Rebel Salute: Salute to a memorable 23 years
It is easy to forget that Rebel Salute is a birthday party. With all the professional vocalists and musicians on the huge stage; mass of fluttering red, gold and green flags catching the morning sunlight in the inevitable post-dawn finale; furious fusillades of 'forwards' from the thousands of Jamaican popular music enthusiasts; ital food at some of the booths ringing the venue and illuminated sponsors' signage glittering in the dark, it is still a birthday party.
There was a striking reminder at the 2012 staging, the last held at the Port Kaiser Sports Complex in St Elizabeth before Rebel Salute was moved to its current home at Grizzly's Plantation Cove, Priory, St Ann, and expended to two days. Rebel Salute started on Saturday, January 14, so by Sunday, January 15, it was the 50th birthday of the performer in whose honour it is staged. DJ Tony Rebel, whose hits include one of reggae's unofficial anthems for the country, Sweet Jamaica, grinned as 50 sky lanterns were released and floated into the night sky, one for each year of his life.
A number of his children joined Tony Rebel on stage to mark the milestone at an event that is an enduring testament to the fertility of his intellect as they are living evidence of the fertility of his loins. And Rebel looks at the festival which bears his name while also being a descriptor of its attitude much like one of his children - an audacious child which has bucked the odds and come up triumphant - embraced by those who said its no meat, alcohol and profanity stipulations could not survive in the rough and tumble world of Jamaican popular music live performance.
"Every one of them Rebel Salute is like a child, like my own children, with them own personality, own character, and have them own standout moment," said, Tony Rebel, whose given name is Patrick Barrett.
He is not bashful about the positive properties of his most public progeny, now that it has been honoured by The Gleaner.
"If you have been doing a good job for 22 years and in comes the 23rd staging and you have been producing excellence, if it is acknowledged it is always a good feeling," Tony Rebel said just ahead of Rebel Salute 23, which took place this past weekend. "Because you want to know that someone has been looking and they can 'apprecilove' what you are doing."
Although it is a birthday party, Rebel Salute is also a business, and Tony Rebel says "the honouring of me being an entrepreneur, the product that is being honoured is packed with artistry. I would like to think that entrepreneurship is being honoured. I would like to see more, where artistry is concerned, being honoured by The Gleaner, by others. I don't think it is honoured enough."
He continued, "I don't think that section of our culture is being honoured enough. A lot of people take it for granted. Because people more into all sorts of products and goods and services. We think that is a wonderful service also. But because it appears out of a talent and talent is not something most of us studied at the university - for it is not recognised as something that is integral and important to the development of our society and as a product that can contribute to the gross domestic product. Most people don't 'pree' it that way. But it is vitally important, like any other sector, so I think more is needed in terms of recognition and honouring."
Rebel Salute has moved through venues, much like a child has growth spurts and the clothes shrinks - starting out at Fayor's Entertainment Centre in Mandeville, then moving to Brooks Park, also in the Manchester capital; and then Port Kaiser Sports Club; and now Grizzly's Plantation Cove. Through the movements and moments, Tony Rebel has collected treasured memories. Among them is the genesis.
"The first one was on January 14, 1994, and myself and Garnet (Silk, the singer who died in December 1994) drove down from Kingston. He was having his hiatus at the time and decided that Rebel, 'You having the birthday, I have to come out'. We drove down to Mandeville in rain. Rain. We were at Mandeville Hotel and we were just there chilling and I said, 'Bway, I cannot keep a birthday thing, even though it look like it wash out, and don't go round there'. So we jump in a Honda - we always say we go in one accord, like Jesus disciples, for both of us had Honda Accords - went round there. In my head, I was just going to say well, it is my birthday celebration, so let me just show face, because me know me just going to come back round to the hotel. And when me go round there, the place was jam-packed! Me just have to go inside. Rain fell all night, nobody moved, nobody got hurt," Rebel said.
"The next morning it was obvious in my mind that this was a new chapter and I had to do it again, because a lot of people did not get a chance to come in. A lot of people did not get a chance to come, overall, because of the rain. That was a serious moment."
In the third year - by then Rebel Salute was at Brooks Park - there was a serious cold front. Tony Rebel said "it kind of solidify the kind of camaraderie that you see at Rebel Salute. Everybody was not afraid to hook up on each other to let the body heat let them feel warm. In my head, that is the moment the kind of vibe you see at Rebel Salute started."
In 2000, the first year at Port Kaiser Sports Club, a chance was taken by moving Rebel Salute to the lower reaches of St Elizabeth. The crowds not only followed, but grew. "It was overpacked," Tony Rebel said. "I saw like 10,000 people inside. We did not know how to deal with the venue, block it off and so forth, and maybe 10,000 people were outside."
The memories continue. In 2004, Junior Byles (known for the songs Curly Lock and Fade Away), who for a long time was affected by mental illness, was on stage for two to three minutes before starting to sing. The audience was patient, and when Byles finally began the moment was moving. "Tears. You see the video over and over with people crying," Rebel said.
In 2005, there was the homecoming of Jimmy Cliff, followed by Burning Spear in 2006 ("it was educational, a lot of people were seeing Spear for the first") and when Buju Banton did Driver in 2007, "it was beautiful". Then there was David 'Mavado' Brooks and Beres Hammond in 2012, a combination repeated on the second day of this year's renewal. "Most people did not know he could deliver a show like what he delivered," Rebel said of Brooks.
The move to St Ann in 2013 was also memorable and last year's Vogue coverage was rewarding.
After moving locations and doubling days in 2013, the festival was in another development mode. In 2014, there was rain, and for the 2015 staging, the Rebel Salute organisers were looking to recoup and move forward. "It was fine. It showed a move forward in terms of people accepting the Friday night. People are gravitating towards the Friday night more. We saw that last year. It has its own character," Tony Rebel said. "We go hard with Friday night, so when you come you don't go home."
Rebel Salute is into the next generation in more ways than one. On stage, there are Tony Rebel's children, male deejay Abatau and female singer Davianah; the organisation includes his daughters Jayudah and Kenya - part of a team of youngsters. It is looking towards the future of the music it celebrates as well, as for the past few years Rebel Salute has adapted the slogan 'The Preservation of Reggae'.
Tony Rebel points out he shares a birthday with Martin Luther King Jr, who also sought to effect change through mass mobilisation. And it is a good parish to do it in, as Rebel points out that he spent many of his formative years in St Ann, just as he did in Manchester.
The birthday celebration continues.