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Carolyn Cooper | Sumfest paying the price of success

Published:Sunday | July 28, 2019 | 12:00 AM

MoBay doesn’t want to lose Reggae Sumfest. The entire city benefits. The hospitality industry is the biggest winner. And even micro businesses make a killing. A jellyman on the main road charged me $2,000 for three bags of cane and three coconuts! He’d said it was $300 for cold jellies and $250 for regular. My two friends chose cold. After the jellyman cut mine, he decided it was also $300 because it was big.

You can’t judge the amount of water in a coconut by its size. Sometimes, a huge coconut is mostly husk and not much more. Just like a strapping, muscular man who turns out to have a disproportionately small penis! And it works the other way, too. A small coconut can have a big cup. Anyhow, I wasn’t disappointed. My coconut was full of water.

Then I thought the jellyman had said it was $250 for a bag of cane. When it was time to pay, he told me $300. And I was much too tired to quarrel with him when the price of my coconut escalated to $400. With all that, the total still didn’t reach $2,000. Maths was not his strong point. Nor honesty!

It was now after 7 on Saturday morning and I was ready for my bed. I was staying at Hartley House, a grand old villa on Tamarind Hill, at the edge of Hanover. It’s owned by fashion designer Sandra Kennedy and her mother Yvonne Hayles, production manager. They’ve turned the villa into an elegant guest house. The very reasonable rate includes a sumptuous breakfast. A far better value than three coconuts and three bags of cane.


On Saturday, I’d got to the venue at about 1 a.m. So I missed quite a few of the acts. It took us one length of time to go through the checkpoint for the zone of special operation in St James. Almost as long as we were on the North/South Highway! And we were travelling at the speed limit. More often than not!

For me, the highlight of the show was the performance of Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. This was definitely not a clash. It was a duet. The DJs matched each other tune for tune, demonstrating why they have dominated the dancehall stage for so long. Both artistes are now in their mid-forties. Dem a nuh yute. They have matured, both personally and professionally. None of the old ‘throw words’ of the past! Dancehall music has come of age.

I thoroughly enjoyed Spice’s shocking-out performance. I certainly hope she doesn’t become sanctified like Lady Saw. And I appreciated the fact that she took us back into the romping shop and paid respects to Vybz Kartel for partnering with her on that wicked tune. Kartel’s talent as a lyricist is undeniable. He should have been on the Sumfest stage, not behind bars. It’s such a tragedy that he seems to have taken the title of ‘World Boss’ all too literally. And it has got him into a hell of a lot of trouble.

Chronixx was brilliant as usual and Koffee was burning it up. On Sunday morning, when I got to the show, Beres Hammond was just finishing his set. And the much-anticipated big act was, of course, Buju Banton! He was on form. But nothing can compare with that very first performance in March on the long walk to freedom tour. It was magical.


The selection of artistes for Reggae Sumfest was simply brilliant. One of my friends who is a music journalist in Europe sent me this message: “There is no line-up like Sumfest this year; if you can make it there you should”. We seem to be reclaiming our rightful place as the home of the best reggae festival of them all. There are now so many across the world. And in unexpected places like Bulgaria, India, Israel, Korea, Lebanon, Montenegro, Paraguay, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, The Philippines, and Turkey.

Long gone are the days when Synergy Productions branded Sunsplash as ‘the biggest reggae festival in the history of the world’. Rototom Sunsplash in Spain can now lay claim to that title. Two hundred thousand reggae fans in a vast venue. The festival is visionary. It hosts a ‘Reggae University’ forum at which artistes, journalists and academics reflect on our music. This year, Reggae Sumfest also organised an excellent symposium at The University of the West Indies, Mona.

The 27th staging of Reggae Sumfest was a huge success. The venue was ram-packed both nights. It was downright dangerous to move about with so many obstacles in the way. People and chairs! Downsound Entertainment, producers of Sumfest, issued a press release last week acknowledging that, “with explosive growth comes challenges along with demands and heavy responsibility”.

Sumfest has outgrown the Catherine Hall venue. It’s time for a bigger and better location. The festival’s growth should not be stifled by the self-interest of MoBay beneficiaries such as hoteliers, transport operators, politicians and my bandooloo jellyman.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to and