Rototom’s Reggae Rules!
Put simply, there is no reggae festival that can quite compare with ROTOTOM. It is truly the ‘Mecca’ of reggae lovers. With a galaxy of performers, numerous stages, endless stalls, gourmet restaurants, extensive facilities and progressive values, it far outstrips all others. And it runs for 7 days! Now in its 26th year, the festival has solidified its (10 year) presence in Spain, where it will remain for the foreseeable future.
As is now the ROTOTOM norm, the ‘Stand Up For Earth’ 2019 festival opened with a nod to the past, as the Abyssinians celebrated their 50th Satta Massagana anniversary tour, with vocalists Donald Manning, Clancy Eccles (Junior) and George Henry doing much justice to their stock of classic songs. Their pleasant set included the everlasting Satta Massagana, Declaration of Rights, Abendigo, This Land is for Everyone, and Good Lord. Then it was the turn of the youths, as Jamaica’s Lila Ike – a Protoje discovery – put in a spirited and soulful performance, reminding us that ‘being a woman in this business, you have to be strong’! Thereafter, on home ground, Macaco had little to do, as his adoring Spanish fans gave his lively ‘rock and roll’ style show a warm welcome. Closing proceedings on the first night was the ever popular Chronixx with his Zinc Fence band, as he successfully filled the public arena with thousands of ‘sing along’ devotees, who were delighted when he reverted to his debut album Chronology. And whilst all this was going on at the Main Stage, the Mad Professor and the Robotiks were lighting up the Lion Stage and the Jah Tubby’s Dub Academy, whilst it was all go in the African Village, the Caribbean Uptempo, the Dancehall and Jumping areas.
Having returned from their ROTOTOM ‘Sunbeach’ entertainment on Day 2, the crowd were treated to the ‘Babylon’ film soundtrack, courtesy of Aswad’s Brinsley Forde, with Denis Bovell putting in a formidable performance as the Main Stage show’s front man. The highlight thereof was Bovell’s rendition of ‘Fall Babylon’, with Henry (the Matic) Horns sweetly interspersing the sound on his trusty trademark trombone. Main Stage proceedings then accelerated with the Emeterians. I had never heard of this Spanish combo. But I will not forget them. The 3 smiling vocalists – Brother Wildman, Sister Maryjane and Maga Lion and the Forward Ever band delivered a lively, engaging and varied show, with a strong roots base. This set the scene for Savanna’s set selection, as her extensive vocal range gave full vent to a most pleasant compilation. Thereafter Busy Signal took control, pacifying the estimated 30,000 audience with his new ‘1 More Night’, song before sending them into orbit with a sizzling version of Desmond Dekker’s ‘Shanty Town’. And all the while, Tairo was teasing the youth at the magnificent Lion Stage until the early hours.
Day 3 was ‘Ladies’ Day’ at ROTOTOM, as Derrick Morgan’s daughter Queen Ifrica took to the Main Stage with some aplomb. She was preceded by the legendary I Three Marcia Griffiths who – fresh from her impressive input at the Reggae University earlier in the day – enthralled her listeners with deferential nods to her brother Bob Marley, Culture’s Joe Hill and Desmond Dekker’s everlasting ‘Israelites’. This came after France’s L’Entourloop played a hip-hop inna de yard style seductive set that was hot on the heels of Culture’s Kenyatta Hill. It is always good to hear some Culture classics and the son did the father proud, displaying much of his predecessor’s demeanour and disposition, with strong traces of the father’s unique voice also in evidence. When the Main Stage closed many punters retired directly to the Lion Stage where Micah Shemaiah and his Dreadites were kicking up a storm and adding to their reputation as a solid spiritual roots act.
Taking up the mantle just after the festival’s half-way point was the Selecter, with Pauline Black and ‘Gaps’ delivering an accomplished 2-tone performance, royally rounded off with Toot’s ‘Pressure Drop’. Thereafter, Jamaica’s Turbulence did just as the name suggests, delivering ‘Notorious’ and ‘Ethiopia Awakes’ in the ‘Shanty Town’ rhythm. This set the scene for the legendary Misty In Roots, with their full brass accomplishment, to deliver some classic sounds in a memorable manner, including the enduring ‘See Them A Come’. Notably, the Virgin Island’s Reeman was kicking up a roots storm of her own at the same time on the Lion Stage, leaving lots of punters spoiled for choice – as is the norm with ROTOTOM. Anthony B. put on a characteristically vigorous and varied show to end the Main Stage proceedings – the variation emphasised by ‘Fire Pon Rome’ and a version of Beatle John Lennon’s Imagine. His ‘high energy’ performance prompted many to head directly to other distractions after his show, including Linval Thompson and his Strong Like Sampson band, who were doing the honours with good gusto on the Lion Stage.
Israel Vibration opened Day 5 on the Main Stage with a mix of old and new songs from their vast reservoir. With Skelly and Wiss leading the vocal charge, the crack unit of Dwight Pinkney, Earl ‘Flabba’ Holt and Steve Golding on guitars was always going to be a winner – even without brass or the honeyed voice of the much-missed Apple Gabriel. America’s Slightly Stoopid then played to a small crowd by ROTOTOM standards. This was a pity, as their quality and punch showed why they’ve sold out shows in Australia, Japan, Germany etc. And as the name suggests, the Jolly Boys then put on a jolly show of Jamaican folk songs, that contrasted starkly with the ‘big band’ effect of Morgan Heritage and their generations. Kicking off with ‘Strictly Roots’ and ‘Don’t Haffi Dread’, to closing with Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Reggae Nights’, the Heritage clan sang separate songs in different styles to cater for all comers (and generations!).
The penultimate night’s proceedings saw some hardy souls surfacing in the rain for Third World, where they were treated to Cat Coore’s cello cracking ‘Redemption Song’, long after ’96 Degrees’ was done and dusted. Noting that the band was in its 46th year and had just released another album, Coore explained: ‘this is not a hurry come up thing’. They were followed by Spain’s Iseo and Dodosound – about whom I’d previously made a mental note to skip next time round. I failed. Thank goodness. At the No Logo festival in France the previous week, embellished by 4 instrumentalists and Iseo’s charmingly seductive style of delivery, they were very good – and even better at ROTOTOM. Bushman then did his thing on the Main Stage, peaking with versions of Peter Tosh’s ‘Legalise It’ and ‘Let Jah Be Praised’. The night’s music was headlined by Ziggy Marley, when fortunately his show included his father’s ‘Jammin’, ‘Coming In From The Cold’ and ‘Redemption Song’. However, the night was spoiled for some by Marley’s refusal to allow the show to be broadcast live on site, streamed via the internet, with no interviews and restricted photography. What would his father say?
With a range of ROTOTOM activities, spanning the all-important Social Forum – with earth cum climate change concerns – to the children’s circus, this festival has something for everyone. The Main Stage shows for the last day closed with a trio of top acts. Kicking off the evening was Kiddus I, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Big Youth and friends as they gave life to the soundtrack of the movie ‘Rockers’, whilst dipping into such classics as ‘Stepping Razor’, ‘Marcus Garvey’, ‘Small Axe’ and ‘Jah No Dead’. This was appropriately followed by the popular Jah 9, with a tranquil but swaying set, leaving the honours for the ‘grand finale’ to the ubiquitous and ever-popular Spanish band ‘Green Valley’.
Yet again, all round – ROTOTOM was a roaring success. Encore I say!