Reggae at the Jazz Fest: Sly and Robbie and Burning Spear get Metropolis hopping

sly and robbie. Photo Montreal Jazz Fest sly and robbie. Photo Montreal Jazz Fest

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the legendary rhythm section/producers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, not only in the world of reggae, which they virtually defined and constantly reinvented over the course of a 30-year career, but also in the music world in general. Having played on or produced an estimated 200,000 recordings, they have worked with artists ranging from reggae god Peter Tosh to Joan Armatrading, Gil Gilberto to Sinéad O’Connor, Black Uhuru to Britney Spears.

Playing the first part of a double bill Tuesday night at Metropolis, with a solid band and a couple of invited singers, they cycled through more than a few shades of reggae: rocksteady, rub-a-dub, dancehall and more. In the heatwave temperatures of a Montreal evening, they had the audience swaying and stepping to those familiar Jamaican strains.

Sly on Drums. Photo Montreal Jazz Fest.

Sly on Drums. Photo Montreal Jazz Fest.

Burning Spear. Photo Montreal Jazz Fest.

Burning Spear. Photo Montreal Jazz Fest.

While it was a pleasure to hear Sly and Robbie, the real treat of the evening was the headlining act, Burning Spear. A veritable Jamaican Mick Jagger, at 69 years of age his energy is unstoppable. Like other musical monoliths, time has done nothing to diminish his stage prowess and his hold on the audience. He has the moves, the voice, and the conga skills of anyone half his age, easy. And the dreads, which reach down to his knees. With solid brass and rhythm sections, Burning Spear kept the packed Metropolis jumping late into the night, preaching his Marcus Garvey-inspired messages of peace and self-determination for descendants of African nations to that irresistible roots reggae beat.

Burning Spear and Sly and Robbie played at the Montreal Jazz Fest on July 1 at Metropolis

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