Nas & Damian Marley @ SummerStage, Central Park, 8/12/11

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Nas and Damian Marley released their album Distant Relatives in May last year. Since then they’ve been around the globe and back again. This reviewer saw them in London’s Hammersmith Apollo over a year before their final appearance on tour, here in New York. (Nas and Damian Marley will perform again next month, but as part of the Austin City Limits Festival). There is trouble in comparing that London performance with what the pair produced in Central Park. The set in Hammersmith was something extraordinary; when Damian Marley concluded the show with ‘Could You Be Loved,’ the response saw an almost tearfully joyful audience dancing as one great shifting shape. The show was indoors, and it was near the beginning of the Distant Relatives collaboration: the set sparked with energy.

A lot of things change in a year: a loving, united vision of London not least. The relationship between two solo artists performing together is also liable to change. So possibly the most surprising result of this partnership is a lack of any reported friction between the two musicians. From its outset, the Distant Relatives project has been remarkably un-hyped, oriented towards music before all else.

Consequently, whilst this concert in Central Park had the air of two performers looking ahead to new ventures and space in which to breathe, it was still the product of an ingeniously creative sound. As in London, a fiery brace of opening tracks from Distant Relatives was followed by Nas and Marley taking solo turns on stage; Nas calling his Bravehearts crew to perform ‘old-school hip hop’ on stage, offering diversity to a string of entertaining crowdpleasers (‘Move,’ ‘Hate Me Now,’ ‘Welcome to Jamrock,’ and ‘Get Down’). The pair then reunited to sing a stirring, ‘Africa Must Wake Up’ with K’naan, Nas’s ‘One Mic’ (Marley happily playing bongos), and concluding – perhaps predictably – with ‘Could you Be loved.’ In spite of the recognizable routine, both musicians seemed delighted at the crowd. In London, a world class MC on the mic is like a state visit, in New York it’s part of the fabric of the city. Comparatively peaceful it may have been, but a balmy Central Park in mid-Summer was a fitting location to cap a celebration of hybrid music styles and worldwide success. The lasting accomplishment of Distant Relatives is that it has energized both Nas and Marley to record some of their finest material.

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