It was weather verses humans at Eric Donaldson’s maiden show in Uganda. From dawn to dusk, it was raining in different parts of Kampala and yet the long-awaited Cherry-oh Jamboree reggae festival, where the reggae legend was a headline act, was slated to happen in the outdoors at Jahazi Pier, Munyonyo.
You therefore had to be very brave or a reggae fanatic of Biblical proportions to push aside all worries and leave the house to attend the show. And that is one major factor that determined the very low turnout.
The 70- year-old living legend sauntered onto the stage at 11.45pm in a white suit and yellow shirt and a rasta hat, accessorized with what looked like a very pricey piece of bling around his neck.
The small crowd of about 120 was now fired up. Fired up because they had been grooving to great performances from several acts including the Burundian reggae band, Lion Story, and Kenya’s Reggae 5 that featured the famous Nazizi, and blazed because of all that weed. The open garden was misty from all that smoke, creating beautiful effects with the stage lighting. By the time Donaldson hit the stage, we were all as high as a concord.
Having greeted Uganda in patois, which, sadly I cannot replicate here, the agile aged crooner dove in, starting off his performance with ‘Got to let you go now’. It became immediately apparent that a lot of work had been put into rehearsals with Lion Story that was playing for him. It became even more apparent that the seasoned reggae rocker was in full control of every sound that came from the stage.
One minute he would be an unassuming old singer, the next minute he would be a ruthless producer demanding the very best or nothing at all. Quite often, he would stop the band just to have a word with the keyboardist or the drummer or the guitarist. It had to be his way. And all this happened without making anyone awkward; neither the musicians nor the audience.
For an hour and a half, he went through song after song, most of which were quite familiar to most of the audience, all the while shedding piece after piece of his attire. The performance was so selfless, and the performer so joyful and passionate. “This should have been advertised more,” a lady close by me said. “It is as if he is performing for a stadium full of people,” a mesmerised man said.
The old man showed that he was capable of dance strokes that would break any other 70-year-old. When the famous Traffic jam song started, screams went up but it was also a sign that the end was near. The crowd sang along with the joyful Jamaican and took selfies and danced harder than before.
At the end of the show, there was the showstopper, Cherry oh Baby, the classic reggae song that turned him into a global household name in 1971. The ecstatic crowd all whipped out their handsets to capture the moment for which they had been saving batteries.
It was simply a show that should have been more advertised. It is so unfair for a performance of that magnitude, from a star of this caliber to be have been attended by just one hundred people.