Island Records stars pay tribute at Montreux Jazz Festival

Sat Jul 11, 2009 11:54am EDT
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By Jason Rhodes

MONTREUX (Reuters) - Baaba Maal and Angelique Kidjo were among the headliners in a tribute to Island Records founder Chris Blackwell that rocked into the early hours at the Montreux Festival on Saturday.

"Without Mr Chris Blackwell you wouldn't have me before you tonight. That's all I have to say," Angelique Kidjo, the Grammy Award-winning Beninese singer-songwriter discovered by Blackwell in 1991, said.

Kidjo, Maal and the other gathered musicians, who all recorded for Blackwell's boundary-crossing label during their careers, knocked dead the packed Stravinski Auditorium on the shores of Lake Geneva with a mold-breaking evening of musical acrobatics marking the label's 50th anniversary.

Blackwell, who started Island Records in 1959 with 1,000 pounds ($1,600), worked with local ska and reggae singers in Jamaica, where he grew up, before moving to London.

There he scored his first big transatlantic hit with Millie Small's cover of "My Boy Lollipop" set to a romping ska beat.

Island broke down musical, geographical and race barriers, helping turn reggae into a global musical form by bringing legendary Jamaican singer Bob Marley to an international audience, and unearthing talents like Kidjo and Irish band U2.

Congolese pianist and songwriter Ray Lema kicked off with a blend of Congolese rumbas, township jive and reggae.

"I know you are a man of passion. In other people this passion dies away," Lema told a visibly moved Blackwell, sitting in the audience. "So I just want to thank you for your passion, Chris Blackwell."   Continued...

<p>Angelique Kidjo from Benin performs during a "Tribute to Island Records founder Chris Blackwell" show at the 43rd Montreux Jazz Festival July 10, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse</p>