Reggae's traditionalists, meanwhile, have merely added canned drums and layers of rinky-dink synthesizers to the same old lovers-rock pop shtick that signaled the music's decline at the close of the Seventies. Even the two most noteworthy acts slated for Saturday's Bob Marley Festival -- Ziggy Marley's Melody Makers and Inner Circle -- have done little to invigorate the music. Sure, both have netted crossover hits: the former with the aforementioned "Tomorrow People," the latter with the 1987 hit "Bad Boys," which is used as the theme music for the TV show Cops. Neither song, however, is worthy of the finest work that came before it: "Trenchtown Rock," "Mr. Brown," and "Get Up, Stand Up" by Ziggy's dad; Toots and the Maytals' "African Doctor," "Funky Kingston," and "Sweet and Dandy"; Peter Tosh's "Stepping Razor" and "Maga Dog"; or albums by Burning Spear (Marcus Garvey), Culture (Two Sevens Clash), and Black Uhuru (Showcase).
What does it say about the music's current condition that of the new releases issued by Ras, a Washington, D.C., label that is highly respected among reggae diehards, the only one that booms with any authority is a reissue? Taken on its own merits, that reissue A Double Barrel, a collection of early Seventies instrumentals by the brothers Dave and Ansel Collins -- might sound like a mediocre album by Big Youth or Augustus Pablo. The songs are big and wobbly and loopy like most Jamaican instrumentals of the era, and none are really essential, which makes Double Barrel a document for archivists and completists only. But put it on after spinning the new Ras discs by such dullards as Junior Reid, Sugar Minott, and Yellowman -- or Ziggy's recent Free Like We Want 2 B A and the Collins set suddenly becomes an out-of-nowhere revelation, a reminder of a time when reggae overflowed with visionary craftsmen and militant prophets and groove-obsessed rhythm warriors. When the last cymbal crash fades and the last bass line rumbles to a close, you can't help but wonder just what the hell happened to this music.
The Bob Marley Festival takes place Saturday, February 10, at the Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd; 358-7550. Performers include Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Inner Circle, Le Coup, Johnny Dread, X-High, and Enta Jesu. Showtime is 1:00 p.m. Admission is three canned goods or three nonperishable food items to benefit the Camillus House.