Date: Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
Line Up: The Skatalites
Venue: Howard Theater. Washington, D.C.
To be a part of the magic that The Skatalites have masterfully crafted since 1964 is like signing three hours of your life to an ancient voodoo houngan. It will transform you, capture your soul, and awaken your body in an unimaginable capacity.
Lead singer Lester Sterling is of course the original voodoo master. He is an alto saxophone king who seizes the energy of his equally as talented and diverse group of musician comrades. The entire band is a force to be reckoned with; each musician carries his own weight in talent and poise.
Doreen Shaffer on vocals charges along Tenor saxophonist Azemobo “Zem” Audu who hails from Nigeria, trombone player Andrae Murchison play alongside Travis Antoine on trumpet, Val Douglas on bass guitar, Natty Frenchy on guitar, Cameron Greenlee on keys , and Trevor “Sparrow” Thompson on the drums.
If Mr. Sterling is the reggae master, he is closely followed by the mambo like goddess, Doreen Shaffer, whose classic voice reverberated off the walls of the newly constructed Howard Theater. As crystal clear and dazzling as her sparkly white blouse, her voice is still as perfect as it was in some of the original Skatalites recordings on Ska Authentic, Hi-Bop Ska, Greetings from Skamania, On the Right Track, and the 2012 recently released Skatalites album Walk With Me.
To say that Ms. Shaffer has one of the greatest female reggae and ska voices of Jamaica is an understatement. It’s unimaginable to envision such a pint sized, soft spoken, and beautiful person has the capacity and energy to project such a unique, galactic tone. Her voice is a playful sound of a seasoned love-struck twenty year old, mixed with a pinch of a smoky drenched vocal belt.
As The Skatalites cruised through their set list, Ms. Shaffer waltzed on stage and over shone Lester and the men with “My Boy Lollipop”: “My boy lollipop, you made my heart go giddy up. You are as sweet as candy; you’re my sugar daddy. Ho, ho my boy lollipop, never ever leave me, because it would grieve me; my heart told me so.” It’s a healing experience to feel the ease with which she performs.
Trombone player Andrae Murchison who has been playing with The Skatalites since 2006 reflects on their legacy, “It’s great to see so many crossovers and bring in other styles of music, you can see that we are the basis for these other genres of music and these younger musicians, so it lets you know that the music will be there for years to come.”
Speaking of the original source of influence when The Skatalites were developing their own sound, trombone player Andrae Murchison said, “The older guys were listening to jazz in Jamaica, they were getting records from musicians in Miami listening to Charlie Parker, Count Basie, all the old jazz from the 1940s, and Big Band era. From that they came up with their own unique sound which was the Ska beat.”
The inspiration of The Skatalites was certainly being kept alive by opening bands Lucky Dub and Gallo. Lucky Dub is a world and reggae group hailing from Washington, DC. Gallo is a multilingual world beat band based out of Los Angeles, CA. The show was certainly a mix of classic Rocksteady, African rhythms, and world influences.
Lead singer Lester Sterling’s bright smile, two step dance moves, and animated account of his illustrious career beautifully reflects the magnitude of The Skatalites, “The crowd gets wild, they jump up and down, it’s not sit down music, I want to see them enjoy each song, it builds my confidence”.
Individually, these opening bands put on a fantastic show and they should be watched, they’re bound to explode and draw a large fan base of their own. Mr. Sterling reminisces, “Like with Oh Danny Boy, dee dee dee dee da dee dee dum.” He hums the breakdown and wiggles in his chair, playing the air saxophone. “They get crazy when they hear that. They were wild in Jamaica when they heard it and in Europe too.”
With such animation, Mr. Sterling appears to be a bit in awe and amazement at the capacity and love that people all over the world have for The Skatalites. Andrae Murchison explains, “We see ages from eight to eighty. To see the span of ages that the music touches, and to know that the listeners are passionate, is just amazing to us.”
But the proof is in the pudding, as their illustrious career includes the release of sixteen albums, including the 2012 album Walk With Me.
Mr. Murchison spoke of the 2012 album, “Walk With Me was my tune that I wrote based off of a traditional spiritual song. The song and album pays homage to members who have passed. The Skatalites welcome fans and our former members to know that they’re walking with us as we continue to play out music, our traditions and the collaborative process”.
To witness the live progression of reggae history and influence of one of the founding Ska and Reggae bands is a precious memory that will last a lifetime and have you skanking for decades to come.
The Skatalites Set List:
Latin Goes Ska
El Pussy Cat
My Boy Lollipop
Can’t You See?
Song for My Father
Guns of Navarone
Walk With Me
Man in The Street
Article & Photos By: Zia Lucia-Miller