Barrington Levy ADD

OverJam Festival 2023 - Festival Report

08/20/2023 by Gardy Stein

OverJam Festival 2023 - Festival Report

"There's a land that I have heard about…" (Al Johnson)

Let me take you to a land called Slovenia! For the 11th edition of the Overjam Festival, Reggaeville was invited to the city of Tolmin where, once a year, a weekend of musical magic happens, and we'll present some exciting Best Moments from this special event. It is subtitled "International More Than Reggae Festival" because it aspires to offer its visitors a wide variety of flavors, rooted in but not limited to Reggae. Already the trip there is an adventure, regardless how you reach the place: as for me, I boarded an ICE from Hamburg to Munich, changed to a NightExpress that took me all the way through Austria to Jesenice in northern Slovenia, and from there the journey continued with a small local train that offered a splendid view over the country's hills and valleys.

The shuttle that brings me to the festival also picks up artist Lion D, who performed at the opening party yesterday and has to leave for another show, unfortunately, so the pleasure of meeting him is a short one. Arriving on site, there is a warm welcome by crew members Henry and Polona as well as organizers Alan Curtis and PR manager Simona Drevenšek, who shows me around a bit. Situated in a natural reserve called Sotočje Tolminke, the festival spreads out on a wedge of land engulfed by the rivers Tolminka and Isonzo aka Soča river, and there is ample space for camping and parking all around.

The press office as well as the artists' backstage are located in a building that is empty for the rest of the year, and it also houses the Dancehall (hosted by Triggafinga Intl.), the Jammin' Stage and the OJ Cinema. Surrounding the house outside, there is a marketplace with the usual colorful array of food, clothes and jewelry stalls, and behind the building you'll find the main Maver Stage. It was named thus to honor the legacy of Sandi Maver, one of the festival's originators who passed away four years ago, as his friend and current CEO Andrej "Tesky" Težak tells me later.

When I bump into Reggaeville colleague Angus Taylor, he takes me to "The Beach", and this is my first highlight of the day…


Just WOW! Descending a slope from the main building to the confluence of the two rivers mentioned above, the beauty of the place is breathtaking. Turquoise waters meet a shore made up of white stones surrounded by lush green vegetation, and yes, the late afternoon sun is shining, setting everything aglow. A short but heavy rainfall earlier has washed the air clean of dust, and the moisture causes clouds of mist to float above the waters – all of this taken together creates an almost surreal beauty, and all around people sit down to calmly take it in. What a blessed place!

Adding to this powerful experience is the soundtrack booming from the big Overjam Radio speakers, provided by Roots in Session Sound System. Right now, DJ Papel plays a sweet selection of old-skool Rocksteady and Ska classics, such as Tosh's version of Shame And Scandal, but earlier it was UK's DJ Kat who opened the floor. I'll be back here with towel and swimsuit for sure!

After Tasheeno have opened the Maver Stage with a crazy mix of Electro, Durm'n'Bass and Ska, it is now in the firm hands of Seun Kuti. The youngest son of Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, Seun carries on his father's legacy in style, accompanied by his band Egypt 80. Many of its members have played with Fela back in the days, so the musical delivery is on point, and the different styles of the musicians are joyful to watch. Especially the backing singers catch my eye, dressed in African costumes and elaborately styled, and they not only sing, but also provide percussions and impressive dance moves. Seun switches from mic to keyboard to saxophone and back to the mic again, clearly enjoying the performance, which is the last of his current tour, as he informs us. Halfway through the show, he takes off his red coat and continues bare-chested, infecting the audience with his movements, and then brings his daughter out to wave to the crowd. Family ting!


A definite plus of this festival is the reduced number of bands performing on the main stage. Instead of rushing from one act to the next, there is at least 30 minutes of changeover between each of them, giving the visitors ample time to see some of the different locations and happenings around. The Dub Ville for example, where Anja G. and Dr. Obi are currently playing, is definitely worth a stop-over, but also the Dancehall hosts a string of interesting artists, such as Germany's own brothers Inti and Chaski.

At 11:10pm, however, I make sure to be in front of the main stage again, as it's time for the fantastic L'Entourloop from France. The project was founded in 2013 by King James and Sir Johnny aka Deej'O and The Architect, and they never show their faces on stage, wearing masks of old men. Today is no different, and their set is more of a theatre performance, complete with stage decorations, signs displayed saying "Jump" or "Peace", and an exquisite light and video show. They fire off some of their driving hit songs, then invite guest artists Troy Berkley, who is originally from Bermuda, and Dutch MC Blabbermouf to the mics. Together with N’Zeng on the trumpet, they set fire to the place, and the audience is jumping, clapping and singing along with the five actors on stage. Actually, this is a beautiful continuation of the vibe spread out by Barrington Levy earlier, who was in a great mood today and visibly enjoyed his show as well as the communication with both band and audience. Overjam massive deya!


After a flash visit to the Dancehall, where DJ Taff, Jah Elevator, FJ Energy and King Pata played a powerful set, it's time to enter the Jammin' Stage at 1am, because the one and only Aba Shanti-I, dub producer and soundsystem operator, blesses us with his music. Facing the massive speakers in place, I let the heavy bass shower over me, the kind of bass that makes your belly shiver and the hairs in your ears tickle. It is literally tearing down the place, as pieces of the chipboard ceiling trickle down on us, but nobody minds much… it's all about the musical experience here, enhanced by Aba Shanti-I's pleasant vocals.  

Returning to the Dancehall, the currently playing Jungle Army fulfil what the location promises. With a fine mix of dub plates as well as '90s, 2000's and modern Dancehall, the day comes to a worthy and danceable close – for me at least, as the program here continues with Kalyweed. I'm already in love with the place and its people and can't wait what tomorrow will bring!


The day starts sunny, and relaxed. Since the program on the main stage doesn't start until 6pm, I get some work done, sorting through the photos and videos from yesterday. This means I'll be missing some of the action over at The Beach (Angus Taylor is hosting the Overjam University there every day at 1pm, and today it's all about Dub with Wicked Dub Division, Mistical Sound, Sista Alice and DJ Kat, while Roots in Session as well as Pulap Reggae Station and others will be playing all afternoon), but there is no way you can catch all the action going on, anyway. Overjam Festival is indeed offering something for every taste: from Reggae to Dub to Dancehall and beyond (including acts that are more into Punk, Rock, Jazz or Afrobeat), as well as a diversity of workshops and the Overjam4Kidz zone where many activities for the smallest visitors are offered and parents can even leave their children in day- or nightcare. The rather isolated location means that the locals aren't too disturbed by the noise, so party is on until the early morning hours.  

Just some brief remarks on Tolmin: it's a small town of around 2,500 inhabitants, cozily nestled in a valley, surrounded by a ring of beautiful high mountains. Throughout the year, an influx of hikers of all ages flock the area, and tourism is definitely one of the main sources of income; I even saw some paragliders in the distance - it must be an elevating experience to float around that spectacular panorama! Next to the country's national language, Slovenian, most people here speak Italian or English, so getting by is easy enough. Still, here are some words that are useful in case you ever make it here:

Hello!                                 - Zdravo!
Thank you!                        - Hvala!
Where is … ?                     - Kje je … ?
What's your name?          - Kako ti je ime?
My name is …                   - Ime mi je …
Yes                                     - Ja
No                                      - Ne
Bye!                                   - Adijo!

After a light rain, it's time to head out to the festival grounds, and my first stop is the Overjam Village, a tented area in the middle of the camping site where a diversity of food is offered. It is here that the Newcomer Stage was supposed to be set up, too, presenting 16 upcoming bands and artists from around the world, but the project was postponed, as Maja Monrue, the Overjam project manager, informs us: "When 2/3 of Slovenia was flooded, we started receiving cancellations from the bands. Due to this, we decided to offer all the bands the spot next year."

On the way back to the press area, I'm struck by the sudden realization that it smells almost like rural Jamaica: the humid air, the lush vegetation, the fertile earth and wet stones and food smells… a throwback of a pleasant kind!

A thunderstorm is rolling in, heralded by muggy air and dark clouds since late afternoon. Heavy rains hit the festival area just minutes after Wicked Dub Division, with the wonderful Michela Grena on the mic, started to play, and most people flee to find some kind of shelter. The show goes on undeterred, though, and the musicians on stage are joined by the North East Ska Jazz Orchestra, an Italian formation that has recorded a wonderful album with Wicked Dub Division last year. They shower us with a celebration of brass, joyfully dubbed and jazzed, and the power of their music lures me out into the rain once more. There are still some people in front of the stage, soaking wet but blissfully dancing in the liquid sunshine, and if it wasn't for the technical equipment I'm carrying around with me under my umbrella, I'd be joining them. Wet, wild & free! The lyrics added by Michela Grena, Rosa Mussin and Freddy Frenzy (We Are One, Give Thanks, Shine Your Light and Shelter, for instance) fit the exceptional mood, and although their show didn't draw a big crowd due to obvious reasons, it is one I will never forget.


Coming on with a small delay due to the bad weather, the rain almost ceased when Brain Holidays start their show. They claim to be "the first Croatian Reggae band", formed more than 20 years ago, and although I have heard some of their output before, I had no idea that they are so exceptionally good live! The eight people on stage around singer Marko Gaćina rock the place, and although I don't understand much of the lyrics or the conversation with the audience (Slovenian and Croatian seem to be sufficiently related to guarantee mutual understanding), their set is definitely one of today's best moments. Not only is their musical delivery on a high level, but also the interaction between the band members, the smiling faces and expressive gestures of the backing singers, and the powerful interludes by keyboarder Magda Mas make for an exciting performance, once more enhanced by a fine video installation. Interesting fact: Brain Holidays' fifth studio album, Jamaican Connection, was recorded at Tuff Gong Studio, and they have created a documentary around that trip called Bite Of Paradise, released last year. 


Time for a trip to the Dub Ville! The liquid sunshine has left a massive puddle on the way, so it takes some circling around to reach there dry-footed, but once you enter the building and are hit by the massive bass, nothing else matters. Dubbing Sun is playing right now, a producer and soundsystem operator from Austria, and to the powerful riddims he provides, King D aka MC picks up the mic. His warm voice is a joy to listen to, hitting every key and coming in with the exact right intensity to fit the place's vibration. They get a big forward when, at 10pm, they give it over to Weeding Dub from France. Active since 2004, this "one man army" has performed at many festivals already this summer, and now brings his steppas power to us. "This energy thing works two ways!" he addresses the audience right from the start, "I give 50%, but you have to bring the other half. Are you ready?" Yes, we are, and when he plays the Oulda-feature Check Yourself (and its dub version), movement is on as we blissfully jump along to the driving beat.

Back to the main stage, I fall into… madness! Those guys from Dubioza Kolektiv are having a firm grip on everyone's attention, and especially the younger part of the crowd sings along to their tracks, word by word. Originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of the Balkan peninsula, the band of seven is dressed in bright yellow-and-black jerseys and deliver an exciting mix of punk, ska, dub, reggae, and Balkan music that is just impossible not to dance to. There's even a mosh-pit forming in front of the stage, and singer #69 (I didn't figure out their names as yet) goes crowd surfing for a few minutes.

Their songs are fun, yes, but contain a lot of social criticism also, as they take a stand against injustices of all kind, "delivered with a level of positivity that hits you like a blast of fresh air", as their homepage tells us. And indeed, it's not only their music that is innovative, but also their performance. They now announce an Analogue Karaoke Show, with three of the band members holding up boards that the crowd are supposed to sing out loud. The first says "La La La", the second says "Hey" - easy enough! The show ends with a jumping frenzy during their encore, something that sounds like a Balkan cover of Funk Soul Brother, and I will definitely find out more about them in the aftermath of this festival. Another throwback, this time to the punkrock phase of my youth!

While the final set on the main stage was a relaxed time travel through the Dub Universe of Ariwa's Mad Professor, fire is on at the Dancehall, where my festival night ends again. I've passed by here several times already today (another big plus of this festival is that the stages are very close to each other, so you don't have to walk far), witnessing a session with two local MCs who asked the audience for input and improvised a freestyle with the clues provided, and a performance by local hero Tadiman. Right now, I come from Angus Taylor's set at the Jammin' Stage, filled with sweet Reggae music and another highlight of this busy day, and diving into the heat and much faster pace delivered by Mountain Top sound is a complete change of vibe again. Dancers are presenting elaborate choreos on and off stage, lighters are in the air, people are enjoying themselves… thank you and good night, Overjam!  


Another day full of new sights and sounds lies ahead of us, and as I intend to catch some of the surrounding action today, I hurry to get ready and going. At the OJ Cinema, which screens a different movie every day at 1pm, they show the Marijuana documentary Cure My Pain as well as Overjam – A Story Behind by Zach Toupin, an informative film about the festival's history. It introduces the main players and behind-the-scene workers and gives us a good impression of the amount of love and passion involved to make this event happen. We learn that there used to be a Reggae festival called Soča Riversplash running at the exact same spot for a couple of years, and when it came to an end, people like Andrej Težak, Marko Vraz, Fulvio Impellezzeri and Alan Curtis aka Mr. Skavillage teamed up to bring Reggae to Slovenia once more. Also, we are informed that the main building used to be a fancy Hotel and Casino, which explains the gaudy chic still surviving here and there, despite all the more natural decorations in place. All of those wooden pieces are handmade and installed by Ferenc Vajtho, by the way, and the festival's logo and corporate design is realized by Marco Manganiello. We also learn that the festival aims at promote a healthy lifestyle (that's why every food stand is required to have at least one vegan and vegetarian meal, and massages and yoga classes can be booked, too), and that sustainability and environmental protection are a top priority here – and indeed, few festivals I've been too were as clean as this one! A nice metaphor is drawn by Tadiman at the end of the movie when he says: "To me, Overjam is like a tree that grows and grows, and its fruits get sweeter every year!"


Thus filled with information, the musical part of the evening begins with Lloyd James aka King Jammy on the Maver Stage. His appearance at the festival is an exclusive, and to make the most of his stay here, he was invited as speaker at the Overjam University down at The Beach earlier. Right before his set, a big truck brings a full load of pebbles which are dumped into the puddles all over the area (results from another strong rain shower in the early afternoon) so the visitors don't get their feet wet. How thoughtful! When King Jammy then picks up the mic to greet the people, he mentions the heavy floods that hit parts of Slovenia last year, and says: "We want to express our condolences to everyone who lost loved ones or who is homeless right now. And we want to thank all people who put in the effort to make this festival happen – let's hear a round of applause for them!" Accompanied by his wife Mama Iris, whom he dedicates a love song to, their youngest son Jammy James aka Jam II, and MC Jack Reuben, he takes us through his extensive catalogue spanning almost half a century. Among the celebrated tracks he plays are Junior Reid's Boom Shack A Lack, Cocoa Tea's Too Young To Be My Lover, Black Uhuru's I Love Haile Selassie or Mr. Landlord by Half Pint, treasures that we will forever cherish. When Jammy's most famous riddim starts to play, the Sleng Teng, and the crowd that has assembled skanks and sings along to Johnny Osbourne and Wayne Smith in the late afternoon sun, it becomes one of those golden moments that string up to form a seemingly endless chain this weekend.



Another memorable encounter happens before and after the spectacular Steel Pulse stage show, definitely one of today's best moments, too. On my way to the press office I run into bass player Amlak Tafari, who speaks with a technician in front of the tour bus, and we exchange greetings over much banter and laughter. The last time we met was in Hamburg last year, and David Hinds was not able to sing that night. Today, luckily, he is here with his full vocal power, and their performance is another highlight for everyone present, filled with significant Steel Pulse tunes like Rally Round, Don't Shoot, Babylon Rules, Stepping Out or Stop You Coming And Come. Words, sound and power! Next to the music, it's the happenings on stage which makes their set so special. Keyboarder Selwyn Brown and guitarist David "Cirious" Elecciri Jr. both step up to sing a solo, and bassie Amlak keeps up an amiable interaction with the audience at all times, even leading an impromptu polonaise from who knows where at one point. Then, in comes Baruch Hinds for a short delivery, holding a huge inflatable joint with which he chases Amlak across the stage after his song is done (the joint later appears in the crowd, so I guess Baruch gave it away as a gift). This whole family vibe is different, and the ease and joy flowing between the band members spills over to the crowd, something that singer David clearly feels when he says: "Slovenia, this is our first night here, in your country, and it's all about the vibe. Your place is beautiful, your hearts are beautiful, your energy is beautiful, people. Jah Rastafari!"

With beaming smiles, Steel Pulse come off the stage after a last encore, and while there is a quick changeover for the next act, I'm drawn to Amlak's charisma once more who, drenched in sweat, tells us stories about his teenage days and what it was like growing up as a Black person in Handsworth.


Still backstage, I witness the final preparations for Lila Iké's set which is up next. Lila and her WurlBand (drummer Kristoff, guitarist Genius, bassie Dane, keyboarder Freshy as well as backing vocalists Katryna "Big Kat" Chaplin and Neicee Oakley) as well as Jaz Elise assemble in a circle for a moment of meditation, and, thus charged, they deliver a powerful show from Thy Will to Second Chance to Wanted, during which Lila even picks up her guitar. "Let me hear it for Steel Pulse, for King Jammy, for all those who laid the foundation!" she pays her respects and, before the final Peace Of Mind, tells us that this is the last show of her current tour. And we get to spend this special night with her! While her band will stay to support Jaz Elise tomorrow, Lila has to leave early, so she makes sure to celebrate the successful wrap with her crew backstage.


Returning from a mind-blowing trip to the Dub Ville, where UK's original Channel One Sound System is currently playing a bass-heavy set, a surprise is waiting for me at the Maver Stage. The band announced as Women Soldier turns out to be a project consisting of some of my favorite Spanish artists: Chalart58, an incredibly talented, innovative producer from Barcelona, as well as High Paw, who impressed me with her Cool Up Records release Solid As The Clock in 2020, the as yet unknown to me Pitch Up, and Matah. The latter worked with Chalart58 on an album called Geomètric Dub (out in 2018), and their single In A Bubble is one of my all-time favorites that I am proud to own in vinyl, even. The song is playing the moment I arrive in front of the stage, and to hear this piece live, and unexpectedly at that, is another shiny golden pearl of this beautiful night. Their show just started, though, and the three powerful ladies on stage set the place on fire with style and passion. Boom!


What a night! Far from being over, it is now time to fall into the heavy speakers over at the Jammin' Stage, where Tina Rider from Munich's Riders Sound is currently playing. Dropping a dubplate of Chuck Fenda's Warning, the selectress then puts on the Heart & Sould riddim instrumental, and DJ Jabbar grabs the mic to deliver a Ganja freestyle for all weed smokers in the place. This man can sing! He is not only doing a great job as Maver Stage moderator (his signature call "Overjam, Overjam, Overjaaaam!" in rising intonation will accompany me forever!), but is a talented DJ and, as we can see and hear now, artist as well. Chapeau! Actually, the whole Overjam crew seems to be involved with the arts in one way or other, as, over at the Dancehall, there was a set of Dadda Wanche during which Alan, one of the festival organizers, played a set as Mr. Skavillage earlier. No wonder music feels at home here, really!


Remember when I wrote that the place reminds me of Jamaica? Yesterday, three people told me that different artists said the same thing when first coming here, comparing the natural beauty of the river and mountains as well as the mild climate to the Caribbean island. As today is already the last day of the festival (where has the time gone?), I intend to visit the beach to finally dip into the water and catch the Overjam University. Off we go!


Ok, that's really cold! I was warned that the water of the river is freezing, as it comes from the glaciers on top of the mountains, but it's so hot today that I don't really care, and so I join all the other people enjoying a little swim, or floating down the stream with a variety of colorful devices. A nice sight indeed! On the shore, Roots In Session is playing a final set, and the two freestylers from the Dancehall are back on the mic. A juggling artist shows his skills with hats and spinning bowls, and three young men practice their Capoeira moves. It's a peaceful, festive mood that prevails here, a statement of how simple it is to bring people from different countries and nations together in harmony – great job, Overjam!

At the controls, DJ Verso is now taking over, setting the mood right for the dancers that get ready to perform: Zidan Xqlusiv and Global Bob from Jamaica, Paulina Stanley from Sweden, Marika Arnesano from Italy and Sandra Štefanec from Slovenia show their skills, and several people that have obviously attended their workshops earlier join in. Niceness! When, at 4:30pm, Jaz Elise arrives to speak with Angus Taylor about her career at the Overjam University, the music is put on hold and we listen to the young artist's reasonings.

A mere two hours later, she is entering the Maver Stage (which was opened by a group called Fusion Reactor) and gives us a taste of her talent, playing with Lila Iké's band. Just like Lila, she tells us that it's the final day of her European tour, and she is intent to enjoy it to the fullest, delivering tracks like Gratitude, Rice & Peas, Rock & Groove or her first ever single, For You. Definitely a talent on the rise!


Ready for some Dancehall action? Germany's one-man-army, Mattia aka Warrior Sound is setting the place on fire. While it takes a while before the audience arrives and catches the vibe, the second part of his show is "complete escalation", as someone later comments under our IG reel. First, we get to enjoy the sexy, acrobatic dance moves of the Munixx Inna Motion squad, Malena and Eleni, and then, to the sounds of Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano's Famalay, Mattia guides us through some palancing, from left to right and back to front. He then asks the crowd to split in the middle and move to the right and left side, respectively. Pointing at each other, the two sides then run to meet and jump in the middle, and to the subsequent Wipe Out riddim, Mattia asks us to take anything, rag, towel or shirt, and wave. Party is on!

Taking over this heat now is Jason McDermott aka Stylo G, a British-Jamaican artist that is well known for hits like Call Me A Yardie or Badd, both of which he presents to big forwards of the crowd. Of course he also comes with fresh stuff like Dumpling or Touch Down, and although not everyone can sing along to those, the dancing fever took a firm hold in the audience. Stylo G even brings one girl from the crowd on stage, and she visibly enjoys the spotlight before joining her friends again. What a fun way to celebrate this last evening! The fact that all these genres and subgenres are celebrated here is another remarkable characteristic of this festival, uniting lovers of Reggae, Dub, Dancehall, and, as we will see likkle more, Ska!


This might well be the artist I've seen the most performances of so far (this year alone it's the third time today), but it never gets boring to experience Anthony B live! Is it his stage presence? His conscious lyrics? His fun delivery? Or the quality of the music provided by the House Of Riddim band? Probably, it's a combination of all of these facts, but whatever it is, I'm grateful to be standing in the crowd and be a part of it. Darkness has fallen, and the works of light engineer Mario Čurković and VJ Jakob Hribernik, who animated the huge screen in the back of the stage throughout the festival, unfold their full splendor. Having entered the stage to the sound of Freedom Fighter, Anthony B then takes us through some of the hallmarks of his career, including Waterpumpee, God Above Everything and the newer tracks Chill Out or Back To Normal. Hands are in the air, feet are movin, smiling faces all around…


While King Jammy has just finished his set at the Dub Ville, over here at the Maver Stage, the last act is in full swing. Kočevska Orkestra is their name, and they round off the diversity of this last night with some fine Ska and Rocksteady. When they finish, a guy called Kristijan Kikifly whom I recognize from backstage because of the big dragonfly tattoo on his chest plays keyboard and sings the Redemption Song (why is it that so many Reggae festivals end with this one?). To the sound of his voice, all festival organizers, crew members and technicians enter the stage, and once the music ends, Teshky picks up his mic to address the audience and express his gratitude for their coming, their energy, and of course to his team. He introduces stage manager Dejan Dornik, security boss Vlasto Ivanović, volunteer coordinator Erika Pavšič, main sound engineer Jan Primožič and many others without whom this festival could not happen. The big round of applause each one of them gets shows the appreciation of the 4,000 or so visitors, and after a group picture, the Maver Stage where we experienced so many wonderful moments over the last four days is closed.


Far from being over, party is on all night. The Jammin' Stage is in the firm grip of Fulvio's Bombo Ent. and friends, most notably MC D-Vibe who performed with the Warrior Charge crew all weekend. Together they rock the place, playing a wild variety of tunes and making everyone present dance. At the Dancehall stage next door, Triggafinga & friends are playing some hard, modern Dancehall that doesn't quite fit my current mood, so I return to the warm bubble of Fulvio's music and only return when Jabbar Blazin' Fire's set is starting. He carries us through the night into the wee hours of Sunday until it's finally time to say goodbye to all those good people here. Thank you Overjam, it's been such a pleasure to get to know you!