Last month’s Metro World Concert, staged at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the banks of Washington, DC’s famous estuary, the Potomac River, brought out presidents and paupers alike to take in the sounds of the Caribbean in a pre-Carnival free-for-all that featured legends of reggae and the artists who are moving the island vibes forward into the 21st century. Originally pegged as a two-act show featuring Plunky and Oneness and the Skatalites, the concept morphed into a pan-Caribbean festival when organizers realized that the concert would coincide with the Caricom meeting of Caribbean leaders in the city and just days before DC’s own Caribbean Carnival.
With input from Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, Shaggy and reggae legend Jimmy Cliff (pictured) were added to the roster that had already widened to encompass the multiple talents of Wyclef Jean. The free outdoor concert quickly attracted the largest crowd ever at the Kennedy Center—some 10,000 people—and also brought out diplomats who were ready to unwind after a full day of meetings on the opening day of the conference.
The Skatalites kicked off the groove playing oldies like their hit “The Guns Of Navarone,” followed by costumed masqueraders who would be marching down Georgia Avenue the next weekend in DC's Caribbean Carnival, which has now grown to be the Nation’s Capital’s biggest street party, attracting revelers from all over the country. Shaggy was up next along with his entourage: vocalist Rayvon whose collaborations with Shaggy date back to the ‘90s, and Tony Gold of the singing brothers Brian and Tony Gold. Despite some inappropriate motions with the microphone, Shaggy got the crowd moving to his later hits like “Angel” and “It Wasn’t Me,” and his early songs “Oh Carolina,” “Boombastic,” “Mr. Lover” and “In the Summertime.” Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was hosting a State Department reception under the eaves of the historic marble institution, couldn’t resist doing a little diplomatic skank on the sidelines.
Jimmy Cliff took the crowd back with his early ska hits “You Can Get It” and “Rivers of Babylon,” and forward with his environmentally conscious songs “Save Planet Earth” and “Wonderful World, Beautiful People.” He lulled the enormous crowd into near silence with a heartfelt “Many Rivers to Cross” before being personally greeted backstage by Prime Minister Simpson-Miller, who had extended an invitation to the artist to “help promote Jamaican culture,” according to her aide. “She’s a woman of the people,” said veteran Jamaican journalist and reggae aficionado, Barrington Salmon. “She’s real roots.”
Wyclef Jean closed out the show easily moving between Fugee’s rewinds “Nobody Move, Nobody Gets Hurt,” and “Ready Or Not” complete with the piped-in voice of Lauryn Hill and ballads like “911” and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Vocalist Melki Sedek, who came “from Haiti via Brooklyn,” kicked off her silver metallic stilettos for a barefoot, straight-from-church soulful rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” But Wyclef reignited the audience with some Haitian carnival music and compas, even encouraging an impromptu rap from Haitian President Rene Preval, who was enjoying the music so much that he seemed genuinely surprised when tagged by Wyclef, who turned over his mic for a few “whoas” and “heys” from the world leader.
The ever-versatile Wyclef showcased some of the songs he wrote and performed with others, and then announced “I don’t care if Shakira’s not here. This one is MY song!” as he got the crowd rocking to their duet, “The Hips Don’t Lie,” enlisting the aid of a mini-Shakira who knew every last word. Wyclef ended the show with an electrified “Star Spangled Banner” played with his teeth and behind the head in a fitting tribute to Hendrix and the land the Haitian musician now calls home.