"Catch a vibe at Reggae Geel" is the justified slogan for the annual festival that traditionally takes place in the Belse Bossen of Geel on the first Friday and Saturday of August. This year the festival, which the legendary Dr. Alimantado once described as "the most Jamaican event outside Jamaica", while the Belgian press provided the nickname "Reggae mecca of Belgium", had its 25th anniversary edition. An impressive line-up for dancehall and roots fans, this was at 20 for the weekend and only 7,50 for camping next to your car a very nicely priced festival. After last year's mud-plagued-event everyone attending was offered a free drink this year by the promoters, and heat and sun by the gods.

Friday was dancehall night, headlined by David Rodigan, who is really one of the foremost ambassadors of reggae music. This year the renowned "gentleman rudeboy" is in music business for 25 years, so his presence at this festival was certainly no coincidence. After nice live performances delivered "inna Jamaican showcase stylee" featuring exponents from the growing Belgian reggae dancehall scene including up-and-coming talents such as Factor X, Ragga Yves, Raggamuffin Whiteman, 3T and Eric Judah, all backed by Calabash, it was Rodigan who came, saw and conquered the Bounce dancehall tent. Rodigan rules! The only minus was the sound, which at times wasn't that good, and then the abrupt ending of his show, probably due to curfew.

Saturday got underway with the first act, the blessing of the main stage by Nyahbingi drummers. They made way for Belgian female singer Mika and her band the General Dub Progress. According to Souljah, who attended this performance... "Another band playing rock-guitar 'embellished' Wailers-like-roots. Nothing special at all and definitely not my stuff. Despite the name of the band, no progress IMO!" Unfortunately he missed the next act, Belgian ska band Internationals, but returned in time for Queen Omega, backed by all-female band Sista. "This band is tight. The band really rocked, but Queen Omega's vocals are not my style. I don't like her singing voice, and I think she never really rides the riddim when toasting. Sista in my opinion deserves a second chance backing a better singer, or at least a singer serving my taste."

Junior Reid, accompanied by the One Blood Band, was the next artist on stage. From Souljah's point of view "Another Bobo hypocrite, if there is one category lacking practice what you preach, it seems to be them. Either by releasing slack tunes when money or popularity runs tight, or by wearing expensive name-brand stuff, to become material dreads, as was now the case with Junior Reid." Even within the Waterhouse style, Junior Reid sounded much more limited without his voice being part of harmonized vocals. Performing solo and Black Uhuru hits, just like headliner Michael Rose would, he started with "Boom Shack A Lack", and did songs like "Anthem, "Row Your Boat", "Fit You Haffi Fit", "John Law" in the meantime introducing his son to the stage, and giving him some space also on the next new tune, and adding, through the interaction between the two voices, something extra to the vocals delivered. Earlier on in the show there were so many dubwise parts, that it seemed Junior Reid lacked the power to give full renditions of his songs. After this relatively short performance Junior Reid came back for an encore that lasted almost as long: starting with "One Blood", he then did a really mesmerizing "Emmanuel Calling" before singing "Rasta Government" over the all time classic Drum Song riddim, incorporating snatches of other Waterhouse wailers like Hugh Mundell's "Africa Must Be Free By 1983" and "Time And Place".

After a short break MC for the event, Original Uman, called LMS on stage, the younger musical group formed by some of Denroy Morgan's children. Since their debut in 1999 they have been consistently building their fan base with a sort of singjay lyrical style and also their ability to flow with each genre coming from their Jamaican and US lineage. LMS then performed reduced to LS, because Miriam is recovering from an accident. Laza and Shy-Poo however really did their recovering sibling justice, by putting up a very fine and energetic show. They performed their blend of roots and hip hop flavored tunes very convincing, and played a set containing mainly great songs such as "Can't Go To Zion", "Zion Gates", "Stogee", "Laws Of The King" and the truly awesome "Never". LS and their tight playing backing band treated the crowd to a strong performance and provided the first proof that a younger generation of artists is taking over as their music appeals to a wider audience.

Then, judging by the enthusiasm and vibes in the crowd, the real #1 act of this evening was about to take the stage: T.O.K.! Although not yet honored by the average festival promoter, it seems that the dancehall acts outclass the roots acts, and the dancehall act scheduled before the chosen headliner leaves that headliner an almost impossible task. It more and more looks like "old skool" roots artists are lucky when they don't have to cope with dancehall kings, like Burning Spear performing after Sean Paul at this year's Two 77 Splash, or Michael Rose here after T.O.K.. The audience first got a warmup by 3 beautiful ladies, the JamStyle dancers, performing the latest moves over the latest riddims, dressed in short white skirts, and matching shirt and caps, later accompanied by another beauty, who wore trousers to perform the Kamasutra style dancesteps.

Alex, Xavier, Craigy-T and Roshaun, known as the singing/deejay group T.O.K., delivered hit after hit, at one moment smooth singing, at the other toasting their rhymes over the current and last few years top riddims. "Eagles Cry" (a version of Prince's "When Doves Cry") over the Bruk Out riddim, "Money 2 Burn" over Buy Out, "On The Radio", "You Ah Murder" over Glue, "Man Ah Bad Man", "She's Hot" over Shaggy's Sexy Lady riddim, "I Spy" over Bad Company, "Shining Star" over the Cure riddim, the group's variation on Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Lover" entitled "Hardcore Lover" over Baddis, "Keep It Blazing" over Liquid, "Shake You Bam Bam", "Galang Gal" over Diwali, "Bring It On" over Clappas, "Could A Wha" over Egyptian, "Pengeleng" over Hard Drive, name it, they did it, all culminating in "Chi Chi Man" over the Sashi riddim, before they left the stage. The whole show was received with nuff lighters, whistles, cheers from the crowd, who were for the only time this day really under the spell of a (group of) performers. Leaving all other performers today miles behind, T.O.K. were the absolute top of this Reggae Geel 2003 bill. They caused an eruption of shouted acknowledgment when asking if they should be performing at Reggae Geel 2004 as well. Their encore started with finishing the rendition of "Chi Chi Man" and they ended their show with a fabulous version of "I Believe".

After the staggering performance of T.O.K. it was time for Sly & Robbie's dub show featuring Grammy kid and former Black Uhuru frontman Michael Rose. It's obvious that the crowd was treated to a totally different vibe. Michael Rose had 2 harmony singers (a female singer and a dreadlocked male singer) and mainly performed the old Black Uhuru stuff including "Party Next Door", "What Is Life", "World Is Africa", "Plastic Smile", "Shine Eye Gal", "Happiness", and "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner", to name a few of these classic tunes. Michael Rose wasn't in very good shape and he definitely didn't match the performance he did at Reggae Geel 1998, then backed by the Mafia & Fluxy band. But anyway, this time he was backed by still the most famous, and this night once again unbelievably tight playing riddim section in reggae, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. These two veteran musicians alone were worthwhile attending the show. Astonishing technique and excellent musicianship, an exceptional experience for both the eye and the ear!! Michael Rose calling on stage Junior Reid was the moment everyone (including the promoter) was eagerly awaiting, as it would be the best surprise gift for the festival's 25th anniversary. And indeed, it did happen. For the very first time ever Michael Rose and Junior Reid joined forces on stage and sung together in front of an enthousiastic audience. A truly historic moment!! All in all Sly & Robbie with Michael Rose did a good performance, but according to the public's reactions nowhere near T.O.K.'s.

We are curious if any of the festival promoters in the Netherlands or Belgium will have the nerve next year to close a festival with Elephant Man, Sean Paul, Ward 21 or T.O.K.? We hope they do, the performances this year would have proven them right.

Text : Souljah & Mr. T   Photos : Teacher



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