FORMER Bob Marley and Lauryn Hill guitarist Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith led a band of global musicians and jammed to the philosophy of Rastafari at Red Bones Blues Cafe in Kingston, last Thursday night.
Flagged in red, green and gold, Chinna sat with legs crossed and acoustic guitar atop. Relaxed, as if Inna de Yard — the title of his acoustic CD series — he accompanied or sang songs of God, ganja and the ‘gideon’.
“Home-grown in my backyard and the police know its mine…If you come to my place I will give you a taste,” he sang with honesty before entering another song. “Marijuana, marijuana to my head.”
The full house howled to the guitarist’s signature vocals. Chinna told the audience which comprised of expatriates and locals, that he was “not promoting drugs nor alcohol because ganja is not a drug”.
Chinna is a character whose hospitality equals his short temper. He will allow eager musicians to jam and freely learn at his home, but those deemed arrogant soon feel his wrath (this reporter included). Humility is key for Chinna who can boast of recording on many Grammy-winning albums with credits extending to over 500 albums that include Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, Burning Spears, Sizzla, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and others.
Mid-set in a cover of Satta Massagana by the Abyssinians, Skaya on accordion played the theme Augustus Pablo style, whilst Chinna thumbed a solo following the second chorus. Chinna’s guitar style is rooted in the blues and similar to his favourite herb he branches out adding jazz and passing notes. These variations allow him to escape from the blues scale patterns which guitarists ironically call box-shapes. He is also inventive, for instance while soloing on the high strings he switched to finger the bass strings then rapidly slid up and down the fretboard as if his finger was a pendulum. The result was an unusual rhythmic lick — a sound that repeats like a scratched record, and the audience screamed.
Late in the set rising vocalist Jah9 Cunningham sang militant songs with soul in a voice which crosses UK singer Amy Whinehouse and deejay Sizzla. Music poured from her roots and when stirred, her dreads would splash her shoulders and waterfall onto her army jacket.
“You’re my favourite company,” she sang about ganja before entering into another song about perseverance. “Keep holding on, my brothers and sisters don’t let them draw you down, maintain composure inspite of what is going on. Speak the truth or hold your mouth.”
Jah9, the daughter of a preacher man, is poised for heavy rotation due to her signature sound and collaborations with ace producers including Beres Hammond, Don Carlean and Rory from Stone Love.
Most of the night however belonged to Kiddus I on vocals, most known for role in the cult classic Rockers. He was also backed by guitarist Jeff Williams, also a naturalist, lawyer, carpenter and guitar-luthier; Seretse Small on guitar; Skaya on accordion; Druss Leconte on a rich electric piano as opposed to cheesy keyboards; Fanso on percussion and Drumy on drums. Half of the musicians were overseas based.
“Now it won’t be too long, all of the suffering and wrongs will be right,” he sang in his classic hit Graduation In Zion which is also showcased in the film. “Whatsoever man soweth they shall reap the fruits of his labour in the end. So seek good and not evil.”
Kiddus-I doesn’t rush when he sings and delivers every word with clarity.