Mykal RosePositive Vibration @ District 17/2/18
Billed as ‘The Voice Of Black Uhuru’ (and known as just that during their most influential roots reggae period of the late-70s to mid-80s), MYKAL ROSE – backed by noted British rhythm section and producers Mafia and Fluxy (Bunny Lee, Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott) – is the latest performer to take part in Positive Vibration’s mouth-watering series of inter-festival concerts. Another congenial atmosphere is bubbling up in District as One-A-Penny Soundsystem, one of the oldest in Liverpool, draw many of the early arrivals straight on to the dancefloor.
Mafia (Leroy Heywood, Bass) and Fluxy (David Heywood, Drums) are joined by Stephen Wright (Guitar) and Adrian McKenzie (Keys), who get things off to a jaunty start with a version of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five before Rose hits the stage. Nattily attired in shades and rasta-stripe hat, man-bag slung casually over his shoulder, Rose’s arrival is the catalyst for the ensemble to cruise straight into the classic What Is Life? from 1984’s Grammy-winning Anthem. Rose gets quickly into his stride, pacing the stage, breaking into shimmying dance steps and sounding in great voice.
The set is littered with political and social commentary, protest and praise. A sublime The Whole World Is Africa sets the bar high, its chorus a concise damnation of colonial and post-colonial rule: “The whole world is Africa, it’s divided in continent states, stolen cities have no pity.” “Stolen cities have no pity” – it could be a line from a Graham Greene novel, murmured over a whisky by a worn-out priest or company man, conjuring up the spite, greed, fear and corruption of the times. McKenzie’s bouncing piano drives it along and the change of tempo is executed to perfection.
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner references the 60s’ racial interaction comedy of the same name, replacing Sidney Poitier’s urbane African American doctor with the spliff-toting Natty Dreadlock whose herb brings society together.
There is no between song chat and one song generally morphs seamlessly into the next as we skank our way through a set of up-tempo rockers and cool grooves. That’s not to say Rose doesn’t connect with his audience: he constantly involves them in the music, call-and-response vignettes littering the set and enthusiastically echoed by the swaying crowd.
All the above are driven by Mafia and Fluxy’s totally on-it grooves. That sibling connection, so often heralded when vocally portrayed, is tonight displayed beautifully in the rhythm, these two look and sound like they’ve been playing together forever. Leroy’s heavy dub bass on I Love King Selassie positively throbs alongside David’s snappy stickwork. That rhythm is decorated with Wright’s driving, choppy rhythms or full-on ripping, blues inflected solos, accompanied by proper ‘rock god’ facials. McKenzie is equally at home pushing the rhythm along or adding swathes of soaring synth or pure rock ‘n’ roll piano. Rose’s scat singing on Plastic Smile delights, and a cover of Natural Mystic celebrates Bob Marley’s birthday, the crowd joining in ecstatically.
After a stonking Sinsemilla and new number Zum Zum, involving another crowd singalong, an apologetic Levi Tafari explains that there will be no encore. Thankfully, One A Penny are on hand to keep the party rolling into the small hours on another superb night for Positive Vibration and District.