"Nuff positive vibrations and plenty moments of excitement"... undoubtedly the key sentence when it comes to reviewing the 23rd edition of the reggae festival in Geel, Belgium. Although not the biggest festival in Europe and definitely not bringing the current topnotch Jamaican stars on stage, this annual reggae event has managed to become the place to be for many reggae fans in Belgium and abroad. Ask fans as well as artists what makes the Geel festival so special and most likely they'll start talking about the wonderful location in the woods near the town of Geel, the organizers' policy to bring on stage up and coming artists as well as reggae veterans, and most of all the event's renown Jamaican-like vibes.

The festival runs for two days with Friday night providing dancehall vibes in the dancehall tent called the Marquee, and Saturday being the main festival day at the main festival ground. We didn't make it in time to see Panache Culture and Prezident Brown kicking off the festival on the main stage, but were there when Max Romeo and the Italian group Tribý Acoustica still had to take the stage for an "unplugged" set. It was for the third time that the festival featured an acoustic set and this was definitely the best so far. Reggae vet Max Romeo needs no further introduction since he has reached a broad audience throughout his enduring career, but for those who don't know Tribý Acoustica and the wonderful album they recorded with Max Romeo entitled "In This Time", here's an introduction...

Tribý Acoustica is an Italian group whose goal is to explore the roots of Jamaican music in order to bring reggae fans riddims and themes that are mostly unheard in present times. The group defines itself as a "Tribý" as this formation is loosely structured and open to kin spirits wishing to collaborate, perhaps even in the realm of improvisation. "Acoustica" because the group wishes to pay tribute to the kind of music that was played in the villages and streets before the introduction of electricity and electronics. Tribý Acoustica offers a repertoire that spans from the atmospheres produced by the Nyabinghi themes to the brashness of the Mento, to the hicarity of the Calypso. Furthermore they go back to the classics of Ska and electric Reggae searching for those efforts that lend themselves to be revisited in an unplugged key, in a more Italian, and perhaps, more whimsical frame of mind.

After Tribý Acoustica had played two nice instrumentals to warm up themselves and the audience, Max Romeo took the stage. The singer was in good shape and seemingly enjoyed performing with this true acoustic band. Max Romeo's stage performance isn't exactly what one would call 'energetic', but the music alone was more than well worth listening to as he delivered plenty of his own classic tunes including "It Sipple Out Deh aka War Ina Babylon", "Let The Power Fall On I", "Babylon Burning" and - very surprising - his in former times controversial hit tune "Wet Dream". Max Romeo's career goes way back and he can pick from a wealth of excellent self-penned tunes, but he also paid tribute to an artist we all know and love, Jacob 'Killer' Miller, by delivering one of the man's masterpieces "Tenement Yard". Both, singer and band, created a great atmosphere and thus kept the audience involved till the very end.

It took quite some time before the next package was able to start their part of the show, however the unexpected long wait didn't affect the mood of the audience at all. First artist to come on stage after the Stone Roots Band had started to play was UK based singer Lloyd Brown, who replaced Little Roy due to the latter having problems with his passport. Although already making records for more than a decade by now and having scored several no. 1 hits in the British reggae charts, Lloyd Brown still has to establish his name among the reggae fans outside the UK. Rehearsal time had been too short to work on an extensive set, so the audience was treated to only five songs, namely "Stress", "It's A Love Thing", "Sharing The Night", "Forever Loving Jah" and "I Know", a piece from Lloyd's forthcoming album. Despite the short set Lloyd Brown delivered a good performance and fully displayed his excellent vocal qualities.

Next was Leroy Gibbons, a fine dancehall singer who emerged in the eighties. In the digital era he was a beloved performer and scored with a superb album, entitled "Four Season Lover", comprising all his major hits. Furthermore he recorded the excellent combination track "Bruk Camera" alongside Dillinger for Steely & Clevie. Although Leroy Gibbons kept recording in Jamaica, his sessions for UK based Fashion Records have stood the test of time particularly well. Before going on stage we observed him backstage, wandering 'round and concentrating on his stage performance in his own, somewhat 'stressy' manner. Once on stage Leroy Gibbons fully showed that he's still a great live performer. Furiously running around stage he treated the audience to such very enjoyable songs as "Samfie Girl", "Build Up The Vibes" and "Four Season Lover", the title track of the aforementioned King Jammy's produced album. From the latter Gibbons had chosen a lot of tunes for his very first performance in Belgium. Leroy Gibbons lived up to expectations with an energetic, well-received set.

And then, true musical master Alton Ellis. Nowadays residing in London, the honourable Alton Ellis - recipient of Jamaican's Order Of Distinction medal for his contribution to the development of Jamaican music - was one of Jamaica's most popular performers especially in the sixties and seventies. Having worked for many of the Island's top producers, he has spanned an illustrious singing career. Alton Ellis is truly one of the living legends in Jamaican music who has been making great tunes for nearly four decades, from the heydays of ska, rocksteady and reggae up till now. Although the voice of this veteran might have lost some of his original beauty, it is really well worth seeing him perform in front of an audience. Only classic hit tunes were featured on his set list including "Breaking Up", "I'm Just A Guy", "Ain't That Loving You", "Willow Tree", "Too Late To Turn Back Now", "Let Him Try" and an - almost - acapella version of "Muriel". The latter song was recorded for Coxsone Dodd in 1959 and was actually Alton Ellis' first appearance on record together with his then singing partner Eddie Perkins.

That he is still a very professional and experienced artist could be witnessed by the way he 'managed' the backing band during his performance. When he began singing "Mad Mad" he seemingly wasn't satisfied with him singing and the band playing and thus abruptly ended this song. All in all Alton Ellis proved vocally, physically and mentally fit and truly delivered a lively performance. To be honest, we didn't expect to see an artist who enjoyed his own show like that and it's obvious that his enthousiasm on stage touched the heart of almost everyone in the audience.

Another break followed in order to change the backing band. A decent playing Stone Roots band was replaced by the Dub Asante band, currently one of the best backing bands in the UK. From the very first drop this great band fully proved their fame. After having opened with "Kunta Kinte", it was Fred Locks, the first artist of the final package, who took the stage. Fred Locks (real name Stafford Elliot) started his career as a member of the vocal group the Lyrics, recording for Studio One, Randy's and their own "Lyric" label. By the time he tried his luck as a solo artist in the mid-seventies he took on the name Fred Locks. It was the release of his enduring roots anthem "Black Star Liner" in 1975 that put him on the reggae map. Fred Locks is a distinctive rasta singer, who rarely recorded songs not in a strictly conscious vein. In the late nineties he teamed up with Xterminator producer Phillip "Fatis" Burrell which led to the release of a solid contemporary roots album entitled "Never Give Up". Although one has to get used to his bleating vocal style when listening to his records, he was a revelation on stage.

The audience received him quite enthousiastically, which seemingly came as a surprise for Fred Locks. Nuff pure positive vibes and a truly fine performance from one of the most underrated roots artists. "True Rastaman (So Jah Seh)", "Put A Little Love" and, of course, "Black Star Liner" are some of the highlights of his set which actually contained mainly tunes from the "Black Star Liner" album. The public's reactions encouraged him to step forward and he started to shake hands with them, and it was with almost visible pain in his heart that he left the stage.

Then it was time for the eagerly awaited singjay Jah Mason, who established his name as one of the most up-and-coming young conscious artists among reggae connoisseurs and fans through the release of some notable pieces on 7" singles and compilation sets, performing in a style which is reminiscent of for example Capleton. When he was announced the crowd started shouting his name and Jah Mason didn't disappoint them as he treated them to some real wicked tunes including his probably best known piece "Run Come Love Me" (showing he's a decent singer too as the Jah Cure parts were done by himself), "Money Dem A Run Down" and "Have And Them Want". Dressed up as one of Jah's soldiers this young warrior delivered a more than impressive performance with an incredible energy. Thus he deservedly got burning response from the audience.... Hotta blazing fire all the way!

Far after midnight - and very much exceeding the official closing time of the main programme which was scheduled for 1:00am - there was still a very large crowd in front of the stage awaiting the entrance of Shinehead. This versatile artist - being a singer, deejay, multi-instrumentalist, producer, whistler and rapper - emerged in the eighties and throughout the years his hip-hop flavoured reggae/dancehall outings have proven to appeal to a wide - cross-over - audience. With his set Shinehead not only displayed his many sides, but also showcased his abilitity to create an amazingly high entertainment level. Thus he fully proved to be a great entertainer who really knows how to keep his audience involved. Shinehead kicked off with "Jamaican In New York" and from then his set was running like fire. This man's energy on stage is impressive and seemingly measureless which enables him to deliver a devastating performance. Many musical highlights including "Golden Touch", "Strive", "Know How Fe Chat", "Collie Weed" and "Rough & Rugged", which was done over Dave Kelly's "Bounce" riddim.

His heartfelt tribute to Dennis Brown featuring such great tunes as "I Got To Get Myself Together", "To The Foundation", "Love & Hate" and "The World Is Troubled" was really nice and well received. At the end of his very entertaining set Shinehead took over the bass from the female bass player and started to play it himself, meanwhile calling Jah Mason back on stage. In front of an enthusiastic reacting crowd Jah Mason performed three more tunes, before Shinehead rounded off with one of his greatest tunes entitled "Collie Weed". All in all a Shinehead performance is not just hot, it's incendiary.

Around 3:30am Shinehead and the Dub Asante band left the stage and the crowd started moving towards the Dancehall tent, their shelter tents or their cars, undoubtedly having caught nuff positive vibes and cherishing their moments of pure excitement. Reggae 2001, the Geel festival, had an excellent line-up. Most of the artists delivered a solid performance and fully lived up to expectations, while some even exceeded expectations. Add the good weather conditions and, of course, the great vibes and we can draw only one conclusion: AWESOME!!

Text: Teacher & Mr. T. ~ Photos: Teacher

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