The festival founded twenty-three years ago to commemorate the life and musical influence of Bob Marley continues in a strong fashion, to fill the void that Bob Marley left when he transcended. This year’s 23 rd Annual Raggamuffin/Bob Marley Day Festival in Long Beach had a remarkable blend of contemporary and foundation Reggae performances. Tickets to this years sold out event were certainly a hot commodity in the Los Angeles area which was also was home to the NBA All-Star game that same weekend. The Long Beach Convention Center that has played host to the annual tribute since 1989, continued in its fine tradition to unite musicians with the audience to celebrate the reggae genre that has so diversified since Bob Marleys death in 1982. This years line-up featured some top dancehall stars including Grammy-winner Sean Paul, Grammy-nominee Wayne Wonder, the Energy God Elephant Man along with the reggae foundation, Sly and Robbie and the Taxi Connection, and Burning Spear.
Baby Cham was one of several dancehall acts to appear on center stage Saturday afternoon. The half-filled arena moved along to Joyride and slowly filled and he soon began dispensing doses of Vitamin S, his new track on Dave Kelly’s Fiesta riddim. His recent success has landed the deejay a two-album deal with Atlantic Records and a recent video of Vitamin S.
The talented lyricists of the conscious hip-hop collective, Arrested Development brought us back to ” Tennessee ” and performed the old school classic, “Everyday People.” They played new tracks like “Let’s Get It Started” featured in the Barbershop 2 soundtrack. Members Speech, Love and Nicha, part of the 19 collective ensemble, expressed that they were honored to be a part of a celebration to honor someone who had been extremely influential in their music, and they paid tribute with their own rendition of Marley classics. Backstage Speech noted that Marley was a hero in consciousness.
Sound systems blasted music from every corner of the venue and throughout the corridors of the massive Convention Center; vendors supplied an abundance of oils, incenses, clothing as well as many accessories adorned with Jamaican colors and flags. MC Amlak Tafari entered the stage in stylish fashion in one of several costume changes to introduce TOK. The groups unique style of dancehall harmonies soon had the ladies dancing to Shake Your Bam Bam. They performed new and old tunes alike with their trademark harmonies and dance moves, and the women in the audience were throwing Hersheys kisses at the foursome. Each member of the group–Flexx, Craigy-T, Bay-C, and Alex–added their own style of singing and deejaying to tracks like “Gal U A Lead” and the group got a huge forward with their most popular hit to date, “Chi Chi Man. At one point Flexx invited a large woman onto the stage who was a walking Jamaican flag in green, gold and black. After we found out her name, Nadine, Flexx proceeded to lift her, and drop her by accident, to the amusement of the crowd. But Nadine was our hero of the night, to be brave enough to take on the boys of T.O.K.!
Wayne Wonder, the veteran star performer, brought his energy and experience to the stage through the massive new wave of dancehall artists. He performed hit singles “No Letting Go” and “Bounce Along” from his Grammy-nominated album No Holding Back that have become regular features on MTV and BET video playlists and had many fans in the audience singing along. He played to the went back to early 90s hits like the “Saddest Day” and “Movie Star. His worldwide recognition continues to soar and his new single “Hold Me Now” (a cover of the Thompson twins 80s hit) is part of the movie “50 First Dates” soundtrack.
Beres Hammond lit up the room and had the entire convention center mesmerized by the sound of his sweet lyrics. As it was Valentines Day, it was certainly a delight for many to hear hit after hit of his love songs like Tempted to Touch, “Putting Up Resistance,” and “They Gonna Talk.” He did a beautiful rendition of Giving Thanks as his finale which is also on his latest album The Ultimate Collection [VP Records]. The singer recently celebrated his thirty years in the business with a concert at the Nassau Coliseum in New York .
Beres Hammond was certainly a hard act to follow, but if anyone could do it, it was Winston Rodney, a.k.a. Burning Spear. Soon Spears chanting accompanied by his signature percussion and world-renown band filled the arena. Spear replaced Beenie Man on the line-up, who was following doctors orders in Jamaica recovering from a near-fatal car accident to close the show. Several artists including Luciano and Mikey General were in the audience dancing and moving to the meditative dub sequences in “Slavery Days,” “Marcus Garvey,” and “Tumble Down. The veteran who originally began recording at Studio One alongside Mr. Marley is still touring and delivering his message of upliftment all over the world and shows no signs of slowing down. The closing performances on the first day were certainly a soothing end to the day.
Apart from Elephant Mans energetic finale, Sunday proved to be a more toned-down and mellow day musically. MC Richie B, radio DJ for Kingstons 102 FM was hosting a live radio feed so that the Jamaicans could get the inside scoop on a California reggae festival.
California’s own Soul Majestic was among the artists who chose to dedicate a majority of their set to cover some popular Marley tunes. The band consists of four harmony vocalists (including two female voices), three horns, a full rhythm section, and Nyahbingi drums, all led by charismatic lead vocalist and Soul Majestic’s primary songwriter, Eric Iverson. They are spending the end of March and the month of April in Jamaica recording their new album.
Day two also featured Midnite who has recently been on tour promoting some of their latest releases, Ainshant Maps and Scheme A Things. The band, although hurried on stage, performed a moving set let by lead singer, Vaughn Banjamin, and keyboardist Ron Benjamin. Their bassist, Philip Merchant, is always amazing to watch as are the other St. Croix-based musicians. The band performed songs from albums Unpolished to their latest Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance. After selling out all twelve of their California tour dates, the band performed to a small audience in Long Beach , due to their early set time. The band members didnt seem to mind much, and the performance seemed more like an Intro to Midnite, as their 30-minute set paled in comparison to their usual sets than can last up to three or four hours.
The only Marley family representation on this years stage came from Julian Marley. Julian is currently promoting his latest album, A Time and Place. He chanted the lyrics of his father, and some of his melodies of his own like Loving Clear” from his new album, produced by Ghetto Youths International. Although the festival will continue to celebrate the life and work of Julians father, the event will no longer include Marley in the name, by the request of Rita Marley and her family.
Other groups on this years stage included Hepcat and Cultura Profetica, the Puerto Rican reggae sensations who performed for the second straight year to pay tribute to the music of Bob Marley.
Whether you know them as the Riddim Brothers or as Sly and Robbie, drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robert Shakespeare have been the key notes behind reggae and dancehall’s biggest hits, and their contributions to reggae over the past 25 years are indisputable. The duo that produced and played with the late Peter Tosh, backed Black Uhuru, and every other notable Jamaican artist in reggae, were acknowledged for their efforts and were honored with the Bob Marley Lifetime Achievement Award.
Reunited with the Taxi Connection, Sly and Robbie provided the backdrop to a few rounds of spectacular performances by rising young musicians Warrior King and Aaron Silk, as well as veterans Carlton Livingston, Edi Fitzroy, Big Youth, Little John and Peter Metro. Aaron Silk, brother of the late Garnett Silk, sang “Hello Mama Africa” and “Zion in a Vision” in remembrance of his kin who would surely have been included on the line-up if her were alive today. Vintage performers, like Edi Fitzroy, Carlton Livingston, and Big Youth were revitalized, and enhanced by the drum and bass of Sly and Robbie and the Taxi Connection. At this years press conference, Sly and Robbie were the bearers of good news, announcing the possible reunion of Black Uhuru with Duckie Simpson and Michael Rose. The Riddim Brothers also brought a few of their new up and coming proteges Blu Foxx, Mr. Mutton, Rah’ Man, Ras Myrhdak and Mahlon Stewart.
Warrior King was a highlight of the festivities although it felt as if he was cut short. The talented young sensation made his way to the stage with “Breath of Fresh Air” and reminded the audience that “Jah is Always There.” He took a moment during his set to demonstrate to the gentleman in the audience how to treat a queen, then went into “Empress So Divine.” Fans were definitely disappointed by his abrupt departure midway through “Virtuous Woman,” from the album of the same name, but returned quickly to conclude his heartfelt set.
The aroma of curry, jerk, and other exotic flavors that once enticed large numbers outside the main stage had now faded. The sound of Luciano’s powerful voice soon reigned over the massive arena, and the crowd that lingered in the halls made their way to the main stage. Luciano was accompanied by the vocals of Mikey General along with his acoustic guitar and a percussionist, which was a real treat for Luciano fans, as he usually does an energetic, upbeat set backed by a band. Luci and Mikey captivated the audience with “Lord Give Me Strength,” “Sweep Over My Soul” and later Luciano had the audience singing along to a solo version of Marley’s “Redemption Song.
After such an amazing performance by the Messenger, Jamaica ‘s reggae Grammy winning artist, Sean Paul was charged, ready to hit the stage. The dancehall superstar’s once timid stage demeanor was now as bold as ever and intensified by his posse of dancers with numbers like “Get Busy” and “Gimme the Light” and few other tracks from his album Dutty Rock that continues to rise on the billboard charts. Many new Sean Paul fans were taken back to Stage One, his first album, with songs “Hot Gal Today, “Deport Them,” and “Infiltrate.
Elephant Man exploded onto the stage complete with entourage of Kip Rich, Singing Craig, and a crew of dancers. He certainly didn’t disappoint fans who came to see the Energy God in action doing “Higher Level” and “Tall Up.” Elephant Man didn’t come with any less than his usual extravagant spectacle of dancing stunts and crowd participation, but was slightly toned down on this occasion, with a few uncharacteristic cover songs. Although it was the end of the night, the excitement in the Long Beach Convention on both levels peaked during “Pon di River” and “Signal Di Plane, and Ele encouraged the entire crowd to take out their cell phones as he turned the house lights off. From the stage was a sea of lights from the 10,000+ crowd. The Anaconda himself demonstrated all of the current dance moves and ended with Michael Jacksons We Are the Worldan interesting choice from the rudebwoy deejay.
This year’s show was overloaded with the biggest names in Reggae as who came together in honor of the reggae icon who spread the Rasta message of universal love and unity through his music. The success of this years annual celebration can certainly be attributed to great promotion and organization by Raggamuffin and Moss Jacobs Productions. Despite the future exclusion of the Bob Marley name in the festival title, The Annual Raggamuffin Festival will continue to celebrate his legacy.