A daring musical adventure unleashed a classic dimension with ten timeless songs from the catalog of the world’s most famous reggae musicians.
When Chi Chi Nwanoko, founder of Chineke! The Orchestra, the UK’s first and only predominantly black orchestra, received a call from Island Records that they wanted to record Bob Marley’s greatest hits, and was shocked.
She remembers sharing the story of Bob Marley’s new album with Chineke: “I was thinking ‘How can you do that, isn’t that sacrilege, the music is really perfect!'” orchestra.
She told BD life.
“But they said when it came to giving the same treatment to Bob Marley, everyone agreed he should be with Chineke! Orchestra.”
The orchestra whose name translates from the Igbo language, as “the great creator of all good things was the brainchild of Chi Chi, daughter of a Nigerian father and an Irish mother. In a career spanning more than three decades, the double guitarist has emerged as the only black person not only on stage, but In the huge places where I played.
“It got to a point in my career where I had a lot of credibility and felt confident that something could be done to find diversity in classical music,” she says. And so this was Chineke! The orchestra was born in 2015 and is today one of the most sought after in Europe, as evidenced by Bob Marley’s album.
After several meetings with Island Records, Chi-Chi was convinced that the project would not spoil Bob Marley’s music. Recording took place at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London where the Beatles recorded their biggest hits in the 1960s.
“Once the musicians got over the excitement, having Bob Marley and the Wailers in our headphones while we were playing the clicking track was a relief. A smile was on everyone’s faces throughout the recording,” she says. “We played from the heart. We weren’t just playing the notes.”
“Some classical musicians might feel conceited about playing reggae. It’s ridiculous. This is the highest form of music and we’ve teamed up with Bob Marley and taken both art forms to a higher level.”
Although the album was released in the past two weeks, the recording took place three years ago. The original plan to release the album during the 75th anniversary of Bob Marley’s birth in 2020, was postponed to settle all contractual issues between the Marley family and his estate, and then the pandemic pushed the release even further.
The album was received enthusiastically by the Marley family with Bob Skip’s grandson Marley, performing with the orchestra during a private concert in Birmingham last week with his mother, Cedella.
The concert, which marked Marley’s fiancée’s UK debut, marked the 50th anniversary of Bob Marley’s first performance in the city, the 60th year since Jamaica gained its independence, and celebrated the host city of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Chi-chi, recipient of the OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth in 2017 for his musical services, maintains that Marley’s music is still in its original form on the album.
“This is an arrangement of strings around the music, it’s more like a recording accompaniment. We haven’t changed the music. I wouldn’t dream about it.”
“What this has done is reinforce Bob Marley’s message, he’s upping his music but we haven’t changed a single thing. His message is there loud and clear, and nothing has changed. It’s just a broader dimension because there’s a string orchestra around it.”
It’s great to hear the strings at the opening of the Exodus before the familiar one-drop bass, or the sliding instruments that accompany the smooth beat of Stir It Up, kick in. Another favorite that got a similar upgrade is One Love/People Get Ready, Is This Love and Redemption Song.
“People who like Bob Marley will suddenly hear a string quartet with him and think ‘Wow! I play Viola, maybe I can join the Chineke! Orchestra,'” says Chi Chi.
“I want people to enjoy it with open hearts and minds and to dance and think of this great prophet; Bob Marley was a prophet. Just listen to the words of each track. The words are still relevant today.”
She says it’s sad that some of the songs that Bob wrote during his lifetime still sound which shows that we haven’t made much social and political progress since then.
“When you listen to this new album it brings you all your positive thinking, all your positive vibes because he wanted to make the world a better place and so are we in this troubled world.”