Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
About midway through the post-intermission round of last Wednesday's concert at Redbones Blues Café, New Kingston, Ras Michael smiled as he held the substantial audience in check. The musicians playing electronic instruments had left the stage and the night was into a round of Nyahbinghi, Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus carrying the music with drums and voice only.
As they moved from what became known as Rastaman Chant when recorded by The Wailers for their 1973 album Burnin into Lion of Judah, members of the audience jumped the gun vocally and started singing "and give I the victory ..." before the required repetitions of the title line.
"This is Nyahbinghi, so you don't rush it," Ras Michael said, smiling, then marshalling the listeners into a more measured approach.
And that was the steady, interactive, and participatory tone of a rare Jamaican concert by Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus.
After an introduction by Tommy Cowan in which he invited Evon Williams of Redbones on stage, speaking to Williams' involvement in the band's early recording phase, a stream of people flowed on stage. The hand drummers were seated in front, the band spread out behind and harmony singers clustered on one side in between, Ras Michael coming on last.
Ring of authority
After the opening chant, Ras Michael's voice going high as if with the line "in the treetops" on the refrain, he explained: "This is a special night. Our music is real roots ... it is good. It is real. No little make-believe business."
In music, claims to authenticity are as well-worn as the bass drum skin of a backing band at Sting. But coming from Ras Michael, it had the undeniable ring of authority - and the night lived up to the assertion. In between doing lead vocal duties, Ras Michael reasoned with the audience, consistently reinforcing the theme of togetherness.
"This world would be a better place if everybody gives love," Ras Michael said before going into a chant on the theme.
The band told the audience in song that "Zion land we want to go", asked "wicked man how long shall you live" and Ras Michael asked for a call and response of Mr Brown.
Birds in the Treetops was a high point and Ras Michael honoured the Wailers with Get Up, Stand Up and Heathen.
Extended versions of New Name and None of Jah Jah Children took the concert and audience to a peak, and Redemption Song was also given the Nyahbinghi treatment to very good effect.
Babylon burned metaphorically as Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus chanted "Fire! Fire!" and, coming up to the end, they looked at mortality. The conclusion of the night was "I am going home to see King Rastafari".