More signs that reggae's most respected voice has been hopelessly misappropriated: watching as a luxury car owner, blasting Bob Marley's civil rights anthem "Get Up, Stand Up" from expensive speakers, barrels around a corner, running an irate bicyclist off the road. Call it a contextual shift. Ever since American hippies with old family money began migrating to Jamaica in the '70s, Marley's message of one love has been read as shorthand for dope-smoking good times, and by the time American pop culture embraced the late singer, his lyrical intent had been obscured by the party haze.
For every person who thinks of Marley vaguely as some cool dreadhead guy who wrote songs about jamming, however, there are an equal number of people who are determined that Marley's musical legacy live on in a meaningful way; some of those people will be playing the annual Bob Marley Day Festival. Alpha Blondy, considered a worthy Marley successor in some camps, is not Jamaican -- he hails from the Ivory Coast -- but he's such a Marley fan that while studying English at Columbia he used to drop in at Harlem clubs, where he was known to sing a Marley song if the opportunity arose. Beginning with his return to Africa and his first album, Jah Glory, Blondy's multilingual reggae (sung in French, English, Hebrew, and his native Dioula) has criticized local police violence and the apartheid system to his south; with the recent release Yitzhak Rabin, Blondy layers reggae rhythms with horns, Afro-pop accents, and backup from Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt. He'll headline the Friday night show, preceded by England's Pato Banton & the Reggae Revolution. A rerelease of Banton's "Baby Come Back" collaboration with UB40 members put the former ragamuffin MC back on the charts; his most recent release, Stay Positive, calls for peace internationally ("Rwanda") and locally ("Gotta Be a Change"), but Banton slips a cover of the Police's "Spirits in the Material World" between the politics.
Kingston native Gregory Isaacs, a soulful crooner in the lover's-rock vein and a co-conspirator with Sly and Robbie, headlines the second night with support from Sister Carol; Israel Vibration & the Roots Radics Band close out Sunday night's show. All performances begin at 8 p.m. at the Maritime Hall, 450 Harrison (at First Street), S.F. Admission is $22.50-25; call 974-0634. (