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  • Iba Mahr
Africa Oyé @ District

A clutch of Marleys are in residence at District tonight for this eagerly anticipated Africa Oyé show. JULIAN MARLEY, reggae artist and Rastafarian, son of one of the best-known, best-loved musicians of all time, is preceded on the stage by DJ Keith Marley (no relation), who’s laying down his customarily excellent selection of classic and leftfield Jamaican sounds to get the growing audience in the mood.

Walking into the gents at District, I am confronted by not one, but four images of the face of US presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, handily affixed to the shiny stainless steel trough of the urinal. There are many people in tonight’s multi-cultural audience who, I think, will take an even greater pleasure than normal in the emptying of their bladders. The copious amounts of Red Stripe being consumed should help in this respect. The pleasure could splash back in our faces come November but hey-ho.

Support act IBA MAHR, provides authentic support, fronting Julian Marley’s The Uprising backing band, and if he doesn’t exactly endear himself to the crowd when he removes his jacket to reveal an Arsenal FC shirt – there are a few good-natured boos – such is the vitality of his set that he easily hurdles this potential faux pas, leaping and twisting to a mix of classic reggae, dancehall and lovers’ rock, which his light, soulful voice enhances.

After a short break, the keyboard player takes to the mic and toasts an intro over a rock-solid rhythm and scratchy lead guitar, the sounds of which define the evening, before Marley and backing vocalists The Sisters stride onto the stage to great applause. It can’t be easy being the son of an icon; whether you’re a Julian Lennon or a Julian Marley, you’re really onto a hiding to nothing. Critic Stephen Erlewine summed up his review of Lennon junior’s album Photograph Smile with the phrase, “the kind of music that would receive greater praise if it weren’t made by the son of a Beatle” and it can be a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ sort of existence in icon-offspring land. Marley has made a pretty good fist of it, though, releasing three albums to date, one of which, 2009’s Awake, was Grammy-nominated, and touring regularly.

He kicks things off with Trying from the Awake album. There’s some surfy guitar washes amongst the skank and the band continue to shine as Marley gets into his stride immediately. The refrain “trying to be a better man” sets the tone; as ever with reggae the danceable, good-time lilt of the music is often married to a protest/lament/exhortation lyric. Build Together is a classic positive vibration of a song: “reggae is togetherness, reggae is family”. Marley has the unmistakable vocal inflections of his father and his loose-limbed gait, constantly swaying and moving, hands outstretched in a gesture of union. There’s some great guitar interplay and Marley’s rhythm-playing allows the lead to soar away into some lovely, fluid breaks. The Sisters provide a beautiful, soulful reminder of the US origins of much of the Jamaican vocal tradition.

Marley always leaves us wanting more. He keeps the versions short and sharp, creating a shifting pattern of up-tempo dance and contemplative grooves that sees an increasingly engaged audience dancing and singing. The cover of Exodus nails the driving, inexorable rhythm of a people on the move and the magnificent Lively Up Yourself really catches fire. Iba Mahr re-joins the party for a One Love encore which leaves the audience smiling.

Once again Africa Oyé brings people together in a spirit of peace, love and understanding. Swallow that, Donald.

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