Few voices in music are as soulful and honeyed as Ken Boothe, the reggae legend whose God-level fame in his home country is showcased in the new documentary Inna de Yard. The film, which premiered earlier this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, highlights both the past and present of reggae veterans like Boothe, Winston McAnuff, Kiddus I, Cedric Myton of the Congos and Bob Marley and the Wailers’ vocalist Judy Mowatt as they record acoustic versions of some of their most celebrated songs for a new album.
Ostensibly a film about the album, director Peter Webber’s doc doubles as a thorough and candid history of the genre and its pioneers, as they reminisce about the fortunes (and misfortunes) of being a reggae musician in the 1970s. “Some countries have diamonds. Some countries have oil,” reggae bassist Worm says in the film. “We have reggae music.” Webber infuses the film with detours into the sometime-violent history of the country and how it’s affected the featured musicians, though the true highlights are seeing stars like the religion-minded falsetto of Myton and smooth soul of Boothe, both in their early 70s, still transfix and mystify an audience.
Following the film’s premiere earlier this week in New York, Boothe appeared alongside his band for an hour-long, career-spanning set of some of his biggest hits, including “Artibella,” “Crying Over You,” “Silver Words,” “When I Fall in Love” and his signature cover of Bread’s 1972 hit “Everything I Own.” His career hopped from ska to rocksteady to reggae, though tonight’s set leaned heavy on his best-known songs of romance and yearning.
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Age has barely slowed down the Jamaican crooner, as the nattily clad singer danced around the stage, doing 360s and displaying a master command of the crowd honed by more than 50 years of live performances. Every between-song ad-lib was smooth personified, as Boothe punctuated each comment with a suave, confident “Don’t you agree?” The answer, when Ken Boothe asks you, is always yes.