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Reggae Sumfest's Sweet Sixteen

Reggae Sumfest's Sweet Sixteen

Reggae Sumfest's Sweet Sixteen

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Reggae Sumfest 2008 review.

Despite the pullout of its above-the-title sponsor, plus an island-wide rainstorm that threatened to force cancellation of the final Saturday night show, Reggae Sumfest 2008 turned out to be the best in many years. Indeed, some purists who remember that reggae was born in the Rastafari religion felt the absence of an alcholic beverage logo and promotion contributed not only to the event’s success, but enabled the promoters prayers to be answered when the rain stopped falling in Montego Bay at 8 p.m. on Saturday night.

What made Sumfest special this year was the clear visibility of a new crop of music stars rising to take the place of some who have become too familiar due to years of exposure and over-exposure. Undoubtedly, the performances of new young singers Tarrus Riley, Etana, Jah Cure and Queen Ifrica showed that the younger generation of artists have what it takes to earn and hold the spotlight on International Night.

The New Generation at Sumfest
Etana, glamorous in a fitted black dress emblazoned with a silver guitar, worn over red and green crinolines and red high heels, strutted across the stage with confidence born of having at 3 Number One hits in the past year – Wrong Address, Roote and Warrior Love, and had the audience eating out of her hand. With her strong , melodic voice and vibrant, nice-girl personality, she gave a performance to remember. To liven up her performance, she added the bold choreography of the L’Acadco Dancers to some of her newer songs and left the stage carrying a well-earned bunch of red roses handed up to her by an ecstatic fan.

Tarrus Riley kept the audience waiting through his set for his signature song She’s Royal, running through several songs from his two albums before bringing his father Jimmy Riley onstage to duet with him, giving the audience a special contribution from these two aristocrats of Reggae Royalty. Tarrus brought a choir onstage to accompany him, and raised a roar of approval when he sat at a keyboard to play the opening bars of his hugely successful cover version of John Legend’s Stay With Me. Of course, the greatest shout and sing-along came with his closing song She’s Royal and no one in the packed stadium enjoyed it more than Tarrus.

Born in Montego Bay, Jah Cure was making his first ever appearance at Reggae Sumfest, a fact that caused him to pull out all the stops to please his many fans. From militant start to Longing For finish, Jah Cure showed that his six years in prison have only served to hone his talent and give him a firm foundation from which to sing his freedom songs. The audience lit lighters to show their acclaim and approval for the hometown boy and by the end of his long stint on stage it was clear that he had enjoyed his show even more than any of the vast crowd of cheering fans.

Other local acts that shone were Lutan Fyah, the militant Rastaman, just back from a successful European tour; eye-candy female duo Brick & Lace, the new, grounded Rootz Underground band, balladeer Richie Spice, veteran John Holt who closed the show early Sunday morning, and the inimitable Beres Hammond whose one hour show had women swooning and men singing along with his long list of popular hits delivered as stylishly as only he can.

The Sumfest Dance Hall Night
Dance Hall night, which I no longer attend to spare myself embarrasment or anger at violent and sexually explicit lyrics, presented new acts including roots and culture singer Courtney John, and dancehall divas D’Angel (Beenie Man’s estranged wife), Spice and Macka Diamond. The night’s most sensational and popular artist was clearly the controversial DJ Movado, whose “Dey pon di gully side’ songs of badness are contrasted by his I’m On The Rock – a lyrical hymn asking for God’s protection and guidance that he performed backed by a full church choir. The overwhelming acclaim of Sumfest dance hall massive for his chart hits showed clearly why Movado is now the hottest artist in Jamaica earning national and international acclaim, including voicing the music on an international TV commercial for sports clothing giant Nike.

Only Beenie Man can close a show like Dancehall Night and fans welcomed onstage the undisputed King of the Dancehall, especially as he refused to rise to the earlier taunting of his rival Bounty Killa who was soundly booed for hurling some negative comments at Beenie during his earlier stint on stage (and later arrested for using ‘indecent language’). Elephant Man’s performance was hailed, and so was his stable mate Harry ‘Blonde Ras’ Todler, now enjoying a resurgence of popularity.

The US acts T-Pain, Keisha Cole, Akon and Lil Wayne performed as contracted, but never did any more than satisfy the curiosity of those who had heard of them before Sumfest. Akon made the greatest impact, not by performing, but by leaping out into the crowd, moving and being carried around by them through the mob of cheering people. Lil Wayne’s attire of tired-looking sweatsuit, was little better than the crumpled oversized t-shirts worn by his onstage ‘crew’ which included one emblazoned with the words “Motha***a can you buy that?” which appeared to refer to the millions of dollars worth of diamond earrings, dental grill, massive rings, long chains and sparkling pendants that bedecked the multi-tattoed artist.

General public opinion of this year’s Sumfest is that it was one of the best ever. Released from the bonds of its usual commercial branding by non-reggae products, the show reverted to its original pure objective: to expose the best of the past year’s reggae stars. This year there were more than enough newcomers to make the bill fresh. Apart from the perennial stars Beres Hammond and John Holt, older acts whose annual performances were more of repetitive tributes to the past than moments of exciting entertainment, were set aside and their prime time slots given to the younger generation.

It made Reggae Sumfest 2008 a true Sweet Sixteen party, and as we departed in the dawn hours of Sunday morning, all were agreed the trek to Montego Bay was well worth it this year.

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