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by Dan Grunebaum

Roots Revival

Maxi Priest
Maxi Priest

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.

Freddie McGregor
Freddie McGregor

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 reggae prophet.

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.

Marcia Griffiths
Marcia Griffiths

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 different labels.

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