Reggae stars come out for Japan
Reggae 4 Japan Photo By Marlon Myrie (From left: Nas, Gramps Morgan, Sami –T, Fire Ball members, Damian Marley, Tarrus Riley, Masta Simon, Chin)

A spectacular night of reggae and dancehall in aid of Japan tsunami relief on Sunday showed how big reggae is in Japan, and also why aid is so important.

The big hit of the star-studded bill was Fireball, Japan's most popular dancehall and reggae group.

But the night also provided an opportunity to hear first hand how things are on the ground in the disaster-struck country after the events of March 11 2011 - or three eleven as they call it.

It was a truly splendid night, both musically and in terms of money raised. The 1300 seater York College Theatre in Queens, equipped with a great stage set, was filled with excellent performances but also a real sense of unity in the air, with no egos flying around despite the huge talent present.

Every act said a few lines of their own to Japan. But the star comment came from queen of Jamaican dancehall TANYA STEPHENS, who shouted out "I’m not here to do something for Japan, I’m here to say thanks to Japan for doing so much for us".

The night started with a welcome from Ninja, Masta Simon and Sami-T, members of top Japanese dancehall sound system Mighty Crown, who co-organised the event. (Hear them talking about what it's like at the moment in Japan in the audio clip, below.)

ALAINE and Dutch reggae talent ZIGGY RICADO, broke the ice, then the Big Ship brothers CHINO and STEPHEN 'DI GENIUS' McGREGOR really got the house going, and ready for the first big moment of the evening, a storming set from FIREBALL.

Cute as can be, all in three-quarter length bottoms with trainers, they entered roaring "Fire B!" "Fire B!" "Fire B!" and set us alight, spitting Japanese lyrics dancehall style. They were superb. After a few tracks they announced their last song was to be Jimmy Cliff’s "You Can Get It If You Really Want" as a tribute to Japan. Of course we're all thinking 'Jimmy Cliff in Japanese - no way!' – but then it came, nailed to a T, an effortless switch from Japanese to English, no accent, a perfect rendition, and the night was sealed - it created a lovely atmosphere in the room and the crowd sang right along with them.

Ably handling second half compering was NY jock Dubb Master Chris - he got himself in the music news recently for banning, during Black History month, the music of alleged promoter of skin lightening VYBZ KARTEL.

DUANE STEPHENSON, cool as always, did a chilled set featuring Dean Fraser on sax, followed by the equally cool, but of course ever so stylish in black suede laced wedges, TANYA "Yuh nuh ready fi dis" STEPHENS. After "what's your story" she showed how good she is at teasing a crowd. Practically every girl in the building stood up and sang with her on "It's a pity".

We were all ready for some serious roots reggae now and out came GRAMPS AND PETER MORGAN, performing a parade of Morgan Heritage classics. They were introduced as reggae royalty and didn't disappoint. There's no better example than these guys for why reggae has such a unique power to make people feel good. In "Down By The River" the audience seemed to know every word. The set ended with them both singing, from Gramps' last album, the beautiful "Wash The Tears".

A burst of elegance next, as dressed in a suit, shirt, tie and sunglasses, MR VEGAS stormed in with a full set starting with ‘I Am Blessed’, upping the tempo with ‘Tek Weh Yuh Self’ and ‘Heads High’, in his element with ‘Gallis’, teasing us with snippets from CHAKA DEMUS & PLIERS' ‘Murder she wrote’ and finishing with Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ exiting having made everyone feel alright.

MAXI PRIEST was next, wearing his signature look - white trainers, cap and of course dreads down to his bum. After ‘Wild World’, and ‘I Believe in Love’ he took the notch back up with the arrival of RED FOX and his set finished with ‘House Call’.

Time for another visit from the Big Ship now and it's the captain himself, FREDDIE MCGREGOR, on fine form with a version of his classic ‘Africa here I come’ which he had changed to ‘Japan here I come’. TARRUS RILEY followed with ‘Love's Contagious’, ‘Human Nature’ and ‘She’s Royal’ and then we're back to high speed as CAPLETON took the stage, the fire king looking like a flame, in a sparkly red suit, red hat and red shoes, licking his way round the stage with his usual insane energy.

Then came a surprise no one was expecting with the arrival of BIG STICKIN SHABBA – not even the organisers had this one noted. Shouting out ‘Japan has done so much for reggae and its only right that Shabba is in the house’ the great Shabba Ranks, wearing a bandana and a gold blazer, delighted us all with ‘Trailer Load Of Girls'.

Time was running out and it was the headliner up next: JR GONG DAMIAN MARLEY. After going straight into ‘The Mission’, he delivered a stunning performance of ‘Just Ain't The Same’ in which he quietened the band down to a nothing while he hit us with a powerful burst of pure lyrics. This man is taking deejaying to new heights.

As well as "Welcome To Jamrock", he gave us "Road To Zion" and "Promised Land" performing with a singer wearing a white blazer and white hat for the Nas parts.

But of course this was a special night, and the roof was about to be blown off once again as it was revealed that under that hat was: Nas himself.

Chin of co- organisers Irish and Chin appeared at the end, thanking everyone who'd had anything to do with the night, and looking like he felt it had been a job well done - as well he might.

Words by Reshma B (
Photo By Marlon Myrie (From left: Nas, Gramps Morgan, Sami –T, Fire Ball members, Damian Marley, Tarrus Riley, Masta Simon, Chin)

EVENT: Reggae 4 Japan
DATE: Sun June 5 2011
WHERE: York College Auditorium, Queens, New York

Listen to Mighty Crown talk about the current situation in Japan HERE

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