Reggae fans came from near and far to partake in the 32nd edition of the annual Reggae Geel festival in Geel, Belgium, which took off at 6pm on Friday 6th August and ended at 4am on Saturday 7th August. Drawing huge crowds (16,000 people on Friday and 28,000 on Saturday) it's obvious that the festival is still alive and kicking after all those years. Apart from its ever present unique feel and vibe, there's a wide range of reggae flavors to enjoy at the festival grounds during almost 26 hours of musical pleasure. From modern roots, vintage reggae, hardcore dancehall, UK steppers, ska, rock steady and heavyweight dub, Reggae Geel showcased them all. It's actually the result of pioneering the art of a reggae festival in the past decade and proves that the people of Funky Fun Productions have succeeded in their endeavors to reflect the true spirit and power of reggae music.
The Friday night lineup in the Bounce Dancehall tent included veteran Louie Culture and new dancehall stars Busy Signal and Mavado, with reportedly Busy Signal being in very good shape, and a hyped Mavado delivering a extremely disappointing performance. Backed by a sound, Busy Signal brought the enthousiastic reacting crowd a selection of his greatest tunes including "Badman Place", "Pon Di Edge", "Hustlin'", "Night Shift", "Step Out", "Unknown Number" and "Nah Go Ah Jail Again". In the 18inch corner Fatman International, the veteran sound from London, presented a wicked selection of all-time classics from Barry Brown, Johnny Clarke and the Wailing Souls to name only three.
The Saturday programme featured many renown reggae veterans as well as a few young lions. The first artist to take the main stage was Black Prophet, winner of the Benelux final of the European Reggae Contest 2010, who was followed by Flemish singer Flip Kowlier and the very talented Pura Vida, truly a name to watch for. Haven't seen any of the aforementioned artists perform, but we were in time to catch a large part of the Inna De Yard set. Inna De Yard All Stars, an incredible outfit consisting of true reggae legends Cedric Myton of The Congos, Kiddus I of "Rockers" fame, reggae's most sough after lead guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith and Clinton Fearon, former member of The Gladiators, along with Muctar Wurie (piano and melodica), Alfonso Craig (lead percussion) and young up-and-coming talents such as Derajah aka Jah Youth, Matthew McAnuff and Kuff McAnuff (drums), delivered slow, rhythmical roots music of the highest order in an acoustic setting. Although it seemed a bit risky to let them perform at a open air festival, they managed to create a reggae vibe that is seldom heard these days. All in all a wonderful set with the singers and their lyrics being able to take centre stage. Highlights were Kiddus I's "Jah Power Jah Glory" and "Graduation In Zion", Clinton Fearon's "One More River" and "Chatty Mouth", Matthew McAnuff's "Be Careful" and Cedric Myton's tribute to his untimely passed friend Prince Lincoln, "Humanity". Towards the end of their set the first rain shower of the night arrived, but it must have been tears of joy from reggae heaven.
Next up was Lutan Fyah, one of the most anticipated modern roots artist who has delivered quite a few great recordings in recent years. Backed by the decent playing German backing band Next Generation Family he treated the at times vociferous audience to a tight and energetic set, which surprisingly started off with Everton Blender's "Lift Up Your Head". Besides that the setlist included songs such as "Blood Stain", "Nah Talk", "Africa", "Rasta Still Deh Bout", "Mightier Than Them", "Informer", "Watch Over Me", "What A Woe" and "Jail", which documents his wrongful arrest, along with his subsequent exoneration in a Jamaican court.
64-year old Frederick "Toots" Hibbert along with Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias and Raleigh Gordon formed the original Maytals in the early 60s when ska was hot. The Maytals, one of the first artists to use the word reggae in 1968's "Do The Reggay", can be regarded as one of the key figures in reggae history. Like Bob Marley, Toots & The Maytals helped Jamaican music become an international sensation with songs like "Pressure Drop", "54-46 That's My Number", Monkey Man" and "Reggae Got Soul". Toots and the 2010 version of the Maytals took the stage at about 8.30pm, putting on an energetic and well received performance, which for obvious reasons can't be qualified as a typical reggae show. The five-piece band, joined occasionally by Toots on guitar, along with two female background vocalists was solid throughout. The setlist featured a few new tunes, but a large portion of his performance consisted of classics such as "Bam Bam", Funky Reggae", "Monkey Man", "Reggae Got Soul", "Country Roads, Take Me Home", "Pressure Drop", "Never Grow Old", "Pomp And Pride", "Time Tough" and of course his signature tune "54-46 That's My Number". And the crowd?! They sang along!!
Tarrus Riley, son of living legend Jimmy Riley, follows in the footsteps of his father. The sweet tenor has been hailed as the freshest, most exciting singer since Luciano and the late Garnett Silk and without any doubt he's one of the most promising of the new generation of Jamaican roots reggae singers. This said it was obvious that many people in the crowd were eagerly looking forward to his performance. The strong playing Black Soil band, led by the experienced sax player Dean Fraser, kicked off with instrumental versions of Pablo Moses' "A Song" and Ras Michael's "None A Jah Jah Children", after which three backing vocalists entered the stage followed by Tarrus Riley himself who started with "Lion Paw". From there the ladies singer rocked the crowd as he performed big tune after big tune including "Getty Getty No Wantee" across the "Changes" riddim, "One Two Order", "Start A New" over the "Nylon" riddim, the smash hit "She's Royal", "Far Away", the Michael Jackson cover "Human Nature", "Back Biter", "Love's Contagious" on Bob Marley's "Coming In From The Cold" riddim, "Good Girl Gone Bad", and "Africa Awaits". "Stay With You" featured an interlude in which the back up singers Althea, Sherita, and Chris blessed the audience with brief solos, fully showcasing their great voices, while Dean Fraser was also given the opportunity to excel on his saxophone. Tarrus Riley strong stage presence and the fact that he performed his songs in a very convincing way made that he fully lived up to expectations. Without any doubt one of the highlights of the festival!
Israel Vibration needs no introduction to any reggae fan familiar with the history of roots reggae. Flanked by some of the genre's finest session players of the time, in the late '70s the reggae vocal trio Israel Vibration recorded a handful of great roots albums dedicated mostly to their Rastafarian faith. A shake-up in 1997 cut Israel Vibration down to a duo, as founding member Apple left for a modest solo career. Since then Skelly and Wiss have continued to perform and record deeply rooted reggae sounds. Backed by the remarkably tight playing Roots Radics band featuring the legendary bass player Errol "Flabba" Holt, Israel Vibration put together a set which gave an idea of what reggae should truly be about. Although their setlist contained mainly songs from yesteryear, it were not only the older festival-goers that reacted with much approval when the duo performed reggae anthems such as "Ball Of Fire", "The Same Song", "Cool And Calm", "Racial Discrimination", "Licks And Kicks" and "Never Gonna Hurt Me Again". They rounded off their set with a nice portion of ska. Israel Vibration always inspires and hardly ever disappoints, which was once again shown by their decent performance.
A respected elder statesmen of the Jamaican music scene, the 63-year old Bunny Wailer aka Jah B, the only surviving member of the original Wailers, is widely regarded as a musical legend and is considered one of the longtime standard bearers of reggae music. Beforehand a truly great headliner, but you never know whether he will live up to high expectations as he brought a few very disappointing shows in recent times, performing mainly Bob Marley songs. However this time the massive audience wasn't disappointed at all, because he simply delivered a great show taking the crowd through the highlights of his incredible back catalogue. Backed by the extremely competent Solomonic Reggaestra featuring a great horn section and the uplifting harmonies of the three backing vocalists, the indomitable Jah B expertly delivered classic works such as "Rastaman Chant", "Baldhead Jesus", "Armageddon", "Blackheart Man", "Battering Down Sentence", "Dreamland", "Ballroom Floor", "Rootsman Skanking", "Cool Runnings", "Ram Dancehall", "Don Dada", "Simmer Down", "Walk The Proud Land", "Rule This Land", "I Stand Predominate", and "Hypocrites". Of course there was also the inevitable tribute to Bob Marley with "No Woman No Cry", "Heathen", and "Three Little Birds", which were delivered with feeling. Bunny Wailer ended his memorable 2 hours lasting set in fine style with the appropriate "Keep On Moving".

Without any doubt this year's edition of Reggae Geel ranks among the very best in the history of the festival.
Text : Mr. T   Photos: Teacher