The Abyssinians / Mutabaruka Opera House, Toronto ON - February 26, 2006

The Abyssinians / Mutabaruka Opera House, Toronto ON - February 26, 2006
Billed as the "Black History Roots And Culture Concert," Muta and the Abyssinians touched down at a nearly full Opera House on a frigid February night. Two conscious reggae artists of this stature on the same bill was a rare treat for roots reggae fans. Following warm-up sets by Toronto's Humble, the Juno-nominated Odel, and Iqulah, I expected Muta to rip it up over the solid backing of the Hard Core band. Muta, Jamaica's most controversial radio host, author and dub poet, came on stage alone, resplendent in a black outfit and bright red caftan. He proceeded to… talk. No band. I'm sure I wasn't the only one surprised at this, as the crowd's reaction was loudly mixed — a reggae audience never shuffles about quietly. However, Muta turned in a remarkable performance. He was equal parts cultural critic, Rasta philosopher, gross-out humorist and observational comic, à la Seinfeld — he actually did a routine wondering why anyone would pay $1.99 for a double Whopper when you could get two singles with two buns for 99 cents? But he used this routine to advocate vegetarianism. After he concluded his set with a highly controversial reassessment of Jesus, even MC Natty B was forced to comment, lest those in the audience howling both their approval and disgust get out of hand. The main event did not disappoint. The trio looked positively regal in their outfits, led by the white-bearded Bernard Collins. From opening tune "The Good Lord," it was apparent that none of them had lost their vocal power and subtlety. It was truly marvellous to see these men in their 60s effortlessly invoke the natural mystic of their bittersweet, major over minor harmonies. Pushing hard for almost 90 minutes, the vocals flagged slightly by the end of the main set, but after a brief break they came back harder than ever for an extended take, almost a medley, of the many versions of their timeless classic, "Satta Massa Gana." A great night, certainly one of the reggae shows of the year.