A main stage graced by Jamaican veterans, a 'bounce' tent dominated by sound systems playing the latest riddims as well as golden oldies to nice up the party, an 18" corner to dance and meditate on deep roots music, open air cinema, food and drinks from Jamaica, Africa and Europe, T shirts in multiple colors, cd's, vinyl tapes, videos and dvd's for sale, and a 13,000+ crowd of people on Saturday -- on Friday night 7,500 -- that came from all points of Europe and beyond to 'catch a vibe'... that's the 28th edition of Reggae Geel in a nutshell. However such a brief report won't suffice, because this year's edition of the festival was like no other!
Unlike European reggae festivals like Summer Jam, Rototom Sunsplash and Uppsala Reggae Festival, which haven proven that they are able to present a stellar line-up each year, Reggae Geel has to deal with a far smaller budget. This -- and the fact that many contemporary Jamaican artists prefer to perform at local festivals happening in the same weekend in Jamaica -- makes that the promoters have to be inventive. This year they succeeded (and surprised) in getting the names of a notable amount of vintage reggae acts on the poster of their festival. With artists like Prince Jazzbo, Cornell Campbell, Tapper Zukie, Linval Thompson and The Congos, this year's line-up was a virtual lesson in the history of Jamaican music.
The main part of Reggae Geel took off on Saturday afternoon around 4pm with first newcomer Empress Ayealo and then fine conscious singer Jahmali presenting their tunes to a small crowd in front of the stage. Both artists were expertly backed by the musicians of the Artikal Crew from France, who also provided the riddims for the next artist on stage... Sister Carol, also known as "Black Cinderella", "Mother Culture" and more recently "ISIS". Sister Carol -- actually the first veteran to appear on stage -- was in good shape and treated the people to a well done set featuring classic riddims such as the Heptones' "Love Me Always" and Horace Andy's "Every Tongue Shall Tell" and a nice selection of tunes including "Reggae Gone International", "Lyrical Potent", "Reggae Arena", and "Womb-man".
After the band change -- all of them were competently done, quick and clean -- the Mafia & Fluxy Band featuring Henry "Buttons" Tenue on trombone started off with a swinging version of the Soul Vendors' classic "Swing Easy" riddim, which enabled Gussie P, who had taken his place behind the mixing board, to find the right sound and balance. It was Rickie Chaplin, the younger brother of the famous Charlie, who opened the set he shared with the legendary deejay Prince Jazzbo. The latter, dressed in a shiny red suit topped with a red hat, treated the young and older reggae fans in front of the stage to a nicely done set which included great classic tunes like "School" (in which Jazzbo crooned about the benefits of literacy), "Pepper Rock", "Kick Boy Face" and "Crabwalking", a wicked deejay piece on Horace Andy's "Skylarking". Songs from more than 30 years ago, but still great to hear them today, even if they were interrupted by spoken morality lessons of Prince Jazzbo.
Next on stage was the eagerly awaited Cornell Campbell, one of the true pioneers of Jamaican Music. This 60-year old singer (however looking younger and still in very good physical condition) showed that he still possesses a golden voice. It was truly a joy to listen to the man's clear high tenor vocal delivery. Backed by a tight playing Mafia & Fluxy Band Cornell Campbell did a great performance. He started off with "Boxing" and then continued with many hit songs from his extensive catalogue including "Stars", the wonderful "Queen Of The Minstrel", "Money", "Jah Jah Me No Horn Ya", "No Man's Land" and "The Gorgon". Even though his cover of Slim Smith & The Unique's "My Conversation" was well done, it's sometimes hard to understand why artists, who have so many good tunes of their own under their belt, perform covers on stage.
Then it was time for the next band change. The Mafia & Fluxy Band was replaced by another London-based outfit, the Ruff Cut Band. After the band's usual instrumental warm-up it was time to call Buro Banton on stage. The dancehall veteran, who inspired the later Bantons (i.e. Buju, Pato, Mega and Starkey among others), was welcomed with great approval, not least because his appearance in Europe had been long overdue. From the very first moment he got the crowd going and certainly received the best response compared to the other artists. "Washington Session", "Boom Wa Dis" and "Tek A Set" were some of the tunes he had on his setlist, and even though musically his performance wasn't top class -- causing some disappointment amongst a few of his long-time fans -- Buro Banton's set can be regarded as one of the highlights of the festival, mainly because he was the only artist who managed to keep the crowd really excited throughout his entire performance.
After Buro Banton it was Triston Palmer who came on stage. Surprisingly the ever conscious singer opened in nyabhinghi style with the well known "Rivers Of Babylon", before he turned to the dancehall anthems that brought him worldwide fame. Amongst them "Entertainment", his breakthrough hit for artist/producer Jah Thomas, "Joker Smoker", "Give Me A Chance" and "Fussing & Fighting", to name a few. Triston Palmer treated the people to a solid performance, but all in all failed to make a very strong impression.
To see Tapper Zukie perform live on stage was probably one of the biggest surprises of this edition of the Reggae Geel festival, because in the past decade or so he seldom had done shows. Tapper Zukie was in real good shape and it was obvious he was enjoying himself on stage while bringing a strong selection of his biggest hits, including "M.P.L.A", "Rockers", "She Want A Phensic", "Oh Lord" and "Tappa Roots" across the "Real Rock" riddim. A truly satisfying and great performance from this militant toaster/producer.

However the strongest performance was done by Linval Thompson, who treated the people to great tunes like "Mr. Bossman", "Six Babylon", "Jah Jah Dreader Than Dread" and "Don't You Cut Off Your Dreadlocks". His set benefitted from his sublime vocal delivery and the extended dubwise versions of his songs.

Then all veteran artists came on stage to take part in the last 'medley' song, which included Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" sung by Triston Palmer.
After midnight it was time for the eagerly awaited vocal group The Congos to take the stage. Primarily known for one record, the 1977 released "Heart of the Congos", they always have had some kind of magical appeal for roots fans. After the Congos' backing band had started to play Roydell Johnson a.k.a. Congo Ashanti Roy, Watty Burnett and Kenroy Fiffe, took their place on stage and produced heavenly sounding vocals before they were joined by Cedric Myton. Despite some problems with the sound on Myton's microphone and monitor, they surely gave the fans what they wanted to hear namely quite a few songs from the "Heart of the Congos" album including "La La Bam Bam", "Sodom and Gomorrow", "Congoman", "Children Crying" and "Fisherman". Besides that they also did tunes from "Cock Mouth Kill Cock" and their forthcoming album.
Before we left the festival grounds we visited the "Bounce" tent, where a sound system played tunes like Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" and Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop". The crowd, consisting of young people, reacted with great approval, singing along with and dancing to tunes that were released at a time they weren't born yet. This scene fully illustrated what this festival day was all about. All in all this year's edition of Reggae Geel was great, providing its visitors memories for days.
Text : Mr. T   Photos & Videos : Teacher