Reggae Sumfest 2013: 3 Epic Nights of Music in Montego Bay, Jamaica
The morning sky is brightening over Montego Bay as the lean, black-garbed 'Dancehall' star known by the name of Bounty Killer concludes a riveting performance that none of the thousands of fans present wish to see end. It's almost 6am and I-Octane, the night's headline act, has yet to hit the stage.
Welcome to the 21st annual Reggae Sumfest, held this year July 24-27 in Jamaica's north coast tourism capital. Billed as 'The World's Greatest Reggae Show', Sumfest just might be, along with New Orlean's Jazzfest, one of the most exciting musical experiences in the world. And as NOLA's musical tribute to itself isn't strictly 'jazz', Sumfest isn't only reggae (and its hard-edged offspring 'Dancehall'), but a celebration of all the musical forms this culture has influenced. It's hard to overestimate the impact of this island nation of slightly less than three million people on the popular music of the world. Witness the massive success of recordings like Pit Bull's 'Don't Stop The Party' - a masterful reworking of The Maytals 1972 hit 'Funky Kingston'. As explained by Sumfest Executive Director Johnny Gourzong, other countries may boast larger reggae events, but Sumfest is where Jamaica's musical talents are determined to be seen and heard at their best - before thousands of their very demanding countrymen and women. "Every artist works hard designing something special for Sumfest" added Gourzong, who expecting over 40,000 fans to attend. He was confident this year's festival was on track to be the biggest Sumfest of all.
Dancehall Night, Thursday July 25: Survival of the Fittest
Although Sumfest officially kicked off with the 'Get Wet Beach Party' the previous Sunday (July 21), its de facto beginning is the highly anticipated 'Dancehall Night'. The evening's rather mind-boggling line-up commenced promptly at 9pm, consisting of Ruff Kutt Kru, Mikey Ranks, Alkaline, Payne, Baby Tash, D.I., QQ, Blade, I-Wayne, Spice, Bugle, Macka Diamond, Kip Rich, RDX, Assasin, Popcaan, Tommy Lee, Lady Saw, Beenie Man, Aidonia, Bountry Killer and as a cab driver proclaimed "the new boss," I-Octane. If only one complaint can be leveled at Sumfest, it's that just too much happens. Eight acts had already crossed the festival's stage at Catherine Hall (an expansive, if usually empty, field at the city's western edge that has served as Sumfest's venue for several years) by the time I-Wayne elevated the evening's proceedings to a higher plane of intensity. Swathed in the bright yellow, red and green of the Ethiopian flag, he stuck to a positive message of Rasta righteousness, not needing to prompt the audience to chant in response to songs like 'Living In Love' and 'Book Of Life'. Every performer plans 'surprises' for Sumfest and I-Wayne was joined by the grittier DJ Kiki-I towards the end of his short set. Female artist Spice, who came to public notice touring with the notorious Vybz Kartel, entered the stage enclosed in a huge transparent ball. Although navigating the globe across the stage in her 13-inch heeled silver-flake boots proved difficult and caused her to fall, she was soon on her feet and hitting her stride sans boots. Howls of laughter and recognition erupted from the crowd as she confronted a handcuffed Vybz Kartel—that was actually a look-alike. Kip Rich staged his confrontation with a mock policeman who proved to be no mean rapper himself, then introduced a white-suited midget who proceeded to perform simulated sex with a rather large woman (more laughter). Dancehall DJs make much of their claim that they provide a voice for the little man. Through it all it must be emphasized that the beat was almost non-stop, with the brief change-overs between artists handled by MCs who knew the show was not about them. "What you want is what you get," declared MC G.T. Taylor, "and what you get is more than you bargained for!" There was really nothing to do but let yourself get carried away by the on-rushing musical spectacle.
After an intense, but lengthy, set by a seemingly unhinged Tommy Lee, Lady Saw took command of the stage. Long-time survivor of the Kingston scene, she is well-known internationally due to her appearance in the film 'Made In Jamaica'. Dispensing hard-learned advice to the ladies about cheating men and how to cheat back on them, she dragged an audience member on stage for some provocative dancing proclaiming, "I've never been with a white man before!" to the delight of the crowd.