Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Sumfest as a Rebel Salute-Sting hybrid

Published:Thursday | May 26, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Jimmy Cliff
Freddie McGregor performing at a previous staging of Rebel Salute.

Since the announcement that there will be no International Nights on the Reggae Sumfest main stage this year, the naysayers have had a ball doing what naysayers always do. However, there is another way to look at it - not what the summer music festival in Montego Bay has been, but what it is becoming. And let us not forget that international (as in American, for that is largely what they have been) acts have not been ruled out of an event where a financial decision has been taken to stop spending at least US$2 million on an imported performer.

That is a hell of a lot of Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and other sponsorship money that has gone out of the country over the years, remembering that the festival has consistently enjoyed US$500,000 in TPDCo support.

With Dancehall Night on Friday, July 22, (which makes it so much easier for people like me to attend) and Reggae Night on Saturday, July 23, comprising the Reggae Sumfest main nights at the Catherine Hall Entertainment Centre, Montego Bay, St James, this year's renewal of the festival is looking like a composite of Rebel Salute and Sting. Not direct imitations, but milder versions.

Dancehall Night has always been like that, so there are no surprises there. It has been unstated protocol that the conduct at Sumfest is different from that at Sting - less invective, no clashes (there were notable exceptions in 2006 with Beenie Man and Bounty Killer at the D'Angel phase of their spat, and also earlier in the decade when Merciless, Beenie and Bounty tossed words around), putting on the best dancehall face for the tourists from home and abroad. Three persons have been announced for Dancehall Night, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Agent Sasco, two of whom I am always willing to drive many miles to see.




I expect Reggae Night will be a less rootsy version of Rebel Salute, and I have every expectation that it will be just as successful. The drawback is not the current development of no American act, but the longstanding one of Jamaica's international performers scheduled for the summer festival circuit at the time Sumfest is on. For make no mistake about it, Jamaica's outstanding reggae and dancehall artistes are international.

Think of the pool of performers Reggae Sumfest could draw on for Saturday, July 23, barring other commitments. A line-up anchored around some or (wouldn't it be astounding?) all of Freddie McGregor, Tarrus Riley/Dean Fraser, Beres Hammond, Chronixx, Jimmy Cliff, Morgan Heritage, Sanchez, Ken Boothe, Tanya Stephens, Barrington Levy, Cocoa Tea, Romain Virgo, Kabaka Pyramid, Kevin Downswell, Jr Gong, Capleton, Sizzla and Queen Ifrica cannot fail. And these are just names from the top of my head that are guaranteed pulls for the general public and do not include personal favourites like Duane Stephenson, Burning Spear, Jah9 and Half Pint.

How many of these persons, and others of similar standing, Reggae Sumfest will be able to pull together for this year's staging remains to be seen, not least of all because the Sumfest space has not been reserved by Jamaican performers who have felt wronged by the American focus. It is going to be a hasty process, but if done properly, Reggae Night will be strong, successful and international in scope with Jamaican performers who are global in their reach.

International means more than American.