It would be easy to overlook Northern California-based reggae artist Malika Madremana amid all the veteran entertainers on the bill for Dreadstock 2005 -- Barrington Levy, Junior Reid, Johnny Osbourne, Earl Zero, the Rastafarians, and Groundation are all slated to perform at the Vallejo festival this weekend. Good news for fans of traditional roots reggae, to be certain. But for the genre to progress, it must make good its motto of "forward ever, backwards never" -- which in this case means passing the torch to new blood.
Madremana represents just that. In fact, on her new album, Healing, she has a song called "Blood," on which she sings, In between a rock and a hard place/Some would let the pressure give in/But still there are some who have been there who break through the rock from within. Like classic reggae from bygone days, the tune hits high notes of inspiration, with lyrical themes about transcending struggle and finding inner strength, while a loping, rub-a-dub-style riddim drives her message home. Other tracks from Healing hint at the singer's potential to become a future reggae queen. With her strong, capable voice, unwavering spirit, and conscious lyrics, she evokes a regal presence, like a young Judy Mowatt. It's perhaps no wonder that her day job is as a schoolteacher; after all, reggae at its best has always had an educational component.
Reached over the phone from her hometown of Sacramento, Madremana explains that her goal is the same in the classroom or onstage. "It's one mission, really -- trying to uplift the youth and give them a positive future." The second-generation Puerto Rican, originally from New York, has been singing reggae music for about six years. She says she has been a Rasta "from birth," adding that her conversion was more inward than outward. "You don't become a Rasta; it's within you from the time you're born." Her religion, she says, gives her the spiritual balance she needs to survive in this world: "It's like the air that I breathe." While women have often been relegated to background roles within Rasta culture, Madremana believes things are beginning to change: "There's new consciousness that brethren and sistren are reaching. Fighting against oppression is not just a man's thing, it's a woman's thing, too."
Madremana's performance Saturday at Dreadstock is not only an introduction for many to her positive vibrations, but also a record release party for her album. Music, she feels, is "healing for the soul," and her album title reflects a need to "rejuvenate the spirit" against all the ills of society: "the system, oppression, relationships, a lot of different things." She does sing some love songs, but she also is conscious of the fact that the hip-hop generation is "not appreciating reggae the way they should." For that reason, she directs many of her messages toward the youth. Society in general needs a wake-up call, she adds: "It's crucial that people open their eyes to what's taking place around us." We can't afford, she says, to be "desensitized toward history" or to live in a bubble. And as the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina showed, "there's a high spiritual price to pay if we don't pay attention to the suffering."
Dreadstock takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Vallejo Marina, 320 Mare Island Way. For more information, visit Dreadstock.com or call 707-534-1016.
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