In a mid-November installment to The Front Porch’s Save the Music virtual concert series, Joshua Dowell, better known by the stage name Mighty Joshua, delivered fun and inspirational reggae tunes — a performance that provided the perfect upbeat yet mellow event to close out the weekend.
Throughout the pandemic, The Front Porch — a Charlottesville music school — has been hosting a Save the Music concert series via Facebook Live, showcasing local artists’ performances weekly on Wednesdays and Sundays. Dowell — whose soulful work earned him recognition as Virginia Reggae Ambassador and Artist of the Year in years past — performed alongside his band, Zion #5, on Sunday. Though the event was free, donations were encouraged to support Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry.
The event was as fun and casual as the laid-back yet energetic music they played. Dowell even broke out dance moves from time to time during the songs. The band all wore masks and baseball hats — including one Steelers cap — solidifying the event as chill and casual while remaining very much present amidst the era of COVID-19. The band filled a small, homey room decorated with a string of lights and, despite the virtual format, established an experience almost as intimate as that of live music in-person.
A highlight of the night was the rich and soulful vocal performance by Dowell. The immaculate harmonies between Dowell and Zion #5 added an extra layer of mesmerizing depth to the set. A rotating selection of percussion in the background kept the sounds unique and interesting. The slew of instruments — including handheld drums and a tambourine — melded into unique fusions as they dipped in and out of songs. At all times throughout the show, the layers of instruments and sounds kept the music deeply grounded in rhythm.
Another of the strongest elements of the gig was the catchy beats and repetition featured in the songs. Though repetition is not always a positive in music, in this case it allowed for viewers to learn the lyrics quickly and sing along. One piece in particular included a section of repetition that felt like a wink at a song well-known by kids — “Believe in Yourself” by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, otherwise known as the “Arthur” theme song. Though the tune was vaguely reminiscent of the childhood classic, the lyrics offered a more subtle — yet equally positive — message. Whereas “Believe in Yourself” preaches to do just that, Mighty Joshua reminds listeners to “live it up / live it up.”
Beyond the infectious beats, Dowell doled out sage inspiration and empowerment through lyrics. The live rendition of “Them A Watching” taught lessons both metaphorical — “you reap what you sow” — and concrete — “stay away from the junk food.” Some of the lyrics throughout the show mentioned religion, while others promoted positivity and peace more generally in lines such as “I choose life over death / I choose love over war.” The most hard-hitting message of the night came through a song led by Dowell’s backup singer in Zion #5.
“I'm gonna sit down cause this is a love song,” she said, “and a song of compassion and empathy to all the women of the African diaspora all over this globe.” Every word sung had meaning and an empowering message, a welcome and refreshing element rarely found so consistently in a concert.
Mighty Joshua and Zion #5’s performance was sure to please hardcore reggae fans and newcomers alike. Their soulful set was not only catchy and fun, but meaningful and uplifting — a brilliant way to entertain while raising money for a good cause.