The plan, according to the organisers, is to hold a concert every last Sunday in succeeding months. ‘We are celebrating heroes, writers, singers, activists, people who have contributed to humanity,’ said Akintunde Jimi, a dreadlocked singer who performs as Captain Blazee. ‘First was Bob Marley, this month is Marcus Garvey.’
The event, derailed by rain, started an hour late, a miracle considering the downpour. An instrumental rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ played as the MC announced: ‘I’ll let you know that tonight is dedicated to Marcus Garvey…he said that black people should return to Africa.’
That exodus didn’t quite happen but we’ll always have the music. And so it was that Jimmy Cliff’s version of John Nash’s ‘I can see clearly Now’ opened the show, played by a white guitarist nicknamed Yellow Bros. Captain Blazee came up next. Quite the acrobat on stage, the Captain jumped left, pranced right, glee pasted on face as he sang Lucky Dube’s ‘Back to my Roots’. Quite the interactive entertainer, he bounded offstage to belt tunes direct to an imbibing audience.
A lull ensued afterwards as the MC announced that Victor Essiet, star of old Nigerian reggae band The Mandators, had been kidnapped hours before. The show must go on, however. And it was Folusho Clark’s turn. Before Clark appeared onstage, a reveller familiar with the performers said, ‘this guy has moves.’ And so he proved, singing Marley’s ‘Natural Mystic’. With grey beard, shredded bell bottoms, boot-halfway-to-kneecap, and dreadlocks suspended atop head like a Mohawk, Clark performed eyes closed, moving erratically and yet in tandem with the rhythm. Some of the uninitiated audience may have been bemused by the performance but up there Clark looked sure, like a comic dancer convinced of his moves.
Perhaps in response to Clark’s antics, another reveller said: ‘Until it became trivialised, reggae was a serious vehicle for social change.’ The night wasn’t on the side of change. The growing throng at Freedom Park appeared to seek music as liquor accompaniment than as the famed vehicle for change.
The night’s first original composition arrived via a singer called Ediro but even he later took the pop route, performing a reggae-ed version of Rihanna’s ‘FourFiveSeconds,’ probably a sign of the genre’s diminishing utility. Or its flexibility. Who knew? The performers came and went.
One of the night’s highlight came through singer Diana Bada, who was introduced as Nigeria’s Queen of Reggae. She, too, sang another reggae standard, ‘Night Nurse’, Gregory Isaac’s lurid clinical blues, peppering it with an improvised rap verse. Asked if she really is the genre’s queen, Bada responded: ‘I just found out, myself!’
With the seamless change from one act to another, all using a single set of instrumentalists, the event showed these reggae acts as a unit. The togetherness, however, was also proof that the genre has been banished from the centre. The sole benefit of being side-lined is the community it engenders. And true devouts never flee. But what chance does reggae have in today’s Nigeria? ‘Reggae is life and togetherness,’ Bada replied. ‘And that is what we need as a country.’
What about the show. Does it have sponsors? Not quite, as said Captain Blazee. ‘I had to do this alone. Reggae must not die. I cannot let it die.’
Conscious Vibes Africa finished minutes to midnight with another reggae standard, Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin'’. The official theme of the concert may have been a celebration of Marcus Garvey. But there were other themes as well. First, the necessary togetherness of reggae artists. And then this: The oldies shall live for forever. The rest will have to find their own way.