Damian Marley’s Joburg show is the best taster for Zakifo

Before Damian Marley, the last dancehall artist I had seen perform live was Assassin.

One of the best lyricists in Jamaica, Assassin approached the show as his name suggested – with a surprising amount of precision. Although his ambit was strictly dancehall, Assassin kept it old school, much in the same way his compatriot Marley did on the night of May 26.

Playing at the same venue (Groove Live) on Friday night, Jr Gong was precise too, but in his case, the hard edges of that exactness were softened by the prevalence of one drop rhythms, a trait that links his music to dancehall’s pre-digital era.

The incomparable @damianjrgongmarley last night in Jozi. Log onto computicket and buy if you wanna see him at @zakifofest in Durban on Sunday #ZakifoFest ( image by @the_pixelat0r

A post shared by Maria McCloy (@mariamccloy) on

As the youngest of his father’s sons, Gongzilla is spoiled for choice when it comes to reference material, drawing on both his father’s canon as well as that of his siblings’ former group The Melody Makers. His opening cut, More Justice, is a slightly quickened and rewritten update of Melody Makers cut Justice, from the 1989 album One Bright Day.

Typical of he and his siblings, Damian draws liberally from his father’s canon, mostly political songs such as Africa Unite, Get Up Stand Up, Could You Be Loved but he did allow himself an uncharacteristic turn at Is This Love. That’s when you may notice that Jr Gong has, perhaps more than all his elder brothers, a vocal tone quite similar to his father.

Thankfully, he has crafted a vocal style and a career that veers the furthest from this easily exploitable commodity.

Typical of top-tier performers in dancehall, there wasn’t a time-signature too intimating for Jr Gong, making his music reggae on one hand and, on the other, a curated tour through bass culture. 

Jr Gong performs tomorrow evening at Zakifo Music Festival. Tickets are available at Computicket or at the gate.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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