Brooklyn-based reggae band Reggaelution provided the soundtrack for last weekend’s performances of “One Love — A Reggae Cabaret” at the Stuart Street Playhouse in the Theatre District. (Photo courtesy of www.myspace.com/reggaelutionband)
The sounds of Jamaica came to Boston last weekend with the premiere of “One Love — A Reggae Cabaret,” a play that travels back to the days when roots reggae, not dancehall, was king — a time that saw the likes of Jacob Miller and Peter Tosh blazing the trail for contemporary stars such as Sean Paul and Beenie Man.
For director Florante Galvez, the play is his “love letter to reggae.” Performed last weekend at the Stuart Street Playhouse in the Theatre District, “One Love” was inspired by an off-Broadway play with a similar storyline he worked on three years called “Driving on the Left Side.”
While he is not Jamaican himself, Galvez said that growing up in the West Indian community in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., intensified his love for reggae music.
“Theatre and reggae have always been a passion in my life,” Galvez said. “The music has such a message about tolerance and peace, which is so lacking in today’s political atmosphere. We are hoping to reach audiences who have a limited view of reggae.”
The play revolves around the ill-tempered Marcia (Daniella Matalon), a college-bound Jamaican American who thinks she knows everything about reggae because she has all the popular dancehall songs — and a couple of Bob Marley remixes — on her iPod.
Marcia is the first professional theatrical role for 17-year-old Matalon, who was born in Miami but raised in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and St. Kitts. Like her character, Matalon will be attending college in the fall, heading to the University of Denver where she hopes to continue her studies in the performing arts. She said that she is happy her first acting role was in a play that “pays tribute to the culture of the Caribbean.”
During the play, Marcia receives a lesson in rocksteady, a popular Jamaican music genre that preceded the establishment of reggae in the late 1960s. Her teachers are Reggaelution, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based reggae band that provides the soundtrack for “One Love” with their own original tracks and takes on some classics.
Bandleader Al “Aljam” Smith said that it is important for today’s youth to know that dancehall has its roots in original reggae.
“Dancehall is a very commercialized form of reggae,” said Smith. “When I was growing up, I was inspired by Burning Spear, The Maytals and Jimmy Cliff. Reggae is not just about dancing; it’s also about promoting social conscientiousness.”
Reggaelution keyboardist Kevon Alexander said that in his homeland of Trinidad, known for its soca and calypso sounds, roots reggae is actually more popular among the youth.
Acclaimed Jamaican actress Sharon Tsahai King, who plays Mamma Jamaica, hoped that audience members left “One Love” looking at reggae in a different light.
“I hope people will walk away from the play with a different way of thinking about Jamaican culture,” she said.
“One Love” traces the development of the popular musical form through the eyes of a spirited young Jamaican American woman named Marcia and the wise aunt who visits Marcia as she prepares to leave for college. More »
Check out the music of the Brooklyn-based band providing the musical backdrop for last weekend's "One Love" performances. More »