Article by Sista Irie, photojournalist, Austin, Texas
The Austin Reggae Festival, founded in 1994, is the largest fundraiser for the Capital Area Food Bank, a non-profit organization feeding thousands of hungry families in Austin, Texas, and its surrounding areas. Each year, the three day event is highly anticipated as one of the most entertaining and unique festivals in the city. Quite a statement for a city like Austin that features musical events as a regular daily ritual.The Austin Reggae Festival entertains at the highest level of performance and well orchestrated organization while the singers and players steadfastly serve the mission of reggae music, representing the voice of the underserved. The partnership of the Capital Area Food Bank and the Austin Reggae Festival is a brilliantly aligned concept thanks to organizers Pat Costigan and Hugh Forrest.
What is the primary objective of the Capital Area Food Bank? “The mission of Capital Area Food Bank of Texas (CAFB) is to nourish hungry people and lead the community in ending hunger. CAFB provides food and grocery products through a network of nearly 300 Partner Agencies and nutrition programs, serving nearly 46,000 people every week. Headquartered in Austin, CAFB serves 21 counties in Central Texas, an area about twice the size of Massachusetts. For more information on CAFB and its programs, visit https://www.austinfoodbank.org.” The success of the Austin Reggae Festival directly impacts in a large way the success of mission for CAFB.
Austin proudly remains a thriving creative arts center known for promoting social awareness through culturally sensitive music events. It is not surprising the Austin Reggae Festival, in its twenty second year, attracts people near and far to enjoy a spring time celebration of Caribbean and World music. Fans unite for a weekend of top rated entertainment while immersing in the sensual diversity of ethnic foods and Rastafari-centered crafts. Beautifully colored booths are accentuated by the intrinsically vibrant backdrop of the Austin skyline and twinkling aura of Ladybird Lake. There is no doubt reggae music is appreciated and loved by Austin residents. Each year the fan base is demonstrated through massive attendance. On beautiful sunny days the festival crowd reaches near sold out capacity. It is equally amazing to see a large number of devotees standing through intermittent downpours eager to catch as much as possible. Unfortunately, for the past two years, the final day was cancelled due to rather large rain deluges and intermittent heavy showers. Not only were many fans largely disappointed but the CCFB loses approximately $100,000 for that day, approximately the equivalent of 400,000 meals.
This years line up was an eclectic mix of authentic reggae and ethnically unique cultural blends. Friday began late afternoon with an energetic performance of Austin’s own Contrabandits. The evening blazed with stand out performances by Raging Fyah, from Kingston, Jamaica followed by Katchafire from New Zealand. Raging Fyah is a massively growing sensation in Jamaica due to their professionally trained talent representing authentic ‘yard style’ roots at it’s best and as integral part of Jamaica’s Reggae Revival. Raging Fyah is now touring other parts of the globe and enjoying a rapidly growing fanbase.
Friday night closed with an electrically charged performance by the all Maori ‘roots rocker’ band Katchfire and the Sons of Zion (hailing from Aotearoa, New Zealand). Their music is a beautifully orchestrated mix of reggae perfectly blended with hip hop and funk.
The beauty of this experience is this year’s festival offers a deep education and new opportunity to appreciate the unification of reggae music deeply embraced by two different cultures separated through many miles of land and sea. These two talented bands prove the power of indigenous cultures uniting with a powerful connection while driving their talent to sensually climactic heights. This mythical brotherhood of tribal energy is perpetuated by the works of Bob Marley. It is the fuel growing an international devotion to reggae music and socially conscious messages.
As I arrived Saturday afternoon, Austin based Micah Shalom and the Babylonians were half way through a powerful set. Led by a full horn section, accompanied by Micah Shalom and guest artists, the Babylonians play a mix of Ska, Roots Reggae, Rocksteady, and Afro-Beat grooves. Micah Shalom and the Babylonians will immediately lift fans to their feet, jumpstart a dancing mood and knock you over with a super powerful horn section. Their performance includes a fully loaded ‘big band’ sound completely executed reggae stylee.
ATASH might well be described as Austin’s most unique, diverse and ethereally uplifting band. The website describes ATASH “Voted BEST WORLD MUSIC BAND in Austin for the 6 years straight – Atash combines master musicians from around the globe to create a powerful, worldly original sound that inspires people of all ages and from all walks of life to dance and commune in a celebration of life” Not only is the lead singer Mohammad Faroozi a strong frontman for the band, each individual, including two lavish belly dancers add to a generous mix of fascinating sounds. Seeing and hearing this band leaves the feeling of a cleansed soul and a love for all of humanity.
Elisha Israel and Az One, hailing from Kansas City, this band has performed several years in a row at the ARF. They are well loved by Austin reggae fans due to their eclectic mix of dub-bish instrumentals to the stage. The band graciously gives the crowd an uplifting experience with a deep reggae sound and very talented musicians. Kua, the saxophonist, adds a depth of instrumentation spicing up their niche with a classic and artistic touch.
Pentateuch Movement is a rapidly rising band from Kingston, Jamaica. Recently adding Movement to the name Pentateuch, the band carries on the tradition of excellent showmanship and youthful professionalism aligned with many aspects of the Reggae Revival. “Var,” lead singer, performs lilting reggae ballads emotionally charged with social, political and racial statements relevant to critical issues of today. Black Face, Changes and Struggles of Africa are just a few of their songs that compel reggae lovers to think deeply and to live positively in a troubled world. Brady (drummer) and Var are founding members of the band. Their latest can be heard on their new release entitled Genesis.
Saturday night ended in perfect harmony as the resounding sounds of SKA captured the night with the pure essence of Jamaican classics, specifically, the root of Jamaican music that gave birth to the later born genres of rock steady and reggae. The legendary Skatalites, including a few solos by Doreen Shaffer, rounded out a highly charged day of musical excellence. Although members of the Skatalites have changed throughout the years, the band is fully committed to the memory of its former members and contributors, including the legendary Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Don Drummond, Jerome “Jah Jerry” Haynes, Lloyd Knibb, Tommy McCook, Donat “Jackie” Mittoo, John “Dizzy Johnny”Moore, and Lester Sterling, collectively known were known as The Skatalites.
The Skatalites began in 1964. Even with the passing of many core band members, their quality of expertise continues to do justice by promoting the history and ska experience with crowds of all ages.
Sunday morning broke to an abundance of thick clouds. The rains came in torrents causing the organizers to agree to cancel the last day. Sadly, the artists cancelled included Austin’s own Don Chani and the Mau Mau Chaplains. Also cancelled were UK’s Black Slate and Jamaica’s ‘Original Wailer,’ Bunny Neville Livingston. Due to the cancellation, Black Slate and Bunny Wailer were offered a night at Flamingo Cantina to help satisfy fans who had purchased three day festival tickets.
Charlie’s Dub Corner adds a level of excitement and musical entertainment for devoted dub and dancehall fans. The Dub Corner is a favorite of the Austin Reggae Festival and continues to draw many fans.
The Austin Reggae Festival remains a well loved and highly anticipated event bringing many diverse benefits to the city while inspiring fans, young and old to enjoy the societal impact of reggae music and it’s impact on a global level.