Festival Report - Reggae Jam 2022
07/29/2022 by Gardy Stein
Back to normal indeed! The motto of this year's 27th edition of the Reggae Jam Festival couldn't be more fitting. After the post-lockdown novelty of being surrounded by and celebrating with thousands of people at other festivals has lost a little of its excitement already, coming to Bersenbrück almost feels like last time - only that this "last time" was three years ago! Thus, the anticipation is high to spend an extended weekend meeting old and new friends, experiencing some of the best artists of the Reggaeverse, and simply having a good time in this beautiful little town. As ususal, Reggaeville takes you to some of this Reggae Jam's highlights with our day-by-day festival report. Check also the PHOTO and VIDEO section!
Hellooooo Bersenbrück! Once we pass the city sign, the little sparks of excitement that have accumulated over the last weeks combine to a warm glow. Oh, the joy of reunion! After getting the mandatory organization of lodgings, passes and shopping done, we take a stroll around the festival grounds to discover what's new. For one, huge letters now welcome the visitors on the river Hase - Hollywood style! The Dancehall Tent has moved to an area closer to the Dubcamp which is a great thing, because now you can switch between the two locations easily without much walking distance. When you stand at the junction between them, right where another new area of food stalls and a craft market are set up, you can hear both locations' music! Also, the Sandwichmaker is closer to the Riverside Disco now, and the welcoming sounds of live music make this our first stop.
7:31pm – Sandwichmaker
DJ Jabbar (Riders Sound) has played a nice opening set all afternoon, and now announces the acoustic performance of Toké that is in the process of being built up and sound-checked by Fabi aka Ring-A-Ting. With Toké on guitar and vocals and Cookie on percussion, the duo takes us through own pieces and covers, including a beautiful rendition of Buju Banton's Not An Easy Road and the Ras Muhamad combination Open The World. In between these pieces, we hear the traditional Samba drum opening in the distance. The people at our present location enjoy the live show, singing along when Toké asks them to or enjoying a snack at the tasty Moa Fire station of Steffen Prase aka Da Sandwichmaker while swinging in sync with the music.
9:12pm – Family Camp
Back at the tent for a quick outfit change (as soon as the sun sets, it's getting a bit chilly), we say hi to out neighbours Youness aka Conkahgood and his girlfriend. The area of the Family Camp has been extended, and camp manager Volkmar is busy routing the new arrivals to their designated spots, so that all who came to enjoy the festival with their children find enough space. On the other side of the camp, the Samba drums are playing again, and to their propulsive sound we hurry to the Dancehall tent to catch the opening blast by Sheriff's Soundpatrol.
10:24pm – Dancehall Tent
Boom! Vibes are high when Sheriff and his soundcrew welcome the Reggae Jam visitors musically, having played a powerful variety of tunes for the last two hours that ignite the dancing fever of the hungry crowd. When they play Anthony B's tune Back To Normal, the festival motto is picked up loudly by the people present, who are as happy as the organizer Bernd "Sheriff" Lagemann to be back. Thank you for this heat up!
A calmer trod is pursued by the subsequent Rub-A-Dub Corner, a Berlin sound collective around the Blessed Love crew. While Selecta Rouz spins some fine vinyls, Japanese MC Yugo Taguchi greets the massive in his unique singjay style, while Soultrain Locomotive and three other MCs bring some Raggamuffin vibes to the place.
11:40pm – Dub Camp
A trip to the Roots Plague Dub Camp reveals that changes have been made here as well. The whole area has moved a bit into the field, giving more space to the huge stacks of the Roots Plague crew. They are flanked left and right by the full set of the Belgian Youth & Truth soundsystem, combining into a massive wall of sound that's in full effect right now. Close to the Dub Garden stage further back, two more soundsystems have been in operation all afternoon, with Rise Up HiFi to the left and Zion Garden to the right. The latter's stacks are a beautiful affair to look at (and to listen to, of course), like a soundbwoy dream come true in an antiquity store. All afternoon, there's been a colorful display of talent right here, including musicians and singers like Rootsman Sax, Nupah & Dimasi or Ras Timbo.
00:05am – Dancehall Tent
Thus bassed up, we move back to the Dancehall area where Silly Walks Discotheque took over. They don't play a usual set, but celebrate the release of their new album Forward, which is out since 5 minutes in this moment. After making the audience acquainted with some of the album's highlights, they play hit after hit, with the crowd going wild on tunes like Brighter Days or Reggae Music Again. After diving into the crowd for the next hour or so, I stick to my resolution of not staying up all night and retire. Good night, Reggae Jam!
FRIDAY, JULY 29th – SOUNDS FOR FREEDOM
The first night has been long (or short, depending on the perspective), so it takes a while before my awakeness reaches a level I can function on. After a shower in the public pool and a breakfast at the local bakery – give thanks for the infrastructure we are allowed to use, Bersenbrück! – we take a stroll to the Dubcamp to start our second Reggae Jam day.
3:38pm – Dubcamp
While we are too late for the Rise and Shine Yoga that took place earlier, the Hoopsala Hula Hoop workshop is in full swing. We proceed to the solidly constructed stage where several instrumentalists have gathered to jam together. There's everything from drums to keyboard, guitar and saxophone, and in front of the speakers a man even plays a grass blade. Natural music! Most pieces played are a freestyle improvisation to which different vocalists come up and grab the mic, but we also hear some covers, like Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. A small but grateful crowd has gathered to listen this traditional Jam Session, and we settle down to bask in the magic of the place. There's always a special atmosphere at the Dubcamp, as many creative minds have participated in its construction. From the wooden entrance to the huge heart in the middle and the lovingly allotted decorations (colorful ribbons and hand-cut notes that hang from the "ceiling"), the area is a bubble on its own, and diving into it brings joy to the heart and peace to the mind.
5:47pm – Red Stage
Instead of Betrayers Of Babylon, who couldn't make it, Anthony Locks is ready to start the stage program. Before he performs, the moderators Ganjaman, Dr. Ring Ding and D-Flame as well as festival organizer Sheriff send out their joint welcome greetings to the festival visitors. When the artist starts to sing, looks of confusion are exchanged. The only person on stage is a drummer behind a big set, and only after a few moments it becomes clear that this is indeed Anthony Locks, mastering the double challenge of live drumming and singing. With the help of backing tracks he delivers songs like First Time or Love Me More on the Major & Minor riddim. He also invites a "special guest from Jamaica" on stage, Oska aka London Yardie, who performs one song.
6:27pm – Abbey Museum
In front of the local museum where the Marleyville Exhibition has opened its gates last week, a car stops from which Reggaeville CEO Julian Schmidt emerges with Harrison Stafford. The Groundation founder and singer takes a tour through the collection, sharing his immense knowledge about Bob Marley in an interview with Munchy.
6:55pm – Green Stage
Meanwhile on Stage Green, the next act pulls off an energetic show. Jahcoustix inna Jamaram stylee! The band and the singer are a perfect match, their styles combining into an infectious harmony. Jazz, Reggae, Folk and Ska in a wild mix! During (or after) a track called Live Your Dream, the instrumental skills of the musicians fuse into a live Dubstep version, enthusiastically celebrated by the crowd. Brass explosion! It's not only the quality of their music that makes this act so relatable, though, but also their friendly comments and positive interaction with each other and the audience. "You are more beautiful than ever before in your life, so please let us take a picture together!" they say at the end of their set, bowing to extended applause and shouts of encore.
7:39pm – Red Stage
Mellow Mood is introduced by Dr. Ring Ding as a band from a country which "has the word 'ital' in its name already". The Italian twins Jacopo and Lorenzo Garcia and their band of four in a classic set-up of drums (Antonio Cicci), bass (Giulio Frausin), guitar (Matteo Da Ros) and keyboard (Flavio Passon) are not only an exceptional sight to behold, they also deliver fantastic music in tracks like Sound Of A War, Unstoppable and the newest track, Blessings On Me (watch out for their album Mañana coming out August 19th). My personal highlight is the beautiful I & I Chant – in case you don't know the tune, make sure you listen to it in the original version with the Emeterians or in the remix including Alborosie and Anthony B. Good over evil forever!
8:43pm – Green Stage
"Big up every father who are there for their youths and educate them right!" Jeneile Osborne aka Queen Omega from Trinidad brings to the fore important subjects in her lyrics, as in this song, Big Up Papa. Dressed in a stunning royal blue robe, she represents for the female artists of the genre and gets a strong feedback from the crowd. The Royal Souls band accompanying her are on point, and together they take us through spiritual matters in Deliverance, female empowerment in Black Woman and the holy herb in Ganja Baby. "I realize that police in Germany is harsh on the Ganja smokers. Marihuana is a plant, not a drug! Free up the herb!" Flags are up, the warm sunlight embraces the people in a golden glow, and Queen Omega bids her farewells. Until we meet again!
9:08pm – Red Stage
Profiting from this splendid sunset mood is also the next artist. "This is the captain speaking. Please fasten your seatbelts, because what you are about to experience is some big, bad, heavy Turbulence!" His show is indeed a highlight of the day so far. Starting with a relaxed Nyabinghi Intro ("Let me tell you where I'm coming from…"), fire is on when Turbulence delivers a fast-paced hit medley. He then invites his Jamaican friends Policeman and Dotta Coppa to the mic for a short intermezzo, before continuing with his own repertoire. I can't help but jump up with the crowd to the powerful Ethiopia Awakes, and it becomes clear once more that each and every one present is up for every note, every second, every experience this weekend has to offer. We've been deprived of this for far too long!
Both Turbulence and Queen Omega are scheduled for the Meet & Greet at the Riddim Tent likkle more, and a lot of fans take the opportunity to come face to face with their idols. It's so good to see how the different players work together to bring the best possible festival experience to you, the visitors! Special props go out to the backstage catering team also, who do a fantastic job of providing hot coffee, fresh fruits and tasty food to artists and staff, as I can personally attest when a hunger attack reminds me that it's time for dinner. Jessica, Ann-Kathrin, Angie D, Jule, Claudia Alakara, Geli and, most of all, ALL volunteers (30+ in total) – big up uno chest!
10:23pm – Green Stage
Clinton Fearon is one of the many artists I've been looking forward to today. The former Gladiators singer has graced this stage back in 2010 with the Inna De Yard Allstars, and now rocks it as solo artist in his organic Rocksteady style, backed by The Riddim Source from France. The vocalist presents both older pieces like Richman Poorman and songs from his new album Breaking News, and also takes the time to introduce each musician and the sound engineer, something that should be obligatory for every performer. "Togetherness is what it is all about – thank you for participating in this, Reggae Jam!"
11:07pm – Red Stage & Festival Grounds
During the spectacular Third World set, I talk to light engineer Henning Kallmeyer (OsnaLight), who provides the visual charms to the sonic experience. I know I might be repeating myself, but it's so important to acknowledge all the people who are involved in making the individual concerts a success, and thus contribute to the overall festival experience. To the sounds of 96 Degrees, I take a stroll with my son, on the hunt for dessert, and we settle for roasted almonds and a chocolate apple, so big up to the vendors as well!
11:56pm – Backstage
The festival grounds are fuller than I've ever seen on a Friday night. While this is great for the atmosphere in front of the stage, it creates a jostle backstage, where not only artists, band members, tour managers and staff walk back and forth, but also a few visitors with VIP passes. Most of them just peacefully enjoy this special experience, but one (obviously quite drunk) person thinks it's funny to throw empty plastic cups over the fence into the crowd. Although they are not heavy, they certainly hurt when hitting you from out of nowhere, and I hope the person in question reads these lines. Decency and manners, people!
00:15am – Green Stage (photo pit)
A considerable delay of almost an hour will have accumulated by the end of this show, but Groundation gets to play one hour instead of the announced 45 minutes. And every second of it is pure bliss! The group grants us a glimpse of where Reggae can be taken with curiosity, passion, and vision (and Jazz, lots of Jazz!). This is not a band that backs a singer, these are instrumentalists who create a musical realm, extending an invitation to all of us to enter. From the backing vocalists to the musicians, every person on stage feels this music, lives this music and, what is more, is able to bring it alive for everyone else present as well. Original Riddim, Human Race and One Rock are pieces that are played with, dubbed, and passed around energetically. "We are standing on the shoulders of giants like Third World," Harrison Stafford says, "and we need Reggae music now more than ever to lift us up. We must be like iron! The world won't be free until everybody is free, no exception." With these "sounds for freedom", as the artist calls them, and another entrancing instrumental, Groundation say goodbye, and once the music stops, the trance lifts (well, I don't know about everybody else, but I definitely was in a trance).
1:08am – Red Stage
Before Ganjaman and Dr. Ring Ding announce the next artist, they express their heartfelt gratitude to the people of Bersenbrück, who not only accept the noise pollution until the wee morning hours, but actively prepare for and support it. Starting with the equally thankful Give Praise To Rastafari, Luciano now enters the stage, loudly cheered by the still huge crowd. The band plays tight, and songs like Messenjah or Your World And Mine bring back sweet memories to those who follow the artist for a long time – and create new ones for those who don't.
1:58am – "Under the tree" (Green Stage)
Because there is a strict curfew and the timetable is not keepable anymore, both Luciano and Bunji Garlin have some minutes taken from their set. Still, I am more than happy to experience the latter's hits Truck Pon Di Road, Differentology and, again a personal favorite, Famalay, live and direct in the crowd under the tree. The "Viking of Soca", as he is called in his homeland Trinidad & Tobago, brings his musical culture across with DJ Spyda and a female MC. We even palance!
3:32am – Red Stage & Dancehall Tent
The last energies are activated for the show of Alborosie and his Shengen Clan, which seems to have new members. It's the latest concert I ever experienced here, except maybe for the year in which a tree fell on the stage due to strong winds. Pupa Albo is the perfect vibe to go home with after this eventful first day. Some visitors carry the vibe further to the Dubcamp, where a tune fi tune session is happening, or to the Dancehall Tent, which resonates with the massive sounds of Supersonic's Modern Dancehall set.
At the end of the day, the confusion of time slots and stage locations (in the few printed programs that circulate, today's stages were mixed up) doesn't matter anymore, because everything unfolded exactly as it was supposed to. Thank you for a splendid Day 1, Team Reggae Jam!
SATURDAY, JULY 30th – GRATITUDE IS A MUST
Sunshine, birds, and… the sounds of a nearby soundcheck. In that misty place between being asleep and awake, the happy realization dawns that I'm still in Bersenbrück, and Day 2 of the Reggae Jam Festival lies ahead of us. Despite changes in the line-up due to some last-minute cancellations (I-Octane, Lisa Mercedes, Anthony B and, what hurts me most, Jah Mason won't be able to make it), there are many exciting acts to look forward to.
1:33pm – Green Stage
In a precious tradition, today the stage is opened by the Breakfast-Show of Steve "Jan Magan" Ganjaman. As special surprise, Sheriff gives him a T-shirt with the Reggae Jam Logo and the number 20, as this year is Ganjaman's 20th anniversary of standing on this festival's stage. For those who don't know, he is not only a moderator and producer, but also an artist/singer with many songs and albums under his belt. Of those, he presents some like Pauken & Trompeten, Ball Die Faust or, my personal favorite, Ich Wünsche Mir So Sehr. The truth and intensity of this song, enhanced by Stefan on saxophone and Jon Moon on percussion, trombone and backing vocals, always bring me to the edge of tears, but the general mood is too joyful to really fall into sadness and pondering. In between the songs, Ganjaman spreads simple but powerful messages, like, "We are all sitting in the same boat, and if there is a leak on one side, we'll have to fix it together or we'll all sink." or "We have to take care of each other, unconditionally!". Give thanks for people with such a mindset!
2:24pm – Red Stage
A novel experience for me is the next act, called Irie Miah & The Massive Vibes. The band from Münster, consisting of Karsten van Husen on sax, Detlef Wiesnewski on trumpet, Bertold Degenkolbe and Markus Dassman on guitar, Dirk Davids on keys, Monir Taha on bass, Andreas Hermjakob on drums and Jörg Meier aka Irie Miah on vocals, is on a roots reggae mission since their foundation in 1999, but I've never seen them on a festival stage before (their last time playing here in Bersenbrück was in 2001). The lead singer delivers his lyrics in a pleasant, straightforward singer/songwriter style, and although this is no revelation vocally, the strength of the group becomes obvious when they play some heavy dub parts. These really are a joy to listen to! Unfortunately, the place is rather empty, as few people face the hot sun directly in front of the stage, preferring to dance in the shade of the huge tree further left, and it's still too early for last night's party crowd to wake up. The vibes we catch from Irie Miah's performance, though, are a nice foundation for what is to come.
2:52pm – Green Stage
A flowing white gown with golden embroidery and a strong stage presence – Kingseyes, the "humble African" from Nigeria who is up next, is also a first for me. "You could have chosen to be anywhere today, but you chose to be here!" he welcomes his audience (which is slowly growing in number), as they swing along to the music so readily contributed by House Of Riddim. With a band like that, sweet vibes are guaranteed, and the artist jumps from some of his own songs to a cover medley on riddims like Lalibela or Silekshan. "I see some people online who complain about the artists who won't be able to make it today", he says, "but we should be grateful for those who are here!". Word! With a fast-paced track called Step By Step he ends his stage show, and the energy he puts in this last track, including a little choreo of stomping and jumping that's picked up by the audience, makes it a memorable finish.
3:31 – Red Stage
Announced as his "personal festival highlight, the most talented newcomers right now in Germany" by moderator Ganjaman, Memoria are poised to rock the Red Stage. Another brother duo on lead vocals (remember Mellow Mood from yesterday?), Inti and Chaski open with trombone and trumpet, and continue to sing "Look into the sky, the sun a shine!". People agree to that (as it is true weather-wise) and jump in unison – a beautiful sight to behold. It also gives me ample opportunity to marvel at the carefully prepared stylings most people display, from colorful clothes to exquisite jewelry to elaborate face- or body paintings. The singers send out their greetings to Jon Moon and his label Yutman Records, the producer of the riddim they currently play (called Rasta Riddim), and he waves back at them with a big, proud grin on his face. Moments like these make me realize how (relatively) small and connected the German Reggae scene indeed is, and props go out to each and every one contributing to it!
Memoria continues with some of their newer songs including Karma and We Are One from their new EP What Goes Around (out for a few weeks now), and take their leave with the words: "You have such a beautiful festival right here, we are extremely grateful to be a part of it. Make some noise for the people who work hard to make all this happen!"
5:11pm – Green Stage
Instead of Raymond Wright, another artist who had to cancel his show on short notice, Piero Dread is now on the mic, a studied guitarist and singer from Italy. His band, who was supposed to back Raymond anyway, plays tight and provide a strong, rich sound for some of Piero's own works like Soldiers Of Peace, but also for a bright medley that flows from Stir It Up to Jason Mraz' I'm Yours.
5:46pm – Red Stage
No Reggae Jam without a performance of this German Reggae veteran: Uwe Banton and the Tough Cutt band from the Netherlands inhabit the Red Stage, including Cologne's female group Conscious Culture (Nadia and Malijah), who provide backing vocals next to Luna. Uwe intones songs of hope and upliftment such as People Need To Be Free or Nur Die Liebe Hört Nicht Auf ('only love never stops'), closing his set with Marley's War, which unfortunately became topical again recently.
7:04pm – Backstage
Trying to handle the double challenge of writing this report and keeping track with what's happening on stage, I'm once more grateful for the big TV that screens the livestream right next to our workplace. Thus I can follow the opening performance of Hamburg's band I-Fire, and wow, they really impress! They are the first act to be able to work with a full crowd, and songs like Dabadubade or Highgrade, as well as the beautiful light of the late afternoon sun lure me to the stage after all, enjoying the remainder of their set with everyone else.
7:47pm – Dubcamp
Since I've already seen Nkulee Dube and The Higher Power at Summerjam, I take a trip to the Dubcamp to see what's going on there. Zion Garden and Rise Up HiFi run the place in a unity session, and vocalists like D'Kaanso or Mighty Howard add their talent to the music. Once more, the place captures me with its calming, decelerating energy, and I'm not the only one accepting the invitation to dance in front of the huge speakers. The crew gives it over on top of the hour to the Youth & Truth Sound, featuring MCs such as Jah Ollie and Le Pharaon. "Talk some lyrics!"
8:51pm – Green Stage
As if he heard these words from across the field, Jah Sun gives us a taste of his lyrical prowess over at the Green Stage. The young artist from California and his band The Rising Tide are another pleasant stop at today's sonic journey, and both the quality of his performance and his vocal versatility are truly impressive. "Give it up for Nkulee Dube who just mash up di place!" he shouts, before diving into the next song, called Rock Paper Scissors. Besides his own pieces, he also includes well-known Reggae quotes like the Roots & Culture intro of Mikey Culture: "Skib, skibedibdib …"
He also mentions a row of Jamaican foundation artist, reminding us that Reggae wouldn't be where it is if it wasn't for their contribution. To the sounds of the Mud Up riddim perfectly provided by the band, he invites the audience to participate in a freestyle call-and-answer session, and the people shout "Mud up the place!" whenever Jah Sun finishes a line. Watching them do this, I realize just how inclusive Reggae music is. It brings together old and young, subculture and mainstream, longstanding fans and curious onlookers, let alone the different ethnic origins of the people celebrating peacefully here. So nice to be a part of this big collective!
10:02pm – Red Stage
Teacha Dee is no stranger to these grounds. He is well known not only among fellow Jamaicans, but also in Germany, where he's been living for a few years now, being actively involved in voicing riddims, performing with soundsystems and just generally being very present. In combination with House Of Riddim, songs like Rastafari Way (featured in the latest James Bond movie No Time To Die) or Reggae Mood are delivered in the best possible way, and with Long Days, Short Nights he perfectly captures this year's Reggae Jam experience.
10:33pm – Red Stage
Same stage, same band: the subsequent act Rekall from Vienna is my personal highlight of the day. I heard the name before, but I'm not acquainted with his music, nor have I ever seen him live. The House Of Riddim band know and underline his style well, as they produced his last EP Beats Of Life, and Dr. Ring Ding on trombone is a further great addition to this slot. Rekall has a great voice, a great flow, a great stage presence, and on top of that he also has a natural gift for keeping crowd interaction high. "Look people, my mum is watching the live stream," he says in his Austrian accent when the response is not as loud as he expected. "You have to make more noise so she can hear you. Let's do this again – hello Mama!"
Switching with ease between skankin Rocksteady tunes, cover quotes (Morgan Heritage's Liberation, Marley's Get Up Stand Up and Eek-A-Mouse's Wa Do Dem, for instance – big up the legends!) and a perfect Raggamuffin delivery, his versatility amazes me, and my favorite moment of this festival day is when he invites the combined prowess of Jah Sun, Dr. Ring Ding, Teacha Dee and Kingseyes to join him on the mic. They take turns spitting their styles on the riddim steadily provided by the band, and I wonder why such unity sessions don't happen more often at festivals, when so many artists are present and ready!
11:45pm – Family Camp & Green Stage
A warmer set of clothes is needed, which necessitates a stop-over at the tent, accompanied by the first tracks of powerhouse singer Pressure Busspipe. I hurry to get back to the Green Stage and arrive right in time for the beautiful Everything I Need to which I sing along with hundreds of others. "If you have love in your hearts, let me see some hands in the air!" the singer says, but either the people didn't understand him or the energy levels are low right now – only few raise their hands up. Undeterred, Pressure continues his set with Bless My Soul and Show Love, backed by the Next Generation Family from Munich (big up Eric Delloye on drums, Yvan Boucheras on keys, Daniel Rickler on guitar. Sumalee Berlinger on bass and Mirta Wambrug & Esther Schlieffen on backing vocals - also, Manuel Garcia and Jan Geuer who were on sick leave, but certainly followed their homies' performance via live stream). "The future depends on the little things that you give!" he reminds us, and I want to big up every man, woman and child who share from their own to help others in need.
00:16am – Backstage
Speaking of little things: while Teacha Dee, Ras Zebulon and crew are getting some food at the catering next to us, my friend Rall-Fi points to the big Jamaica flag in the audience and tells me that he knows the person carrying it (and that waving it in the crowd is not easy, as it is much heavier than it looks). So, big up the one called Sven for the vibrant visual enrichment you provide all weekend! At the backstage bar, Christian Klütsch, the mayor of Bersenbrück, helps the volunteers working there by rinsing some cups and tapping some beer. This is the level of official involvement in cultural events that we need all over the place!
00:44am - Red Stage
Etana is here! This power lady is one the most successful female singers in Reggae music, having found her unique style with Rock and Soul influences, and she makes the stage her own in a tight, fabulous camouflage outfit. During the duet Blessing, Etana and her backing singer/operator animate the audience to sing along, men and women separately at first, but joining the voices together at the end of the song. Sweetness! She continues with a few cover songs (Turn Your Lights Down Low, Is This Love, and a Ska section ranging from Monkey Man to Wings Of A Dove, for instance) and then returns to her own pieces like Reggae or I'm Not Afraid.
Next to me, a man says to his wife, "This is world class music right here. What a voice!" When I ask him if he has ever seen Etana perform live before, he negates the question, telling me that he usually doesn't listen to Reggae at all and that he's just here because the inhabitants of Bersenbrück can visit the festival for free on a day of their choice. This practice definitely wins the artists performing here some new fans!
1:45am – Green Stage
The final act today is Anthony Martin aka Lutan Fyah. I remember his last performance at Reggae Jam back in 2016 well and am eager to find a good spot to follow the concert. "I'm so happy to be here tonight, among such beautiful people!" the artist tells the crowd, "Look at you, look how beautiful you are!" Thank you, Lutan! He performs to the sounds of the Next Generation Family band, and to their version of the Cardiac Bass riddim, he sings his well-known song Ungrateful, followed by Perfect Storm, Iniquity Worker Congregation and Lonesome Soldier (the latter two produced by Silly Walks Discotheque, by the way). Despite a solid delivery, the chemistry between band and artist seems a bit tense, which however doesn't stop the audience from having fun. Every time Mr. Fyah runs or jumps, they do the same, and when his slot ends just before 3am, all of us are a bit out of breath.
3:23am – Dancehall Tent
Having missed most of today's program at the Dancehall Tent (Blessed Love, Boneshaker Sound and Sentinel have played here for the last few hours already), I'm determined to let my night end here. When we reach the packed area, Barney Millah is firing away his last few tunes, giving it over to Jugglerz soon after. They sure know how to heat up a crowd, and I'm overjoyed to be able to dive in the pandemonium in the middle of the tent for a round of Palance – left, right, front, back and spin. This tune of JW & Blaze never gets old! Thus heated up, I turn to get a drink, and a young man whom I've seen backstage before introduces himself as Mosiah and gives me a CD with some of his tracks to check out. I'll certainly do that once this positive madness is over!
Exhausted and tired, but happy and filled with new precious moments and memories, I fall asleep to the sounds of music billowing over the festival grounds from different locations. Thank you, Reggae Jam, for this amazing Day 2!
SUNDAY, JULY 31st – SMILING FACES, LIQUID SUNSHINE AND COSMIC CHILDREN
As with most festivals, the final day has come much too fast. I wake up to the excited chatter of children passing our tent, obviously on their way to the stage, and I remember that Reggaehase Boooo will be opening the stage at noon today. Well, both me and my son are a little too old for the sweet puppet theatre that will tell a fourth adventure of the little Reggae rabbit Booo, so we opt for breakfast in town instead. The local bakery offers a wide variety of tasty bread and pastries and (most vital!) coffee, and the items are served with a big, friendly smile.
1:54pm – Red Stage
The "buam" (Bavarian for 'boys') of the band Unlimited Culture from Regensburg, consisting of Michael Kern on guitar, Philip Riesinger on keys, Maximilian Vasall on bass and guest drummer Alex Domhoever, sing about "fire burning inside" when we reach the stage. They play a colorful mix of their own songs (Ned Aloa, Vegetarian Food and Bayernman Style, for instance) and cover versions, and for some people it is obviously a novel experience to see a Black Dread sing and talk in deepest Bavarian dialect. When singer Lenny Souljah intones the Da Sandwichmaker song, the little crowd increases their dancing movements, with Steffen Prase aka Da Sandwichmaker right in the middle. This one's for you! They close their set with some calm Nyabinghi drumming, and the sun comes out when Lenny sings "Every human being has the right to be free!"
2:01pm – Green Stage
Announced by Ganjaman as "another one of my many highlights this weekend", the alternative singer-songwriter Götz Widmann enters the Green Stage. It's just him and his guitar, but his sharp, sometimes quite cynical lyrics don't need much more. Thinking about how to best describe and translate his songs, I realize that this is not at all easy, as most of them require a profound knowledge of German politics and realities – sometimes it's only a word or a phrase that activates a complete set of subtexts in the listeners' minds, and this is a big part of what makes his music so much fun to listen. He sings about love, civil disobedience and illegal substances, as in Eduard Der Haschischhund ('Eduard the hash dog'). Some people in the audience are obviously longstanding fans, as they sing along word by word, and two of them hold up a colorful sign that says "Götz, I want a cosmic child from you!" (an allusion to his well-known song Kosmisches Kind). Something different for our ears!
3:13pm – Red Stage
Another special performance is unfolding on the opposite stage. From Jamaica, the vocal trio Kush Art consisting of Joel "Kush" Brown, Barrington Lord and Anthony Feurtado are again guests of the festival (they've performed on their own in 2017 and were part of The Rockers stage show in 2019), and they remind us that they are not only singers, but also visual artists who have brought some of their pieces to sell. Backed by the PaToPa band founded by PotRock, Tommy G & Paddl in September 2018, their vocal harmonies wash pleasantly over us, and a surprising addition to this slot is sitting with two other percussionists on the left side of the stage: Sheriff himself, playing the djembe! The power of music indeed. In this moment, the power of heavens decides to bless us with liquid sunshine, and while some people are well-equipped with umbrellas and rain capes, others (including me) run for cover.
4:04pm – Green Stage
The rain has intensified, and there is a short break in the performance of Marley's Ghost because there's water on the stage and some technical equipment has become wet. The problem is quickly fixed, however, and soon the band of five (Sebastian Sturm on vocals and rhythm guitar, Matt Sonnicksen on lead guitar and backings, Joonas Lorenz on keys, Christian Bolz on bass and Jannis Lewe on drums) are back with Bob Marley covers like War, Positive Vibration, Concrete Jungle, Could You Be Loved or No Woman No Cry. A tribute to the King!
5:11pm – Red Stage
Our prayers for the rain to stop before Mortimer touches stage have been answered. Only a slight drizzle remains when he starts his eagerly awaited show, and since it's still warm, nobody seems to mind - the place is full by now! "My name is Mortimer. I know the weather is not ideal, but you all came out anyway – that's very much appreciated. You all look beautiful!" he says, and then dives into an amazing delivery of his soulful songs including Careful, Nice Up Di Scene or Warning. I still have to find out the names of the band members for you, as they really deserve explicit mention. It's only four of them, but by including sound effects and backing tracks, we get the replete concert experience. It is however Mortimer's calm presence on stage (he's not one for jumping around and acrobatics, he just stands there, firm like a rock) and, most of all, his incredible voice that makes this hour so special. While it is warm and low in Fight The Fight, it climbs incredible heights in my favorite song, Lightning. Goose bumps all over!
6:36pm – Dubcamp
While Treesha, who became known as the backing vocalist of Gentleman, convinces the massive in front of the Green Stage that she is a damn good solo artist, we make a trod to the Dubcamp to see what's happening there. In the Dub Garden, as the side stage is called, Rise Up HiFi and Zion Garden play a tune-fi-tune unity session, which means that their stacks are activated alternately – and the dancers follow their sound from left to right and back to the left (the stacks are positioned on either side of the wooden stage). A slow-motion Palance, if you will! To an especially bass-heavy track by Kunterbunt Sound, two musicians pick up their instruments and contribute a stunning conversation – between Ras Divarius on violin and Guru Pope on saxophone. Musical bliss!
On top of the hour, they give it over to the main stage, where Weeding Dub from France is about to start his session on the big bad Rootsplague speakers. He begins with a beautiful Gospel piece, but since dark clouds threaten more rain and I want to catch a bit of Queen Ifrica's performance, we head back to the main stage quickly (in case you want to find out more about the Dub side of things, check the German festival report of my colleague Karsten on irieites.de).
7:22pm – Backstage & Red Stage
The liquid sunshine has caught us after all, so we first head backstage to change into some dry clothes. The mighty Queen Ifrica sends out a prayer, calling the blessing of Queen Menen upon us, to "protect and perfect our ways". She looks fit and stunning in her African print trousers, navy green shirt, orange Clarks and white turban, and she keeps up a lively interaction with the audience, even coming up front to bump fists and shake hands (accompanied by her assistant, who carries an umbrella to make sure the Queen doesn't get too wet). At the end of her set, the artist makes sure the people won't forget her name: "When I say Queen, you say Ifrica. Queen …" "Ifrica!" Is the roaring response from the crowd.
8:18pm – Green Stage
A history lesson is going on right now. Yes, these are the mighty Skatalites, founded in 1963 and in no small measure responsible for the development of this pacy genre. Sadly, time has claimed some of the original members already, but others are right here, right now, to spend special moments with us: Larry McDonald, who rocks the percussions with his incredible 85 years, Vin Gordon, another living legend who joined the Skatalites in 1964 with his trombone, Trevor "Sparrow" Thompson on drums and Val Douglas on bass. Younger members enhance the musical experience, among them Anant Pradhan on saxophone, Aurelien " Natty Frenchy" Metsch on guitar, James Smith on trumpet and Ken Stewart on keys. Their set is instrumental for the most part, but some vocals are shared as well in tracks like Simmer Down. The teaching goes on with the presentation of riddims such as Real Rock (to which the band plays an extended Dub version), and the crowd visibly enjoys grooving along to those foundation melodies, with shuffling feet and smiling faces.
9:25pm – Ivan's Jamaican Kitchen & Backstage
Time for the obligatory Ackee & Saltfish at Ivan's! His tent is full, as many (especially Jamaican) artists and connoisseurs de la cuisine want to get a taste of the authentic Jamaica right here. While I wait for my food, I have a chat with my friends Claudia and Sabine (big up the whole Cologne massive) – it's only here at Reggae Jam that so many wonderful people from all over Germany are reunited! Loaded with a plate of the delicious meal, I hurry back to the Reggaeville workstation to follow the remainder of Richie Spice's stage show. He's in the love section right now, it seems, belting out Brown Skin and Groovin' My Girl. Of course, hits like Ghetto Girl and Youths Dem Cold can't miss, and the audience celebrates his energetic show – lights and flags and all.
At this moment, my friend Carina comes in with a big smile on her face, and when I ask her what happened, she tells me that she purchased one of the last HELP Jamaica lottery tickets and won a ticket for next year's Reggae Jam festival. Congratulations!
10:36pm – Green Stage & Backstage
Mono & Nikitaman wear T-shirts saying "No War" and "Antifaschistische Seenotrettung" (antifascist sea rescue), respectively. The German band, founded by Monika Jaksch and Nick Tilstra back in 2004, are strong activists against racism, discrimination and homophobia, of which both their styles and their lyrics bear proof (and a rainbow-flag on stage). They present older pieces, but also new stuff from their 2022 album Autonome Zone, and the elaborate lightshow as well as the digital sounds are an exciting diversion from the rest of today's program. A definite highlight of their set is the moment when they bring out three children, their own among them, and together they sing "Stell dir vor es ist Krieg, und keiner geht hin…" (Imagine it's war and nobody goes there). Let's work it out for the next generation, let's finally stop this war!
During the subsequent track Zeit Für Optimisten ('time for optimists'), I head backstage once more to finish and post yesterday's report, and at our table I find Tesfu and his colleague Tobo, who are responsible for the Reggae Jam live stream (big up Soundbwoy TV any time!). Again, it's revealing to see how much work everyone puts in, as constant attention is needed for the stream to work smoothly and thousands of people from all over the world tune in to see what's happening here. Also, the moderation of the accompanying chat is not an easy task, as, unfortunately, some morons feel entitled to leave comments of hatred and disrespect in this peaceful community (and have to be blocked or deleted). So, give thanks for everyone working hard for this festival to happen and still keep their smile like Tesfu!
11:44pm – Red Stage
Strictly Roots, Don’t Haffi Dread, Can't Get We Out… Morgan Heritage is up, people! The family affair are a deserving finish for this wonderful Reggae Jam weekend, and the amount of talent on this stage right now is amazing to behold. A slight drizzle is back, but nobody seems to mind, and in fact the colorful umbrellas reflecting the stage lights are a beautiful sight to behold. "Dankeschön for bringing back Morgan Heritage all the way to Germany!" Ptah says, and introduces his brother Gramps Morgan for the next piece, a new feature with I-Octane. When the siblings subsequently join their voices to sing Gully Side, I have goose bumps all over my body. In case you haven't as yet, please listen to this song's lyrics!
The band goes on by paying homage to the greats including Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Toots & The Maytals, Bob Marley, their father Denroy Morgan (who passed away earlier this year), and Peter Tosh. For the powerful Light It Up, they ask for lighters and the people duly oblige, making this a perfect festival finish. Well, it could have been, but for me this magic spell broke when they continue with a funky cover of Reggae Night, a song that I personally don't like very much. But there is movement in the crowd still, so at least some seem to enjoy it, and that's the most important thing.
00:21am – Red Stage
"I've heard a lot of comments about the many smiling faces here." says Sheriff, who has assembled his crew on the two stages. "Really, every artist tells me that the atmosphere here is special, and that's because of YOU! Make some noise for yourselves!" He proceeds with praise for everyone in the team, talks about the difficulties during the preparations, the need to improvise in certain fields, new laws and raised prices, and thanks the city of Bersenbrück and us for our patience and "that you give this festival so much heart, so much love". As is their tradition, the Bersenbrück Samba Orchestra plays two final pieces, and I am delighted to discover that the equally traditional polonaise around the big old tree is taking place, too.
01:11am – Da Sandwichmaker
Here we are again, enjoying a last tasty Jerk Jackfruit Sandwich and a chilled Red Stripe beer at Steffen Prase's Da Sandwichmaker. Ring-A-Ting plays a spicy '90s Dancehall selection, Unlimited Culture waves farewell and everyone, really everyone, is smiling. What a weekend this has been – thank you Sheriff, thank you, Team Reggae Jam! Thank you too, dear readers, and let us know what YOUR favorite moment was in the comments below. Back to normal, we say!
PS: Two mysteries remain to be solved. One, what is the flag that was waved in the crowd, yellow with a red emblem depicting a white ship? And two, what was the strange, almost alien music playing somewhere around the main stage on Monday around 3am?