Biko Kennedy, Youthlink Writer
The euphoria of Wednesday night, August 11, 1993, at the then Bob Marley Entertainment Complex changed the face of reggae festivals forever. Word of the extravagant showcasing spread globally and hit the press like a prairie wildfire, ultimately acclaiming it the world’s greatest reggae festival.
Twenty years later, Reggae Sumfest has done something that other major festivals have not; it has remained as the archetype for other reggae festivals. Since Reggae Sumfest is a mere weeks away, Youthlink presents 10 of the most memorable moments in the festival’s history.
1. Dance lessons with Professor Ele
On Saturday, July 24, 2010, under the watchful eye of the ‘energy god’ Elephant Man, Usher and Chris Brown learnt how to deejay in the local dialect and ‘sway’ to the rhythm of our beat, which they did flawlessly. From Chris’ signaling to the band to ‘level’, before belting out a snippet of his single Brown Skin Girl, to Usher showing approval with a few ‘bap, bap, bap’, the thunderous applause and deafening screams indicated that the crowd approved of Usher including Elephant Man in his near two-hour set. It left the showcasing on a high that year.
2. A legend speaks
After a disappointingly early end in 2000 when Shaggy’s performance closed the show long before the onset of daylight, in 2001, Bunny Wailer sealed the deal with an unforgettable, impromptu performance and speech. The lone Wailer held the dwindling crowd in a trance which lasted well over 20 minutes. He performed singles from his Blackheart Man album as well as some Bob Marley and Peter Tosh classics. In the early light of Monday morning, Independence Day, Bunny made Reggae Sumfest 2001 a truly memorable moment in history.
3. Dru Hill mesmerises
Dru Hill, on August 7, 1999, permanently etched ‘Worl-A-Reggae’ Night in the minds of female patrons. Even if they hadn’t heard about the group prior to its performance, they were left spellbound as the remaining three group members delivered a spectacle never before seen on Jamaica’s shores. Their great music, showmanship and forward thinking made for a showcasing that was simply amazing.
4. Boyz II Men at their best
1998’s Reggae Sumfest could possibly go down as one of the most successful staging as an estimated 15,000 patrons turned out to see Boyz II Men in their glory; even the largest Dancehall Night crowd couldn’t rival this one. On Saturday, August 8, the R&B group took the stage for its 75-minute set clad in matching sequin-studded baseball shirts and denim shorts. They gave an energetic performance packed with hits and well- rehearsed choreography which left screaming fans in a daze.
5. Enter an Indian cat
At the inaugural staging of the festival in 1993, as the curtains came down marking its immense success, Super Cat was the main talking point. In an era where lewd lyrics and violence were a deejay’s main weapon, the level of maturity shown by Super Cat on the final night of the festival, Saturday, August 14, went down particularly well with promoters and patrons. The Cat, geared in an Indian chief’s headdress, included Don Dada, Permit Fi Gun, Under Pressure and Cry Fi Di Youth in his 45-minute set, raising the bar for future festivals.
6. Three the hard way
Saturday’s ‘Worl-A-Reggae’ Night on August 7, 1999, left a bitter-sweet taste in the mouths of many patrons. Vintage legends Gregory Isaacs, John Holt and Ken Boothe paid tribute to the late Dennis Brown after his tragic death on July 1 of the same year. Dubbed ‘three the hard way’, classics such as Here I Come, Promise Land and Money In My Pocket were among the songs sung verbatim by the massive Sumfest crowd. Sadly, patrons could only reminisce on Brown’s musical journey which ultimately crowned him the prince of reggae.
7. The messenger’s grace
Jamaica’s hit-per-hit sensation, Luciano, left Reggae Sumfest ablaze on Friday’s Roots Rock Jam Night on August 8, 1997. Normally, Dancehall Night would have been the most interesting night of the Sumfest showcasing but Luciano’s presence that year told a different story. After his hour-long performance he was applauded as the best-ever on reggae’s stage. Not since the late Peter Tosh in the mid-1980s had a reggae performer captivated a crowd as Luciano did that Friday night.
8. Independent women shined
It was a ‘bootylicious’ night on Saturday, July 26, 2003, as the ladies of Destiny’s Child graced the Reggae Sumfest stage. The main international headliners thrilled patrons with electrifying choreographed routines. With each member of the trio also performing solo acts, it was Beyonce and Sean Paul’s collaborative effort on Baby Boy that left the crowd cheering and screaming a near-deafening cry.
9. An unexpected crowd surf
As Friday’s International Night 1 reached its climax on July 18, 2008, everyone left talking about Akon’s performance. Not only did he deliver a powerful set, reeling off hit after hit, but he also did the unimaginable. He left the main stage, climbed over security posts, skimmed across the VIP section and mixed and mingled with the general patrons then did a crowd surf … like a boss! The panic among his security detail could only be imagined.
10. Marley magic
When Damian, Kymani, Stephen and Julian Marley hit the stage on the final night of Reggae Sumfest (July 27) 2002 and performed their father’s classic, Could You Be Loved, only one word could describe the moment … magical. The quartet’s performance left patrons mesmerized and reminiscing on the late reggae legend. Surely he was looking on from the musical realm with streaks of gray racing through his locks, perhaps nodding in approval of his sons.