Once a year, on the first Friday and Saturday of August, the small Belgian town Geel hosts a by now well-respected and internationally acclaimed reggae festival. Whether your musical preference runs more to modern roots, vintage reggae, dub music, or hardcore dancehall, the annual Reggae Geel always has a little bit of something for everybody. Over the past 33 years, Reggae Geel has grown to become a festival with a truly unique feel and vibe, hardly witnessed anywhere else. But the main attraction, of course, is the music. As always the people behind Reggae Geel manage to come up with a line-up of artists who not only represent the various forms of reggae music, but are also able to reflect the true spirit and power of it.
As usual, the festival kicked off on Friday night with performances in the Bounce Dancehall tent and 18" Corner. Main artists to perform in the Bounce Dancehall were rising stars Gappy Ranks and Romain Virgo (backed by the Special Delivery Band), General Degree, Assassin aka Agent Sasco, and Tony Matterhorn, while the 18" Corner had the heavyweight sounds of The Mighty Jah Observer, Blackboard Jungle with Jah Marnyah, Ranking Joe and Prince Jazzbo, and the mighty Jah Shaka.
Fresh from performing in Toronto, Canada, Gappy Ranks kicked off his festival weekend tour at Reggae Geel. Within a relatively short period of time, this artist of Jamaican and Dominican origin has managed to become one of the most anticipated young artists in Europe, the US, Japan and even Australia. His debut album, the Peckings produced "Put The Stereo On", was all about exploring the music that was popular during the 60s and 70s in Jamaica and the UK, while the sophomore "Thanks & Praise" combined modern roots with pure dancehall vibes. Both showed he's a versatile artist and to see him perform with a band was something to look for. The talented artist gave an energetic show, bringing the massive in the very hot and steaming Bounce Dancehall tent a selection of well-know tunes including "Put The Stereo On", "Pumpkin Belly", "Stinking Rich", "Thanks & Praise", "Longtime", and his breakthrough hit "Heaven In Her Eyes". All in all a satisfying, albeit not utterly convincing performance as could be experienced by the sometimes half-hearted response from the audience.
Romain Virgo was the next artist to appear on stage. The winner of Jamaica's talent competition Digicel Rising Stars in 2007 is a very talented young singer with already several hits and an excellent debut album under his belt. He can reach far if only he sticks to the right producers and avoids to record lacklustre tunes. He's a real ladies singer and that was shown by the girls that had taken their place in front of the stage. The young singer has a good stage presence and seemed totally at ease. Greeted with nuff approval from the massive he did an appealing showcase of his hits including "Live My Life", "Wanna Go Home", "Mi Caan Sleep", "Love Doctor", "Rich In Love", and "Ghetto". All in all a very enjoyable performance from an artist with great potential.
During the change-over Dutch sound Herb-A-Lize It spun a nice selection of tunes, warming up the audience for the dancehall part of the night, which started off with almost veteran General Degree. His appearing on stage led to an instantly enthousiastic reacting crowd and he did not let them down giving them tunes like "Pull Up", "Bag A Things", "Cartoon Character", "Yeah Man", "Traffic Blocking", "Inna", "It No Matter", and "Immaculate". Next up was current dancehall star Assassin aka Agent Sasco, whose devastating performance tore up the place. In a dazzling tempo he entertained to crowd with tunes such as "Don't Go", "Step Pon Dem", "Ruffest & Tuffest", "Don't Sell Out", "Ediot Ting Dat", "Bang Bang Girl", "Anywhere We Go", and "No Boring Gal". We then left the Bounce Dancehall and headed for the 18" Corner, but the packed area in combination with the heavyweight basslines blazing you literally away, made us decide to go home.
On Saturday the programme on the main stage took off with the winner of the European Reggae Contest 2011, the German band Dub la Pub, which was followed by the Belgian Ska band Moon Invaders and Iqulah & The Giddeon Family. It was rasta singer Chezidek, whose performance we attended first. Backed by the Dub Akom Band from France he delivered some of his best known songs including "Call Pon Dem", "Far I", "Cyaan Cut Me Ganja Down", "Bun Di Ganja" and "Dem A Fight". Chezidek doesn't have the strongest voice of the current generation of cultural singers, which seemingly makes it hard to deliver a consistent live peformance all the way, as could be witnessed during his set. Some tunes were convincingly delivered and led to good reactions from the crowd, while there were also a few that failed to make a good impression.
And with Etana, also backed by the Dub Akom Band, came the rain! As a shining star the 'Strong One' graced the stage and fully showcased why she is one of the best female singers of her times. With the support of 2 backing vocalists, she impressed the crowd with her powerful voice, delivering tunes such as "I Am Not Afraid", "Roots", "Free", "August Town", Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come", and Bob Marley's "Kaya", "Rastaman Chant", and "Is This Love". Certainly a major talent, but why doing Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley songs when you have so many good tunes of your own?! At the end she was joined by Chezidek and together they performed "Blessing" (originally a duet with Alborosie).
And the rain still poured down when Luciano and the Irie Vibrations Band from Austria took the stage. After the musical intro of the band, Luciano started off with "Give Praise", which was followed by "Messenger" and other roots anthems like "Who Could It Be". "Never Give Up My Pride", "Stay Away", "This One Is For The Leaders", "Rub-A-Dub Market", and an acoustic version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", which made the entire crowd sing along. Luciano is one of those artists who hardly ever fails to impress when performing live on stage and this performance was no exception. The fact that he was backed by the tight playing Irie Vibrations Band might have caused that he chose to take the safe road by mainly treating the massive to quite a number of his best known hits, while some would have loved to hear more newer songs.
Without any doubt Peetah and Gramps Morgan were the leading forces of the internationally renowned reggae band, Morgan Heritage. Until now it still isn't fully clear whether the band has definitely split up since several members of the group have decided to do solo projects after the release of the 2008 released "Mission In Progress" album, but on certain occassions, like in this case Reggae Geel, the two brothers are willing to share the stage. We didn't know what to expect, but soon it was clear that Peetah as well as Gramps were going to do their own thing, with probably together performing a few tunes from their Morgan Heritage days. Peetah Morgan was the first to come on stage and delivered songs such as "I'm In Love", "Di Government", "Be Mindful", and "Save The World" in his well-known style. Overall it was a real nice, albeit not very exciting performance. Almost the same can be said about Gramps Morgan's performance. Of course, he did his hits "Come Back To Bed", "Time", "All Together", and "The Almighty" on the "Saudi Arabia" riddim, showing that he can also do some deejaying. He also performed "Psalm 23", doing Buju Banton's part himself thus bigging up the artist who is currently hold in prison in the US. During "Wash The Tears", Gramps was joined on stage by his son Jemere and brother Peetah. And, as already expected, Peetah also did a few Morgan Heritage tunes including "Liberation", "Nothing To Smile About" and "Don't Haffi Dread", with Gramps doing the backing vocals backstage as well as on stage.
Then the rain-soaked crowd was ready for dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, who exploded onto the UK scene in 1978 with the dark, angry masterpiece, "Dread, Beat & Blood". Because LKJ only occassionally performs, his appearance at Reggae Geel was eagerly awaited by many. The incredible Dennis Bovell Dub Band (including a violist) provided the perfect riddims for classic songs such as "Dread, Beat & Blood", "Di Eagle An' Di Bear", "All We Doing Is Defending", "Want Fi Go Rave", the moving "Sonny's Lettah", "Reggae Fi Peach", "Fite Dem Back", and "Forces Of Victory".
Meanwhile Saxon Sound was playing in the Bounce Dancehall tent with Papa Levi on the mic. It's nice to hear him do his thing on various riddims, but after a few tunes it got somewhat boring, which was also expressed by the rather half-hearted reactions he received from the massive. When Saxon started to throw in dubplate specials from Dennis Brown and Garnet Silk a.o., they managed to cause some enthousiastic reactions. Next was Don Corleon, the producer acting as selector and backup vocalist for Protoje. The latter is a talented singer with a distinctive voice, who brought tunes such as "Roll", "Dread", and "Arguments", from his debut album "Seven Year Itch". Also Pressure Buss Pipe was waiting to take the mic, but we didn't wait for him to come on stage as we wanted to be in time for Big Youth's performance on the main stage.
Big Youth aka Jah Youth arrived on the Jamaican music scene in the wake of U-Roy, Dennis Alcapone, and I-Roy. After the release of his first single "Movie Man" in 1972, he established himself as one of the most prominent deejays throughout the 1970s. Backed by The Upsetters (?!) and mixed by Mad Professor, he treated the huge crowd to a remarkable performance bringing them anthems such as "Satta", "All Nations Bow", "Every Nigger Is A Star", "Marcus Garvey", "Curly Locks", and "Screaming Target", to name only six. Big Youth didn't stay close to the lyrics we know, but as a true foundation deejay he now and then threw in lyrics that came to his mind. Although the crowd didn't get in a frenzy, it was a worthy closer of this year's edition of Reggae Geel.

No reports about the 18" Corner, nor the Skaville Circus or the Soundsystem shows in the Bounce Dancehall tent. There's simply so much going on at the Reggae Geel festival, that it is impossible to cover it all. But be assured... we will be back next year!
Text : Mr. T   Photos: Teacher