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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Ziggy Marley, Latifah Step Out From Shadows

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Reggae’s Ziggy Marley and rap’s Queen Latifah have both had to escape big shadows to establish their own identities. Marley had to step out from the shadow of his late father Bob, which dominates the reggae landscape, while Latifah had to contend with the shadow of male domination in the rap world.

But both have succeeded remarkably, and in each of their sets at the Greek Theatre on Thursday, they showed the simple, common formula behind that success: They’ve been true to themselves.

Marley lives up to the mantle of heir to the reggae throne, Latifah is the true Queen of rap, and both behaved regally Thursday, drawing upon ceremonial traditions but never bowing down to them.

In a too-brief half-hour set, Latifah proved that she’s not merely the strongest female presence in rap, but one of the strongest people in the field. Though short in time, the performance was long in personality and smarts. Even the hoary party-time conventions employed by her and her crew of three male dancers, turntable artist AD and a real live drummer seemed fresh in the dynamic context of the likes of “Nature of a Sista’,” the existential tour-de-force title track from her new album.

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The 90-minute-plus set by Marley and his siblings, the Melody Makers, was even more of a revelation. For several years now it’s been clear that Ziggy, still just 22, has plenty of vision and presence to merit his birthright. His resemblance to his father, both physically and vocally, is more uncanny than ever, but his manner is natural and unforced. It’s as if he views his look and voice as gifts and wants only to use them to their fullest.

As a result, this show was a celebration of youth and spirit at least as much as of traditions and bloodlines, even though the impressively versatile backing band included four former members of Bob Marley’s Wailers.

The young Marleys (singer-percussionist Stephen, singers-dancers Cedella and Sharon, along with frontman Ziggy) even introduced un-Rasta irony in the new dance-club-friendly “Good Times,” with the lines “Though the world is cruel and blind, let’s have a good time.” But the “conscious party” message is so strong and sincere, that the song segued nicely into the elder Marley’s classic call-to-arms, “Get Up Stand Up.”

Even more astounding and un-Rasta was the dancing of Cedella, Sharon and Erica Newell, who roamed the stage while singing tight harmonies through headset microphones. Their giddy, sexy choreography was to Bob’s serenely swaying I-Threes what Madonna’s was to the June Taylor Dancers.

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Perhaps it’s wrong to call these elements un-Rasta. This is the new Rasta and the new reggae. Anyone who’s been dismayed watching the rest of the reggae world get mired in slavish traditionalism and/or calculated pop-crossover moves can look on at the young Marley clan and sigh amen .

The package, which also includes rapper Crystal Waters, will be at the Open Air Theatre in San Diego tonight and at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Sunday.


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