All hail the King and Queen
No prizes for guessing where I was all weekend. Thursday from the sound check at 7:30 p.m., all the way to 6:30 a.m. on Sunday after the last note was sung, I was at Sumfest.
It's an event I've been going to for a decade and this praise is long overdue. At the end of the festival, it was undeniably clear that Bennie Man and Lady Saw are King and Queen of the Dancehall. Uncontested.
In years past, even with the greatest performers, the closing act on Dancehall Night has had the hardest job - and often the smallest audience. No matter the weight of the name or the strength of the performer, those persons who stuck around stayed for the first two or three songs and then began to leave.
This did not happen on Dancehall Night 2015.
At 5:45 a.m., Lady Saw touched the stage looking royal in her locally designed pearl-studded dress. But the ladylike pearls didn't stop her from being Lady Saw, as raw as we know her.
It's the funniest thing. I don't see Lady Saw's raw as inappropriate or vulgar. The woman is anything but ladylike, but it only makes the performance sweeter. And that's not the way I feel about other female artistes who attempt to do what she does. It's just a style that is uniquely hers, and most times, she knows where to draw the line. Others don't.
The crowd stayed until Lady Saw's last song. The fact that one woman can stay relevant for decades in a male-dominated industry, so much so that the roughest summer concert crowd was eating out of her palm at 6:30 on a weekday morning, she deserves maximum respect.
Saw delivered 45 solid minutes of sheer entertainment, complete with cameraman groping, an unending catalogue of hits, humour, underwear reveal and spit-fire lyrics. She deserves full praise.
At 6 o'clock on Sunday morning, Beenie Man was just drawing third gear, and he had the entire crowd with him. The Doctor does what nobody else can. Patrons left Catherine Hall on a high, even after bleaching two nights prior and being on their last thread of energy.
The man has songs for days and the energy and dance moves to match them and you can't help but get caught up in the Bennie euphoria when you watch. And then he drops one-liners like "Big up to my new-found friend Bounty. A mi DJ dat", and you just have to like the guy.
However, not all the Sumfest moments were highs. With the exception of Raging Fyah, Kabaka Pyramid and an unfairly late-placed Coco Tea, Friday's show was a letdown.
There was a band change after every act. Every single, dege-dege one. That caused the show to drag and gave the acts additional work to have to lift the spirits of patrons after each break.
ADD A NEW SEGMENT
I did have the opportunity to have a chat with some tourists, lured by the 'Greatest Reggae Show on Earth' tagline. Some admitted to leaving disappointed, and the reasons for their disappointment got me thinking.
Perhaps a reggae show shouldn't have two International Nights. Perhaps the organisers can consider a Dancehall Night, Reggae Night and International Collab Night, where international acts perform with local ones. That way, Jamaicans still get their appetite for foreign acts satisfied and those who have journeyed miles for an authentic slice of paradise still get it - unadulterated.
Traditionally, the international acts who have got the biggest 'forwards' at the show either have cameos in their sets by reggae artistes or they perform reggae or dancehall songs themselves. Maybe it should become a stipulation to justify their inclusion in a reggae festival. It's an issue for Sumfest to consider in a bid to be true to the identity it communicates.
Even with the too-frequent band changes and less-than-customary crowd numbers, it was still, and is always, a good festival. And Grammy Award-winning and world-renowned as the international acts may have been, the loudest applause and highest entertainment value at Sumfest came for and from our very own: Beenie Man and Lady Saw. I say, well done!