Reggae Geel 2016
Started in the second half of the 1970s, Reggae Geel is one of the first (if not the very first) annual Reggae festivals in Europe and after all those years it’s still going strong. The festival brings all walks of life together to share something magical during two days of happiness, peace, love, freedom, and of course, Reggae music. For many it is the best escape from the daily struggles of reality one can ask for. During its existence quite a few big names in the history of Reggae music like Yabby You, Augustus Pablo, Bunny Wailer, Cornell Campbell, Linval Thompson, U Roy, Johnny Osbourne, and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry performed at the festival. Line-ups of the previous years also featured some more recently successful international Reggae/Dancehall artists, such as Chronixx, Alborosie, Assassin aka Agent Sasco, Protoje and Grammy Award-winning artist Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley.
A MUDDY BUT SHINY REGGAE GATHERING.
In anticipation of the 38th edition of Reggae Geel there was some fuss about announced headliner Sizzla, which eventually led to the board’s decision to cancel his appearance. As a kind of compensation for removing Sizzla’s name from the affiche, he was replaced by Aswad, Tanya Stephens and Wayne Wonder. At the first day of the festival it appeared that up-and-coming dancehall artist Popcaan wasn’t going to perform due to having missed his flight. Anyone who attends this festival for the first time will be impressed by its versatile program, featuring genres ranging from Ska to Reggae and anything in between, represented by around 100 acts divided over 5 stages. It’s obvious that it’s almost impossible to catch a vibe from each and every artist, band, DJ and sound system included in the line-up. So what else can you do than check the timetable and pick out those acts that are of interest to you.
When we reached Geel’s western ring road (R14) and turned right we got stuck in a traffic jam, which made that it took us more than an hour before we finally reached the gate where we got our wristbands that granted us access to the festival grounds. Entering later than expected caused that we missed Dexta Daps, but luckily we were in time to catch Tanya Stephens on the main stage. Making her debut in 1994 with the album “Big Things A Gwaan”, it lasted ten years before she finally got international recognition with the single “It’s a Pity”. Then her critically acclaimed and top selling albums “Gangsta Blues” (2004) and “Rebelution” (2006) established her as one of the top female artists in Jamaica, who deftly tackles relevant social issues. Overall Tanya Stephens made a good impression, treating the crowd to well known songs like “Ninja Bike”, “Boom Wuk”, “Can’t Touch Me No More”, “Way Back”, “After You”, “It’s A Pity” and the beautiful “Can’t Breathe”, which are tailor-made for her powerful voice. At the end of “What A Day”, a song in which she speaks about the urgency to end the terrible wars, she also makes a comment about Sizzla and the LGBT movement, stating that problems should be solved together instead of creating more problems and that it’s time that this ‘war’ is over.
The dancehall fan’s day was made by the next artist on stage. Konshens wasted no time seizing the moment, diving into his catalogue of crowd-pleasing hits. With tunes like “Gyal A Bubble”, “Pull Up To Mi Bumper”, “Do Sumn”, “Mr Policeman”, “Ah Suh Mi Tan”, “Hot Sexy Girl”, “Bad Girl” and more, the “Realest Song” deejay sended the crowd into a frenzy. Also on the setlist was “Good Girl Gone Bad”, the collaboration hit with Tarrus Riley. Unfortunately the latter, although scheduled for the next day, wasn’t around. Would have been something when he had been there to help the deejay raise the crowd’s excitement even more. On the whole, it was a good energetic show, underscoring that Konshens is a top-flight dancehall artist.
Twelve years after he graced the main stage of Reggae Geel, Beres Hammond returned to the festival. Over the course of a 40-year career, the singer with the smoky-sweet voice has been delivering hit after hit. After the intro by the very tight playing Harmony House Band, Beres instantly grabbed the attention of his adoring fans and the rest of the crowd to never let loose again. He treated them to an arsenal of hit songs, delivered with absolute confidence and freshness. Tunes such as “She Loves Me Now”, “Can’t Stop A Man”, “I’m Falling In Love Again”, “Tempted To Touch”, “Putting Up A Resistance”, “Can You Play Some More”, “Full Attention”, “They Gonna Talk”, “I Feel Good” and “Rock Away” were greeted with much approval and got the crowd in a singalong mood. All in all a solid and thoroughly entertaining Beres Hammond show.
When you’re looking for something different in a more intimate setting, the always cosy Yard is the place to be. So we headed to that area, where we were just in time to see Rhoda Dakar (best known as lead singer of The Bodysnatchers) performing her last tune called “Let’s Do Rocksteady”, her first hit with the Bodysnatchers. We then went to the Skaville to check Phil Bush Sounds & Pressure Lo-Fi feat. Paul Huxtable & Sugar Merchant, but returned to the Yard in time to catch the fantastic Hempolics, who opened their exciting set with “Love To Sing”, “Green Line” (a wicked rendition of the Garnet Silk song on the “Hot Milk” riddim) and “Serious”. To us, THE revelation of this Reggae Geel edition and one of the best and most appealing shows on Friday!
No traffic jam on day two, so plenty of time to reach to main stage where Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry just rounded off his show with Pura Vida and Daweh Congo was eagerly awaited by the Roots loving audience. Afterwards we were told that Perry had called a security guard batty boy (for which he afterwards apologized) and had been ranting against all gay men. Totally different behaviour in comparison with what Tanya Stephens did the day before. 1997 saw RUNNetherlands releasing Daweh Congo’s astonishing debut album “Militancy” and the artist doing a show at a festival in Antwerp, Belgium. Almost 20 years later Daweh Congo is back in Belgium for an exclusive show at the Reggae Geel festival. Backed by the Kaushan Band, the humble Roots singer/chanter started his set with a selection of tunes from his debut album, which got good response from the people in front of the stage. “Travel East” was followed by “No Peace” (across the “Heathen” riddim), “Coconut Chalice”, “Jah Call Them”, “Rythm Track” and “Love Is Real”. He then continued with “Human Rights & Justice” and “Herb Tree”, two tracks from his 2000 album “Human Rights & Justice”, which featured original rock-solid early ’80s riddims from the Roots Radics. “Go With Jah” from the Amanda Ford (Taitu Records) produced 10″ single from 2011 and “Ghetto Skyline”, title track from his 2008 album, rounded off the artist’s much anticipated set.
The Kaushan Band remained on stage to provide the soundtrack for Yung J.R. and his father, Junior Reid. Young budding Ababa Jahnoi Reid aka Yung J.R., who caused a stir with his 2015 released debut album “Start The Movement”, nicely performed a few songs from that album, before the ‘Living Legend’ took over and fully showcased his stage presence and skills honed during the countless live performances he did since he started his career in the late ’70s. And the man really knows how to thrill a crowd. Dressed in a totally white outfit, veteran Junior Reid moved seamingly effortless from one era or genre to another, exciting the crowd with songs like “Original Foreign Mind”, “Boom-Shack-A-Lack”, “This Is Why We Hot”, “No One” and three versions of the dancehall classic “One Blood” (the original, the Spanish version called “Una Sangre”, and the “One Blood Remix”), Junior Reid’s appeal for unity. It was obvious that this song from 1988 continues to have a strong impact on his live performances.
After a short break the The Kaushan Band returned to the stage, where MC Elise Kelly announced Jamaican reggae fusion singer Wayne Wonder in her own inimitable style. In barely 45 minutes the international reggae star with his sensual, honeyed vocals fully lived up to expectations as he treated the crowd to an energetic hit-packed set, with men as well as women in the audience eating out of his hand. Along came songs like “Searching”, “Joyride”, “Saddest Day”, “Love & Affection”, “No Letting Go”, “Forever Young” on the “Real Rock” riddim which he rounded off with lyrics from Buju Banton’s “Untold Stories”, and “Bonafide Love”, known from his 1991 duet with Buju Banton, wich remains a heavily requested tune even today. Then Pinchers, a contemporary of Wayne Wonder, touched the stage and kept the good vibes flowing with his soothing, melodic dancehall singing style. Much to the delight of the crowd he performed well known tunes like “Bandelero”, “Agony”, “For Your Eyes Only”, “Send Another One A Come”, “Desperate Scenario” and “Benti Uno (Riding West)”.
Fast forward to the Skaville, where Dave Barker of Dave & Ansel Collins fame was scheduled to perform. However to acknowledge the man born David John Crooks only as half of that duo certainly doesn’t do him right. The chronically underrated Dave Barker formed a duo with Glen Brown in the duo Glen & Dave and was a member of The Techniques before he became a regular vocalist for Lee Perry when he embarked on a solo career. At Reggae Geel Dave Barker was accompanied by a great backing band consisting of Dreddy Rockers on drums, Inyaki of BDF on bass, Steven ‘Marley’ Wright on guitar, Charles Nelson on keyboard, Sarah Tobias on sax and Henry Buttons aka Matic horns on trombone. What a joy it was to hear this band play the riddims and to see Dave Barker perform Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae tunes in a joyful way. The small but enthousiastic reacting crowd was treated to 15 classic songs including “Doing Your Own Thing”, “Prisoner Of Love”, “Shocks Of Mighty”, “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, “Sea Of Love”, “Blowing In The Wind”, “Monkey Spanner”, “Who You Gonna Run To”, Your Love’s A Game”, “What A Confusion”, “Money Can’t Buy Life”, “Dancing Mood”, “Dance Crasher”, “Double Barrel” and “Ska Ska Ska”. Having seen such a good veteran show makes one wonder why it is that we don’t see these kinda artists on the main stage anymore?
We also moved from the 100% vintage department to the contemporary sounds in the Bounce Dancehall tent. It’s only a few steps away, but what a world of difference! Sentinel, the German sound founded in 1998 in Stuttgart, proud winner of the 2005 New York World Clash, was mashing up the place with electricty, energy and music. Selector Daniel gave the public what they wanted: pure & undiluted dancehall with snippets of soca and pop tunes, while MC Olde performed one of his best stage shows ever. The thrilling interaction between him and the public filled the place with sheer joy and energy. Boom!
Attention then shifted to the main stage again where Tarrus Riley backed by the Black Soil band & Dean Fraser kept the music tight and diverse. They heated up the massive with crowd-pleasing tunes like “One Two Order”, “Rebel”, “Contagious”, “Beware”, “Protect The People”, “Getty Getty No Wantee”, “Superman”, “Powerful”, “Don’t Come Back” and “She’s Royal”. And yes, what we hoped for on Friday night happened now; Konshens joining Tarrus Riley in “Good Girl Gone Bad”. We already saw Tarrus Riley perform at Reggae Geel in 2010, but it’s always a pleasure! Headliners on the Saturday were Gentleman and Ky-Mani Marley, which were performing “Rasta Love” and a cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” when we packed our things to return home, tired but above all satisfied with what we had seen and experienced during this muddy but shiny Reggae gathering of many scents and colours. Looking forward to more exciting artists next year!