The weather provided a spectacular show announcing the release of Innocent’s all-original, 14-track CD, Shine Africa, at the Cabooze on Friday, June 16th. Outside, rain pelted the dry earth in violent surges, washing out roads, inducing flash-flood warnings, ripping limbs off trees and littering the streets with branches.
Inside the venue, people slowly filtered in, a handful at a time, until over 200 people conglomerated around the dance floor and occupied stools facing the stage. A trio of dancers primped in the ladies’ room then squeezed into a table for two to wait for the late starting show.
About two hours after the Cabooze’s doors opened, a DJ hopped on stage to abuse our ears with too-loud reggae music. He didn’t last long and the opening act, Prince Jabba, slid into position. Wearing shockingly white sneakers, blue jeans, white belt to accent his slender, swiveling hips, and a white muscle shirt with a button-down draped over his biceps and pectorals, this Prince performed several numbers.
With his music machine pumping out rhythm and back-up singers, it was hard to tell whether Prince Jabba was doing anything more than a fellow in a bar with a karaoke machine. That is, until Prince Jabba found himself. I’ve never seen even slightly buzzed faux-singers in bars rub themselves quite the way that Prince Jabba did.
After that distracting image, the main act finally appeared on stage. The DJ stood on stage as well, trying valiantly to generate a little more enthusiasm. Innocent was also dressed in white, but he looked so strongly Reggae with Jamaican dred locks, tunic and hat that there was no mistaking him for another visual-triumphs-over-music act.
It took Tanzanian-born Innocent several numbers before he really seemed to distinguish himself. A surprising-to-me element of reggae music is that it’s a very static, warm-milk sort of experience. It seems the perfect music to lull a fussy baby.
But then Prince Jabba returned to the stage.
This time, however, the Prince stayed focused on the music, showing off his musical acumen with truly impressive moves. Between Innocent, Prince Jabba, the drums, percussion, and a few guitars, the bar began to rock right off its foundation. Innocent displayed his gorgeous, full-range vocals, the guitar solos were inspired and I heard that element of music unique to indigenous sound, one that I’ve heard before in Inuit music. I loved this collaborative number and wished it would extend to the entire show.
Innocent did continue with another fabulous, emotive song about the Highest Mountain in Africa. Innocent switched to an acoustic guitar producing a more folk-oriented piece. As he sang in his African tongue, I also heard many African countries listed as part of the struggle that goes on even today in that mutable continent.
Later, talking to Innocent by phone, he described his brand of reggae music. There’s old-school reggae, the kind that propelled reggae into international awareness, made famous by Jamaica’s Bob Marley. Then there’s reggae for dancing that you might call lover’s rock or dance-hall reggae. Innocent’s roots-oriented reggae with it’s social and political commentary filled the Cabooze Friday night.
Innocent explained his song, Kilimanjaro. “I’m standing on this mountain and all I can see is children crying, corruption, Africans left behind technology-wise. There’s no peace anywhere. The world is moving on and here we are fighting each other. We’ve too much dependence on foreign aid. But the vision you can see from standing on this mountain is that as a people, we shall survive.
Shine Africa which is produced by Kilimanjaro Records is available for purchase at the Electric Fetus and Africa 2000 in Minneapolis. cdbaby.com also carries the CD.