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Rototom Sunsplash 2010

Rototom Sunsplash 2010

Rototom Sunsplash 2010

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - 1 comment

The richness of the festival experience was as hard to avoid as the midday sun.

For 17 years the week-long Rototom Sunsplash has been one of the brightest events on the European reggae festival calendar. This year however Rototom was excommunicated from Berlusconi’s Italy for facilitating "the use of ganja" leaving the lush green farmland of Rivellino Park in Osoppo for the rocky arid terrain of the FIB site in Benicassim, Spain. Re-styled as “Rototom Exodus”, the 2010 edition remained a unique experience, where the music, while excellent, took a backseat to the overall vibe.

The location meant an almost brutal level of heat particularly when keeping Spanish hours and living in tents. This resulted in thousands of festival goers sleeping on the nearby beach or in any available patch of shade in the arena during the day. If anything, this curious lifestyle brought people together - although many must have missed a favourite act due to the onset of fatigue!

On the Saturday, Anthony B, who closed the festival the previous year, performed the first main stage headline slot as bats wheeled under a filling moon. Calling the audience his “freedom fighters” he fired them with his Buju tune Free Up The General. Where many artists have been guarded about commenting on Banton’s cocaine possession case, Anthony told United Reggae, “He is my friend” and “if it takes one year to take a person into court in this modern age, there is something tricky going on”.

Sunday saw Digicel Rising Star 2007 winner Romain Virgo add youth, vocal power and mic technique to an otherwise veteran dominated bill. Of the latter, Bob Andy had picked up a nasty cold while in the UK the weekend before that affected his voice, yet the love for this man and his songs was so great that he received an ovation. Later he confided to us he hadn’t wanted to play, that the reaction “blew my mind” and was “one of the greatest honours of my career”. It was then left to the irascible but still mesmerizing Big Youth to bring the live music to an end.

Off the main stage, Monday’s biggest surprise was the huge voice of 22 year old German Sara Lugo in the Zion Town tent. Backed by European Reggae Contest semi-finalists Fireman Crew, she was soon had both Serbian trombonist Hornsman Coyote and Jamaican singer Ginjah up there with her. Back under the gold lion, Bushman and his skilled No More Babylon band gave another consummate performance of his rock solid roots music. He challenged the tagline of the festival (“peace, love and reggae”) by singing Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights (“I don’t want no peace, I need equal rights”) as well as his own hits such as Fire Bun A Weak Heart and Creatures Of The Night. Then it was time for Rodigan in the dancehall tent who asked everyone to put their lighters up in Italian before remembering we were now in Spain!

For Tuesday’s full moon, the festival reasserted its Italian roots with a record crowd for Alborosie. His backing singer and protégé I Eye opened with her Bill Withers do-over Mama’s Hands before rejoining him for further matriarchal matters for their combination Mama She Don’t Like You. With his slick band and multiple Capleton style pull-ups Alborosie comes across as more at home in the studio than on stage. But that night as he played his protest song Rototom Free only a cynic could fail to be swept up in the emotion of the show.

Your United Reggae correspondent was invited to be a judge at the European Reggae Contest on the Wednesday so any appraisal of the contestants or the final decision would be inappropriate. Meanwhile Fantan Mojah had his performance cut short due to be being stuck in traffic (and promised United Reggae “next time I’m going to make it up to the people”) but made his usual rabble rousing best of what he had. Yet the real draw of the evening was Ivorian legend Alpha Blondy who pulled an Alborosie sized crowd far in advance of his entrance. Classic rock figured strongly in his set with a Led Zeppelin intro and a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here before he closed with his original hit, Brigadier Sabari.

Though dancehall was minimal in this year’s line-up, on the Thursday it got its chance to shine. Tony Matterhorn played the Dancehall tent after Busy Signal took the main stage. The big question was: would Busy’s AutoTuned studio collages translate live? And with the exception of some off-key singing on lovers material like Night Shift and One More Night, the answer was – mostly - yes. On the roots side, two of the festival’s more well received performances came from the “reborn” Pablo Moses, and Max Romeo - who filled in for the regrettable short notice cancellation of Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel.

On Friday temperatures reached a monstrous 41 degrees. Sara Lugo got to sing on the main stage, having been invited by reggae’s blue collar tough guy Chuck Fenda during his set. There was further disappointment when Tabby from Mighty Diamonds failed to show due to visa problems leaving Bunny and Judge’s harmonising a little threadbare. But meanwhile the Jamaican Film Festival was screening the likes of Coping With Babylon and Wa Do Dem and the Vibronics in the Dub Zone dropped Errol Bellot’s Roots Gone International – as fitting an anthem for Rototom as you could find.

Finally, a cloudier and cooler closing Saturday saw some gender parity on the main stage. After the Brinsley Forde-less Aswad proved what an incredibly tight outfit they were with a tastefully dubby offering, Etana played her soulful radio friendly brand of conscious music backed by Live Wya (the house band for the rest of the night). The legendary Marcia Griffiths, still making hits when her fellow I Three members have long retired, then documented her incredible career in speech and song (sadly she and Bob Andy were unable to share a stage). Live Wya’s lack of horns was unfortunate given the Abyssinians back catalogue but the greatest harmonies in reggae showed no signs of losing their crown.

The Rototom vibe, if it can be put into words, was peaceful, green, diverse and tightly controlled. Energy recycling achievements were proudly displayed, litter was almost non-existent, and food and drink prices were monitored and reduced. As with many European festivals the majority of punters were well-to-do young hippies going through their “dreadlock college” phase. Here, however, instead of trudging between two stages and a dancehall tent and back again, a plethora of sound systems, high quality food, and worthy activities including skateboarding, tightrope walking, painting and lectures kept everyone occupied or amused. At times the atmosphere seemed eerily wholesome compared to the empty hedonism of most UK festivals, but considering the 140,000 people who descended on Benicassim (according to Rototom) it was remarkable to observe the total lack of aggression or negativity on site. The only real irritant was the constant soundclash from multiple music sources throughout.

So while the organisers had to deal with no shows and teething problems with the new setting behind the scenes, for a first time visitor, the Spanish Rototom was a truly singular event: where the richness of the festival experience was as hard to avoid as the midday sun. Plans are already in place for 2011 at the site and if this year’s edition was anything to go on, you won’t want to miss out.


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

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Read comments (1)

Posted by Katty Dread on 09.27.2010
Rototooooooooom! Reggae paradise!!!
See you next year (and Thursday in BCN)! :-D

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