. That somehow it wouldn’t be a good concert. I suppose I had the image of the Melody Makers in my head. I was totally wrong. Ziggy brought some of Jamaica’s finest musicians to China to show us what Roots, Rock, Reggae is all about. As for critics’ complaints that Ziggy plays Bob’s stuff, my retort is: who else is more qualified to play it? And don’t the people still yearn for it? You bet we do.

There were times when I doubted myself in this conviction. Ziggy’s lead guitarist played most of the show wearing a menacing screw face. He seemed to be thinking, I can’t believe I’m playing “Jammin” for a bunch of white kids AGAIN. But you know what? He doesn’t have to play in Ziggy’s band, does he? As a great man once said, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride. And there was a special moment in the middle of a forbidden riddim when this same dude broke it down and started toasting over the beats – to the crowd’s roar.

And when they did the epic “War–>No More Trouble” medley that epitomizes the struggle for justice in all the world, I was a full-blown Rastafarian shouting out the words of Haile Selassie himself as Bob had arranged them.

It was a night the GRP should have celebrated together. Props are due to Dave Hoya for calling me up and saying, “I’m in line to buy tickets to Ziggy Marley and I’m getting one for you.” It was a lesson I won’t forget.

Let’s Play Catch-Up

Since we haven’t written in a week, I thought I’d just go over some of the stuff that’s been going on for the last few…

Ryan's farewell dinnerAt the end of July, my buddy Ryan Zhou retired from Sinomedia. Ryan was the main programmer for our site, China Economic Review, and he taught me a lot about HTML and programming, which has helped this blog enormously. So to see him off some of us at the office decided to take Ryan out to dinner at Yuxin, the nice Sichuan joint on Chongqing Lu. Here’s a picture from that night. Ryan is in the lower left. Also there are friends Nathan Green (left), a writer for the magazine, and Tim Burroughs (right), the editor.

Georgia Sam logoAs I mentioned earlier, Zooma gave the band a job at Tang Hui playing Monday nights. His idea was a “return to the 50s” kind of blues night. Well, I didn’t really agree with the whole 50s concentration, but I figured it would be our night to do our blues thing. So we had our first gig this week and it went pretty well. Chen Song, the house drummer, is filling in for Knut until the Viking returns from the North a few weeks hence. Also, our new friend Lukas, a Swede, has taken up the keys in Hot Carl’s absence.

I have to say, for only getting these guys together for one practice the day before the gig, we pulled it off superbly. We even introduced a new song that Nate and I had written the previous Friday, “Brand New Soul (Found in Frisco Gold)”. I taped the show but, in typical fashion, haven’t listened to it yet. As I had to play the lead guitar parts, I was a bit nervous that my lack of skill in that area would just destroy us. And certainly I had my awkward moments. But Nate is very good in helping me out here, when my solo is losing steam, he tends to say something like, “All right,” and that’s my cue to wrap it up. But our philosophy of “Play it Loud and Proud” definitely wins fans in the end. We got a big round of applause after the final songs, and I was truly surprised at the size of the Monday crowd. Looking forward to the next show, in which Eli will join us to turn it up a notch.

My girl took some pictures that turned out rather psychedelic. There were some couples dancing 50s bopper style…

An update to the previous post: I tried to upload the movie “Child Killer” on to YouTube, but my computer went Berserk when I tried to play the DVD on it. I think it had something to do with the sweet label my dad put on it. It seems it’s a millimeter too thick or something, because it kept making this weird sound as it spun inside and then it just slowed to a stop and pretended there was no disk in there. The thing is messed up anyway, doesn’t burn CDs anymore, which is a real problem for my musical ambitions, so I’m thinking about investing in a separate unit. More to come…

Jam at Tang Hui

Open Mic

Wednesday night during the open-mic jamming at Tang Hui Zooma (left) asked me up on stage to sing our old favorite, “Red House”. Unfortunately, the bassist and drummer didn’t know Red House from a purple elephant and when they were supposed to come in they left Zooma and I hanging up there… and hanging and hanging. So we had to abandon it and try some random blues jamming. Which was ok for a while, but the rhythm section kept dropping the beat so much that it was just ridiculous. I was looking at Nate and Yam in the audience laughing their asses off every time the bassist and drummer went violently out of synch, and I just had to smile. And then they just wouldn’t pick up any signals from Zooma and I to end the song, so it dragged on and on and on… even when Zooma told them verbally, out loud, this is it, the drummer was totally clueless. It was the worst ending of any song, ever. I jumped down from the stage.

Luckily the others followed suit, and then I grabbed Nate and Yam and we hopped up there to make things right, launching into some jam tunes we know from some of our gigs together. Yam famously filled in for Knut when we played the AmCham Charity Ball last April and so he was spot on with all the tunes. Plus the guy is a total pro, and a “Hell of a Guy!” as we like to say. We received a generous round of applause at the end of our 15 minutes, and today Zooma called me to say he wants us to play every Monday at Tang Hui, in what he sees as a blues night, a “reviving of the 1950s, where people can dance and sing and shout, you know, Johhny B Goode and stuff.” The Blues are Back. Again.

Good gigs lately

Rindy playing guitar

The band has been doing well lately, and had a blowout show at the Live Bar last weekend. Before that, we had a couple of great gigs at Tang Hui, made even better by Eli and Sandro being in town to help us out. Now things will be slow for a while, as Carl is leaving tomorrow, and Nate is going next week. Both won’t be back until August or so. For more pictures and artwork, check out www.organeyes.org, the website of our artist friend Nathan Hall.

UPDATE July 2012: Nathan’s website is no longer active, and light Googling turns up nothing for him 🙁