Grammy Award-winning drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare may not be the world’s greatest rhythm section, but they certainly rank near the top.
The Jamaican duo will perform as part of Monday’s 33rd annual Tribute to the Reggae Legends Festival at Valley View Casino Center (formerly the San Diego Sports Arena, where the festival returns after being held for two years at the Broadway Pier Port Pavilion). The 16-act lineup Monday also includes such reggae stalwarts as Don Carlos, Horace Andy and Third World along with Italy’s Alborosie, Argentina’s Alika, England’s Bitty McLean and San Diego’s Tribal Seeds.
But when it comes to stylistic diversity and historical importance, this crack riddim team from Kingston is just about peerless. It’s no surprise reggae is their musical bread and butter — there isn’t a reggae artist of note they haven’t worked with, including fellow Reggae Legends performers Andy and McLean.
But the list of artists from other idioms who have also utilized Sly & Robbie’s propulsive rhythmic skills is dizzying. Ditto those who have employed the two to produce their recordings.
In no particular order, Sly & Robbie’s past collaborators include Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Madonna, Joe Cocker, Paul McCartney, Britney Spears, Mick Jagger, Bootsy Collins and DJ Spooky. That list also includes No Doubt, Grace Jones, Jamaican jazz piano great Monty Alexander, Cyndi Lauper, Jackson Browne, hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, French pop auteur Serge Gainsbourg, The Fugees and more.
The 33rd Annual Tribute to the Reggae Legends Festival
With: Don Carlos, Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare, Horace Andy, Third World, Alborosie, Tribal Seeds and more
When: 3 p.m. Monday
Where: Valley View Casino Center, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., Loma Portal
Phone: (888) 929-7849
The duo’s eclecticism and the sterling quality of their work place them alongside such similarly fabled rhythm sections as Hal Blaine and Carole Kaye (who, as part of the fabled Wrecking Crew studio band in Los Angeles, worked on countless sessions produced by Phil Spector) and James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin (who played on myriad classics as part of the house band for Motown Records).
But Dunbar and Shakespeare — sometimes fondly referred to as Drumbar and Bassspeare — can take some additional bows. They helped to create the dance hall reggae movement of the 1990s and have made dozens of albums as band leaders in their own right. No one else has combined reggae, rock, dance-pop and funk rhythms with such unique verve and finesse.
A personal favorite of mine is Black Uhuru’s genre-leaping 1984 gem “Anthem,” with Dunbar and Shakespeare serving as both the producers and the rhythm section. It became the first album to win the then-brand new Best Reggae Album Grammy. Not surprisingly, Sly and Robbie had previously recorded with three of that year’s four other nominees — Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and Yellowman. The duo’s 1998 album, “Friends,” also earned a Grammy.
Dunbar, 61, and Shakespeare, 60, continue to work regularly. For these two, the title of their 2000 compilation album, “Make ’Em Move,” is both a way of life and an artistic imperative.