NEW YORK — * Reggae music is enjoying a vast surge of popularity in this country, due in no small part to the emergence of ``dancehall,'' the Jamaican version of rap.
This summer's 10th Anniversary Tour of Reggae Sunsplash is especially careful to cover a wide variety of styles, and it is a thoroughly entertaining and representative sampler of current reggae. If anything, it is an embarrassment of riches: The show lasts over five hours.
Of course, no star of reggae has surpassed the achievements of its original popularizer, Bob Marley. His gift for melody remains untouched, as was demonstrated by one of the performers, Marcia Griffiths. A former backup singer for Marley, she, along with special guest, Judy Mowatt (another Marley singer), performed a medley of Marley songs that received the biggest response of the evening.
Moderated by the jovial master of ceremonies, Tommy Cowan, the evening proceeded smoothly from one act to another. Soulful singing was provided by Junior Tucker (among other things, he enlisted several audience members in a bump- and-grind dance number and threw stuffed animals to the crowd) and Beres Hammond, who recently signed to a major American label. Dancehall rapping was the specialty of Terror Fabulous and Red Fox, and both performers illustrated the limitations of the form, at least for American audiences: Their thick accents made deciphering the words nearly impossible.
The headliners came at the end: Maxi Priest, one of the most commercially successful reggae stars of recent years, with such hits as ``Close to You'' (actually more rhythm and blues than reggae), ``Temptress,'' ``Housecalls'' (with another Jamaican star, Shabba Ranks), and his remake of Cat Stevens's ``Wild World.'' (Cover versions are a traditional aspect of reggae music. I once heard, on a bus in Jamaica, a reggae version of - I kid you not - ``If I Was a Rich Man.'') Each act was backed by the proficient house band, the A-Team.
Popular reggae band Steel Pulse ended the show. It performed politcally tinged anthems with a fiery verve.
* `Reggae Sunsplash' concluded its tour in New York.