Ashkenaz Community Center
February 15, 2001
“Me a tell yu, ’nuff people from the corner here tonight!” exclaimed one musician to another. The above referenced corner is the Oakland intersection of Shattuck Avenue near 51st Street where the Out of Many One culture shop has become the meeting ground and permanent hub for Caribbean life in the Bay Area over the years. Caribbean natives have found refuge in the colorfully decorated shop where people stop by for a quick game of table tennis, to play instruments, to pick up the latest flyers and reggae zines, or they drop in next door for a patty or a plate of escovitch fish at the Jamaica Station restaurant. But one doesn’t need a purpose to go over to the store; the predominant reason they come is for that sense of community–to relax and have discussions (“reasonings”) with familiar faces from back home.
On February 15th, from one community depot to another, Ashkenaz Community Center hosted a benefit for Out of Many One. The owner of the store, Rasta Carlton “Carl T” Campbell, has promoted Jamaican music in the area for many years, most notably with his annual October Peter Tosh Birthday Celebrations. For the benefit, he gathered many of his talented friends and family to perform, all integral and important members of the local reggae scene.
Andrew Tosh (Carlton’s nephew) was billed as the headliner, but, after the first couple of acts, was reported to have been delayed in Brazil and unable to perform. It is still unclear whether or not the organizers knew in advance that Tosh would be unavailable, but as it was a benefit, I don’t think there was much complaint about his absence from the patrons. Clinton Fearon, formerly of the Gladiators, was to take his place.
The energy throughout the night was in true Ashkenaz form-informal and casual where MC Tony Moses, former chanter for the political hip-hop group Spearhead and KPOO deejay, lit up the stage with his anecdotes, music, poetry and song. With his deep and versatile voice, standing center stage between sets, he matter-of-factly said, “I feel as if you’re in my living room and we’re one big family.” He was spot on with his observation, definitely capturing the vibe.
Oliver Smart opened up the show and surprised people with his melodic and strong voice. Longtime local group Native Elements followed and although it took them a few songs to acclimate, their tight sound eventually emerged and they did excellent covers of some Bob Marley tunes, including “Natural Mystic,” in tribute of Bob Marley’s Birthday month. They are one of the few bands in the area with a horn section, which just reaffirmed my conviction in the importance of horn sections in general.
Set changes were taking awhile, but fortunately the Massive Sound International selectors were in the house and keeping people entertained, playing everything from Capleton to the Itals. Junglz Apart bandleader, Tony D, had double duty playing drums and roadie for the night, and I imagine by the end preferred his drummer role!
London-based artist Alpheus put on a strong performance, sponsored by the Heartbeat/Studio One label out of Massachusetts to promote his latest disc. He was backed by the Riddimystic Band, performing many songs from his “Quality Time” disc and has been described as a Reggae Sam Cooke. He gave respect to Carl T on stage, and seemed hip to the cause. After the show, Alpheus commented on the area’s nice community vibe, which he said was conspicuously missing on the East Coast.
The Reggae Angels, who have become regulars at Ashkenaz, put on a nice performance. The two women singers shined. Lead singer Fenton brought up his two young daughters who did a number called “Sisters” with their half-sister, Alreka. It was announced that the two little girls will release an album soon. Amlak Tafari, most recently having worked with Don Carlos, stood in for Toho Saunders on bass for the Angels’ song, “Which Road Will You Choose?” Amlak, originally from the U.K., was heading down to Long Beach the following day to emcee the Bob Marley Celebrations.
Former Wailer, Vision, took the stage around 1:30 in the morning and was definitely one of the highlights of the evening. His wife and daughter were in the audience looking on with joy and pride. As it was a Thursday night, the crowd had dissipated a bit having to prepare for work the next day, but they missed a wonderful set. The consensus among my friends in attendance was that Vision was a top highlight of the night.
Clinton Fearon of the Gladiators was the last to play and was extremely well received. He played Gladiators hit “Chattymouth,” among others. The crowd brought him back for an encore and the show ended around 2:45 a.m.
Respect must go out to Carl T and to Ashkenaz for encouraging and preserving this Caribbean community and culture. Big respect also to notable members of the community who were in attendance but didn’t perform: John Bent, Wadi Gad, Sister I-Live, Emsley Fraser, Ras Mo, Ras Jacob, the Jamaica Station crew, Joe Aytch, and Jetin Grewal.