JAMAICA HOUSE INDIGO @ THE O2, LONDON AUGUST 5 TO AUGUST 13 2017
Words and Photographs: lizzy brown. / insta: @iameyeandi / tumblr: dis yah reggae music
This past summer, London’s Indigo at The O2 played host to a nine day celebration of Jamaican culture and music in commemoration of 55 years of Independence and Usain Bolt’s final professional races at the IAAF games.
The cultural extravaganza which was produced on behalf of the Jamaica Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport and attended by The Hon. Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, commenced on August 5 and ended on August 13. Several other notable representatives were in house on different nights including Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism – The Hon. Edmund Bartlett as well as CEO of Downsound Records – Joe Bogdonavitch.
Audiences were invited to a spectacular line up over 40 artistes’ from the diaspora from Luciano to Ziggy Marley. Athletic events were also live streamed on to several screens with Jamaican food and drink on sale for visitors to enjoy.
I went along for three of the nights to soak up the atmosphere and capture the vibe of the events: August 6, August 12 and August 13 for Backayard Magazine.
Sunday, August 6
For Independence Day the lineup of artistes were UK soundsystem – Jah Shaka, self styled ‘Future Roots’ musician – Natty, The Twinkle Brothers and Rasta ambassador Iqulah Rastafari with The Giddeon Family.
Although the show started late and the number of patrons was quite low, (there were several factors that contributed to that) all the acts individually gave an excellent show.
Much to my dismay, just like several other patrons, I could not stay until the end to see the Twinkle Brothers on stage.
My next visit to Jamaica House was on Saturday, August 12 where an all star line up promised to give a show for Londoners to remember. On the bill: crossover artiste Omi, Queen Ifrika, Tony Rebel, British reggae band Capital Letters and headline act Chris Martin. I had never heard of Capital Letters so was particularly looking forward to hearing what they had to offer.
The Indigo holds just over 2,300 visitors in both a standing and an upstairs amphitheatre style area and when I arrived and had a look around there were maybe a couple of hundred or persons on the floor. Most were milling around the bar or sampling food (patties) and the various wares scattered around on stalls on the periphery of the downstairs area.
Once again, the show started late and at some point Jah 9 was no longer appearing on the line up as advertised on the first set of flyers. Clearly I had missed that update so, yet another disappointment.
British ‘70s Ska and reggae band ‘Capital Letters’ did a great set and were the only acts on the line-up to play with a full band. All the other acts had to sing, much to their annoyance and the crowds, to a DJ using backing tracks. Although, I had never heard of them before, I was really impressed with their sound and performance even though it was done in front of a sparse crowd.
Tony Rebel and Queen Ifrica and both gave great performances to a now restless crowd, singing tracks from their extensive catalogue of popular hits (‘Fresh Vegetable’ from Tony and ‘Below the Waist’ Queen Ifrica). Thankfully they were able to engage the audience and get them rocking on their feet.
Omi of course performed ‘Cheerleader’ as well as some of his most recent songs ‘Hula Hoop’ ‘Drop in the Ocean’ and ‘Babylon’ Although his performance was energetic, polished and professional, I don’t believe this was really his target audience and the response from those in the crowd was lacklustre at best.
By the time Chris ‘Big Deal’ Martin appeared after midnight, the fans were fed up, tired (some had been inside since 6pm!) and several had left in order to catch trains home.
Thankfully, the charismatic entertainer, with his catalogue of hits such as ‘Cheaters Prayer’ had the fans dancing and singing along to every word into the early hours of Sunday morning.
The final night of Jamaica House was Sunday, August 13. Protoje was billed as the headline act and I prayed that this show would start on time. Quite honestly, I was quite fed up and tired and really did not feel like going at all. But…I had made a commitment so reluctantly made my way to the venue on a warm and sunny Sunday evening.
I arrived at the venue in time to catch the last couple of minutes of DJ Cadenza warming up the crowd before Stylo G came on stage. Looking around the venue there was only smattering of patrons inside. UK reggae fans can be so unpredictable and will turn up minutes before the main act comes on stage so I wasn’t overly concerned about the numbers. However, it is such a shame to miss out on the effort of the warm up acts and DJs as they attempt to build a vibes beforehand.
Next up was UK dancehall artiste Stylo G who is best known for tracks like ‘Soundbwoy’, ‘Call Mi A Leader’, his collaboration with Clean Bandit on ‘Come Over’ and ‘Yuh Zimmi’. Bouncing on stage singing the Jamaica National Anthem, it took some time for the energetic performer to get the crowd going especially as there appeared to be some sound issues on stage. This was my first time seeing Stylo G onstage and I was impressed with how he handled it all professionally. He went on to give a blistering and well received performance managed to eventually get the crowd rocking and waving their Jamaican flags with pride. Stylo G, ably supported by his band and two dancer ended his set with the remix to ‘Call Mi a Leader’ – ‘Call Mi a Yardie’ sang over the rhythm of Bob Marley’s 1980 song from the Uprising album – ‘Could You Be Loved’
So far, so good. The acts were coming up on time and the venue was slowly filling up with fans and the atmosphere was really building up.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Natty Dreadlocks)
By the time Sylo was done, the floor of the venue was swollen with patrons anxiously scanning the area for Protoje to emerge from the wings.
Indiggnation Band had now positioned themselves and as the lights bathed the stage in a wash of electric blue, the voice of vocalist / guitarist Zuggu Dan started singing the classic, Black Uhuru track ‘General Penitentiary’ then smoothly segued into the chorus of ‘I&I’ (Eight Year Affair)
“Know what we longing for / know we longing for / know we longing for / I’ve got it / and We’ve got it…”
And yes, the audience knew and were eagerly anticipating the Rastaman to give them what they came for and what they needed. Time was getting on and the audience were getting more and more anxious of the fact that there was only an hour or so before the last train would be leaving out from North Greenwich which services the 02. I have to admit, I too was very anxious as I have several connecting trains and buses and hours of travel to make it after the show. I would be in a serious situation if I missed that train!
Then about five minutes into the band opening the set, emerging from stage left and right, supporting vocalists Keiko Smith and Racquel Stephenson skanked onto the stage and took their positions behind their microphones.
This could only signify one thing – that Protoje was not too far behind…and I was right.
Bouncing on the stage, flashing his long dreadlocks from underneath his tam and a huge smile across his face, Protoje kicked the hour long set off with a continuation of ‘I&I’ and asked the audiences to raise their hands to the sky and show their ‘Lion Paw’ to which everyone gladly obliged.
The wait was finally over and as the show proved – it was worth it. The man himself had finally arrived and all thoughts of missing last trains and catching the infamous London ‘Night Buses” seemed to dissipate like a mist into the atmosphere.
Once again, Proto really pulled this show out of the bag and made this a perfect ending to the last Jamaica House show.
All in all the concept behind Jamaica House was and is a good one but there is a lot to learn in terms of organisation. And I hope that they do. It would be great for this to be an annual affair in a great location and over a shorter period time.
Consideration needs to be given to the ticketing cost (maybe do family priced bundles?) and also the fact that there was not enough promotion given to indicate that children were allowed into the venue.
That would have been a real selling point and I feel would have pulled more numbers in and possibly introduce young ones to their first experience of Jamaican music and culture.
So Robomagic Live (the promoters) – take note! Otherwise good effort.
I wish the artistes all the best til next they return to these shores. And If you’re in or going to be in Jamaica soon, do look out for Protoje at the fundraiser in aid of scholarships at Edna Manley, September 30, 2017.
As ever , please visit the artistes at their respective sites / socials for all tour dates and events.
Words and Photographs: lizzy brown. / insta: @iameyeandi / tumblr: dis yah reggae music