In every way the 30th anniversary of Reggae Geel, the oldest Reggae festival of Europe, was a memorable edition of the annual festival that actually started as a reggae party in 1979 at a sports ground in Berkven, Geel, with Disco Brabo spinning Jamaican reggae. Not only did it surpass all previous editions regarding the crowd of people that attended the festival (30,000+), but it also brought such a wide variety of styles, artists and activities -- with for the very first time Dread Poetry (Clifton Joseph) and Reggae Circus Performance by Circus Rastalini -- that it truly served everyone's taste. There's so much to do and see at Reggae Geel that it's almost impossible to catch everything that's going on in these two days. You'll simply have to make a selection, otherwise you'll be totally burned out!

At Friday night the vibes in the Bounce Dancehall tent had to come from Black Scorpio with Echo Minott and Lord Sassafras and then (King) Stur Gav Hi-Fi with U Roy, Brigadier Jerry, Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales, while the '18 inch Corner' was the territory of the heavyweight sounds, to be played by Aba-Shanti-I and Iration Steppas. On Saturday the main stage was reserved for Rootman J & the Zionyouth Crew, Uman, Zion Train, Omar Perry, Bitty McLean, Alborosie & Shang Yeng Clan, Horace Andy with Dub Asante Band and Alpha Blondy & Solar System. Afterwards the Bounce Dancehall tent and '18 inch Corner' had performances by Buro Banton lgs One Love Hi Powa and the Mad Professor Dub Show respectively.

On this year's list of must-see acts we included Bitty McLean (he had to cancel his performance at Reggae Geel 2007 due to problems with his voice), who had made a serious impression in 2004 with his excellent creation of revival sounds over classic Treasure Isle riddims and then his matching efforts as result from his teaming up with Sly & Robbie. Furthermore the list contained the names of Alborosie, by many regarded as one of the most exciting newcomers on the modern roots scene, veteran Horace Andy, and African reggae superstar Alpha Blondy. However on the top of the list, written in bold capital letters, stood Stur-Gav Hi-Fi, one of the most legendary sound systems from Jamaica.
Deejay originator U Roy is the founder and owner of Stur-Gav (also called Sterograph), which became one of the sound systems that played a pivotal role in the rise of Dancehall in the 1980s. The emphasis on the deejay as a live performing artist and development of the dance as a central part of the way the music was understood and articulated itself were primary factors in this change. In its first incarnation, Stur-Gav was dominated by Ranking Joe on the microphone and selector Jah Screw at the turntable. With Ranking Joe on the microphone, Stur-Gav was one of the biggest sounds of the late 1970s. However the sound was destroyed in one of the many incidents of politically-motivated violence associated with the election in 1980. U Roy rebuilt the sound in 1981, and found new disciples to take Stur-Gav forward into the new decade. The rejuvenated sound featured Josey Wales and Charlie Chaplin as lead deejays, occasionally accompanied by other performers, such as Brigadier Jerry, U Brown, and Jah Grundy to name a few. The late Inspector Willie served as selector and he played his selections almost continually, with the vocal side often allowed to run for nearly its whole length instead of being hauled up after fifteen seconds. When the record was flipped and the performers let loose over the version side, the music was again continuous, as the artists allowed the riddim to run without feeling the need to "wheel up" the music and lecture the crowd. This made Stur-Gav a unique and much respected sound... So a good enough reason to steer for Geel on a warm Friday night.
When we arrived in the Bounce Dancehall tent, producer, sound system owner, MC and selector Big Jack Scorpio together with Echo Minott and Lord Sassafras were working hard to warm up the predominantly young crowd for the eagerly awaited King Stur-Gav. They got some nice response from the people, but in the end they failed to get them really excited. When the last bunch of riddims bounced off the speakers, including "Entertainment" and the killer "M-16" (originally The Uniques' "Secretly" from 1968), it was obvious Lord Sassafras and certainly Echo Minott -- who inexplicably went into pop songs like "Green Green Grass Of Home" and "Ebony & Ivory" -- had run out of lyrics. Jack Scorpio then ended the set with a real good classic tune from Marcia Griffiths.

After the crowd was informed that the "Principal" Charlie Chaplin wouldn't appear due to circumstances beyond his control, it was time to introduce Stur-Gav and its deejays... the originator U Roy, Josey Wales and Brigadier Jerry... The selector of Stur-Gav opened the set with a wicked Luciano dubplate on the "Drum Song", before U Roy took the stage. When the veteran deejay started toasting over the riddim, the crowd went wild! This was what they'd been waiting for. U Roy did a few songs and then also Josey Wales, the "Colonel", came on stage taking time to introduce himself to the crowd by delivering fine efforts across two classic rub-a-dub riddims including "Throw Me Corn" (getting the crowd sing along... "Oh Oh Oh Oh, Hey Hey Oooh, Rub a dubba dubba dubba"), before Brigadier Jerry joined his fellow deejays.

These three deejay veterans sure know how to get a session going. The wildly enthusiastic crowd roared out their approval when U Roy, Josie Wales and Brigadier Jerry took their turns, spinning lyric after lyric over killer riddims of the early dancehall era like "Answer", "Real Rock", "Queen Majesty", "Full Up", "Solomon", "Shank I Shek", and "Heavenless". Although U Roy and Brigadier Jerry were in real fine form, it was obvious that Josey Wales was the DJ boss. With his stage presence he added a bit of flavour to this Stur-Gav dance. All in all a great session and undoubtedly one of the highlights of Reggae Geel 2008. Wheeeeeel... and come again!!!
The first artist to check on Saturday was Bitty McLean, so called because of his small stature at birth. Just before the singer took the stage showers of blessing (as Bitty called it) came pouring down, but that didn't prevent the crowd from attending his performance. Backed by the real tight playing Homegrown Band Home we were treated to great Rocksteady riddims from the 1960s, originally coming from Treasure Isle and Studio One. Bitty McLean fully showed that he's blessed with an astonishing voice and besides that he can fit any lyrics and any melody over just about any riddim so perfect and beautiful that it was a joy to hear him perform songs such as "Walk Away From Love", "Baby Tonight", "I've Got Love", "Cruisin'", and the Ska tune "Only You". Despite the rain, making him rounding off his set after about 40 minutes as he told us afterwards, Bitty McLean's performance was truly worthwhile attending.

Next on stage came Alborosie & Sheng Yeng Clan, with one of the two female backing vocalists, Aisha (not the UK roots daughter!), given room to show her vocal skills at the beginning of the set. Sicily born Alborosie, backed by a real good Jamaican band, delivered a convincing and satisfying performance. He treated the growing crowd to songs such as "Waan The Herb", "Police", "Kingston Town", "Rastafari Anthem", and of course his signature tune "Herbalist", all received with nuff approval.
While Alborosie still has to prove that he's a top artist and a mainstay in reggae music, Studio One veteran Horace "Sleepy" Andy has achieved this status already quite a while ago. Horace Andy was born Horace Hinds, 19 February 1951 in Kingston, Jamaica, is a legendary roots reggae singer, notable for such tracks as "Government Land", "You Are My Angel", "Skylarking" and a version of "Ain't No Sunshine". The singer made his earliest recordings in the late 1960s, at Coxsone Dodd's Studio One. Known for his distinctive falsetto vocal style, he sang on many classic productions for reggae producers, including Phil Pratt, King Tubby, Bullwackie, Bunny 'Striker' Lee and Prince Jammy. He found a new generation of fans in the 1990s, thanks to his work with trip hop pioneers Massive Attack, and he continues to record new music and still tours around the world.

Accompanied by the excellent Dub Asante Band with Henry "Buttons" Tenue being great on trombone, 57 years old Horace Andy -- known for his falsetto vocals -- brought the crowd scorchers from the past and also a few songs from his latest self-produced album "On The Road". Tunes like "Money Money", "Zion Gate", "Skylarking", "Man Next Door", "Live In The City aka Spying Glass", "Fever", and "You Are My Angel", not only brought back memories but were also truly great to hear. It was striking to see so many young people gathered in front of the stage, all of them supporting an artist who represents the older generation of Reggae stars. His second appearance at Reggae Geel (his first being in 1992 with The Fasimbas as backing band) was another highlight of this year's edition.
At the time Alpha Blondy and his backing band, The Solar System, appeared on stage the festival ground was fully crowded. Thus the Rasta of Cocody, who became the first African Reggae star, proved to be a crowd-drawer. Being the substitute of the earlier announced headliner Sizzla, it was the first time a non-Jamaican artist rounded off the main programme. But seemingly no one cared when Blondy treated his fans and reggae lovers alike to an energetic, crowd-pleasing performance. His supercharged set, which included "Jerusalem", "Masada", "Cocody Rock" and of course also songs from his latest cd "Jah Victory", seduced the crowd and caused sheer excitement. During the only encore given by an artist on the main stage, Alpha Blondy performed his version of Pink Floyd's melancholy "Wish You Were Here" and the international hit tune "Opération Coup De Poing".

Those who still had the energy to catch a vibe, headed towards the 18" Corner to experience the Mad Professor Dub Show or found their way to the Bounce Dancehall tent for a portion Old Skool Dancehall vibes served by Burro Banton. Others went to the camping-site or returned home with a satisfied feeling, knowing for sure they'll be present at the next edition of this truly unique annual Reggae event.

Click pics to view video impressions of two days Reggae Geel (courtesy of Sharparazzi).

Reggae Geel - Friday Reggae Geel - Saturday
Text : Mr. T   Photos: Teacher