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Feeling Festival 2018

Feeling Festival 2018

Feeling Festival 2018

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

Alborosie, Tarrus Riley and Israel Vibration in Tenerife.

Feeling FestivalThe global appeal of Jamaican music has birthed major reggae festivals across the continents. But there’s nothing quite like a smaller festival on an island to add its own unique flavour to the authentic Jamaican vibe. 

The second annual Feeling Festival, on the Canary island of Tenerife, fully embodied this charm. Similarly to Sardinia Reggae Festival, which United Reggae visited in 2013, the location is as much an attraction as the music. Over a single day of live concerts, the Feeling bill balanced 3 marquee acts from Jamaica – Israel Vibration, Tarrus Riley, and expat Alborosie – with a local artist showcase, sound system selections and dance.

The volcanic isle of Tenerife is a self-governing territory of Spain but is geographically closer to Morocco. Like Jamaica it is diverse in altitude and terrain (unlike Jamaica it was mosquito-free!). The festival took place at Municipal Stadium in Adeje, to the touristy south of the island, offering a cultural alternative to the usual booze and beach bacchanal. 

Ahead of Saturday’s concert, Thursday and Friday were dedicated to free educational events. These included breakdancing workshops, film screenings and discussions, covering a variety of topics. In a smart white conference centre adjacent to the stadium, English journalist and author John Masouri gave a moving talk about the legacy of the Wailers musicians alongside event booker Julian F Garcia. Masouri ended with an impassioned plea for the Jamaican government to recognise Bob Marley’s bassist and musical director Aston “Familyman” Barrett in their annual honours list. The Open Arms Project described their mission to help seafaring refugees, bringing tears to the eyes of some attendees. The next night their Open Arms rhythm, produced by local bandleader Ras Kuko, would be played between acts.

The music began at 6pm Saturday evening - giving visitors a day in the sea or on the hot black sands of the beach. Arriving at the venue, a small but growing youthful crowd had already gathered on the AstroTurf, flanked by mist enshrouded volcanic peaks to their right of stage, and clear blue sky to the left.

Proceedings opened with the showcase of five local artists and one visiting Jamaican. All were backed by the super-tight One Xe band (led by the aforementioned Ras Kuko who had asked many questions at the Wailers seminar the night before). The diversity of Canario Reggae could be heard in fiery dreadlocked female vocalist Lioness Den; versatile dancehall singer-deejay A’ Jah; ganja promoting roots singer Isaiah; rough edged Supercat era pure deejay Dadda Wanche; and lanky, laid back all-rounder Don Virgilio. The latter with his Gentleman like appearance, effortless style and original topics such as Vitamina (about taking morning supplements) looked likely to go international.

Topping the showcase was Jamaican talent show winner and guest on the Open Arms Riddim, SumeRR. To fittingly sunny backings, the Digicel Rising Stars contestant switched between her own songs (Sweet Reggae Music and Dutty Babylon) and covers (Welcome To Jamrock, It’s A Pity and Murder She Wrote). She possesses a powerful singing voice and an earthy infectious laugh. But it was when she deejayed that the dancehall loving massive really energised. The island’s love of movement was further expressed by one of two short performances by the Tenerife Dancehall Crew. This predominantly female collective were fluid and well synchronised in their expression and could later be seen limbering up to the live music backstage.

Israel Vibration

Following a quick selection of dependable hits by Tenerife’s Lava Sound, it was time for the first headline act. Both Israel Vibration and their band the mighty Roots Radics are now down to two original members each. The Radics are still anchored by bassist and surviving founder Errol Flabba Holt and garnished with the lacerating guitar work of Dwight Pinkney. Skelly and Wiss of Israel Vibration have been recording without former comrade and fellow polio survivor Apple Gabriel for twenty years.

The two outfits have toured together since the late 80s. And that era’s keyboards dominated much of their set – featuring plenty of later material such as 1998’s Surfin and 2007’s Back Staba. Only at the encore - 2011’s Walla Walla - did the arrangements fully inhabit the 70s and early 80s hard roots and rubadub music for which both groups are famed. Also missing were Israel Vibration’s most famous tunes - Same Song, Why Worry, Rudeboy Shufflin’ - presumably due to Apple’s departure. But no matter, Skelly and Wiss’ alternating leads and the veteran musicians’ playing drew cheers from the mainly adolescent crowd.

By now the sun had disappeared and the stars were out. During the band change, the audience witnessed a lively juggling by Panama’s DJ Chiqui Dubs. Standing front-of-decks Rodigan-style, he deployed an “all bangers” arsenal to fire the throng - spinning half of Bob’s Legend album in the process. It’s questionable whether classic song intros needed digital editing down to their hooks, even when juggling, yet you couldn’t fault his showmanship.

Dean FraserAfter said omissions from Israel Vibration, it was nice to hear the hit packed extravaganza that is Tarrus Riley, saxophonist/musical director Dean Fraser and the BLAKSOIL band. Resembling his father Jimmy in a black hat, smart shirt and torso framing dreads, the faultless-voiced Singy Singy soared through his well-blended assortment of 4 albums’ catalogue. The juggling theme continued as Tarrus, Dean and co shared songs in back-to-back groups of 5, barely pausing for breath. Their sets are rehearsed to pinpoint accuracy and, if seen too often on the same tour, can risk seeming contrived. But viewed fresh, it’s extraordinary to experience favourites She’s Royal, Beware, Superman, and Good Girl Gone Bad executed in such balletic and relentless fashion. And there were some surprises – Rebel (on Frenchie’s Skateland Killer) and an a capella adlib of Richie Valens La Bamba for the Spanish speakers. “This is the Feeling Festival and we’ve got so much feeling” said Tarrus, summing up the moment and the festival in one.

By this time the stage was running almost an hour behind the clock. A lengthy band change and Italian/Greek sound Trigga Finga’s rather “special-heavy” selection, saw some of the half full stadium sitting down. The delays and Tarrus’ slick performance meant headliner Alborosie was under pressure to deliver. A week before Alborosie told United Reggae he is a naturally shy person. Certainly his late 2000s shows felt like a necessary chore. Would the adopted Jamaican be able to follow his true born colleague’s consummate entertainment package?

The answer was a reverberating “yes”. For Alborosie today is a focused and intense performer. You won’t find him leaping around Anthony B style - so much as standing in Marley inspired messianic pose, fist clenched aloft or finger pointed ahead. The people were excited as his Shengen Clan’s wall-of-sound powered through latter-day hits Poser and Can’t Cool; ecstatic to a thumping No Cocaine (giving a tired stadium a natural energy boost); and delirious for earliest singles like Kingston Town and a cover of Byron Lee’s Jamaica Ska. Pupa Albo’s paternal interactions with the musicians and backing singers when they soloed fed into the joyous audience reaction.

The day before the show, Alborosie released latest album Unbreakable featuring the aforementioned Wailers. And for this occasion, he took the calculated risk of presenting the new offerings near the end. Metallica cover Unforgiven was welcomed as an old friend as the moon hung in the clouds like a heavy metal album sleeve. Yet original composition Contradiction was enjoyed equally. Alborosie seemed pleased – and deservedly so.

Relaxed but well organised, the Feeling Festival was strong on curation and location in equal measure. Hopefully in future, more people will leave the neighbouring pools, hotels, waterparks and themed pubs to celebrate reggae music there. 

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Reproduction without permission of United Reggae and Veronique Skelsey is prohibited.

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