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Yes, Jamaica is a real place. That’s a question that commonly pops up on social media because some of the things you see about Jamaica…you can only see in Jamaica. And only understand it in a Jamaican context. I am biased by birth, but I truly feel that the island of Jamaica is magnificent for so many reasons.

A place with beautiful weather, delicious food, the most charismatic people you’ll ever meet, gorgeous landscapes, a tourism industry like no other, a unique style of music that has transcended borders and inspired a multitude of sub-genres within the genre, and an abundance of talent performing, managing, and maintaining the industry that makes this island experience one that millions continue to return to. Reggae Sumfest is one night of the year where Jamaica has the opportunity to put this talent on full display and remind the world just how powerful and influential reggae music is.

Downsound Entertainment, in association with sponsors including Grace Foods, Pepsi Jamaica, Jamaica Tourism, Mastercard, Caribbean Airlines Wray & Nephew, and many other top brands and businesses presented the annual Reggae Sumfest music festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica this weekend, after a week of pre-show festivities. A symposium, social media awards, a sound clash, and themed parties helped to get visitors and locals in a reggae frame of mind before the two nights of performances began.

My experience with Reggae Sumfest has been top notch, and I continue to be impressed by how this machine runs. From the accreditation process, to the online updates, an impeccable social media campaign, and outstanding live coverage during the festival…this weekend has proven to be a master class in event production and entertainment, and I am using this opportunity to take notes on how a large-scale event should run. Somehow, that is what seduced me most about this year’s presentation: how seamless it was.

Surely, Sumfest is not without its issues. Like any event planner knows, what happens on the outside and what happens in real-time with check lists and day-to-day execution is probably quite different. That being said, knowing how complex an event of this size and nature must be, I truly believe that Reggae Sumfest continues to be an essential part of the many highlights of Brand Jamaica that circulate around the globe spreading good vibes and positive messaging about our wonderful country.

I feel proud. Truly. Despite the awesome performances, and the new additions to the Jamaican entertainment story (Friday night with no Squash, and Buju’s return to the festival), I feel proud to be of Jamaican descent. Proud to see the all-Jamaican lineup of artists, and the supporting cast around them like the marketers, the reporters, and the various ambassadors. It felt like success. It felt like a home run. It felt like the perfect packaging of a culture and environment that so many of us love dearly. It felt like Jamaican excellence.

I learned a lot about Sumfest this year. Although it has existed for over two decades, with Sunsplash preceding it: this is no new occurrence. In fact, festivals like Sumfest, and Rebel Salute, and other special events have been drawing specialty crowds to Jamaica for years. This particular year, however, I learned a lot of great facts about the Sumfest brand and what is has become in 2019.

For example, I listened to a Jamaican PR Strategist discuss the changes made to Sumfest so that now Jamaican artists are highlighted, without relying on American/foreign stars to headline the show. I learned about the restructuring of the event to reduce the festival to two nights, yet still providing a full week of warm-up activities to accommodate those who want to enjoy a few days of celebration before the show.

I was able to hear what the Sumfest administrators thought about elements of Jamaican culture like the sound clash, and how reggae lovers from outside of the Caribbean are studying and indulging in the culture, and mastering aspects of it in their own unique ways. As someone that was born and raised in Canada, I enjoy learning about how Jamaican residents perceive their cultural impact, and am also proud to see Jamaican-Canadians like King Turbo Sound, Chelsea Stewart, and others have prominent roles in the weekend’s proceedings.

Hearing Joe Bogdanovich speak about the importance of supporting generational changes in music, and seeing it reflected in some of the performances was interesting, as was listening to his assistant and event administrator Karla Jankee discuss her multiple roles, and how they take her across the world sharing the good news of reggae. From the interviews and pre-show with Kamilah McDonald and Nikki Z, and the engaging social media narrative, Sumfest was off to a good start before it even began.

via @cstewartsings
The show opened with Toronto’s very own Chelsea Stewart backed by the Warrior Love Band, and continued to feature new acts like Mr. Chumps, Celebrity, and Ricky Tee’s. Watching them in interview and on stage, I was reminded of Rygin King and his role in last year’s Sumfest. As mentioned, “you never known who will be the next big thing.” It was interesting to see the news faces and speculate about where they may or may not be by Sumfest 2020. It’s a reminder of the constant creativity in music and the culture, and how quickly legacies are built, or in some unfortunate cases…forgotten.

Harry Toddla provided many great flashbacks, injecting a new energy to the evening from before midnight. DJ’s Liquid and Noah Powa were most definitely entertaining, bringing an element of laughter and parody, and a few impersonations. Also funny: the evening’s host.

Admittedly, I’m late to the Shauna Chin narrative, but after that performance of hers, I think I’m going to go back into blog history and see just how significant her redemption statement really was and why. I believe this may also involve pursuing the Instagram timeline of Foota Hype…and I’m 100% sure the story will be shocking, as were her outfits and her defiant lyrics.

During Shauna Controlla’s performance, my attention lingered on the Jamaican audience and their amazing method of paying extreme attention to every detail on stage, while still appearing to be quite disinterested. I remembered this from my visit to Rebel Salute earlier this year where despite witnessing some of THE most exciting performance of the night, the audience was still hesitant to exhibit extreme enjoyment.

This is one of the elements of the Jamaican spirit that I most appreciate: the ridiculously high entertainment standards, and an acute attention to detail, wardrobe, movements, and nuance. The Jamaican musical audience is probably one of the most aware–and critical–of listeners internationally. Not easily impressed, they truly make the performers work for accolades and earn their forwards.

via @bojtv
Even Munga, performing so many classics that I had to remind myself to give them another listen this weekend. The height of Munga’s career was also the height of my young party life. In a 2007 clip of Munga’s first concert in Toronto (in a mediocre video with abusively terrible audio quality that I should be embarrassed to link back to), I was quite excited to hear “Earthquake” and his other string of hits. I’m glad he has come back to the stage and resurrected his career with style.

via @loopjamaica
Also exciting for a woman of my age: seeing Spragga Benz back on stage, looking as good as ever. Full of charm. A youthful glow. Possessing that same distinguished voice that we all loved some 25 years ago. And whether he was performing “Machine Gun Kelly” (straight from the basement parties of 1995), or his latest hit “Differ”…it was a joy. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one also patiently waiting for him to remove the outer layer of clothing and remind us of how many hours he’s been putting in at the gym. He look proper.

Just before Elephant Man returned to the Sumfest stage, a switch of hosts for the evening presented the lovely Miss Kitty draped in red excitement, and a perfect match for the increase in energy that Ele brought to the venue. My artists! The ones that bring the nostalgia, the dance moves, and the good feelings that go along with each memory attached to their popular songs.

via My Jamaica Today
Elephant Man was fabulous, and everything we needed him to be. He ran. He climbed. He took off pieces of his costume armour, and he reminded us of exactly who he be. A legend of dancehall, and someone that we can always hold in high regard and look at fondly whether he’s performing a new album, or simply making us move with his original classics. We owe Elephant Man a lot. He brought us all so much joy, laughter, and, well…”energy” over the years. He is a treasure, for sure.

Agent Sasco, was excellent as per usual. He is a legend in the making, and that voice of his always reminds me that he is one of a kind. Spice: a consummate performer, with so many outfits and stage moments worth remembering. She truly is on top of her game right now, and it’s nice to see.

Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, Koffee and Chronixx. It almost goes without saying. These are artists that have all proven themselves, in various ways, to be irreplaceable icons in the reggae music industry. So much greatness, and so many great songs to accompany their existence.

With a backdrop of morning sunshine in Montego Bay, Dexta Daps, Govana, Aidonia, and a few other new artists like Shane E, Fully Bad, and Jahvillani closed out the show. As for the 6ixx Squad and Squash…unfortunately his big moment is a thing of hypothetical planning only. According to reports, the police did not approve of the profanity used by other artists, and the fact that the show was running over its permitted time…so they locked it off.

Festival Night 2 brought in a few early acts, before the highly anticipated performance from Dalton Harris took place. One thing is for sure: the man can SING. Like really, really sing. He was definitely a showman. He was for sure a little bit defensive. Dalton had a lot to prove and a lot to say, and in the end…I have to give it up for his talent, which is undeniable. He is a force.

Any appearance from Jah9 and Etana are good appearances, as far as I’m concerned. Those two woman embody grace and intelligence, and I do believe they are an amazing and necessarily element to the music scene. From the Shauna Controlla and Spice sexiness, to the conscious lyrics and messaging of Jah9 and Etana, Jamaican women were presented from all angles.

The women continued to inspire me when Protoje brought out Lila Ike and Sevana as a part of his set. In addition to featuring Jesse Royal and Sasco during his segment, he truly did shine a light on Lila and Sevana in the best ways. Solid. As they sang, as they moved, and as they shared their lyrics, I was so inspired by what they represented, again in another contrast to the previous female performers. It presented such a thorough look at womanhood, and female expression. It felt like big things were about to happen for women in the reggae, and I’m all here for it.

I fully expect Lila Ike to have a role in next year’s Sumfest. Of all the artists, she really left an impression on me as someone who truly deserves an increased in profile.

Uncle Beres. No words. The quiet Jamaican audience from the early hours immediately transformed into a most humbled collective of music lovers and fans. Hit after hit, folks sang along with Beres, cheered to Beres, and praised their artist with the utmost respect and appreciation. A living legend and someone a true reggae fan can never, ever tire of. Beres Hammond was a complete pleasure to watch, as always.

Romain Virgo had another poignant moment of the night, when the young and beautiful Teshae Silvera joined him on stage to sing her cover of Romain’s song calling out child abuse. “You dutty man! You dutty man! Leave the people pickney dem alone!” she sang, to one of the biggest forwards of the night. This angel left an impression on many, and when I first glimpsed her Instagram page she only had 60 followers. I most definitely expect this to be a different situation by tomorrow, now that her handle @Teshae_Silvera is being circulated.

Christopher Martin was excellent. He is always excellent, and in the second-most anticipated appearance of Buju Banton in nearly a decade…he returned to the Sumfest stage to an equally warm reception as his first post-incarceration show. What’s not to love about Buju? He is embedded in our hearts, and it is still great to live in a world where we can see him on road. Also a treat: his new song Steppa was also released this week.

Jamaica has my heart. The island, the people, the food, the culture, the language, the antics, the brilliance, the everything. Most importantly, the music that plays while we live life, while we travel, and while we grow. Reggae music allows an innate appreciation for the culture, just by rhythm alone. The drums and basslines, the horns and background vocalists–from the Warrior Love Band to the Harmony House Band and Singers…it’s all just a spectacular music to take in. Especially on a large scale.

Reggae Sumfest has proven, yet again, to be the biggest reggae show on earth with a great structure, and an even greater pool of talent to select from. Big up to the team involved in executing this year’s event so wonderfully, and for making the experience for a reggae lover living out here in the diaspora, to feel a little bit of home every time I take part in a viewing event like this. From the production value, to the praise for young Teshae, Sumfest was entertaining from beginning to end. It was Jamaican excellence, personified. Next year won’t miss me.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing’s “Urban Toronto Tales” blog.

 

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