Ostróda Reggae Festival 2022 ADD

07/07 - 07/10 2022

Festival Report - Ostróda Reggae Festival 2022

07/08/2022 by Gardy Stein

Festival Report - Ostróda Reggae Festival 2022

It's been three years since I last touched Ostróda grounds – a long time to be deprived of Polish hospitality, food and music. You can thus imagine my excitement of being here again, as the Ostróda Reggae Festival has become one of my all-time favorites! This year's 21st edition bears the heading Peace & Love, a plea that's more urgent than ever in these crazy times.

The festival organizers had to cope with the double challenge of a new location and insecurities due to Covid, but they pulled it off, and here we are! Our Reggaeville Festival Report will bring this vibrant weekend home to you in words and pictures so you can join in the experience.  

Thursday, July 7th – 'Witaj!' (welcome)

Due to a flight delay (a Europe-wide nuisance that affects visitors, staff and artists alike), we arrived three hours later than planned and missed the first performances by Negril and The Djangos. Upon entering the Amfiteatr at the lake where the traditional festival opening takes place, the Paraliż Band is just closing their set, followed by an announcement of moderator Mariusz Korpoliński and a quick changeover. Time to grap some original Polish 'piwo' (beer) and 'frytki' (fries) and meet our friends!

With Dubska up next, the stage is full. Nine musicians are part of this long-standing band, founded in 1999: Dymitr Czabański (vocals, guitar), Diana Rusinek (vocals), Jarosław Hejmann (percussion), Marcin Grzybowski (guitar), Artur Małecki (bass), Tomasz Bartz (keys), Marek Szczepański (trumpet), Krzysztof Błaszczak (trombone) and the drummer Dariusz Rokiciński, whose name was kindly provided by Marta. Their setlist contains a well-balanced mix of pacy songs and slower pieces, delivered in Polish mostly (with some English in between), as well as some covers, such as Too Girlie Girlie.
The two singers Dymitr and Diana harmonize perfectly, both vocally and in their interactions, but actually the whole band is a joy to watch and listen to. I'm not alone in this conception, as everyone present gathers in front of the stage to dance and sing along. Especially impressive are the huge flags brought along by the fans, one Jamaican, one red-gold-green, and one with the Lion of Judah. Instant atmosphere upgrade!

During the next changeover, the open-mindedness of the Reggae scene here becomes evident further: we hear contemporary tunes like Wanted by Lila Iké, Make Things Work by Kabaka Pyramid and You Teach Me by Jah Lil. Niceness!

A mystic intro heralds the next band. The stage is dark, except for an illuminated spot in the middle where a man sits, surrounded by an array of exotic instruments which he plays in turn. Handpan, jew's harp and pan flute are among the musical sounds he drops, added to later by bagpipes, mandolin and lyre. The multi-talented musician thus creates an intense acoustic atmosphere, and I'm not the only one who wonders how the band will take over from this. When tension reaches its peak, this question is solved: "Baroukh ata Adonai…" intonates Dariusz "Maleo" Malejonek, founder and lead singer of the group Maleo Reggae Rockers, and drops the mesmerizing Jerusalem on us. The band celebrates their 25th stage jubilee tonight, and they have prepared a special program for this occasion: not just the usual hits like Nie Tak, among one of the first songs played, but a spectacular performance that's more a light- and sound-show than a normal concert.

Before they finish, they invite a guest on stage that seems to be well-known to the audience (judging from the enthusiastic reactions). Andrzej Krzywy is his name, and he is active in the Polish music scene since the early '80s, starting out to sing with the Reggae-band Daab, as festival organizer Mirosław "Maken" Dzięciołowski informs me. Together they perform Święty Szczyt by Polish Punk-Rock-Reggae pioneers Kryzys, and while I can't pronounce the title, I can tell you what it means: Holy Peak.

They finish their set a few minutes after midnight, and while the crowd disperses, everyone (including me) is looking forward to a great festival day tomorrow!

Friday, July 8th – Educate yourself!

Today starts with some vital education at the Uniwersytet Reggae. Jarek Kowalczyk, founder and lead singer of the Polish Reggae band Bakshish, has just finished a presentation of his 40-years band history, moderated by Bartosz Wójcik, and fans surround him to get a copy of his new album Ego, a picture or an autograph (or both).

When they are done, the light is dimmed to start a film premiere: Rebel Dread is screened for the first time in Poland! It tells the life story of British musician, filmmaker and revolutionary Don Letts, who directed (among hundreds of others) the music video for Musical Youths' Pass The Dutchie, Vaiting in Vain and One Love for Bob Marley's and the movie Dancehall Queen. The movie also gives us a vivid impression of what it was like to grow up in London as a Black kid, how Punk met Reggae back in the '70s and how bands such as Big Audio Dynamite or the Screaming Targets took off. A great way to start into the day!

A late lunch break takes us to Roślina i Wołowina at the town's main road (in case you ever visit Ostróda, make sure you check them out – homemade burgers and delicious Falafel are their specialty!), and before I can be on my way to the Main Stage, I have to return to the Dom Polonii quickly to finish yesterday's report. Good thing the Ostróda Reggae Festival has a Livestream running, so I can follow the opening performances of Johny Rockers and The Beat Rootz on screen!

Arriving at the new festival grounds, Shashamane is rocking the Red Stage with songs of Ganja Healing and a great VJ show. When they are done, we first take a tour to become acquainted with what is where. The new location is the local stadium, and great effort has gone into preparing it for the festival visitors. Thus, the football field has been completely covered in plastic floor mats to protect the grass from dancing feet, the changing rooms have been converted to sanitary facilities and press area, and the backstage is located behind the substitute's bench. As usual, a colorful array of vendors, drink- and food stalls and merchandise encircle the main stage, and two paths lead to the Green Stage (where a lot of fast-paced Soundsystem action takes place) and to the camping grounds, which are bathed in music by the Jah Love Sound. Close to the Yellow Stage, which hosts more relaxed soundsystems and live riddim bands, an area is reserved for children and recreation. Painting, table tennis and chilling are some of the activities we spot there, and the late afternoon sun dives everything in a golden light. Peace & Love, the festival's motto, are felt here for sure!

Back at the Red Stage, aforementioned Bakshish celebrate their 40 years band history. They are one of the most well-known bands in Poland, founded in 1982 in Kluczbork, and the fans cheer them accordingly. The musicians Damian Poprawa (bass), Tomasz Łukasiewicz (drums), Radosław Ciurko (keys), Radosław Sokołowski (lead guitar) and Artur Kocan (rhythm guitar) harmonize perfectly with singer Jarek, and he in turn with backing vocalist Anna Mrożek. As far as I can tell from the accompanying video show, they sing about love, food waste, genetic manipulation and the need to educate ourselves in songs like Zrenica ('pupil') and Otwórzcie Oczy ('open your eyes'), thus combining great musicianship with important messages. At the end of the set, a guest MC picks up the mic, and while I understood neither his name nor his lyrics, the statement on his T-shirt comes across clearly: FCK PTN! 

Luckily, the rain that was announced for today has limited itself to a few showers earlier on. Right now, we can even admire a beautiful sunset in the western sky! Meanwhile, the German dream-team of Jamaram and Jahcoustix have conquered the Red Stage, and they are delivering a true firework of light and music! After the initial Mama Told You and Belly Of The Beast, they are now talking to the audience, and their "Make some noise for Reggae music!" is duly obeyed. Besides this constant interaction, little surprises like the "freeze" break in Live Your Dream make the show interesting and engaging, and the participation reaches its peak in Green Leaf, during which everyone joins in a little choreo prepared by Mr. Giovanni Perconides – sweet vibes!

In a great combination of talent and energy, both Jahcoustix and Jamaram bring their best to this show – their style is not straight Reggae, but it's definitely music you can move to, and the Polish audience is accordingly impressed. The final two pieces, Salam Aleikum and Heart Attack, combine Oriental and Slavic elements and make the crowd go wild once more. Kaboom!

During changeover, it's time for a snack. The choice is a hard one, as there are many tasty meals offered at the food area. Today, I opt for Zapiekanka, a type of long baguette with grilled mushroom and cheese that can be enjoyed with a variety of toppings. Smaczna - yummy!

Thus invigorated, I return to the Red Stage where Havana Meets Kingston just finished a quick soundcheck. Due to Corona and travel delays, it's only four musicians on stage (out of the 70 or so that are part of the new album): Mista Savona himself on keys and effects, Jesus on bass, Julito Padron on trumpet and vocals as well as Brenda Navarrete on vocals and percussion. "It's our first time in Poland!" she informs us, and then the four of them pull off a stage show that is as dynamic as it is impressive. Especially Brenda rules the place, and my disappointment at the small size of the group evaporates at the fire she sparks off. Not only is her vocal delivery in songs like Siempre Si or La Cancion on top, but also her captivating performance.
Switching from percussions to mic, she makes the stage her own, dancing and interacting with the audience, and coupled with her unique styling, this is both a sonic and a visual experience. Mista Savona has some surprises in store as well, presenting a new production with Brenda he's about to release (more on the EDM side), a spicy version of the Cimafunk combination Beat Con Flow and a Dub FX remix of Carnival. Julito has his spot in Candela, and at the end of their set, they make the audience go wild with the well-known Cuban Chan Chan. Complimenting Brenda on her exceptional style after the show, she shrugs it off saying "These are crazy times, so we have to be a bit crazy. It's the survival of the craziest!"

Meanwhile at the Green Stage, a solid tent construction located directly at Ostróda' beautiful lake Jezioro Drwęckie, Polish producer Dreadsquad puts on an energetic show. His music reflects an innovative combination of Jamaican sounds with Jungle, Dubstep and bass, bass, bass, and whenever the latter drops in a track, the dancing audience goes wild.

Speaking of bass… the final act on the main stage today is Wicked Dub Division from Italy. Singer Michela Grena keeps up a steady interaction with the people, introducing and explaining some of the songs on their set. "We love Dub music, but there would be no Dub without Reggae!", she says, and continues to explain "One of our favorite Reggae bands is Misty In Roots, and the next track is dedicated to them!" The combination of Michela's lucid, powerful voice and the bass-heavy Steppa's style Dub created by GP Ennas (drums), King Claudio (bass) and Peak (dub effects) is intense, and resonates well with the Polish audience who, despite the late hour and the cold creeping in, stays in movement until the end. What a day full of emotion, sound and teachings!

Saturday, July 9th – Global Inspiration

The Red Stage is opened by Krystian "K-Jah" Walczak and an hour of Reggae Edukacja. He dips deep into his treasure chest of riddims and videos to talk about important contributors to the genre, and although I'm not on festival grounds as yet, I follow his explanations via the Livestream. As, suddenly,  there is a heavy downpour of rain, I stay put and do the same with the performances of the Polish bands Boleo & Follow The Riddim, Skankan (who, as their name suggests, are on the Ska side of things), and Gutek. When they get to the end of their set, the sun comes out again and we are on our way to the live music.
Punk Rock time! With Pidzama Porno, a Polish Punk band is rocking the main stage, and although it might seem misplaced at a Reggae festival, it is actually a great fit and brings in diversity – and fun! Out of nowhere, a mosh pit is created in front of the stage, and visitors and staff alike jump in the circle. In the midst of this craziness, Lila Iké and band arrive at the tents that are set up for the artists backstage, and I wonder what they might think about the whole situation.Singer Krzysztof "Grabaz" Grabowski is an icon in the local scene, and accordingly celebrated by the audience. In one of his slower songs, he sings about how we are still "sending our sons to war", and the bass player turns over his instrument during these words, showing the Ukrainian flag that's attached to its back and holding it up for everyone to see. The first artist I've seen on stage so far to express their solidarity with this war-ridden country!

Props for the team: moderator Mariusz announces a special moment and brings eight people on stage who make this festival happen: Maken and Piotr Kolaj, of course, but also artist manager Olivia "Lili" Musiatowicz as well as Zbigniew Michalak (mayor of Ostróda Town) and Bogusław Fijas (mayor of the Ostróda Community). Announced as special guests are the Jamaican delegation consisting of Desreine Taylor (Jamaican High Commission, London), Deniese Sealey (Jamaican Embassy, Berlin) and Javor Samuels (Lawyer, Lodz).

They all pass their greetings to the audience (some in Polish, some in English), and the stage is then prepared for the next act. I use this break to go food-hunting again, resulting in a dish of delicious Polish Pierogi with a filling of cabbage, grilled mushrooms and cheese.

"For those who don't know me, my name is Lila Iké, and now I'm going to play you the second song I ever released!" With Gotti Gotti (followed by Biggest Fan, the first song she ever released), the Jamaican artist and her band are in full effect! Accompanied by splendid sound and lights, she connects with the audience again and again, introducing her songs with intimate insights ("The next song is called Piece Of Mind, I wrote this when I was on a low in my life and needed solitude.") or calls-to-action: "If you are here with somebody you love, hold up your hands!"

I SpyWanted and Where I'm Coming From close her set, the latter climaxing in some sudorific dancing on stage, and Lila Iké's first ever solo show on Polish grounds can sure be considered a success! After her show, she can be seen strolling the festival grounds with her band and tour manager Damalistik, stopping at the food stalls to get a taste of the Polish kitchen. Completely at ease, she poses for photos or just talks to the people around, and she definitely made some new fans here.

Change of location, change of mood: at the Green Stage, Mateusz Miller aka Radical Guru puts on some heavy Reggae and Dub pieces that invite for collective dancing madness. Stepping outta Babylon! His set was preceded by Jabbadub and will be followed by Roots Revival, neither of which I catch, but I plan to return again later. For now, the Red Stage is calling, where…

Julian Marley
is on! Eagerly awaited, the Polish Reggae massive is visibly happy to welcome a son of the greatly revered Bob Marley in their country. With We're Jammin, Bend Down Low and Lively Up Yourself, Julian satisfies the sing-along-desire of the people, but he also presents own compositions such as Broken Sails, Violence In The Streets or Boom Draw, to which hundreds of voices sing along. The Uprising band that accompanies him on this tour is amazing, and Richard Walters (guitar), Andrew Edwards (bass), Leonard Forbes (keys), Roobney Ligonde (percussion), Dave Richards (drums) as well as Raquel Stephenson and Rose-Anna Marie Douglas (backing vocals) set the right musical frame for this experience.

Realizing that I haven't visited the Yellow Stage as yet, I decide it's about time to do just that. Although the tent is not full, the Pandadread Sound System at the controls is in full swing, having fun with the two big stacks that are erected and pump the sound into our ears. A line of MCs pass the mic around, and although I don't understand much of what they sing about, they all sparkle with talent. One of them, Filip aka Fifo Samaritan, tells me later that he has a band project called Barwy, formed during lockdown and eager to be heard.

Damian Syjonfam
closes the program on the main stage tonight. The Polish singer/songwriter and his band of four is well liked by the audience, who know the lyrics to several of his songs. I join them in singing Fałszywy Doktor ('Fake Doctors'), a track I played in the Poland-special of my radio show The Many States Of Reggae. After his last encore, we follow the dispersing crowd to the Green Stage, where Wicked And Bonny from Italy is playing. Normally a duo, Maggu plays alone tonight, but he is joined by some Polish vocalists who sing until the birds join them (by which time I'm in bed already). Good night, Ostróda!    

Sunday, July 10th – Peace & Love

It's hard to believe that this is the last festival day already. Time flew by so quickly! Determined to use this Sunday as best as possible, I am at the Amfiteatr, listening to an interview with Michela Grena (frontwoman of Wicked Dub Division). She talks about her musical beginnings at a children's choir, her education at the Jazz Conservatory and her falling in love with the sounds of Reggae and Dub. Especially interesting are her anecdotes about the studio time spent with Wicked Dub Division and the North East Ska Jazz Orchestra – a new collaboration that resulted in the exciting album Live Studio Session #1.

A live session is also unfolding at the Red Stage. Three bands are the finalists in the national Czwórka Reggae Contest: Blue Mahoe, The Rebels, and Raggabarabanda, who bring Ska-infused movement to the stage. The latter are announced the winners later on and can look forward to a live performance, promotion on Radio Czwórka and a price 2,000 Złoty. Congratulations!

After Vito Bamino have finished their set, there is a quick changeover for the following act Mesajah (actually, Vavamuffin was supposed to play this slot, but a Covid-case in the band prevented them from coming – speedy recovery to all those who are sick right now!).

Mesajah and his band are perfectly prepared for this spontaneous commitment, and their Marley-cover Belly Full draws a growing crowd. From the last time I was here, I recognize the backing vocalists, two girls called the I Grades when they work solo, and their voices add a sweet flavor to tracks like Powiedz Kim Byś Był ('Tell me who you would be'). Guest MC Grzegorz "Wlazi" Wlaźlak (who also sings in a formation called Bethel) brings in further diversity, and the whole show is a pleasure to watch and listen.

During a final encore by Mesajah, Max Romeo and family arrive backstage. They are welcomed by Maken and Piotr personally, and while they settle in and prepare for their show, the Roots Heritage Band that will accompany them start unpacking their equipment (big up Gregory Emonet on guitar, Rudolph Bennet on keys, Eric Gaultier on sax, Pierre Chabrele on trombone as well as Sandra Oijagir and Linda Rey on backing vocals.
I finish my dinner (Pierogi, again!) and then I try to find a remedy for my cold feet. Since there was another short but heavy rain-shower earlier on, the ground is rather wet (remember, the main stage is constructed on a football field and the precious grass is covered with plastic mats to prevent it from damage – those mats, however, have little wholes so that the moisture seeps through), and my shoes are not waterproof. No stand sells socks, unfortunately, but when I ask one that has knitted hats and scarfs and bags on display (I am well prepared, asking for 'skarpety' which means socks in Polish), the owner Krzystof Sulak tells me to wait, rummages through his car and comes back with a pack of colorful skarpety. When I ask him how much he wants me to pay, he just laughs and says it's a gift. I decided to include this story in the report because, for me, this incident captures the spirit of most people here: helpful, generous, and always up for a laugh. Dziękuję bardzo – thanks a lot!

Contrary to their show at Summerjam in Cologne last week, Xana Romeo starts the set with a couple of her own songs, Righteous Path, Rate Rasta and Africa Is Calling among them (the latter from her recently released album The Roots of X). She then hands it over to her eagerly awaited father Max Romeo, who gets a big forward when entering the stage. He performs Back To The Bible and a Ska-version of Time Bomb, then inviting his son Azizzi Romeo on stage for two tracks.  
Max saves the best for last. What the audience has been waiting for are his influential tunes Three Blind Mice, War Ina Babylon, One Step and Chase The Devil, each of which is duly applauded. The last one, however, creates the biggest stir: Jamaican Ska is known in these parts, as the popular female group Alibabki has published their version Wash Wash Ska already back in 1965! 

Skipping the energetic Tabu performance, I dive into a different kind of energy for the next hour. At the Green Stage, K-Jah Sound (who was supposed to play alongside Micah Shemaiah, but a personal tragedy prevented him from coming) is presenting some of his beautiful productions, and I let the music wash over me, neither taking notes nor pictures nor videos. If you are interested in his works, make sure you google him! At midnight, another Polish formation takes over. To those who have never seen a Joint Venture performance before, the guy in a priest's robe who wears a dinosaur's mask for one track and speaks through a megaphone in the next might seem a bit disconcerting, but that's just the Alter Ego of festival co-organizer Maken. Stay calm and bounce!

Meanwhile at the Red Stage, Dub FX has started his show with considerable delay (none of which is his fault!). Powerful tunes like Love Me Or Not and Fake Paradise put us in a trance, especially in combination with the symmetric visuals in the background, for which Dub FX thanks the VJ publicly.  The crowd goes mad when the artist starts beatboxing, weaving his voice in different layers with a Loop Machine until it's a full song. "For the Drum'n'Bass lovers!" he says when he introduces the next song, making people jump in the slight drizzle that has begun to fall.
When he closes the stage for the night (and the festival), the only stop left to take is the Green Stage once more, where Vibronics and Joseph Lalibela from the UK turn the remaining energies of the people into dance.

On our way back to the hotel, my colleague Karsten Frehe (irieites.de) and I follow the lake shore and listen to the fading sounds behind us. I mentally pass this formidable festival in review in my mind, and although I didn't catch everything going on, I trust that this report gave you a little impression of what this event is all about. I want to express my utmost respect to the Ostróda Reggae Festival crew who have managed to pull it all through – again! Thoughtful preparation, great acts, and the true spirit of this year's motto have contributed to a wonderful weekend, and we hope to spread the message to the world: Peace & Love!