“Ooh, yeah. We’re jamming.”
As coils of smoke spiraled upward toward the rafters of the Hub last Sunday night, reggae aficionados crammed together in anticipation for one of the biggest musical prodigies to leave the island of the sun since, well, Bob Marley.
The youngest in the line of Marley’s many offspring, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley has proved since his 1996 debut album Mr. Marley, that Jamaica is still the heart of reggae’s worldwide cultural movement. Awarded a Grammy for best reggae album in 2001 for The Halfway Tree, Jr. Gong has progressed in his musical creativity and talents. Mixing hip hop, R&B and dancehall beats into classic reggae styles reminiscent of his father, Damian is creating a sound distinctly his own.
But it wasn’t until his September 2005 release of Welcome to Jamrock that Jr. Gong blazed across music’s international genre boundaries, stirring up reggae’s newest sound for the globe to enjoy. Already in contention for “song of the decade” as written by the New York Times, the title track Welcome to Jamrock has exploded in the United States and his “2005 Welcome to Jamrock Tour” has the new leader of old school reggae strolling down the road to Zion.
Sold out weeks in advance, UCSB’s Hub was the only Santa Barbara stop on Jr. Gong’s tour and proved to be worth the nineteen dollars per ticket students had to fork over to the Associated Students Program Board.
As fans flocked through the Hub’s doors at 7:30 p.m., the Channel Rock Movement opened the show with a generous mix of reggae and electric club mixes. Yet, an hour and a half later, the disc jockeys wore down the eager audience, who could only pass the time by either puffing on a joint or feeling the contact high off the stoners around them.
The close quarters of the Hub made for an intimate setting throughout the night, seeming more like an island bungalow than the overpowering stages Jr. Gong and his “shelter sharers,” the Empire, have played on as of late.
Jr. Gong must have smelt the aroma of ganja wafting its way backstage, for as soon as the musician made his anticipated unveiling, a broad smile could be seen on his face through the smoky haze. The audience immediately responded to Jr. Gong’s appearance, shaking the Hub’s walls and even surprising the reggae prince.
Sparking the night off right was the first track off of Welcome to Jamrock, “Confrontation.” This gave the mob all the intensity they had been looking for. Shouting out powerful lyrics concerning the tragedies of poverty and “political violence” plaguing his native Jamaica, while the Empire provided a groove worthy of the Wailers and Bob Marley himself. Jr. Gong’s energetic performance never ceased throughout his two-hour set.
Jr. Gong mixed in older favorites like “It Was Written” amidst songs mostly from his latest album, giving fans of “Move!,” “In 2 Deep” and “Khaki Suit” everything their ears desired. Later on, in an eerie rendition of his father’s hit “You Could Be Loved,” Jr. Gong spouted the classic reggae lyrics with Bob-like precision and clarity, while the Empire injected their smooth originality into the mix.
Despite the evocative performance, the crowd had not seen enough in the end. When Jr. Gong left the stage after the session, not even a steel drum could be heard over the roar of “Jr. Gong… Jr. Gong.” He was not to disappoint.
Apparently in a plot to save his biggest hits for last, Jr. Gong reappeared onstage and gave his loyal fans their fix. The “Road to Zion” wowed even the security guards stationed near the front of the stage. When the Empire began the “Welcome to Jamrock” riff immediately afterward, it was clear to everyone that the Rastafarian stood alone.
Jr. Gong left the stage having superbly wrapped up his Jamaican musical montage, and his messages were sure to repeatedly ring in fans’ ears for hours after the show had ceased. Outside, the crowd slowly dispersed and out in the streets, deeply fulfilled by one hell of a concert.