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Taken from Washington Post (February 23, 2004)

Franti & Marley: Reggae With Substance, and Without

by Carrie Nieman

Michael FrantiThe revolution of the '60s may be over, but we've got our own political issues to sing about these days. One of the reggae acts on the bill at the 9:30 club Saturday night seemed to understand that.

Jamaican and Israeli flags hung from the balcony along with Tibetan prayer flags (one advertising the newsletter One Love Lifestyles) and an American flag with a dollar sign for stars and bombs forming stripes. A multiethnic crowd filled the room for the first group, Michael Franti & Spearhead. The dynamic frontman was strongest when rapping his aggressive, literate messages, as in "Bomb the World" from the group's 2003 release. The Clash met the Roots in the song's driving beat, the lyrics demanded war on AIDS and illiteracy with repetitive and effective rhymes.

Franti worked hard to pump up the audience, with positive results. Showing by example, he called on the crowd to jump in place and wave their arms. Sometimes he was so enthusiastic that his vocals could barely be heard as his head flew up and down over the mike.

While the group's look includes Franti's dreads and a huge Rastafarian flag hanging behind the band, its politically aware funk has more in common with roots rappers than with reggae. Spearhead veers into rock and soul as well, but with less success.

After Spearhead's two-hour set, Ziggy Marley took the stage. He's touring without the Melody Makers to support his 2003 solo album, "Dragonfly," and played with a new band of six musicians, plus a female backup vocalist.

While a receding hairline and a mellowing voice help Marley channel his legendary father more than ever, it's too bad his own material can't come close to being as powerful as Bob Marley's. Instead of singing about the issues of today, Marley cheerily reminds listeners to be "true to yourself" and that there's a "rainbow in the sky."

While Marley's new pop-reggae disappoints, his delivery of his father's material does not. When Ziggy tilts his head back, swings his butt-length dreads and sings "We be jamming," we are.


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