Following up on its highly successful 20th anniversary celebrations last year, Reggae Sumfest 2013 provided us with a number of stellar sets sprinkled with a few eyebrow-raising moments all around.
The Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex in Montego Bay was its usually lively self between July 25 and 27 as the best of Dancehall, Reggae and international music gave the thousands of patrons in attendance memorable sets to sink their teeth into. Here are my highlights, takeaways and overall grades regarding the 21st edition of the greatest Reggae show on Earth.
Dancehall Night – Despite complaints from artists such as Mr. Vegas about the show’s lineup, Dancehall Night at Reggae Sumfest 2013 delivered for the most part, given the circumstances. Though the likes of Mr. Vegas, Mavado, Konshens and Vybz Kartel were absent from proceedings, this night allowed for other elites to prove their worth on stage. Dancehall diva, Spice shocked the Sumfest crowd during her set by bringing back embattled superstar deejay, Vybz Kartel…sort of. A Kartel look-alike joined her on stage in handcuffs as they performed the chart-topping hit, Ramping Shop, to mass approval from patrons as Spice gave a typically spontaneous performance.
Fellow Dancehall diva, Macka Diamond was quite provocative during her set, particularly during her performance of the sexually-charged hit, Dye Dye while Danielle aka D.I. and Baby Tash also represented themselves well with grown and sexy performances that got the crowd warmed up and ready to go for the night ahead. However, it was the ‘Queen of Dancehall’ who best graced the same stage where she was officially crowned in 2012 as Lady Saw owned the spotlight with songs like Chat To Mi Back, Two Man Mi Have, It’s Raining and Heels On. She also fired lyrical shots at many of her detractors, including Macka Diamond and her now ex-boyfriend, Lloyd ‘John John’ James as she delved into her personal life, which added an extra bit of spark to her offering.
As for the guys, two of Dancehall’s icons, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer once again showed their reliability with class performances as Beenie, decked out in all white, performed hits like Rum and Redbull and the Hottest Man Alive while a black-suited Bounty Killer did everything; from challenging Jamaica’s education minister, Ronald Thwaites with Book, Book, Book to providing international flavor by joining forces with English-based singer, Deewaan to perform their new song, Running.
Aidonia got the females in the audience going with Tan Tuddy and Fi Di Jockey while Montego Bay’s own, Tommy Lee Sparta and fellow ex-protégé of Vybz Kartel, Popcaan managed to engage the crowd consistently during their offerings. However, the highlight of Dancehall Night was I-Octane, who validated the decision by Sumfest organizers to make him the night’s closing act. His performance savvy was on display throughout, delivering hits such as Lose a Friend, Mama You Alone and Study Yuh Friend while calling on Bounty Killer as they performed their hit collaborations, Badmind Dem a Pree and Double Trouble. Overall, he seemed sharp, consistent and sealed his place as one of Jamaica’s premier musicians.
Overall Grade: (B+) – Dancehall Night was a glowing success as the likes of Kiprich, I-Wayne, Alkaline, RDX and Agent Sasco also added their share of class, humor and depth to the show. However, the absence of the already mentioned big names does give this night a bit of a downgrade in my estimation. Plus, one of the biggest sideshow attractions going into the night turned to be more a distraction as Jamaica’s latest YouTube sensation, Rosie gave a timid, half-hearted deejaying rendition of her Tutty Gran remix prior to Lady Saw’s set. I think it is safe to say after this letdown that Rosie won’t be attempting a foray into the music business like our old friend, Cliff-Twang anytime soon.
International Night 1 – Sumfest’s penultimate night put Reggae music and its renaissance into the forefront on Friday. Emerging Reggae singers such as Downsound Records recording artiste, Nature and Droop Lion set the stage for a soothing night with polished performances which delved into the realms of social commentary.
As the night unfolded, the veterans took over in fine fashion with the legendary Barrington Levy, decked out in a sharp full suit, doled out nearly an hour’s worth of hits such as Too Experienced, Black Roses, Living Dangerously and Broader Than Broadway as he engaged with his fans throughout and reminded them of his unquestioned quality. Beres Hammond was similarly impressive as the Reggae icon took fans down memory lane with Double Trouble, Saying Goodbye, Step Aside Now and many more during a long set of his own.
The night’s overseas attraction was Hip-Hop/Pop sensation, Flo Rida who gave a very energetic, wide ranging set by performing hits like Whistle, Wild Ones and Right Round as flashed champagne and bonded with female patrons as he seemed to win over the audience with his hybrid style of music.
Tarrus Riley did not disappoint as the Reggae star eloquently delivered hits like Shaka Zulu Pickney, One Drop, She’s Royal and Good Girl Gone Bad while the night’s closing act and another Montegonian, Jah Cure melted his female audience with chart-toppers such as Unconditional Love and You’ll Never Find while pushing newer material including Battlefield and That Girl.
Overall Grade: (A) – As per usual, International Night 1 delivered a very stable, soothing setting to ease the ears and minds of fans following a more up-tempo Dancehall Night. The performances were solid and engaging, marking a strong follow-up from last year’s International Night 1, which featured the return of Shabba Ranks to Jamaican soil.
International Night 2 – This was arguably the best of the three performance nights as International Night 2 delighted and thrilled music lovers on Saturday night.
One of the most intriguing storyline going in regarded how Reggae’s hottest sensation, Chronixx would fare in the Sumfest spotlight for the first time. Though not at his energetic and vocal best, Chronixx and his Zinc Fence Redemption Band still proved their top-notch quality during their Sumfest debut, as he shook off the expected nerves before indulging in the hits that made him famous: Behind Curtain, They Don’t Know and Start a Fire to a satisfied audience.
No Maddz once again showed their uniqueness as the popular live band performed hits such as Rise Above Profanity and Sort Out Yuh Life Jamaica and even got the crowd chanting during their set.
However, many in the crowd came to see Grammy-winning R&B sensation, Miguel as he gave his maiden performance in Jamaica at Sumfest. The singer, who’s been compared to R&B/pop legend, Prince was passionate throughout his set and never seemed intimidated by the always demanding Jamaican crowd as won over hearts with hits such as Adorn and Kaleidoscope Dream while even dabbling into Reggae by doing a cover of Bob Marley’s classic, Stir It Up.
Romain Virgo was also in fine form, dishing out his share of high notes in his rendition of Adele’s Don’t You Remember, The System, Rich in Love and Rain Is Falling during a very mature performance.
But, like last year, Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley took the mantle during Sumfest’s closing night as he worked all corners of the stage with hits such as Set up Shop, Affairs of the Heart, Still Searching, Welcome to Jamrock and many more. He also invited Dancehall stars, Wayne Marshall, Aidonia and Assassin to perform their hit single, Go Hard, which got approval from the more hardcore fans in attendance.
Overall Grade (A) – International Night 2 has always been the best night of any Sumfest show in my opinion and Saturday’s edition was no exception. Though Miguel deserve major props for connecting to the Jamaican crowd and giving full effort during his set, Damian Marley once again stole the show with his energy, range and stage savvy. He has surely become one of the island’s greatest performers and continues to make his late father, Bob Marley eternally proud.