Photo courtesy of Jinyoung Ko
Photo courtesy of Jinyoung Ko

Daniel Bambaata Marley and Riverside-based Natural Heights lit up the Barn with some much needed peace, love and reggae on what would have been Bob Marley’s 68th birthday, Feb. 6. While Natural Heights gave a decent enough performance, Marley (son of Ziggy Marley) electrocuted the crowd with jumps, chest pumps, highs and a feel of unmatched authenticity. There must be something groovy in that Marley blood.

Natural Heights opened with “Nation Vibration,” a mellow jam characterized by lead vocalist Scott Hall’s distinct high-pitched voice. He sings, “Ooh this is the vibe / this is the rhythm / Can move a whole nation / So buh! buh!” While a bit slow for the head-bobbing crowd, the band pumped some adrenaline into their lazy sound with “Wake Me Up” and “Hold Me Down.” Lead guitarist Juan Canales did a great job keeping this rapid pace throughout the night, and he even tore up a few solos. At one point he hopped off stage and kept playing.

For all the glory their more upbeat tunes brought, Natural Heights killed their momentum with many of their slower songs such as “My Escape,” “Moon Dub” and “Slightly Eleven.” They’re nice and calming and all, but damn do they start to sound the same after a while. Hill relies too heavily on belching out long vowels in lieu of actual words—almost to the point of pure annoyance. I can’t even count how many “oh oh yea yea yeas” there are in nearly every song; “Right Time” sticks out in particular. Like scatting, this use of nonsensical syllables helped Hall improvise a few melodies and rhythms, but it got old—fast.

Had Natural Heights kept their slow jams low, and instead focused on keeping the energy high and infused with the classic reggae off-beat and two-chord arrangements found in “Cruisin Cali” and “Next Life,” people might have started skanking.

But the night soon turned around with the headlining artist of the night. Hailing from Jamaica with dreadlocks and a lion T-shirt, 23-year-old Daniel Bambaata Marley may appear to be only a typical reggae artist at first blush. But one taste of his music is enough to convince anybody otherwise.

Marley spat fire with his unique fusion blend of reggae/rap to the backdrop of funky guitar licks, fat bass lines, snappy snare drums and a deep synthesizer and piano.

Following a similar vocal harmony and high wails, hints of his famous grandfather Bob Marley and father Ziggy Marley are subtly intertwined in his own work. But rather than cowering in that shadow, Marley also raps over many of his tracks. As testament to a new generation, Marley’s rap skills shine as he makes use of new electronic sounds, elements of music nonexistent during his grandfather’s time, all while keeping that smooth reggae sound.

Featured prominently was one of his most well-known singles, “Live it inna Fear.” Singing, “the chosen young / Get pushed to guns / And that how blood go flow / Need for a change is high / But rage go reside in them soul / 96 degrees / And still so many hearts are cold,” in a low voice that rose in volume and intensity along with the song’s progression, Marley’s stand-out vocals were punctuated with rhythmic piano beats and a tropical wood-block soundfont hailing from the time of his grandfather.

During each of his songs, Marley showed off the dynamism characteristic of his live shows. Moving from one end of the stage to the other at a speed ranging from a fast-paced trot to a full-on gallop, he did as much to infuse energy into the audience as the pulsing beat. At one point, he stole away via a side exit before making his way through the crowd of gyrating bodies to the stage front, and proceeded to work up the crowd by grooving alongside them.

Though the audience’s collective mind began to wander before Marley’s performance, he called them back, saying, “Please come closer to the stage. I need to feel your energy and your breath.” And though not extraordinarily large, the fact that most everybody stayed for the entire performance attests to Marley’s musical skill and charisma. In spite of the medium turnout, the energetic performances of songs like “Cowboy” made the atmosphere of the Barn feel more like a large concert hall packed with people rather than a partly empty restaurant. Once Marley was on the stage, the crowd was fully engaged.

Marley offstage was a down-to-earth person who sold his own merchandise and had no problems mingling among the crowd to take pictures and sign autographs. But he still keeps the music close to him, and will be releasing a mixtape in the spring. “Music is the heartbeat, is the soul… music is vibration,” he explained after the performance.

Though Natural Heights left something to be desired, Marley’s performance saved the show from being a complete wash. Between the two artists, the night was a good one for the new generation of reggae, and truly fitting for the birthday of Bob Marley.