By Kshanika Argent
Reggae might’ve been born in Jamaica but the Rasta appeal spread across continents to our shores and age ago and has long been the holiday soundtrack at coastal towns, especially Hikkaduwa. Little wonder then that the Maxi Priest concert held last Saturday was a big event for a little town that regularly hosts day-long tributes to Reggae icons like Bob Marley.
The British vocalist is best known for breaking out in the 80’s MTV era with a reggae sound heavily influenced by R&B (reggae fusion) and was one of the first commercial international artists to dabble in the genre. Although incorporating various other genres into his sound, including soul, pop and sometimes soft rock, Maxi Priest has long been regarded as one of Britain’s most successful Reggae artists. In the latter stages of his recording career, Maxi Priest ventured into collaborating with established and emerging names that covered R&B, Soul, Jazz and Pop; Shaggy, Beres Hammond, Jazzie B, Apache Indian, Roberta Flack, Shabba Ranks and Lee Ritenour just to name a few.
Maxi Priest’s musical career began with him singing on the South London reggae soundsystem Saxon Studio International, after which he released some independent singles. His first major album was the self-titled Maxi Priest (1988) which the Cat Stevens’ ‘Wild World’ cover appeared in, and established him as one of the top British reggae singers.
The live concert took place at Vibrations Hikkaduwa with locals openings acts in the likes of Elephant Foot and the Hikka Drummers setting the stage Maxi Priest and his two guitarists who played a set that covered his charts hits as well as new material from an upcoming album, for well over an hour. The performance reflected the variety and sophistication of a sound from back in the day and was overall impressive; serving to reassure fans of the old school that key performers from the 70s and 80s like Maxi Priest are still in fine voice and can rock an international audience with the same wild dancing and crazy dreadlocks of the 70s.
The mood was celebratory, with the artist picking memorable hits like ‘Wild World’ from his self titled album and ‘Close to You’ from Bonafide, (both chart toppers in the US) and predictable cover favourites like ‘Some Guys Have All The Luck, ‘That Girl’ (a duet with Shaggy from ‘96), ‘Strollin on’ and even delving into more down tempo soulful hits like the Roberta Flack duet ‘Set The Might to Music.
The buzz was electric and infectious, Maxi Priest had Hikkaduwa dancing and swaying in an evening that served a great tribute to all that is Reggae, soul and R&B of the past and that music from an era long past still lives on today.
– Pix by Niraj Wickremesinghe