Reggae: The Next Generation at Belly Up Aspen
If You Go …
What: Ghetto Youths International tour
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, April 22, 9 p.m.
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
More info: Artists in the showcase include Cham, Christopher Ellis, Jo Mersa Marley, Wayne Marshall, and Black Am I.
The first time Christopher Ellis performed on stage, he was 11 years old, joining his father – the legendary “Godfather of Rocksteady” Alton Ellis – to sing “I’m Still in Love With You Girl.” He toured the world with his dad through his teenage years and into his twenties.
“I was beside him learning the craft, but it was fun,” Ellis said recently from a tour stop in Minneapolis. “It was not a job.”
Ellis didn’t pursue a solo music career until his father died, in 2008. After they had performed together at Alton Ellis’ final show, his dad had asked him to help carry on the family tradition when he was gone. The day after he passed, the mourning Christopher Ellis went into a London studio and recorded a tribute song.
Another musician carrying on a family legacy – Stephen Marley – then stepped in to encourage the 26-year-old Ellis and foster his burgeoning solo talent. The two met in Jamaica, and collaborated on the hip-hop-tinged soul single, “End of Time.”
“Straight away he took me under his wing like a little brother,” said Ellis.
Ellis signed with the Marley family’s label, Ghetto Youths International, continued recording original music, and released his debut EP, “Better Than Love,” in 2013.
Like Bob Marley’s children, he wanted to carry on his father’s music and style – his voice has a mood and phrasing that carries unmistakable echoes of his dad – but he wanted to be his own man.
“I was adamant about not doing any covers on the EP,” he said.
But he came around to recording a version of his Alton Ellis’ “Willow Tree” as a single, and performing homages in concert.
Ellis is currently on the road alongside his generation’s emerging reggae torchbearers on a group tour that comes to Belly Up on Wednesday.
Along with Ellis, the showcase-style tour includes Grammy-nominated “Ghetto Story” rapper Cham, the genre-hopping 24-year-old Jo Mersa Marley, deejay Wayne Marshall, and singer Black Am I. All are featured on the Ghetto Youth International compilation “Set Up Shop Vol. 2,” released last year.
Ellis brings original songs with a throwback dancehall and rocksteady approach, while his cohorts add doses of roots reggae, dub, rap and fusion.
“The special thing about this show is you get the full spectrum of reggae music,” said Ellis. “What everyone is doing is very unique. It’s great, when [other] artists have been performing at the shows, I’ve been watching like a patron.”
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