When talking to artistic director of Reggae Geel Rigo Verwimp we said "one gets what one deserves!", which referred to the weather conditions -- sunny and warm, after the month of July had brought this part of the world mostly autumn-like weather. It's obvious the weather helps when your dealing with an open air festival, but it's not the only thing that made this year's edition (the 29th!!) of Reggae Geel another enjoyable event in the festival's history. It's also the mixture of young and old reggae fans with different cultural backgrounds, the annual meeting of friends, the variety of styles in reggae music that can be heard and, last but not least, the truly unique vibes experienced in every aspect of the festival, that makes you feel irie.
Since Reggae Geel has moved to new grounds in 2004 the festival has gone through some changes, which more and more turn out to be real improvements. Besides the main programme on Saturday, the Bounce Dancehall tent and the reggae market, there's also the, by now, acclaimed '18 inch Corner', a unique location where top Sounds from the UK and Europe present heavyweight deep roots sounds on a custom built Sound System, Jamaican cinema, One Love Cafee, Nyahbinghi workshops and (this year for the first time) 'Free Speech! Reggae Debates' and 'Catch A Mic', a contest for new reggae talent.
On the musical side of things Rigo Verwimp clearly aims at presenting a mixture of veterans and modern roots artists. Not a real surprise when you take a look at the posters of the past few years. Names like e.g. Johnny Osbourne, John Holt, Bob Andy, Natural Black and Gyptian are on his wish list, but if he will succeed in getting them on one of the forthcoming editions of Reggae Geel depends on their availability, visa matters and, of course, financial aspects.
This year's main stage featured Belgium's own Mighty Pirates, Derrick Morgan with Rude Rich & The High Notes, Stitchie, Prince Malachi, Macka B, Yellowman, Perfect and Junior Kelly, while the Bounce Dancehall tent was the place to be for those who wanted to catch a performance of the originators of Dancehall: Al Campbell (who replaced Brigadier Jerry), Ranking Joe and Lone Ranger. Fans of Steppers and heavyweight roots and dub outings were well served in the '18 inch Corner' where Forward Ever, Vibronics, Abassi Hi Power, Manasseh and Disciples did their best to mash up the place.

When we arrived Stitchie had just finished his performance (and also Mighty Pirates and Derrick Morgan had done their sets already). We caught him backstage where we were able to take some photos of this very friendly and amaible artist. After this he gave us his new cd "Real Life Story" and explained the concept behind the, indeed, notable sleeve. Then it was time to go and see Prince Malachi (replacing Bitty McLean who had to cancel due to problems with his voice). Backed by a very tight playing Dub Asante Band featuring ex-Robotik drummer Drumtan, Rasites guitarist Kashta Menelik Tafari and the great Henry "Buttons" Tenue a.k.a. Matic Horns on trombone, Prince Malachi delivered a solid roots set. He opened with "Love Jah" and then treated the growing crowd in front of the main stage to such fine songs like "Tek Me Home", "Give Praises", "So Far Away", "My Life", "Runaway Slave", "Rain Or Shine", "Jah Light", "Gideon Trod", "Go Ur Way" and "Life Cycle". His version of Bob Marley's "Africa Unite" was well done and welcomed with nuff approval. Afterwards we talked to Henry "Buttons" and Kashta Menelik Tafari, who both announced the release of an album. In case of "Buttons" it's the album "Musical Storm Vol. 1", which is produced, recorded and mixed by Gussie and will be released on the Sip A Cup label. The sophomore Rasites set, titled "Sex, Violence And Drugs", will have some 16 brand new tracks along with bonus material.
Next on stage was Macka B, the UK toaster who is well known for his social commentary and conscious lyrics, often delivered in a witty way. From the very first tune he dropped it was obvious that Macka B was one of the people's favourite artists to appear on the main stage. Throughout his one hour lasting performance he got great response from the crowd and succeeded to cause some real excitement. Macka B didn't come up with any surprising tune and most of the intros he did before he started a song are well known to most of his long-time fans, but probably you can't expect refreshing and innovative improvements anymore from this very experienced live performer. Thus tried and trusted crowd pleasers like "Sex Machine", "Ganja Ladies", "Rasta Rise Again", "Step Up" and "Allez The Reggae Boys" were included on his setlist.
Back in the eighties he was Jamaica's first dancehall superstar, but that was then. Now there's a new generation that rules the dancehall and King Yellowman is just an icon from the past. However that doesn't imply he doesn't go on tour anymore. He still tours on a regular basis with his Sagitarius Band and occasionally he releases an album with new material. On stage he showed that he's still an energetic performer, but unfortunately he isn't capable of delivering a decent vocal performance. Luckily he benefitted from the musical backing of the great and experienced Sagitarius Band, otherwise it would have become a embarrassing moment to see this former King perform in a way that doesn't live up to his status. Of course Yellowman included well known tunes from his extensive catalogue like e.g. "Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt", "Operation Radication", "One Yellowman", "Mad Over Me", I'm Getting Married", and "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng" on his setlist, but why he did the Folkes Brothers' "Oh Carolina", Toots & The Maytals' "54-46 That's My Number", Johnny Osbourne & The Sensations' "Come Back Darling", Sugar Minott's "Oh Mr D.C." and several other covers is a complete mystery.

One of the rising reggae dancehall stars is St Ann-based Perfect, who had a huge hit in 2004 with "Handcart Boy", a cheery ballad about a girl who falls in love with a handcart boy. Perfect was billed with Junior Kelly, and in his almost 45 minutes lasting performance he proved to be the perfect warm-up for the established artist. Without doubt Perfect is a very talented artist. Backed by Junior Kelly's band he kicked off very powerful and made a good impression in the first part of his performance, but then he more and more started shouting his lyrics and lost track. Songs like "Amerimaka", "Rasta Rebel" and, of course, "Handcart Boy", were well received by an enthousiastic reacting crowd. Junior Kelly kept the vibes flowing with a well balanced and inspired performance, at least in the half hour that we attended his performance. He (and the Groove band) didn't disappoint and impressed with tunes like "Blaze", "Receive" and "Boom Draw", and one could only conclude that it was a justified choice to let Junior Kelly round off the programme of the main stage.
As already pointed out we only attended the first half hour of Junior Kelly's performance, because we didn't want to miss Lone Ranger alongside Paris based Soul Stereo who were scheduled to perform in the Bounce Dancehall tent. Earlier in the evening we had a little chat with Lone Ranger and his first producer Chester Synmoie of the Thrillseekers label (also Lone Ranger's longtime friend and manager). Lone Ranger told us he made his debut as a recording artist for Chester. At that time he wasn't a real deejay, but more of a singer. He actually started deejaying when Chester introduced him to Coxsone Dodd for whom he recorded his first Studio One album 'On The Other Side Of Dub'. "This release was an experiment", explained Chester, "Five Lone Ranger songs, and the dub versions on the back. That was the first time that's been done. We did it that way so it also could be used in the dance hall. And it worked! It became an instant classic, and never stopped selling since then. You know Lone Ranger recorded two more albums for Coxsone Dodd? 'Badda Dan Dem' and 'Top Of The Class'." When talking about the "Barnabas Collins" album Chester adds that it was actually produced for Thrillseekers, but then they gave it to Alvin Ranglin to release it on his "GG" label. Regarding the recent re-issues of "Rosemarie Meet DJ Daddy" on Techniques and "On The Other Side Of Dub" on Heartbeat, Lone Ranger states that it's good to have them available again and that he also gets paid for these releases, because he has taken care of business. He's less satisfied with Greensleeves re-releasing his self-produced album "Hi-Yo, Silver, Away!". Firstly he would have added more and other bonus tracks, and secondly Greensleeves doesn't have the legal rights to re-release it and therefore he will have to contact his laywer. At the end he says he has a surprise act for his audience and introduces his 27 year old daughter (a model, dancer and singer living in Paris, France) who is sitting opposite to us.

In a hot and crowded Bounce tent the MC and Selector of Soul Stereo entertained the audience with a nice selection of tunes, including pop-reggae golden oldies such as Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop" and Desmond Dekker's "007 (Shanty Town)". The crowd of predominantly young people was obviously waiting for Lone Ranger to appear and thus one of the originators of Dancehall was given a warm welcome when he took the stage. It was Rub-A-Dub time with Lone Ranger being in good shape, delivering his lyrics over well known vintage riddims (mostly Studio One classics) in his inimitable bimming and ribbiting mode. Along came all-time favourites like "Automatic" ("Take A Ride" aka "Truths And Rights" riddim), "You Too Greedy" ("Real Rock" riddim), "Badda Dan Dem" ("Shank I Sheck" riddim) and the Channel One hit "M-16" (across The Uniques' "Secretly" riddim). Lone Ranger came back for an encore and rounded off with a combination with his daughter performed in English and French language.
From a musical point of view this edition didn't have that many highpoints, but who cares when the vibes are right. Already longing for next year's Reggae Geel, where any reggae fan who has never attended the festival should go to in order to join the regular visitors to experience what it is to 'catch a vibe'. And it's the 30th edition so who knows what that will bring. Pretty sure the organizers will treat us to a 'special' programme! So mark the following dates on your calendar... Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd August 2008. Be there!!
Text : Mr. T   Photos & Videos : Teacher