The King of Kings Mashes Down B.B. Kings
Outside the weather was watery, but pure fire blazed inside B.B. King Blues Club & Grill as Sizzla Kalonji took the stage of the storied Times Square centralized venue for the very first time early morning on October 22. In contrast to his previous New York City performance at Irie Jam’s 23rd Anniversary, his first in the area after an eight-year absence, Sizzla was without a live band and relied upon a selector to run the riddims. Unlike the open air of Irie Jam’s Roy Wilkins Park where the vibrations carried into the universe beyond, the confined vibes of the closer, more intimate space of B.B. King allowed the mystic to reverberate and pulsate to and fro, rebound off the walls and permeate the souls of the assembled. With Sizzla’s energy capable of reaching every individual in an unchained environment such as Roy Wilkin’s Park, to be exposed to his intensity amidst such intimacy was a powerful and sometimes overwhelming experience. Continues After The Jump…Lead Photo by Eoin MacManus
Shortly after 1:00 am, Kalonji took the stage before the packed house that had been warmed up with a set from DJ Norie. Stepping out in a criss gray suit, locks wrapped in a dark turban and backed by a selector rather than a live band, Sizzla opened with “Show Us the Way” before launching into a barrage of boomshots such as “Azanido,” “Holding Firm,” “We Got it Right Here,” “Mash Dem Down” and “Simplicity.” Amidst the musical shockwaves, it was almost as amazing to watch the wait-staff attempting to navigate the sardine-packed and pulsating crowd without dashing away the dishes. Sizzla then launched into a crowd-pleasing and enticing rendition of Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Chant” as the audience enthusiastically joined in: “Babylon, you throne gone down, gone down / Babylon, you throne gone dooown.” There was something about witnessing the Bobo Ashanti DJ blazing a fire just steps away from NYC’s Times Square after such a prolonged absence drove the point of this crucial Wailers selection home.
As if responding to the natural mystic in the air of the aforementioned chant, the show continued with this writer positioned downwind from a Marley spliff courtesy of the Don Shotta himself, Ky-mani “Maestro” Marley. Captivated and catapulted toward a contact compliments of Kymani’s kaya, the vibes of Sizzla’s performance took on added resonance. Kalonji riffed on the track for “Why Should I” before he “Trod Mt. Zion,” burning down the wicked along the way. Instructing the selector to pull up, he took the time to address the audience stressing that we must have love and respect for one another before performing “Like Mountains” and “Give Dem Ah Ride.”
In his next address the Boboman stressed education, ceasing the war between Black people and police, and then blessed the place with a manifest of “Words of Divine” and “She’s Loving.” The energy reached an apex when Kalonji went into “Woman I Need You.” Sizzla advised the crowd to learn about Selassie I, Marcus Garvey, and Prince Emanuel to find their lost lineage before launching into “Just One of Those Days,” “Give Me a Try” and “Why You Wanna Leave Me Now?”
After running through a set of lighter lovers fare, Sizzla encouraged men and women to breed for the sake of national progress and once again emphasized education before singing a heart-warming rendition of “Thank You Mama.” Other highlights included “Get to the Point,” “Taking Over,” “Dem Ah Gaze,” “Dem Ah Wonder,” “Black Woman and Child,” “Babylon Ah Listen,” “One Away,” “Solid As a Rock” and guest sets from Ras Shiloh and Ky-Mani Marley who led the crowd in sing-alongs of “War” and “Who the Cap Fit.”
Shortly after Kalonji delivered a censored version of “Come Fly With Me,” his well known Foxy Brown duet, he paused to note just how deep his catalogue of 70-plus albums actually is, noting that he could go on performing all night. Much of the crowd endured until the end, inheriting all the things a Sizzla session supplies, but there were some who began to depart after an hour or so into the set, leading one observer to remark that Sizzla can outlast his fans. After an hour and forty-five minutes of firestorm songs balanced with ballads about life and navigating love’s waters, Sizzla brought the show to a close with a song that showed and proved that “Babylon can’t stop we.”
Overall, it was a night worthy of a King of Kings at B.B. King’s. Rastafari liveth every time.
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