Mary J Blige is one of those performers who, through music, relates her own experiences, moving the most stoic of listeners to catharsis. “I was going through hell, and when you went out and bought my album, I was your therapist. and when you listened we both began to heal,” said the emotional singer during her Saturday night performance at Red Stripe Reggae Sumfest’s final instalment, The Zenith.
Blue lights flashed as the thud of piano keys heralded the favourite No More Drama, which alludes to her past struggles with abusive relationships and an alleged drug problem.
The life lessons continued, as the diva’s voice soared, meandering through difficult rifts even as she contorted her slim frame as if each word jabbed her body.
“Don’t let the naysayers kill your dreams. keep kickin’ ’em to the curve. Be happy with who you are,” the R&B queen declared, her fans endorsing her statement by way of applause. And after a long sigh, she proceeded with the love song Be Without You from her late 2005 album Breakthrough.
“I got sick and tired of people’s opinions and how I let that rule my life. as long as I love who I am that’s cool,” she said, apt lines for the introduction to Take Me As I Am, followed by the bluesy I’m Going Down. The audience, however, seemed to have ‘first dibs’ on the latter track, nearly completing the song before the singer could utter a note.
The ghetto soprano’s four-inch heels proved no impediment for her since she glided across the stage, dancing, stooping and jumping during the other renditions: Real Love (her 1994 debut single), Enough Cryin’ – produced by famous R&B producer Rodney ‘Dark Child’ Jerkins, featuring her rapping alter ego Brooklyn – and Baggage, among others.
Showcasing her impressive repertoire aside, Blige was the consummate performer, possessing what seemed like an innate ability to connect with her mostly female fan base – many of whom were also stirred to emotion. Her set was well-organised and perfectly executed, which easily made her the best performer of the three-day festival.
The singer, who appeared midway through the show, closed with her ‘crunk’ track Dance For Me.
It seemed emotion – albeit of a different and perhaps a more tongue-in-cheek variety – was also on homegrown star Tanya Stephens’ agenda. Her trademark ‘sunglasses-at-night’ paired with jeans, furry boots and a simple tank made for a simple appearance, but this lyrical maven’s songs were anything but. In fact, the whole arrangement was quite complex, one that could sit in any of the world’s major music festivals.
|Taurus Riley is at ease with his guitar during his performance on Saturday night at Reggae Sumfest.
Releasing hit after enthralling hit, the rebel reggae-rocker sang It’s A Pity and Way Back, the track that served as a segue into her older material like Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet, Don’t Goggle and Handle The Ride. The musical time machine was fast forward to present day when she performed the sexually charged Boom Wuk, Good Ride and Tek Him Back, all from her penultimate project Gangsta Blues. The artiste, who weeks prior to Sumfest declared in a Splash interview that “the other woman” is often her muse, didn’t disappoint with bitter-break-up-songs After You, Damn You and Can’t Live Without Me.
The biggest applause, however, came for the artiste’s latest single These Streets from her 2006 Rebelution album.
Tessanne Chin, who was among the smaller acts to grace the Sumfest stage, also showed brilliantly with her rock-meets-reggae vocals, especially on tracks like Black Books, One Night Stand and the tres popular Hideaway.
Though the ladies gave the strongest showing, reggae-rock steady crooners Beres Hammond and newcomer Taurus Riley were simply refreshing – especially the latter, whose raspy, breezy lilt resounded through the Catherine Hall venue.
Think John Legend’s rough-cut tremolos paired with the lyrical poignancy of Bob Marley to understand the genius that local music lovers know as Taurus Riley.
Performing choice tracks from his 2006 album Parables, including Microchip, Lion Paw and a cover of John Legend’s Stay With You, the singer soared. It was his closer, the ‘rootsy’ reggae ballad She’s Royal, that sent screams through the audience and the singer had to pause his rendition due to the loud noise.
Veteran balladeer Beres Hammond gave an inspiring performance, charming with his hits and making an impromptu call for audience member Beenie Man to join him on stage. The deejay obliged and the results were simply entertaining.
This reporter left the venue during the tribute to veteran musicians Lloyd Parks and his We The People band.