For the second year the annual Reggae Geel took place at the festival's new location at the Zandstraat in Geel's Belse Bossen area. On Friday 7,500 visitors found their way to the festival grounds, followed by 13,000 Belgian, Dutch, French, British and German reggae and dancehall lovers on Saturday. Especially noteworthy was the return of the Dutch, French, and German fans to Reggae Geel after most of them had turned away from the festival in recent years.
In comparison with previous editions the promoters had created a so-called '18 inch Corner', a real treat (and improvement) for fans of heavy (UK) roots. Both festival days King Shiloh Soundsystem was present with its own impressive four-way high power sound system including all source equipment and amplification. On Friday evening they were supported by Jah Youth, one of the top roots sound systems in the UK and Europe, while Jah Shaka -- whose soundsystem was the main point of focus in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s -- came to join them on Saturday. Jah Shaka, who played his set very early in the evening, didn't make a serious impression although he came up with a nice roots selection.
Rather disappointing was the champion sound from Jamaica, Black Kat. To most dancehall fans present at Friday night's dancehall event in the Bounce tent, Black Kat - without the quick-fingered selector Yunzie and charismatic mic man Pink Panther! - didn't live up to expectations. Only few dubplates were thrown in, the MC had weak speeches and also the juggling was below par.
Not for the first time in the history of the Reggae Geel festival there were changes in the initial main programme due to cancellations of booked artists. The 27th edition took place without the announced I-Threes and Studio One veteran Bob Andy. The latter wasn't feeling well which made it impossible for him to perform, while Rita Marley seemingly wanted more money than earlier agreed. Luckily Marcia Griffiths wanted to come anyway and with the addition of Luciano -- whose backing band was already booked with the I-Threes -- the main programme was completed after all.
At about 5pm London based Skatroniks - a band that rose from the ashes of the acclaimed Jazz Jamaica Allstars big band and Courtney Pine's Jazz Warriors -- took the stage to kick off the second (main) day of the festival. These experienced and outstanding players of instruments delivered an entertaining set, treating a small but growing crowd to a nice blend of reggae, jazz, ska, and mento.
Gentleman -- the German king of reggae from Cologne -- was next in line to entertain. Backed by the, as usual, tight playing Far East Band, expertly driven by Marco Baresi (drums) and Andre Heyer (bass), Gentleman immediately made clear that he wanted to give his very best to the crowd in front of him. Thus they got an energetic and inspired performance as well as a "best of" selection of conscious tunes from his three albums "Trodin On", "Journey To Jah" and "Confidence". An above all enthousiastic and sometimes excited crowd was treated to hits and killers such as "Dem Gone", "Jah Ina Yuh Life", "Jah Jah Never Fail", "Runaway", "Dem Gone", "Superior", and "Leave Us Alone". The crowd wanted an encore and.. Gentleman came back, once again showing why he has earned a place in the forefront of the international reggae scene. Afterwards we had a short chat with Gentleman and his manager, and when asked about future plans we were told that a new album could be expected in 2007. Most of the recordings are going to take place in Jamaica throughout the year 2006.
Then it was Ce'Cile's turn to prove that she's able to mash up the place with a performance that should encourage the dancehall fans to come closer to the stage front. Backed by the Blaze Band -- Beenie Man's former backing band - the budding dancehall diva performed for about thirty minutes. Even though Ce'Cile had the crowd going with several of her big tunes, including her duet with Sean Paul, "Can You Do The Wuk", and "Do It To Me" across the 'Diwali' riddim, she failed to make a very strong impression. Why she decided to include Dawn Penn's classic hit "No No No" on her set list is hard to understand. Not that the crowd didn't love it.. they did and sang along with the refrain. However, with so many own songs in her catalogue that made a serious impact in the dance halls, one definitely expected to hear a tune like her past number one hit "Changez" instead of the obligatory "No No No". That her music wasn't appreciated by everyone was clearly expressed by a rastaman in the crowd. He turned his back, walked away in the direction of the '18 inch Corner', and uttered his disapproval by shouting "Fucking Bad Music!"
T.O.K. are one of the few acts -- along with Anthony B, Michael Rose and Panache Culture -- that were invited to perform at Reggae Geel for the second time. Two years ago this successful Jamaican vocal quartet, consisting of Alex "Flexx" McCalla, Roshuan "Bassie" Clarke, Shaun Davidson and Craig Thompson, made a serious impression and also this time they had the crowd eating out of their hands. From the very first moment T.O.K. turned up the heat. They worked effortlessly through their hits including "Money To Burn", "Galong Gal" across the 'Diwali' riddim, "Solid As A Rock", "Eagles Cry", "Fire Fire", "Gal You A Lead". These are only a few of the many, many hit tunes they performed in their well known style of (harmony) singing mixed with dancehall chatting. Their latest no.1 hit, "Footprints", over the 'Drop Leaf' riddim -- one of the highlights of their set -- was well received by an enthousiastic crowd which treated them to a wave of 'lighters'. With their energetic set T.O.K. fully proved that they are one of the best dancehall groups to come out of Jamaica, taking dancehall to an international level.
The music of T.O.K. and the songs of reggae monarch Marcia Griffiths are worlds apart, but much to our surprise most of the young dancehall fans in the crowd didn't leave to catch a dancehall vibe in the Bounce tent. They stayed in front of the stage to support Marcia Griffiths' performance. She filled the stage with her presence and glided easily from one memorable tune to another, including "Tell Me Now", "Dreamland", "I Shall Sing", "I Wanna Get Closer", and her first Studio One hit "Feel Like Jumping". With a medley of Bob Marley tunes such as "Iron Lion Zion", "Exodus" and "Could You Be Loved", she paid tribute to the man with whom she had joined the stage as backing vocalist for so many years. Due to circumstances described before she had to perform the hit tune "Young, Gifted & Black" with her son, instead of doing the duet with Bob Andy. Afterwards Marcia Griffiths expressed that she wasn't that satisfied with the backing of the Jah Messenjah Band, but nevertheless she delivered a truly satisfying set with the audience cherishing every moment of her enjoyable routine.
Closing duties were left to Luciano, who took the stage with his distinctive voice and full of energy. The Jah Messenjah Band, seemingly effortless led by Dean Fraser -- who has been working with Luciano since his 1995 released album, "Where There Is Life" -- showed that they can play incredibly tight when backing their lead singer. Luciano was in great form and his set list proved to be a well balanced collection of new and old classics. Highlights from the more recent material he performed were "Silver And Gold" ('Hard Times' riddim), "For The Leaders" ('Drop Leaf' riddim), and the awesome message tune "Stay Away" across the 'Doctor's Darling" riddim, in which he sings... "Jah children stay away from war and strive, stop all the fuss and fight, wake up mankind.. let's unite." Further delightful musical moments the singer shared with the crowd were "He's My Friend", "Ulterior Motive" and "One Way Ticket". Luciano also sang a great medley of his Island smashes including "Over The Hills", "Lord Give Me Strength", "Never Give Up My Pride", "It's Me Again Jah", "In This Together" and "Who Could It Be", which are all so familiar to almost everyone in the crowd. One of the big forwards that Luciano got from the audience was when he delivered his version of the Peter Tosh weed anthem "Legalize It", a song he has been doing in concert for a couple of years.
One of Luciano's gifted female backing vocalists is Rochelle (sister of Devon Bradshaw and the late Anthony "Bug" Bradshaw, who played in Burning Spear's band). Those who are familiar with the singles Rochelle has released as a solo artist, know she has a huge, soulful voice. Luckily (and deservedly) this tiny woman was given room to show her skills and talent, when Luciano sang a duet with her. Surprisingly she bursted out with deejay stylings as well, which was received with great approval by a, by then, enraptured crowd!
In all, this year's edition surpassed expectations. Well done to the promoters of the Reggae Geel Festival for a job well done in every aspect!
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