As the whole of Barbados knows, I am a passionate believer in the valuableness and beauty of our Caribbean and Pan-African Civilization: and so, when I witness or experience an exemplary manifestation of that Civilization, I am obliged to publicly acknowledge it and bring it to the attention of my fellow citizens.
It is against this background, therefore, that I would like to publicly acclaim the magnificent performance of the Third World band last Friday night at the Naniki Music Festival and to take issue with Ms Natanga Smith’s review of the concert in the Sunday Sun newspaper of 15th January 2017.
From the moment Third World announced themselves on stage with the classic Sattamasagana – a mystical song of deep spiritual longing for and connection with the African heartland – it was clear that we, the audience, were not experiencing just another pop band, but the stellar representatives of a particular culture imbued with a particular historical and spiritual ethos. In other words, we were experiencing cultural ambassadors par excellence of our own Civilization!
And just in case some of us may have missed the point, Third World immediately followed up with their international hit song Reggae Ambassadors, thereby declaring to all and sundry their proud commitment to this indigenous Jamaican / Caribbean art-form, and their determination to represent this music and the culture that it derived from all over the world.
Third World then proceeded over the next two hours to hold up before our very eyes the history, beauty, and spiritual depth of our Caribbean and Pan-African Civilization. They gave us our history — the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion and the post-Emancipation struggle for Black dignity — with .96 Degrees In The Shade; they explored our deep ancestral connection to Africa with Kumina and with a brilliant display of Conga drumming; they reveled in the deep rootsical spirituality of Jah Glory, Dreamland and Irie Ites; and they confronted us with the militant call to cultural authenticity and activism of Uptown Rebel
But that was not all! The leader of the band, Stephen Cat Coore, transformed us — the audience — into a choir and enjoined us to sign tributes to our heroes– Nelson Mandela, Sir Garfield Sobers, Muhammad Ali, and Bob Marley among others.
Cat also pointedly signaled to us that our sense of national and racial consciousness must remain connected to a universal appreciation of all humankind when he followed the band’s brilliant exposition of African percussion with an equally brilliant rendition– on the cello — of a composition taken from the classical European canon of and Bach, before proceeding to move us deeply with his stately, profound renditions of Rasta Man Chant, Rivers of Babylon, Redemption Song.
How Ms Natanga Smith could witness such a performance and characterize it with such phrases as “flat at times”, “needed to up the ting”, “there was nothing much to shout about”, and “the crowd seemed to be in a slumber”, is really beyond me. In addition, I find it unbelievable that she would consider the performance of the young Antiguan singer, Asher Otto, and her Itchyfeet band to have been better than Third World’s. Perhaps Ms. Smith — a native of Jamaica — was unduly motivated by a sense of false modesty in relation to this truly outstanding Jamaican band?
It is true that Ms. Otto did a relatively good job, but to compare her with Third World is really akin to the proverbial comparison between chalk and cheese. Where all of the six members of were engaged in presenting a total performance– visual and musical– Ms. Otto’s musicians exhibited very little emotion or animation on stage, and Ms Otto herself interacted minimally with her musicians and also danced minimally on stage. In other words, there was much that was lacking in the presentation of Ms Otto and her band as a performance spectacle.
Furthermore, unlike Third World, who consciously established the theme of “love” as the central motif of their performance (ending their set with Now That We Found Love What Are We Going To Do With It ?, there was no particular theme to Ms Otto’s performance. Nor was there much variety for that matter – it was a set of American style soft rock and R&B songs, all delivered with similar raspy voiced vocals. And while it was clear who and what represented, there was virtually nothing in Ms Otto’s performance that evoked her Antiguan homeland or even the wider Caribbean.
I am not trying to unduly knock young Asher Otto here. As stated above, she gave a very commendable performance, but the reality is that there is much she could learn from observing Third World and taking notes.
The same can be said for Barbados’ Philip Seven. He too exhibited great vocals, but his was a juke-box type performance – he merely stood on stage (or moved minimally) and sang song after song after song, reproducing the record versions of the songs as faithfully as possible, and not– among other things – permitting his musicians to stretch out and display their prowess with substantial solos.
This is a common mistake that so many of our artistes continue to make. We, the audience, do not pay good money to come and hear a juke-box! Rather, we wish to experience an entertaining multi-dimensional live performance unfold on stage.
Philip Seven also made the mistake of not adequately interacting with his musicians on stage. In fact, unlike Third World and Asher Otto, he did not even introduce the members of his band to the audience, much to the detriment of the several young musicians who were on stage with him and who need to get their names “out there”.
Again, I am not trying to unduly knock Philip Seven – in spite of the flaws that I have pointed out; the truth is that he too acquitted himself quite well. It is just that there is so much more that he could add to his performance, and I hope and trust that he too learnt something from observing the magnificent Third World