REVIEW: Rastafarian Message Not Lost During Fun at KCRW’s Reggae Night XVII

Reggae Night at Hollywood Bowl - Photo courtesy of KCRW


HOLLYWOOD, CA – KCRW’s Reggae Night XVII demonstrated reggae music’s wide diversity. Whether you came for dread serious beats, spiritual meditation or lighter lover’s sounds, you likely left happy.

Protoje, fronting a talented The Indiggnation band, opened this concert while the Bowl was bathed in daylight and patrons were just breaking out their picnic meals. The performer often drew upon serious subject matter, such as the politically-motivated “Blood Money,” which indicts corruption in his home country of Jamaica. “Blood money run the nation,” he accuses at one point. Over a minor key melody, Protoje pulled no punches with this one. And even though he bounced around the stage wearing cool reflective sunglasses, there was nevertheless serious concern behind those shades.

Proteje with Rocky Dawuni at Hollywood Bowl
Proteje with Rocky Dawuni at Hollywood Bowl – courtesy Rocky Dawuni

Cocoa Tea, who was a last-minute replacement for the originally scheduled Alpha Blondy, opened his set on a spiritual note with “Rastaman Chant,” which was accompanied by video images of Haile Selassie. Although he was preaching to the choir with “Medical Marijuana” (being that California had recently graduated to legal recreational pot) the most noticeable scent in the air this night was tasty food, not weed. Tea ended his set with energetic physical exercises for what can only be termed Jamaican Zumba. Unfortunately, he left himself just a brief moment to sing a few bars of “Eighteen and Over,” one of his better songs.

Cocoa Tea performed at Reggae Night at the Hollywood Bowl - Photo courtesy of Cocoa Tea
Cocoa Tea performed at Reggae Night at the Hollywood Bowl – Photo courtesy of Cocoa Tea

With a sexy, slightly scratchy singing voice, which falls somewhere between Otis Redding and Toots Hibbert, Beres Hammond ended the night with a long set of mainly love songs. Hammond left the politics to Protoje and Rastafarianism to Cocoa Tea, as his songs went straight for the heart. One called “Double Trouble” found Hammond struggling with pleasing two lovers. “With lipstick stains/I’ve got to tiptoe,” sings its cheating character. “Sweetness,” places Hammond high love standards against other romantic suiters. “And if they didn’t call you sweetness/And if they didn’t call you niceness/And how about suga dumpling/I guess they didn’t tell you nothing.” Only he truly realizes this woman’s tasty qualities.

Hammond was backed by a full band, which included a trumpeter, a saxophonist (which he often featured) and three backup singers dressed in flowing white dresses. He was also thankful for the chance to play this prestigious venue. He smiled often and took multiple opportunities to address the audience directly. It was heartening to hear audience members singing along with many of Hammond’s songs. Although he’s an A-list performer on the reggae scene, his music hasn’t yet broken through in a big way to the American mainstream.

KCRW’s Reggae Night at the Bowl has turned into an annual event. And really, there is no better venue or season to present this laid back, island music. Californians love to eat, drink and be merry, and reggae’s music’s good vibes provide the perfect warm night party soundtrack. Although Protoje’s seriousness, Cocoa Tea’s spirituality and Hammond’s lyrics about cheating may have been lost on this chatty partying throng, the grooves were deep and bass-y, and the time between sets short. So once the party got started, it never really stopped.