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Rototom Sunsplash 2018

Rototom Sunsplash 2018

Rototom Sunsplash 2018

By on - Photos by Luca Valenta - Comment

Rototom No. 25 is a winner.

Rototom Sunsplash 2018Rototom 25 was a special occasion. As festivals go, having started small in 1991, then experimented by getting a little larger in 1994, then grown into a formidable force thereafter, but reluctantly exiting its Italian nest when a good bit bigger in 2009, but all the while ever-expanding in its newly adopted Spanish homeland, Rototom 25 was well deserving of a big party. And it got it in fine style on its 25th anniversary.

As Rototom has welcomed 3.2m. festival goers and over 2,300 artists over the years, this celebration party was called for. And that’s exactly what the crowd of more than 200,000 got at Rototom 25. And for those who couldn’t make it, the good news was that – ever on top of its game – Rototom had organised a live streaming facility via 5 channels, which was availed of by over 10m. people worldwide. 

The theme of Rototom 2018 ‘25 Years Walking Together’ underlines the remarkable growth that this primarily self-financed, multi-cultural event has grown into over the past quarter century Hence, Rototom should have no hesitation in calling itself the biggest reggae festival in the world and undoubtedly - under a range of headings – the best reggae festival in the world.

Of course, whilst the Main Stage was the focus of most attention, the festival also hosted a selection of other stages and clubs (i.e. there were 9 stages and 13 extra-musical areas on the festival site). In fact, over 7 days, in total Rototom 25 put on a total of 247 shows, 420 hours of music and 130 extra-musical activities, with more than 55 entertainment activities to choose from daily! Prime amongst these activities was the Lion Stage, which hosted almost 30 acts over the 7 days (i.e. mainly European, of whom 7 were Spanish). Over the years Rototom has cleverly expanded its range and realm. This includes ensuring that it’s a ‘family festival’ – with a host of children’s activities on tap, including a circus! There are also a host of stage areas and clubs catering for the wide variety of musical tastes falling under the ‘reggae’ heading. This musical leaning is well balanced out via a selection of restaurants with their varied gastronomic delights, whilst the event also offers educational programmes, a social art gallery, beach activities, a Reggae University, a Social Forum, an ‘African Village’ and extensive open-air markets selling enough wares to keep a large African tribe afloat well into the next century! According to Sabrina Trovant, the festival’s artistic director:
Our audience is very heterogeneous in terms of age, tastes and country of origin, and the line-up has to reflect that diversity’. And so – both the line-up and the array of activities – did just that.

With a nod to the music’s past, the festival was opened by Bob Marley’s son Julian and his Uprising band, with a belting version of Natural Mystic. Marley proved to be a fitting opener to proceedings, though like his siblings he often sounded best when reprising his father’s work, such as Heathen, One Love and Exodus, though the crowd also warmed well to preview tracks from Marley’s forthcoming album As I Am. Thereafter Cocoa Tea - with teen sensation Koffee and friends - entertained the crowd with a lively set that included his new (well received) Medical Marijuana single. He also took time in song and speech to ‘big up’ the institution that is Rototom, before the festival’s surprise package, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals took to the stage. Having opened in a Nyahbinghi-style, most of Harper’s set reverted thereafter to his folksy forte or a musical mix, as he wielded his acoustic, electric and slide-type guitars to maximum effect. Harper was a welcome addition to the bill, though some detractors did wonder aloud why a bone-fide reggae act like Lee Perry, Bunny Wailer or the Congos hadn’t made the line-up when Harper did. Indeed, the same question was posed in respect of the festival’s closing act on the Main Stage.

The festival’s second night kicked off with a windy and rainy downpour, as (the newly composed) Groundation did their damnedest to entertain the audience with their jazz-infused reggae vibe, as the energised lead singer Harrison Stafford gave it his all, including a valiant effort at serving up Burning Spear’s everlasting Marcus Garvey song (in honour of Garvey’s birthday). Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare then emerged to present a galaxy of musical stars, as their taxi entourage - including a full brass complement with Junior Natural, Yellowman, Johnny Osbourne and Bitty McClean - serves up some vocal delights, before the night’s highlight in the form of Jimmy Cliff took to the stage. Despite his years, Cliff was a revelation, opening with the spine chilling Bongo Man, he proceeded to belt out classic hit after classic hit to the audience’s delight. Asking ‘do you know this song?’, Cliff burst into The Harder They Come, followed by Johnny Too Bad with moving versions of Many Rivers To Cross, Wonderful World Beautiful People and You Can Get It If You Really Want to follow, revealing that this artist has lost none of his musical prowess over time.

The ‘really old school’ crew showed up on the festival’s third night, when the everlasting Skatalites put on a fine show, with Derrick Morgan, Doreen Shaffer and Vin Gordon leading the chase, with some old-time favourites like Freedom Sounds, James Bond, Guns of Navarone and Confucius thrilling the masses. Notably, Shaffer’s vocal’s balanced the brass at its brilliant best, especially on Sugar Sugar. Thereafter, Morgan was led on stage to great acclaim and he took the opportunity to resurrect some old-time favourites - Greedy Gal and Don’t Call Me Daddy - much to the audience’s delight. Prior to exiting, Morgan and Shaffer gave us a rousing rendition of that old Wailers’ classic Simmer Down. The scene altered when the follow-on act Bad Gyal took to the stage, where crisp vocals and a delightful dance ensemble set to a techno style changed the mood big time. This Spanish artist perplexed some and went down very well with others. Who knows? Perhaps the format adopted may yet prove to be a staple of the future? Remember, most big names in the music business perplexed many of their listeners at the outset as they struggled to cross the generational divide (e.g. the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley). Romain Virgo then emerged as an unannounced ‘surprise package’ on the bill. Such was the variety and pace of his performance that many in the audience were delighted at his arrival and input and rose to the occasion when he gave vent to Another Day Another Dollar.

However, it was ‘back to basics’ when Tiken Jah Fakoly from the Ivory Coast strode on stage looking like a cross between the late Peter Tosh and Culture’s Joe Hill. Fakoly held the crowd in the palm of his hand for about 90 minutes as he belted out top tune after top tune as he strode from one end of the stage to the other in flowing robes, commanding form and with his ‘rod of correction’ never far behind! A particular highlight from the proceedings was Plus Rien Ne M’Etonne, when the audience served as his backing vocalists as they queried the colonists’ prerogative to make borders in Africa. And for those with energy in the small hours of the morning (i.e. 22h00-05h30), wanting more after Fakoly’s performance, the legendary Jah Shaka from London town was doing a lengthy stint at the Dub Academy, where – such is the legend’s popularity - that there was ‘standing room only’!

A similar righteous tone to that set by Fakoly was taken up by the late Peter Tosh’s son Andrew, who opened the festival’s fourth night (on the Main Stage), with Mafia and Fluxy and his father’s old friend and musical advisor Keith Sterling on board. Hence, it was no surprise that Tosh – unicycle in tow - should reprise chunks of his father’s legacy, with (especially) Equal Rights, Legalize It, Downpressor Man, Rastafari Is, (You Gotta Walk) Don’t Look Back and Glass House revealing the vocal resemblance between father and son. Next up the Spanish favourite Morodo tore up the house with a lively, engaging and well received set that included the popular Fumo Marihuana, before Kabaka Pyramid took to the stage. Pyramid’s energised performance brought a variety of reggae styles (incl. hip-hop) to proceedings, as he availed of the opportunity to make some political points on the refugee crisis and to perform tracks from his new album Kontraband. However, his range of styles were not near as numerous as David Rodigan and his classical Outlook orchestra, who proved to be the festival’s highlight for many. Rodigan, with the aid of about 25 musicians (incl. 2 drum sets and a horn and string section), charted the genre’s history with the aid of Holly Cook, Bitty McClean, Tippa Irie and Kiko Bun lending vocals to the instrumentalists’ perfectionism, under the baton of conductor Tommy Evans, closing the Main Stage proceedings, Rodigan did as promised, taking us ‘on a journey from ska to rocksteady, to reggae to dub to roots and culture to dancehall’.

Night 5 saw Beres Hammond do what Beres Hammond (and his Harmony House band) do best. That is, he completely disarmed the females whilst entrancing the males with his broad smile and popular and dulcet tones, via wonderful soulful renditions of hit after hit (incl. Putting Up Resistance). Moving down an age group, the younger Protoje and his Indiggnation then took over. This artist – who seemingly can do no wrong and is now riding the crest of a wave – put in a top-grade performance as he balanced his popular past and present releases. Spoilt for choice as to what track from what No. 1 album to perform, Protoje really couldn’t put a foot wrong. Blessed with a fine voice and capacity to pen top lyrics, we’re going to see a lot more of this musical man. Thereafter Rototom’s child Alborosie and his Shengen clan (and some Wailers of high repute) kicked in. This was another fine input, ably aided by Albo’s showmansip and his rich musical repertoire. Though some wondered whether the show was slightly sluggish, as he generously invited band members to do a solo. Well whatever about that, it was undoubtedly enhanced via inputs from both Duane Stephenson (with his August Town hit) and Protoje, whilst appearances from Wailers’ old timers Junior Marvin and Tyrone Downie (and their rendition of the Marley favourite Could You Be Loved?) added immeasurably to an eagerly anticipated show. Whilst Alborosie’s generous showcasing of his band’s talents meant that the solos risked running the show at the expense of a free flowing Albo performance, all round it was very well received. However, this may have prompted some to depart for the Lion Stage, where the Zion Train was playing a blinder, celebrating 30 years on the road with a blistering set, before their lead singer Dubdadda rushed to the Dub Academy to claim the microphone to keep the rhythms rolling into the early hours. 

The penultimate night’s proceedings opened with Green Valley getting stuck in. They had no problem winning over the Spanish contingent in the growing crowd with their brand of easy swaying reggae with a social conscience that suited the early arrivals. This feel good factor persisted when the Italian Reggae All Stars kicked in. They opted for the ‘big band’ sound, with a host of vocalists and a full brass set and much more besides! The vocalists included Michaela Grena, Nina Zilli and Bunna, set to the rhythms of the ever-popular Train To Roots backing band. Indeed, so extensive was the galaxy on stage that it was hard for any of the performers to shine at their brightest. However, this congestion did not afflict the Mellow Mood twins, whose 45-minute slot was – as you’d expect – very high energy (and very well received). Fat Freddy’s Drop then kept New Zealand’s reggae to the fore, in bringing a freshness and originality to proceedings with some sweet songs (and some funky rap) and a prominence rarely accorded to a brass section that effectively fuels the Drop’s show.

The festival’s closing night was opened by the everlasting Mighty Diamonds – with Tabby Shaw and Lloyd ‘Judge’ Ferguson on board - via a one-hour show that included such popular classics as We’ve Got To Live Some Life, Keep On Moving, Right Time, 4000 Years and Pass The Kouchie. By nightfall Konshens had set the music to a different tone, as the crowd responded well to his lively dancehall-d.j. style. Tarrus Riley (and his Black Soil Band, featuring Dean Fraser) then took over in a manner that must ensure his longevity – ever a popular act with the crowd. Opening with Gimme Likkle One Drop and Human Nature, the show went from strength to strength. Riley also used the occasion to re-introduce Konshens for a duet on the well-received Good Girl Gone Bad. The festival’s (Main Stage) proceedings were brought to a close via Cuba’s Orishas’ hip-hop Afro-Latin sound flavour with no shortage of rappers on board,  making it an unusual, but fitting climax to 7 days’ top sounds! 

All round Rototom 25 will be remembered as a successful, harmonious and exciting festival. The increased numbers in attendance, the variety of stellar acts, the host of activities for all age groups, the extensive facilities and the introduction of 2 large screens (covering the Main Stage) on site is a very welcome addition. For all concerned in putting this festival together, it’s time to take a bow. Thereafter you can turn attention to Rototom 26!


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