Photo Steve Bone

New Zealand’s greatest musical talents come together in two sensational concerts this summer to pay homage to one of the greatest influences on NZ music, Bob Marley.

Marley – NZ All-stars Celebrate the Legend will be staged at Wharepai Domain, Tauranga, on Friday, 9 December and Black Barn Vineyard, Havelock North, on Saturday, 10 December, they’ve also just added another date in Kerikeri at Kainui Rd Vineyard February 17.

Ex Op Shop singer Jason Kerrison is one of those who will be touring with the Kiwi supergroup along with vocalists Tiki Taane, Boh Runga, Logan Bell, Ria Hall and others who will perform Marley’s biggest hits including Get Up Stand Up, Exodus, No Woman No Cry, One Love and many more.

Kerrison is fairly relaxed as I catch up with him, apologising for eating lunch as we talk, he admits recently taking an ancestry test confessing “I just want to know “why we are” and “who we are” – well, the 42 percent Maori of me does.

“You kind of mentioned before being a kind of a ‘brown’ face on TV and yet I’ve never been referred to as a ‘Maori musician’. I don’t know why or how that comes about, I think that’s an interesting observation.”

Wal: How are you feeling about the gig?

Jason: As singers we’re only doing two or three songs each, as long as we have our heads around those we’ll be fine. The band has the mammoth task of learning all those songs. I think the really good thing about that is that most of the songs are generally in their catalogue anyway. It’s not like they’re going to have to learn a whole bunch of new songs – it’s an enormous task, 27 songs in two days but there’s not many chords in the Bob songs. That being said, they sound like they’re not too challenging and then you go to learn them its another story. It’s been a learning curve on a number of fronts for me, it’s going to be cool.

Wal: Sounds like it’s going to be a good one.

Jason: Having talked to all the artists involved I think everyone is as excited to be playing on the same stage and playing this kind of tribute show. We all love Bob for whatever reasons, we all have our own context about that, it’s exciting.

Wal: Earliest Bob memory?

Jason: One that comes to mind is when I came up to Auckland as a kid with my dad and my sisters. I remember playing a lot of pool in the garage at G.I. or somewhere, I noticed a lot of Reggae music, for a couple of weeks at least I was just surrounded by a lot of Bob Marley. I had an enormous affinity with him just purely by being introduced through the family I guess.

Wal: Was receiving the NZ Order Of Merit a highlight in your life?

Jason: That’s pretty funny. I personally didn’t think I deserved it when I looked at the people that had taken that award in the past. I didn’t think my deservability factor was anywhere near that, I mean I’m no war hero. I’ve hardly changed the industry that I’m in or left an indelible impression. I think from what I’ve heard it was ascribed more to the Band Together event which I helped put together with a really good team. It was the show we put together after the initial Christchurch earthquakes and we had six weeks to do it, but we managed to get 33 bands together, TV3 covered the whole event and we had over 160 thousand people there. We got people in Christchurch to forget about what was going on for at least a day – I’m proud of that, I’m really proud of that. I’m not sure if it merits something like that but once my parents found out they were incredibly proud.

Wal: What’s happening with Op Shop, are you still together?

Jason: No we’re not together, we broke up about three years ago now? I just got to a point where I felt we were just repeating ourselves, there was wasn’t anything innovative or new happening and a predictable dynamic. As much as I love the guys, I felt I wasn’t stretching myself as a musician or an artist. Also I felt it was an opportune time being at the top of our game in New Zealand to gracefully bow out and try different things.

Wal: You grew up in Christchurch?

Jason: I grew up in Christchurch. My dad was in bands as long as I can remember so I was always around musicians and I don’t recall him playing a lot of Reggae, mostly Country. I came from a Country Western background. Lots of Suzanne Prentice and John Denver, Brendan Duggan, the classics. (laughter)

Wal: The further South you get, the less Bob Marley there seems to be. What got you into Rock music?

Jason: I remember being in a band at fourteen and we were called Vivid after the first album by Living Colour. We did all those songs basically played the album back to front as much as we could every day on the weekends – that’s when I kind of realised “oh cool, you don’t have to be white to play rock” or “if you’re white you don’t just have to play Country music” (laughter.) It was nice to turn the whole thing on its head for me ..and I’ve been guessing and making up shit ever since.

Wal: What happened with your ancestry test?

Jason: It turns out I’m 2 percent African 30 percent South East Asian a bunch of European stuff, Dutch, Danish, Welsh, Irish and 42 percent Maori (laughter). That’s a typical breakdown there man. Its amazing how specific they can get these days. It’s whatever you identify with, I was always told “you’re a half cast”, I don’t even know what that means really, my mums a little blonde lady and my dads a darker Maori fella. Of course you have an affinity to both sides, but then it’s nice to have a sense of where your DNA’s all from.

Wal: Did you grow up around Maori culture?

Jason: Not in Invercargill or Christchurch not really. However that being said I remember going to Nga Hau E Wha in the kapa haka group as a kid, other than that not really. I actually just popped into the wananga in Hamilton last week just to ask what type of total immersion courses are available. I really want to be able to korero Maori, I’m really into it, there’s some calm about that and owning it.

Kerrison and co will be backed by the NZ All-Stars band, featuring Grenville Bell, guitar and Leon Davy, percussion; Fran Kora, bass and vocals; Lucien Johnson, sax and Barrett Hocking, trumpet; Paul Russell, drums; Joel Shadbolt, guitar; Shelton Woolright, guest drums and Godfrey de Grut, with the I-Threes on backing vocals, Boh, Ria and Anna.

The Modern Maori Quartet – who open each concert – will have fans “melting like golden syrup on a piece of hot fried bread!”. The MMQ crooners are James Tito, Maaka Pohatu, Matariki Whatarau and our very own Lion King, Matu Ngaropo.

Get along and catch this amazing show, Bob Marley and Reggae fans, it’s not to be missed.