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Live review: Damian Marley @ O2 Academy Brixton (01/07/18)

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Reggae royalty Damian "Junior Gong" Marley shone bright in the sunshine at the O2 Academy in Brixton. While retelling the history, passions and cultural heritage of the genre, he is constantly pushing it forward. 

O2 Academy, Brixton by Caitlin Clark

A mass of people wearing comical weed Tees, colourful head wraps and rainbow flags lined the side streets behind the entrance to the O2 Academy in Brixton. Opposite the queue danced the resident T-shirt vendor from Brixton Jamm, who was sandwiched between groups of Jamaican BBQ extraordinaires and mixtape merchants. ‘Three Little Birds’ flew from hidden speakers as anticipation began to build.

Temperatures in the venue soared well above 30 degrees, and Marley’s support act Christopher Ellis simply ramped it up another notch. His energy on stage was utterly infectious; bouncing back and forth between his bandmates he indebted both his sound and love of music to his father Alton Ellis. The smell of marijuana began snaking through the crowds, battered and wafted through the air by the towering Rastafari and Pride flags near the centre of the stage. The atmosphere was unlike a concert, but more of a Sunday afternoon gathering of family and close friends. People relished the chance to unwind, relax and let the summer grooves quash any Monday anxieties.

Christopher Ellis by Caitlin Clark

“Here we go / My big ego is gonna get me in trouble / Trying to play hero / My jeans can’t tight like Michael Phelps speedo” Marley spat in the darkness, to a backdrop of politically charged images and video. He bounded across the stage as drums kicked and guitars begun to twang, to the sheer elation of the crowd. One of the powerhouse tracks from his 2017 album Stony Hill, ‘Here We Go’ set the tone for a socially conscious set, spiked with Marley’s unique blend of reggae, dancehall and hip-hop. Picking up the energy levels once again, Marley transitioned seamlessly between popping hits and serene roots tracks, like ‘Everybody Wants To Be Somebody’.

Marley was fully immersed in his performance, but equally as relaxed, skipping gracefully between his band members. His floor-length dreadlocks swung from shoulder to shoulder as he delivered tracks ‘Medication’ and ‘Time Travel’, which felt both politically and culturally appropriate. After recent controversy surrounding the Windrush Generation, Marley’s celebration of reggae culture pulled on the strings of the social fabric. Sharing an unshakeable love for the genre with a room filled with culturally, geographically, and historically diverse people teased themes of acceptance, camaraderie and unification through hard times. Both Marley and Ellis proclaimed their love for Brixton, and the weed smokers of London; telling us to look after one another, to share our space with each other, to look around the room and appreciate one another’s differences.

Damian Marley by Caitlin Clark

Marley dusted off the pages of his old catalogues, dropping 2001 flavour-infused songs ‘More Justice’, and ‘Road To Zion’ from his 2005 album Welcome To Jamrock. Whetting the crowd’s appetite for Marley’s most infamous album title track, the son of reggae began building to the final numbers, leaving us wondering if he would indebt a song or two to his father. The crowd burst into a frenzy as he slithered into the opening verse of ‘Exodus’, before launching into full renditions of ‘Could You Be Loved’ and ‘Is This Love’. Damian Marley has never been one to shy away from playing old songs, or songs from his father before him, and I think both he and the crowd appreciated a moment to remember the foundations of the Marley legacy.

The set climaxed with a thudding rendition of ‘Welcome To Jamrock’, with blazing green stage lights illuminating the thick haze hanging above the crowd. Brimming with passion, groove and exuberant life, Marley’s performance was contagiously uplifting, with the spirit of the genre coursing through its veins.

At a time where division, confrontation and political corruption are penetrating aspects of our daily lives, and people across the globe are still being defied their basic human rights, Damian Marley’s performance offered refuge. It was a sun-drenched set with happiness spilling over its sides.  

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