Global Beats have transformed reggae in Britain’s favourite seaside town thanks to their shows at the Komedia and sound-system events at Concorde II.
Brighton’s Komedia is on Gardner Street and easily distinguishable because of the giant, red and white pair of legs, kicking their heels from the rooftop. Tickets for this show had long sold out and groups of people were massed outside in the cold night air, their features made surreal in the light of a blue moon. Mykal Rose, original lead singer of Jamaican reggae legends Black Uhuru had been forced to cancel a UK tour several months earlier because of visa problems. This was first of several rearranged dates and you could feel the crackle of anticipation in the semi-darkness as the band members settled in position.
The tour was advertised as Mykal Rose sings Black Uhuru and that’s what we got, bar for just a couple of songs from his lengthy solo career. For over an hour and a half he revisited the band’s stay with Island Records during the early eighties, when albums like Showcase, Sinsemilla, Red, Chill Out and the Grammy winning Anthem established them as stars of the reggae firmament, alongside the likes of Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and the then recently deceased Bob Marley. Mykal wrote the majority of Uhuru’s biggest hits from those times, when they were backed by Sly and Robbie and making seriously heavy Rasta music.
The band for this tour revolves around Mafia and Fluxy, on bass and drums respectively. The brothers have long been the best reggae rhythm section from outside of Jamaica and both were in blistering form, as were keyboard player Adrian McKenzie and Stephen “Marley” Wright on guitar, whose every note had taste and meaning. They opened with a reggae version of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, which Bunny Lee famously renamed The Russians Are Coming. The irony of this wasn’t lost on some of the crowd, whose reactions were then swept aside by yells as the singer himself strolled on stage, walking tall and with his face half-hidden by shades and a peaked hat. The latter was stuffed with his tightly coiled, waist-length dreadlocks and cocked at a jaunty angle, just like in those photos of early Black Uhuru.
As expected, this was a night of celebration - not just of the past, which in his case is glorious enough, but also of his staying power and the enduring relevance of songs like What Is Life [which got him off to a great start], Party Next Door and Solidarity - a tune that had one man punching the air in delight shouting, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!” at the top of his lungs. It was as if liberation day had arrived whilst Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which Rose first recorded even before joining Uhuru, had a large section of the audience singing along with him. Okay, he doesn’t talk a lot, but then he doesn’t need to. His personality is bound up with the power of his songs and once backed by a band in this kind of mood, he’s unstoppable. The walls shook to Shine Eye Gal and General Penitentiary as the crowd surged forward and the sound of the gully bank filled the venue, the air rent by sirens and the stage drenched in deep reds, blues and greens. You could feel that aura of spirituality, tinged with dread as the rhythms thundered from the speakers and he launched into some improvised sing-jaying, decorated by his trademark “tut u tway.”
Despite the lack of a female backing singer, it was the closest we’ll get currently to experiencing Black Uhuru at their peak as he and the band careered through up-tempo songs like Sponji Reggae, Happiness and World Is Africa, or got lowdown, mean and dirty on reality numbers such as Youths Of Eglington and Shoot Out, which admittedly isn’t a Black Uhuru song but a hit produced by King Jammy’s son John John and shared with Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, winner of the recent Grammy award for Best Reggae Album.
As the show neared its end, Mykal led the band into an extended I Love King Selassie. Aswad’s Tony Gad, who’d been stood in the crowd all evening, had a broad smile on his face during that one. All of Black Uhuru’s best-known hits had been exhausted by then and so the closing number was a new song called (I think) Zum Zum, which the crowd were happily singing along to as the artist known as Grammy Rose, now dripping with sweat but looking well satisfied, slowly made his way from the stage.