Israel Vibration, The Jewish Mother, Virginia Beach, VA – 6/13
Israel Vibration originally existed as a vocal trio and although all three singers aren’t still banded, two of them still move as one. As children, Cecil "Skeleton" Spence, Albert "Apple Gabriel" Craig, and Lascelle "Wiss" Bulgin met in a Jamaican polio clinic. Life destined that their future would be brighter as a unit. But before brighter days would come, the three friends separated for a few years, grew as individuals and each independently found value in Rastafarianism. After a time, they met each other again, forming a trio strengthened by their shared Rastafarian faith. By the mid-70s, Israel Vibration was making a formidable name and taking historic steps on the music scene with their often lyrically-militant brand of reggae.
Years into their touring career and after a series of recordings, Apple eventually decided that he truly wanted to do his own thing, so in 1997, he left to pursue his solo aspirations. Despite having lost a large part of itself with Apple’s departure (a wonderful vocalist), newcomers to the band’s sound likely won’t notice an absence, while those pining for the past will be able to get around the loss after hearing what remains. Wiss’ understated vocals still carry lyrically-deep songs about the pains of life while Skeleton’s vibe is often more upbeat and dance-inspiring.
I’ve most often heard Israel Vibration’s (the duo version) singers trade off on lead vocals from one song to the next, as each song individually highlights one of the singer’s skills, but tonight they traded off by taking songs two at a time. Rather than provide the obligatory set list (Israel Vibration’s catalogue runs deep), it’s probably more appropriate to describe the mood these two legendary singers bring to a room.
The Jewish Mother and Humble Ark Promotions brought in 330 people and the sold-out venue was stifling hot, but it didn’t matter as fans began to find spots toward the stage. After a tight and engaging opening set by Session Rockers (local-based reggae band) with singer Black Culture on the microphone, the crowd was geared to keep moving. The Session Rockers rhythm team is addictively solid and Black Culture’s delivery is stronger every time I hear him sing. It took a little while to prep the stage for Israel Vibration’s arrival, but once the singers (backed musically by the Roots Radics) were ready to groove, I certainly didn’t care what time it was.
It’s difficult to explain the feeling I get when I see these two reggae giants move towards their microphones under the assistance of two crutches apiece. How can I gripe about standing for a few minutes in front of the stage after they’ve danced before my eyes? It isn’t everyday that you can witness two men entirely own an audience (people danced on the tables) and make it sway to organic rhythms and unassuming songs about life’s trials alongside the ability to overcome. Sure, there are plenty of songs about overcoming trials, but few are so humble and gripping all at once.
Skeleton and Wiss tore through a lengthy single-set of their hits while sweating out the night with us all. When the performance seemed done, they exited out of The Jewish Mother’s side entrance, located in the corner of the room between one of the booths and the stairs coming off the side of the waist-level stage. People started to exit the building, but enough of us hung around to coax the band and vocalists back into our presence for a multi-song encore session. I would have happily left after the main course, full and fulfilled, but I’m not known to skip a dessert when offered. Thankfully, I stuck around.
I feel great satisfaction in having memories of living through performances of as many of the original Reggae legends as I possibly can; thanks to Humble Ark Productions, I’ve witnessed a bulk in my neighboring city of Virginia Beach, VA. That said, it is a satisfaction that I hope isn’t taken for granted by others. Reggae is still a relatively new musical style on the world’s palette, and it’s with this in mind that I hear the original fathers of the style. I know that many of Reggae’s forefathers are gone, but many are still around and I won’t miss the opportunity to witness breathing history. Love of the genre aside (and I do love Reggae music), I see and hear the original Jamaican-born Roots-Reggae bands with a singular mindedness, which is, “Nothing physical lasts forever; I’m thankful to have been in your presence, to have heard your words, to have felt your music and to have looked into your eyes, for a time.”