“Robert Burns was the Scottish version of Bob Marley”. OK, so it might be a bit of a stretch, but no-one is going to argue with the star of this evening, Brina, as she adds some Caribbean zing to old Rabbie’s poetry here at the Voodoo Rooms. On her forthcoming album, the Jamaican singer continues the fine tradition of reggae covers projects – Bob Dylan and Radiohead being notable beneficiaries – by working over some Burns classics. Traditionalists can rest easy. The bard is in good hands.
Her partners in the project are four piece the Tribal Global Collective. As generic names go, they might be to world music what Corporate Trading Solutions is to business (or The Wee Review is to Scottish review sites!), but as a backing band, they do a grand job, not only with straight-up reggae, but with the variations in genre that the material invites.
Tonight’s set is a roughly 50/50 split between the Burns project and her own original songs. The latter tend to be joyous calls-to-arms, rocking little numbers, intended to spread a little light into people’s lives. She starts by cheering for Scotland’s freedom, then ends by calling us to celebrate unity – mixed messages to give a political spin doctor palpitations! – but everyone in the room feels the basic love at the heart of them. Singing, laughing, loving – these are themes that come up repeatedly.
As for the Burns material, even those casually acquainted with his work will find some familiar faces. ‘My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose‘ gets cheered as Brina announces its Lovers Rock makeover, while ‘The Highland Widow’s Lament‘ is restyled as a song for a Jamaican Nine-Night funeral celebration. ‘Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon‘ is another old friend that gets an outing. As for ‘Ye Jacobites By Name‘, it has been doctored before (see Billy Bragg’s ‘Thatcherites‘ for one such example), but here it is ‘Warmongerers’ (sic) who get their comeuppance to a reggae beat that keeps the melody intact.
It takes until the last couple of songs and an explicit instruction from Brina herself to get people out of their seats dancing. But this is more a reflection on the Voodoo Rooms’ cabaret set up than on the music. People are itching to let go. They just need the excuse. Somewhere in the afterlife, Burns himself was no doubt cutting a rug.