Article and photos by Sista Irie – Austin,Texas
Some say reggae music never died and there was no need for a ‘Reggae Revival.’
Perhaps that is true, yet, the preservation of reggae music should never be taken for granted. Reggae music has experienced intermittent ups and downs beginning in the late eighties and early nineties until the ‘next’ generation came forth to engage young audiences. Their presence greatly inspired renewed interest in both old school and new school reggae including dub, ska, roots, Nyabinghi and hip hop reggae.
Another significant factor holding back reggae music from fulfilling it’s own dream in Jamaica is that musical talent has not been fully embraced or appropriately acknowledged by the government. I truly believe this is due to the integration of Rastafari into the music and the bias against Rasta held by traditionally thinking authorities. The evolution of reggae music happens because of continued efforts by the many supporters who comprise the industry. This includes festival owners, artists, venue owners, fans, radio dj’s, publicists and every reggae loving person on planet earth who hold the key for the preservation and protection of Jamaica’s cultural and musical traditions. Committed stakeholders of reggae music understand the music of a society influences the mental and physical health of a nation.
Rebel Salute 2019, held at Grizzly’s Plantation in Priory, Jamaica celebrated their 26th anniversary on January 18th and 19th as one of Jamaica’s greatest musical achievements. Through a quarter of a century, the popularity and devotion of Rebel Salute fans has held steadfast. From small rural beginnings to a massively attended two night ‘edutainment’ event, Rebel Salute presents “The People’s Show” defined by highly rated performers who present high quality, professionally delivered musical traditions from Nyabinghi to Dancehall. In addition, Rebel Salute consistently offers a training ground for the next generation of entertainers by giving a portion of the show to rising stars. I ensure being present for the traditional Nyabinghi opening as well as early performances by artists who eventually become some of the biggest names in reggae.
Rebel Salute’s Herb Curb, provides a relevant platform to provide well educated and experienced agricultural experts an opportunity to inform and guide interested attendees about the growing acceptance of ganja medication and recreation. The increasing ability for Jamaican people to understand the growing list of herbal benefits hopefully will open conservative minds to accept the beneficial lifestyle of the Rastafarians who were historically oppressed and abused for the use of their peaceful sacrament. I have been coming to Jamaica since the seventies and personally witnessed the horrific and undeserving oppression bestowed on hard working and deep thinking Rastafarians. Many quietly worked as fishermen, farmers or musicians demonstrating a peaceful co-existence in a biased and tainted environment. I can only wonder if the mental and fiscal health of Jamaica would have been better served had RASTAFARI been embraced and acknowledged with pride, as an African liberation philosophy promoting self sufficiency, instead of being prejudiced by conservative European based brainwashing.
Rebel Salute offers a menu of opportunities to enjoy varied aspects of Jamaican life including an array of cultural traditions such as products made by skillful artisans and craftsmen, a large array of delicious Caribbean foods, the educational Herb Curb promoting cutting edge Cannabis products and a beautiful booth for lovers of Irie FM. Rebel Salute is much more than a music festival, it is a journey through the country’s most attractive and valuable traditions, ones that foreigners hold dear and nationals promote with pride.
Musically speaking, this years line-up was a diverse collection of extremely talented artists. One of the most talked about performers was the opening set by Anu Brian Gold and his backing Nyahbinghi drummers. Notis Heavyweight blended their Nyabinghi contributions with traditional heavy riffs and modern basslines. Rising stars, Jesse Royal and Dre Island represented what has been previously deemed as the Reggae Revival and gave electrically charged performances.. Koffee, one of Jamaica’s most quickly rising stars mesmerized a wildly anticipating crowd. Her mission to preserve Jamaica’s roots and culture through music as well as empower youth through her life experiences is taking strong root in the reggae industry. Her appearance on Rebel Salute additionally fulfills the festival’s mission in many ways. Koffee is making huge inroads rapidly becoming a major star at age 19.
Friday and Saturday nights included many of reggae’s classic acts such as the Mighty Diamonds, Horace Andy, Half Pint, the Wailers, Yellowman, Cat Coore, Ken Boothe, Louie Culture, Mykal Roze, Wailing Souls, King Sounds, Dawn Penn, Leroy Smart, Marcia Aitken and Marva Gillespie. Each of these artists provided a sentimental journey of music that delighted the audience.
Luciano, Chezidek, Capelton, Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica, Turbulence, Junior Kelly, Fantan Mojah, Wayne Marshall, Wayne Wonder, Anthony Malvo, Agent Sasco, Jah Bouks, Chuck Fenda, Ras Shiloh, Perfect Giddimani, Randy Valentine, Garnet Silk, Jr. and Kenyatta Hill and Davianah represented showcases that supported the strength of Jamaican music in the last ten to fifteen years. Over 60 artists were scheduled to perform over the two nights, making it impossible to see every artist perform. The show begins at seven at night and ends about 15 hours later. In this case, on Saturday night, the heavy line-up left Bushman, Jah Cure and Kenyatta Hill little time to perform their full sets causing understandably hard feelings by artists who had rehearsed diligently and left disappointed. Bushman, the most outspoken of all, may spark more attention to an impossible line-up in the hours available to perform. Perhaps these issues will become guidelines for the future necessary to keep a massive festival alive and well.
The closing night of Rebel Salute included two African acts, Bobbi Wine from Uganda and Patoranking from Nigeria. The latest trend of African artists infusing reggae into their traditional music has resulted in a growing unification of Jamaican musicians with African performers. Bobbi Wine executed serious socio-political messages about the the anti-democratic runnings of his country. His music is banned in Uganda. His knowledge that the people of Uganda were watching online via streaming left Bobbi fully exhilarated as described in post performance interviews. Patoranking fully demonstrated that African dancehall is as potent as that from Jamaica. His band mesmerized the Rebel Salute crowd in the early Sunday morning hours with a high energy African set punctuated by women dancers blending African tradition with dancehall perfection.
Producing an event the size and magnitude of Rebel Salute is beyond the imagination of most people. The Preservation of Reggae Music and Jamaican culture is a massive responsibility and one the Rebel Salute family takes serious. The importance of this objective was magnified by the acknowledgement recently by UNESCO designating reggae music on the Intangible Heritage List. The Honorable Babsy Grange, Minister of Sports, Culture, Entertainment and Gender Affairs, ensured by her presence and influence that reggae music officially be recognized as a Jamaican cultural tradition. Thank you UNESCO and voting members! The designation ensures the protection of cultural rites and encourages awareness of their significance.
Universally, reggae music is embraced by many other countries and cultures. Reggae is blended into other genres of music with beautiful outcomes. It will always be important that the roots of Jamaican reggae be known as Jamaican music first. Some say Jamaica does not acknowledge its talents until other nations first state appreciation. Through UNESCO, reggae music has been given its rightful acknowledgement.
My heartfelt thanks, love and appreciation to Tony Rebel and crew for the extremely hard work they have accomplished and the effort made to ensure reggae music is understood and appreciated not only by Jamaicans but to the world. Reggae music is the People’s music but it will always be rooted in Jamaica with appropriate protection by those who love and care for this industry.