Backstage with Luciano “The Messenger” by Cameron Boyle
On August 20th at BB King’s we had the privilege of being whisked backstage to meet Luciano and his entourage before his concert started. We were eager to meet this iconic reggae deliverer of all socially, spiritually and culturally conscious messages under Jah’s rule.
In his VIP quarters we met his closest supporters from Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Jamaica and the USA…..a sign of his universal appeal. Luciano greeted us with a gracious and welcoming smile, his whole being rooted in the earth and emanating light. He was generous with his time and with many others wanting to snap group photos before showtime. I was thrilled to learn that he keeps me company standing in our 51st year of life…..there’s something about being in the second half-century of life that bonds folk in a certain breadth and depth of life experience. And that sense of SELF, coupled with being a second-generation roots-reggae artist, comes through powerfully in his messages and his performance.
Luciano arrives on stage, after his band and backup vocalist lift the crowd’s energy, with grounded presence and solid purpose. He’s clad in “Soldier of Jah” attire, carrying an African chief’s staff, with loose long dreadlocks that soon have a life of their own. This is NOT the yelling, jumping variety of reggae. The audience is not waiting to jump; there are some young and many middle-aged folk and couples waiting for messages that inspire and empower. There is a respectful vibe, NOT a pick-up scene with wining and grinding. People move, but it’s a slow groove that’s moved by SPIRIT, and it’s secondary to the lyrics.
We are at the CHURCH of reggae. Giving thanks and praise to Jah is the umbrella message. However, it’s not an exclusive “my way or the highway” preaching. One can substitute their own higher power for “Jah” and know that the messages apply to all brothers and sisters on the path of a right-minded life. Under this umbrella of Jah come messages of anti-violence, love, respect, women’s rights and freedom. Luciano calls on young artists to evolve from the “slackness” and vulgarity of the “yo dawg, yo dawg” mentality of music making. And he does a beautiful reggae rendition of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, with a call to put down the guns.
Luciano is not about misogynistic lyrics. His Gambian wife is on stage in the background “holding space” for The Messenger. She is clad in West African garb and has the regal presence of a Queen. At one point Luciano says it’s her birthday! He praises her and brings her forward to pay tribute by singing a love song about how essential she is to his life. This is a man who knows how to honor and respect women.
The most effective aspect of Luciano’s message delivery is how he commands seriousness and respect but also ignites the hearts of his disciples with a huge smile and playful energy. In one moment he’s a serious and stoic soldier of Jah; in the next moment he’s swinging his dreadlocks in big aerial infinity loops which seems to bring his message to eternal rhythmic life. And then he does a full forward handspring across the stage!.... like a superhero exclamation mark for his message!!! At age 50! You Go, Luciano!!