by Dan Grunebaum
There once was a time-not too long ago-when summer music
festivals in Japan meant not Fuji Rock, Summer Solstice or
Tokyo Jazz, but Reggae Japansplash. The festival reigned supreme
as summer's biggest draw, much as Tokyo's reggae bars were
a focal point of the city's nightlife.
Well, take heart reggae lovers. Not only is Reggae Japansplash
returning tomorrow to its roots at the Yomiuri Land outdoor
stage, but a number of reggae's most enduring figures are
also in town at the Blue Note Tokyo and its sister club Motion
Blue in Yokohama.
The return of Jamaican stars to Japan also reflects a mini
revival in reggae's fortunes here, with a whole new crop of
domestic bands, from the dub of Dry and Heavy to the more
commercial reggae of Moomin and Mikidozan, attesting to reggae's
durability in the country.
The bill for Reggae Japansplash '02 offers a musical feast
for those partial to the sounds of reggae's glory days. First
and foremost is Marcia Griffiths, once a member of Bob Marley's
key I Threes backing chorus. Launching her career with Coxsone's
Studio One, Griffiths racked up hit after hit before joining
the I Threes in 1974. She stayed with Marley until his death
in 1980, returning successfully to a solo career marked by
hits like "Electric Boogie" after the death of the
Also in the lineup is Beres Hammond, one of reggae's finest
soul singers. Although Hammond got his start in the 1970s,
he remained primarily a Jamaican phenomenon until a surprise
hit with "Tempted to Touch" in 1992 brought him
to audiences in the US, Europe and Japan.
Critical to reggae's sound are the gospel-influenced vocal
harmonies typified in the work of the Wailing Souls, another
band on the bill for Reggae Japansplash. First forming in
the '60s, the group have outlasted many of their peers, with
key members Winston "Pipe" Matthews and Lloyd McDonald
determinedly continuing to press their socially conscious
Rastafarian message through ups and downs and a string of
Filling out the bill are dancehall artists Admiral Bailey
and Kashief Lindo, with Japan's own Nahki on hand to show
what contribution Japan has made to reggae.
Meanwhile, for those unable to make it out Saturday, UK "lovers
rock" singer and perennial Japan visitor Maxi Priest
will be concluding a week-long engagement at the Blue Note
Tokyo, this time with Jamaican reggae singer Freddie McGregor
in tow. Two of the smoothest voices in the business combining
their talents should produce some sweet harmonies indeed.
And if all that weren't enough, Bob Marley's lead guitarist,
Junior Marvin, who penned some of the most memorable reggae
guitar solos in the 1970s, such as a charming one for Marley's
"Waiting in Vain," will be presenting a "Tribute
to Bob Marley" next week at the Blue Note's sister club
in Yokohama, Motion Blue.
Reggae Japansplash '02 takes place at Yomiuri Land Open Air
Theatre East on August 24. Maxi Priest with Freddie McGregor
play the Blue Note Tokyo through August 25. Junior Marvin
plays Motion Blue on August 26-28. See listings for details.
Photos courtesy of Kyodo Tokyo
and Blue Note Tokyo