It was the first Friday and Saturday of August, and thus all reggae roads led to the small Belgian town Geel, where each year the well-respected and internationally acclaimed Reggae Geel festival welcomes thousands and thousands reggae-minded people from far and near. As usual the 34th edition offered something for everyone's musical taste: modern roots, vintage reggae, dub music, or hardcore dancehall. Of course, the music is the most important part of the festival, but throughout the years Reggae Geel has also drawn people to the event because of its truly unique feel and vibe, hardly witnessed anywhere else.
As always the festival kicked off on Friday night with performances in the Bounce Dancehall tent and 18" Corner, and for the very first time also in the Skaville Circus. Main artists to perform in the Bounce Dancehall were veteran deejays Peter Metro and Squiddly Ranks, Cham, and Shabba Ranks with band, while Skaville Circus was the place to be for a Tribute to Studio One with Carlton Livingstone, Winston Francis, Lone Ranger, Jim Brown, and Alpheus, backed by Paris-based Soul Stereo sound system. The 18" Corner hosted the heavyweight sounds of King Alpha, Jah Voice, and Word, Sound & Power.
Upon arrival at the festival grounds we were welcomed by the very loud booming sounds of the 18" Corner. However, it was Skaville Circus we headed for first as it was the place to be for any Studio One aficionado. The small tent (compared with the Bounce Dancehall) was already crowded and it was obvious that everyone was eagerly awaiting the three hours lasting Tribute To Studio One showcase. After the selector of Soul Stereo had spun some real nice oldies including well-received tunes by Bob Marley & The Wailers and Don Drommund, to name but a few, it was time for the first artist, Alpheus, to take the stage. This fine singer treated the crowd, which included a remarkable amount of young reggae fans, to a very nice selection of rocksteady and ska songs from his albums "Quality Time" and "From Creation" including "I Wish You Were Mine", "Secret Admirer", "Do The Ska" and "Far Away", to name only four. Great vocalist!
Because we also wanted to see performances of Peter Metro & Squiddly Ranks (first time in Europe) and Cham, we left Skaville Circus and went to the Bounce Dancehall tent, where the two deejays (and brothers), who had their finest moments in the '80s, were already performing in front of an enthusiastic reacting audience. Peter Metro, former resident deejay on the Metromedia sound system, released five albums in the '80s including "No Problem" and "The D.J. Don", while his younger brother was less successful and thus was only featured on compilation sets. Although they sometimes stuck too long to one riddim, which perhaps was caused by the seemingly lack of experience of the female selector to mix up these two deejays in real good style and fashion, they treated the massive in the Bounce Dancehall to some nice "old skool" dancehall vibes with tunes such "Bad Boy Skank", "Police Inna England" and "Gimme Jamaica" on the "Punanny" riddim. However, all in all their set didn't live up to our expectations, with Squiddly Ranks' performance being a rather disappointing affair.
Cham (formerly Baby Cham) is one of the topnotch dancehall artists of the now generation and he instantly showed why. Standing offstage next to Johnny Osbourne with a mic in his hand, he started singing Johnny's monster hit "Buddy Bye" before he made his entrance on stage. A fine tribute to one of reggae's living legends! He wasted no time and got right down to business, kicking off his set with his huge hit on the '85 Riddim' from 2006, "This a survival story, True ghetto story, This is my story, Real ghetto story, ...". The crowd went wild and played their part during the performance of the song as they interacted with "Rah, rah, rah, rah". From there he continued with a barrage of his top hits and kept the crowd electrified. For the collaboration hit tunes "Wine" and "Tun Up" he called his wife and special guest 'O' on stage.
Back at Skaville Circus we witnessed Winston Francis doing the last two songs of his set including an acapella version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", before Carlton Livingston came on stage to treat the crowd to more gems from the past. Later on we also enjoyed the performance of the entire group of artists (minus Winston Francis) with Jim Brown, Lone Ranger, Carlton Livingston and Alpheus, alternately riding the versions of timeless songs.
Meanwhile the headliner of the day, Shabba Ranks, had started his eagerly awaited performance in the fully packed, steamy Bounce Dancehall tent. Backed by a tight playing band, 'Mr. Loverman' had the crowd in a frenzy with his well-known hits and energetic stage performance. Along came hits like "X-Rated", "Wicked Inna Bed", "Love Punanny Bad", "Gyal U Good", "Just Reality", "Heart Of A Lion", and, of course, "Telephone Love", "Mr. Loverman" and "Twice My Age" with Aisha Davis doing the female part. For "Love Me Truly", "Holy Mount Zion" and "Pirates Anthem" singer Xanadu replaced Cocoa Tea, while he also did Maxi Priest's part in "Housecall". After Shabba Ranks' performance, a satisfied crowd could look forward to more niceness on the second day of the festival.
On Saturday the programme on the main stage took off with the winner of the Benelux Reggae Contest 2012, the very talented Sunrockers from Belgium. The band, whose debut cd will be released in September 2012 and can be recommended to any roots reggae fan, rounded off their festival tour in Belgium and the Netherlands, which was part of the prize package offered by the organisation of the Benelux Reggae Contest. And again this band made a very good impression. Next on stage was Tanya Stephens, who by now has so much experience that she knows how to get please a crowd, to be more precise her male fans. She delivered a solid performance, which ended with her international breakthrough hit "It's Pity".
Jamaican harmony trio The Mighty Diamonds, consisting of Donald "Tabby" Shaw, Fitzroy "Bunny" Simpson, and Lloyd "Judge" Ferguson, was the first of a group of veterans to come on stage. Backed by the Handcart Band from Marseille, France, they made a solid impression, bringing some of their greatest hits including "Party Time", "Right Time", "Have Mercy", "I Need A Roof", and "Africa". All these songs are classics and cherished by their loyal fans for many years. Before they ended their set with "Heads Of Government" and, of course, "Pass The Kutchie", they unexpectedly and thus surprisingly did "Tamarind Farm", a monster of a tune produced by Augustus "Gussie" Clarke in 1982.
The Mighty Diamonds went, the band stayed, and Pablo Moses made his entrance. The latter has released a number of records over several decades, but he' best known for his debut, 1975's "Revolutionary Dream", produced by Geoffrey Chung, which included "I Man A Grasshopper", engineered at The Black Ark by Lee "Scratch" Perry. His 1980 follow up, "A Song", was well received by his fans and music critics as was the single "Ready, Aim, Fire" off the "In The Future" album. No real surprises on the man's setlist as he came up with a predictable selection of truly greatt songs including "Dubbin' Is A Must", "Revolutionary Dream", "A Song", "Pave The Way", "I Man A Grasshopper", and "Ready, Aim, Fire".
Peter Metro and Squiddly Ranks
The band change brought renown Lloyd Parks & We The People on stage, the backing band for Bob Andy, Johnny Osbourne, and John Holt respectively. Back in the days bass player Lloyd Parks also recorded as a vocalist and scored hits with tunes such as "Slaving" and "Mafia", and it was a pleasent surprise the hear him perform the latter. Mention Bob Andy and the first thing that comes to the mind of most music connoisseurs and lovers of Jamaican music is "Too Experienced", "Unchained", "Feeling Soul", "Fire Burning", "My Time", "Life", "I've Got To Go Back Home", and the list goes on. And these aforementioned tunes were also the ones he performed in front of a steadily growing crowd. During the first three songs there were some problems with the sound, but although it was obvious that Bob Andy and the musicians were getting annoyed with the situation, they continued to do their thing in a professional way. For his last song, "I've Got To Go Back Home", he was joined by Winston Reedy, Winston Francis and Dennis Alcapone.
Then it was time for Johnny Osbourne, an artist whose appearance at Reggae Geel was long overdue. He was in real good shape, and probably inspired by the great vibes of this festival he gave the excited crowd his very best. Johnny Osbourne started and rounded off with dubplate style songs like "Rock It Tonight", "What A La La" (on the "Stalag" riddim), "Little Sound Boy" and "No Ice Cream Sound". Solid enjoyable songs, but not of the quality of the tunes that were performed in between. "Truths & Rights", "Jah Promise", "Folly Ranking", "No Ice Cream Love", "Lend Me Your Chopper", "Buddy Bye", "Yo Yo", and last but not least "Purify Your Heart", a real killer! Suprisingly he also performed the Eart Wind & Fire classic "Reasons"! Truly superbly performed and a real joy to hear these all-time classics delivered live and direct.
Next was crooner John Holt, who kept the classic reggae vibes flowing and also made a good impression. He started with his bonafide Studio One hit called "A Love I Can Feel" and furthermore his setlist contained well known songs such as "The Tide Is High" (from his days with The Paragons), "Sweetie Come Brush Me", "Stick By Me", "Stealing Stealing", "Tribal War", "Ali Baba", the covers "If I Was A Carpenter", "Let It Be", "Help Me Make It Trough The Night", and one of his biggest hits from the '80s, "Police In Helicopter". Perhaps some of the songs John Holt sang sounded too soft for young ears, but for older fans it was a real nice trip down memory lane.
After the change-over up-and-coming female artist Ikaya came on stage to deliver a few of her songs before Alborosie took over the proceedings. Italy's reggae icon, who already played at Reggae Geel in 2008, hardly ever fails to deliver a good show and knows what the people want to hear: well-known hit tunes and a few brand new tunes. That's exactly what the crowd was offered and thus we heard tunes such as "I rusalem", "No Cocaine", "Herbalist", "Kingston Town", "Police", and (after the "Theme of The Godfather" intro and surprisngly good Bel Canto singing of a Alborosie) "International Drama".
15 minutes later than planned (because of watching the Women's 100m sprint final at the Olympic Games in London backstage -- with Jamaican athletes Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown winning a gold and a bronze medal) it was showtime for Mr. Vegas. With his latest album, the dbl cd "Sweet Jamaica", he essays every style that has made Jamaica's popular music great and that was also what he did during his energetic en electrifying performance. Whether it was modern dancehall ("Hot Gal Today", "She's A Ho", "Tamale", "Heads High", "Pull Up", and his recent hit "Bruk It Down"), old skool dancehall ("Mus Come A Road"/"Prison Oval Rock"), modern roots reggae ("Alive And Well"), gospel reggae ("I Am Blessed") or ska ("Give Me A Light" on Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" and "Ruffer Times" on Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It If You Really Want"), he did it all. He got the crowd literally going when he gave instructions to go left, then right, then to the middle and jump, and also made the crowd sing Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" to encourage his friends Buju Banton and Busy Signal, who are currently incarcerated in the U.S. Hearing over 30,000 people sing this song gave us goosebumps.
This year's headliner was Tiken Jah Fakoly, a real big name in France and Africa. Although we were getting very tired and actually wanted to leave the festival grounds we decided to attend the beginning of his show to get a little impression of this artist. Both the band and artist made a decent impression, but because of Tiken Jah Fakoly singing in French it's hard to keep yourself involved when you don't understand his lyrics.
Until now we had Reggae Geel 2006 on top of our 'best ever Reggae Geel edition' list, but now -- even without, for obvious reasons, appearances of Linval Thompson and King Jammy -- this year's edition has rightly taken over the top position.

Best veteran performance : Johnny Osbourne
Best now generation performance : Mr. Vegas


Text : Mr. T   Photos: Teacher & Da Dreamer