Festival Report: Reggae Jam 2014
08/02/2014 by Angus Taylor
REVIEW DAY ONE - AUGUST 1st
18:45:The sun is out and Reggae Jam 20 is on. Is that the ska? Are we missing the Skatalites??? No – it’s Yellow Umbrella from Dresden – doing a nice job of getting people moving in the heat.
19:47: Deutsch-speaking deejay D Flame’s deep voice demands the crowd dance. Highlight are Es Geht Mir Gut (I Feel Good) on Jugglerz’ Penthouse rhythm and an English rendition of Happy Birthday Reggae Jam. He’s backed by Austria’s House of Riddim – known for monopolising the special stage. It’s likely we’ll see them again.
20:17: NOW the Skatalites are playing. Naturally, they start with Freedom Sound. The closest to an original member is saxophonist Lester Sterling. He did play on Bangarang: a contender for the first ever reggae tune.
20:30: A remote control helicopter is filming above the media area. By Reggae Jam 30 the sky will be full of them. You heard it here first.
20:49: Doreen Schaffer sings Simmer Down. The site is packed and jumping. Lester is seen checking his watch during a trumpet solo. Of course they end with another Freedom Sound. Standard.
21:04: Festival organiser Sheriff is presented with a sign saying “Bersenbruck: City of Reggae Jam”. This is a good moment to announce that Terry Linen sadly won’t be performing. Instead House of Riddim return with Cape Town via Berlin’s Vido Jelashe. He wears tie dye and has a touch of Teddy Pendergrass in his voice. A version of “my brethren” and old tourmate Gentleman’s Superior is a smart move.
21:56: Night is falling. The air is cool between the trees. Guiding us through the temperature change are Hamburg’s aptly named I Fire. They’re a small-medium-large sized trio of rappers singers and deejays with a refreshingly brassy band.
22:36: Back on what will henceforth be called the House of Riddim stage the second Jamaican name of the day is Little Kirk. “Big Kirk” he jokes in his voluminous white blazer before a melismatic Redemption Song.
22:53: Walking around the site it’s easy to see why this is such a special festival. There’s no egregious drunkenness. No whack of greasy food. People are having fun serenely as Kirk croons I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.
23:23: RDX on the main stage have flipped the mood. Melody takes a backseat to the duo’s jump up tunes and matching multicolour mohawks. It’s either a welcome energy boost or a tuneless racket depending on how much sleep you’ve had. There’s a sense that France’s Dub Akom band are having an easy night.
00:00: Considering it’s the 20th edition Friday’s bill has been restrained in bringing out the big guns. It’s now officially Saturday though and the Indiggnation are firing up Ini Kamoze’s Trouble You A Trouble Me in prep for Jesse Royal and Protoje (while HOR take a well earned rest).
00:10: After prayers backstage Jesse is on first: undulating to his own internal rhythm yet keeping everyone under manners – leading a chant of “People power”. Guitarist Jason Worton swaps to harmonica for Singing The Blues. Jesse repeats Chronixx’ Jimmy Fallon show gesture – singing Jah9’s cut on the Rootsman riddim during Modern Day Judas.
00:44: Meanwhile Protoje has been watching from the wings thoughtfully. One year since his first explosive debut with Indiggnation at SummerJam it’s surprising how relaxed he seems now. I and I, Dread, Marijuana Song and even Buju’s Walk Like A Champion roll into each other like waves. The sky goes extra dark when the lighters go up for Hail Rastafari. Jesse comes on for Preying On The Weak. Then the energy levels detonate for Kingston Be Wise. Proto leaps into the photopit, sings Smells Like Teen Spirit and then jumps from the special to the main stage, running ten minutes into Gyptian’s time.
01:43: Gyptian responds by taking up another ten minutes of his own time with a Snoop Lion or Shaggy sized intro. His band has a selector who spins a medley of Gregory and Bob. Gyptian wants a big entrance after Protoje’s antics but the crowd seems strangely flat when he finally arrives. They awaken only for Culture’s See Them A Come and of course, Hold Yuh. It’s a strong ending to a muddled set that leaves Addis Pablo , Earl 16 and the Suns of Dub 15 minutes behind the clock.
02:37: Anyone who went back to their tents before Earl 16 appears misses the performance of the night – complete with pirouetting flute from France’s Moon Band. (It's strange that House Of Riddim aren't here, because they played on Addis Pablo's album.) There is no hyping the crowd, no funny tricks. Just a great voice and top tunes from Treasure Isle, Lee Scratch Perry and Studio 1.
03:00: Addis Pablo joins 16 to blow melodica on some of his father Augustus’ productions. Earl sings Hugh Mundell’s Stop Them Jah (“Straight to Israel’s face”) and Cassava Piece/Baby I Love You So. Addis isn’t quite as confident a player as his father and the band have to restart Java. The show is cut abruptly just as Exile Di Brave takes the mic. No matter. The people loved it anyway.
REVIEW DAY TWO - AUGUST 2nd
13:51: The front of stage is like an oven. Is that dry ice or steam rising from the lights? Festivalgoers spray each other with water. In a longstanding tradition, main stage host Ganjaman doles out free lemonade and performs with friends Uwe Banton and Fyah T.
14:18: Saturday is the longest day: when the double barrel firepower of two stages can tire the most fanatical reporter. Less of a long day for House of Riddim though – they start early with Goldi and Trixstar then take an extended break.
15:01: It’s early 80s roots and culture time on the main stage with Sweden’s very competent First Light. Singer Michel Leon’s voice is silky and the band are tight in a Roots Radics style. Their second album is being mixed by Dennis Bovell.
15:46: More history. Hopeton James is preaching racial unity and singing Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and Slim Smith. It’s as close as we’ll get to the late Unique high tenor himself.
16:16: You’ll find it harder to categorise Righteous Child’s voice. It’s beautiful and his own. He’s a little overdressed for the weather – even if it’s cooled down. RC’s the first in a package of three JA artists with Loyal Flames and Torch backed by the Feuer Alarm band. He shares catchy songs from his debut EP, bigs up manager Donovan Germain and Hamburg’s Silly Walks for the use of their Honey Pot riddim. He also hails Chronixx who will appear later tonight…
18:03: “Rastafari” grins unmistakably smoky veteran singer-chanter-whatever Sylford Walker as the Moon Band tear into classics like Chant Down Babylon, Jah Golden Pen and Lambs Bread. It’s been a long long time since he wanted to play at Reggae Jam. What a great end to his European tour with Prince Alla. He tells Reggaeville he has a new album coming soon.
18:25: Prince Alla begins with his greatest cut Heaven Is My Roof. He is in fine voice and the band are on chopping form. Sheriff looks on from right of stage; Sylford from the left. Alla jokes that it’s good to see so many smiles as he has so few of his own teeth. Burial, Bosrah, Great Stone – this is a thunderous roots show to rival Earl 16.
19:05: No Maddz sounded a lot more eccentric when they first played Reggae Jam three years ago. After so much dub and judgment their mix of theatre, poetry, folk and dancehall is a nice sideways move. Something has changed (although glancing at their Arabian footwear it’s probably not them).
19:19: There is an interesting exhibition of Reggae Jam photos in the nearby school. More fascinating still is the display of 19 posters – charting the festival’s expansion from local sound system party to international event.
19:56: No Maddz’ range of ingredients is matched by the vocal range of Derajah. He mixes older songs (the tragic My Sister) and new ones (Straight Packings) – bringing on upcoming friends Heights Appear and Strall. Moon Band have been almost HOR busy on the special stage.
20:20: Harmony trio the Viceroys waste no time delivering hits like Heart Made Of Stone, Ya Ho and Mission Impossible (which suffers a little by comparison to the original recording when they were the Interns). The sky clouds over and a few raindrops fall. Derajah tells Reggaeville that as well as touring together he is producing the Viceroys. They have a new tune coming called Harvest Time.
20:57: It’s now officially raining but George Nooks knows what to do: share the music of his friend Dennis Brown and even some Bill Withers. Like Hopeton he’ll sing anything in his register that will entertain.
21:37: Kabaka Pyramid and his Bebble Rockers bring the special stage’s extended roots and culture segment up to date. His lyricism is delivered like an electric shock through the wet park. Slavery may be abolished, he tells us, but the employment market still discriminates against Rasta. The rain stops – evaporated by the fire. Best show of the day so far.
22:29: There’s more crooning entertainment on the main stage from LUST. The four part harmonies of Lukie D, Thrilla U, Singing Melody and Tony Curtis blend like a fine brandy over reggae, dancehall, pop and ska. There’s less of a blend in their wardrobes: Melody’s yellow shirt and Thrilla’s yellow trousers look like they borrowed half of each other’s outfit.
23:15: Anthony Cruz is an interesting choice for this late a spot. But like George Nooks he makes the most of his moment and knows how to entertain. He sings the three B’s of Jamaican song: Bob Marley, Bob Andy and Beres. He reminds us he is reggae royalty too: the nephew of the great Garnet Silk.
23:54: Chronixx has swapped times with Dre Island. Like Protoje yesterday he and the Zinc Fence band start slow. Kabaka comes out for Mi Alright: they have the same loose-legged “kick Babylon” dance. We’ve heard the Honey Pot at least twice already but nothing compares to Smile Jamaica. Last year you just HAD to hear Chronixx do Here Comes Trouble – which now segues into Jesse Royal’s Modern Day Judas and Junior Gong’s Gunman World. This time the audio prize is another Winta production - Capture Land. It’s exciting: even having been glued to the two stages this long.
00:36: Lutan Fyah’s career is on a well deserved up but following Chronixx is a big task. Just as at Garance the previous weekend he and France’s Dub Akom band seize the mad bad bull by the horns with a slew of his biggest sides: Never Stop Hail Rastafari, Bloodstain, Still Dre and When Mi Rise It. The only thing he gets wrong is thinking it’s the 15th and not the 20th Reggae Jam.
01:34: Lutan overran five minutes and Dre Island’s drummer could be heard soundchecking over the last number. Like Chronixx and Kabaka, Dre Island is tall and skinny with large long fingered hands that strike percussion and caress the keys while he sings. His set is slow-building, powerballad-ish and would have been better placed in its original earlier time. He seems grateful to be here though – and the audience show him love.
02:25: The presence of two Bobo roots artists on the final two special stage placings suggests the Reggae Revival has given the previous generation a boost. You know what you’ll get from Fantan Mojah: the mournful vibrato (a trademark like Jacob Miller’s stutter) the improbable athleticism, the showmanship. Highlights include thanking Germany for winning the World Cup, demanding Buju be free during Tell Lie Pon Rasta and making Sheriff pogo up and down during Nuh Build Great Man. House of Riddim reclaim their domain backing the most audience participated show of the night.
REVIEW DAY THREE - AUGUST 3rd
12:05: It's Sunday. Parents have brought their children. Church bells are ringing, reminding us the site is a monastery park - hallowed ground.
14:42: The must see this afternoon is Jah Bouks with House of Riddim band. Like almost every Rasta star from Jamaica these days he is wiry and tall. His voice sounds exactly like the record - especially when he cries "iley!" He sings his hero Peter Tosh's Equal Rights and an extended freestyle of the tune everyone was waiting for - Angola. His mother dances offstage.
15:25: Raging Fyah are back for the second time at Reggae Jam. But this year they have a new album - Destiny - that is even better than the first. The sun blazes as they play. Their music demands it. A church bell tolls in time with Nah Look Back. It's great to hear the new songs in their set.
16:15: Last weekend at Garance Reggae Festival Errol Dunkley was a highlight - hitting his notes even when he had a cold. Everywhere he goes people instantly recognise the songs - Movie Star, Created By the Father, Little Way Different, Black Cinderella (as sampled by Protoje). His Belgian Asham Band aren't quite as strong as Garance supergroup Home Grown meets Matic horns but they're ok. He starts Darling Ooh in the wrong key and wheels it before anyone notices. What a pro.
17:04: We're 20 minutes behind schedule (Normal in England or JA). "We have a little switch in the timetable" says D-Flame. Lady Saw is on before Mad Cobra - who is stuck in traffic. House of Riddim are evicted to the main stage. "We're going to do it different today - this is my Alter Ego" she explains when singing tracks from her one drop album of the same name. Then she removes her wig and embraces the slackness - showing a couple how to grind on stage.
17:48: Likewise Mad Cobra seems restrained compared to his explosive 2010 appearance here. He's ditched the skeleton suit and there's no dancehall queen contest. He and Feuer Alarm band seem tense as they go on "a trip down memory lane" including both hardcore and reggae hits. He says Luciano has warned him not to be too profane but the crowd love it when he sings Flex.
18:35: There's a visceral roar as Luciano strides into view. He greets us in Amharic and Arabic during Give Praise. He leaps into the pit to greet the fans. He conducts the crowd and band with his arms. Mafia & Fluxy power the steppers of his recent Mad Professor cover of Dennis Brown's Deliverance and some evangelical hymns from Luci's youth days. Bar a little feedback the start of their 11 date European tour has gone well.
19:51: I Octane's balance of reggae and dancehall is ideal for the cool of the evening. It's a nice blend of uptempo singles and the slower songs on second album My Journey. Naturally he gets a lady fan on stage for his traditional serenade of L.O.V.E.Y.O.U.
20:58: One hour behind the clock, following the weekend's first silent band change, Ky-Mani Marley hits the main stage. His players open with Europe's the Final Countdown and put the rock into Roots Rock Reggae. A mix of his own and his father's material, this is a slick and powerful show - especially when he invites I Octane on for their combination A Yah Wi Deh.
22:03: Midnite are a risky choice before Shaggy. Sure enough their slow deep roots meditation causes a mini exodus away from the stage. They don't care. They won't tailor their sound for anyone. Although they should have had a longer slot in the afternoon they still hold a good swaying portion of the crowd.
23:15: As is so often the case at Reggae Jam the roots and culture artist has been followed by the entertainer. And they don't come more entertaining than Shaggy. He combines this with an ear for Jamaican history that means his music maintains its roots. It's nice that he includes Til I Kissed You and Can't Fight This Feeling from Sly and Robbie album Out Of Many One Music as well as hits like Mr Boombastic and Oh Carolina. Beres isn't here but Ky-Mani comes on for a rendition of Buju's Murderer. Sheriff is brought out at the end. The delays getting started were actually positive because they gave us a chance to recharge from a gruelling schedule of constant sound. Shaggy finishes at half past midnight rather than quarter to but the music doesn't get shut off. The closing ceremony for the organisers just starts later than planned. This is the 20th anniversary of Reggae Jam. It's done when it's done.
REGGAE JAM 2014: LIVE VIDEOS & INTERVIEWS + PHOTOS