Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The 2013 staging of the Rototom Sunsplash Festival was slated to begin yesterday. The kick-off concert line-up includes Chaka Demus and Pliers and Third World Band as the names that would most likely be familiar to Jamaicans.
Held in Benicāssim, Spain, it goes until Saturday, August 24 with Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley performing on the final day. Wayne Marshall and Chris Ellis are also featured.
In between, there are Protoje, U-Roy, Kabaka Pyrmaid, Iba Mahr, Gyptian, Israel Vibration, Vegas, Ranking Joe, Ce'Cile, Alborosie, Lloyd Parkes and We the People, John Holt, Leroy Sibbles, Richie Spice, Busy Signal, Dubtonic Kru, Tony Matterhorn, Ricky Trooper, Rory Stone Love, Mighty Crown, Kilamanjaro and Renaissance.
But there are also some names that would probably not set the reggae pulse of a Jamaican audience racing - Smooth Beans, Exco Levi, Skaff-Links, Sebastian Sturm, Earl Gateshead and Natty Bo and Green Valley.
Booking manager for Rototom Sunsplash, Giovanni Vinci, is quick to point to the Jamaican core of Rototom. "The stars are Jamaicans. Without Jamaicans, there is no party," Vinci said. "That's it. No Jamaicans, no party. It is Jamaican music."
It is the 20th staging of Rototom and the fourth in Spain, the first 16 held in Italy. Vinci points out more than once that not only did Rototom change countries, but it also changed languages with immense success. "It is more than double before," Vinci said. "We were in the mountain, now we are on the beach."
He points out that, as there are multiple activities and stages, Rototom takes place round the clock for the eight days that it is on. And the person whose attendance he seems proudest of is not a singer or player of instrument. "I think the most important act we will have this year is not Jamaican, it's from Guatemala, a woman. You know why? Because she was the Nobel Peace Prize awardee (in 1992). She is called Rigoberta Menchu. She is a Native Indian. She will be in the Social Forum," Vinci said. "We are really proud."
He explained that the Social Forum is a "big tent where we discuss about the big problems of the world, together with the politicians, the journalists, everybody. We show the reality, that another world is possible". Vinci is at pains to emphasise that Rototom is much more than the stages and music, so there are also the ongoing Reggae University Camp (at which Professor Carolyn Cooper and Dr Sonjah Stanley-Niaah from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona and Reggae Revival's Dutty Bookman, are among those slated to participate); and African Village and Living Energy Space. There is also an area for children, Vinci saying that more than 500 children attended Rototom last year.
Vinci maintains that although Rototom has grown and moved, "the spirit of the festival has not changed".
"The idea from the first year of Rototom was to create a community," he said. The organisers chose two days for people of the community to spend time together and the tagline was 'Rototom Sunsplash, First National Reggae Happening'. Even when it started, the persons organising it were living together as a community in the same venue. There was the club and upstairs, there were the rooms. There was a garden and that is where we held the first Rototom Sunsplash." About 2,000 persons attended the first Rototom Sunsplash - about the same number as the manpower required to run Rototom Sunsplash 2013.
Rototom is still run without sponsorship, the financial support coming from those who attend - many of whom buy tickets, Vinci said, without even knowing the line-up. "We sell 1,000 tickets without announcing anything," he said. Staging Rototom, he said, takes "millions of Euros". He points out that a lot of infrastructure is rented.
"We have no sponsors," Vinci said. The first 1,000 tickets, he said, are sold in under an hour via Internet sales. Prices go up in increments after that, within specific time periods. "The problem is not if we want or don't want sponsorship. First, it has to be an ethical person. That means no investment in arms production," he said by way of example. "To be ethical means a lot of things," Vinci said, adding that, especially in Europe, Rototom was not attractive to sponsors anyway.
"We start without sponsors, we arrive at the 20th staging without sponsors. That does not mean we do not want sponsors," he said, adding that there is now contact with "some special sponsors" and there may be some developments next year.
And keeping Rototom going and growing takes more than staging an event, Vinci maintains. "It is not enough to put a stage, some artistes, some toilets. You need a soul," he said.