Abi-Reggae Festival in Ivory Coast a Success
At the recently concluded inaugural Abidjan Reggae Festival and Cultural Conference 2015 held in the Ivory Coast, Africa, the robust welcome that was extended to the Jamaican delegation upon arrival was a clear sign of the great respect that the West Africans hold for Jamaicans. After disembarking the double-decker Air France Airbus A380 aircraft arriving from Paris, the Jamaicans were whisked away in late-model Mercedes sedans and coaches with armed guards, bypassing customs and immigration, and only stopping briefly in an airport VIP room for quick media interviews and photos. With the greetings and pleasantries out the way, the focus turned entirely on the four-day festival and conference that featured live performances by Morgan Heritage, Ky-Mani Marley, Third World, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, Mutabaruka, Alpha Blondy and a dozen other Africa-based reggae acts, some from the Ivory Coast, and others from as far away as Ethiopia.
The prosperous and bustling city of Abidjan, with over six million residents, is viewed as the reggae capital of West Africa. Many of the visiting reggae acts have played there before, and the recent establishment of an all-reggae radio station, Zion FM, that has a partnership with Irie FM in Jamaica, is proof of the country's love for and commitment to reggae music. So it was no surprise that thousands of fans came out on all four nights to the Palais de la Culture, to see their favorites; and all the Jamaican acts delivered superb performances. The new-look Third World, with seasoned and high-energy crooner A.J. Brown, could do no wrong, as they belted out a catalogue of hits that included Try Jah Love, 96 Degrees In The Shade, Reggae Ambassador and the contagious, foot-stomping Now That We've Found Love. Dub poet Mutabaruka, found an immediate connection with the French-speaking audience. The crowd couldn't get enough of the popular radio host, who drove the audience in a frenzy with his rhythmic words of wisdom.
The I-Threes (Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt) was showered with love from the audience, and Ky-Mani Marley mesmerised the audience with a barrage of classics from his dad's arsenal. Something magical happened at the venue when Marley was later joined on stage by the I-Threes. Jaws dropped with oh-la-las, as the audience was transported to another place and another time with sheer Marley magic. Morgan Heritage had the honour of bringing the curtain down on the Abi-Reggae Festival, and the band delivered a mystical, powerful set that evoked chants and flag waving from the audience in the early hours of Monday morning, just before the African sun broke through the eastern skies.
Before the final night performances were over, the government minister who conceived the festival, Moussa Dosso, declared the event a success. "I would like to thank everyone who helped to make this event a huge success", he declared on stage. "I especially want to thank former Jamaican government minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange and the delegation she brought in from Jamaica, and I want to announce right now that the second annual Abi-Reggae Festival will take place right here in April 2017," he said.
Minister Dosso had previously pointed out at the opening ceremony of the reggae conference that the festival was not just for music enjoyment but should be viewed as a motivational and developmental tool for young people in the Ivory Coast, and, in fact, all across Africa. The conference brought together intellectuals, musicians, musicologists, historians, thinkers and observers from several African countries to discuss the current state of reggae and Rastafari. Jamaica's Dr Jahlani Niaah from the University of the West Indies, Mona, presented a paper on Bob Marley. Dr Julius Garvey, son of Jamaica's national hero, Marcus Garvey, was a special guest at the conference.
"I never knew there were so many scholars in the world paying attention to reggae music," Ijahnya Christian, a Caribbean-born magazine editor who lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, told The Gleaner. Christian's enthusiasm and intellectual depth was immediately obvious, and she was in Abidjan as a speaker at a symposium on reggae. But while there was a great turnout at the conference, there were voices who felt there should have been more contributions from persons who actually work in the reggae trenches.
"Not all the intellectuals who are here pontificating could identify a reggae song if they heard it," one high-profile attendee whispered, in French. The conference ended on April 12.