Like every year, lots of reggae fans from Belgium and abroad find their way to the Reggae Geel festival, which always takes plays on the first Friday and Saturday of August. Despite a few changes to the layout of the festival grounds (including the enlargement of the area) and - for the very first time - having also scheduled performances on all stages on the Friday evening, the 35th edition of the festival managed to maintain its truly unique feel and vibe throughout. As usual the programme covered the broad spectrum of genres within Reggae music, thus offering something for every festival-goer.
With five stages (Main Stage, 18" Corner, Bounce Dancehall, Skaville Circus, and The Yard), it's almost impossible to catch everything this really big festival has to offer. You simply have to make choices, as you cannot be in two places at once. And so we did... It implied that we didn't see acts such as Bounty Killer, King Jammy, Capleton, Addis Pablo, Exco Levi, Gyptian, and Jah 9, to name only seven. However, most of what we did see is featured in this report.
First act to appear on the Main Stage on a sizzling hot Friday evening, was the very talented and much promising Jamaican roots reggae band Pentateuch. The latter, consisting of five youngsters who were all students at the Edna Manley College of the Performing Artists, attracted notable attention with their 2012 released debut album "Genesis". It eventually led to the band's very first trip to Europe where they did their first show at one of the continent's oldest and biggest reggae festivals. Pentateuch proved to be a very tight playing band, fronted by a lead singer with a good stage presence and appealing voice. The audience in front of the stage clearly enjoyed the band's Roots Reggae sound with songs such as "Black Face" and the Black Uhuru-esque "Kingston" being the highlights of their set. All in all Pentateuch fully lived up to expectations, which were raised high due to their great debut album.
The early cancellation of Ken Boothe made that Barrington Levy was engaged to replace him, but he cancelled at the last minute (it was said he missed his plane?!). Therefore the organisation was forced to make some changes, which included putting Iba Mahr (originally scheduled for a PA show in the Bounce Dancehall) with the acclaimed Dubtonic Kru as backing band on the Main Stage. Although not a well known name in Europe yet, the young vocalist did a satisfying set and entertained the crowd with some great roots tunes including "Great Is H.I.M." and his current hit single "Let Jah Lead The Way". One of the finest moments was when Iba Mahr and Dubtonic Kru performed their collaboration effort "Somewhere Inna Africa", a single released as an ode to Black History Month.
After a representative of the young generation of reggae singers, it was time for the Queen of Reggae to take the stage. After the musical intro of the great sounding Asham Band from Beljam (whom she called her 'number 1 band'!), she opened with a medley of tunes including "Childish Games", "Everybody Needs Love", "I Shall Sing", "Closer To You" and Bob Andy's "Fire Burning". Then she performed "Young, Gifted And Black", the hit song she had with Bob Andy in 1970, whose part was sung by her son Taffy (who also provided the backing vocals together with female vocalist Zebby). She continued with "Back In The Days", "Automatic", "Israelites", "Dreamland", "Feel Like Jumping", and rounded off with Bob Marley's "Who The Cap Fit" and "Could You Be Loved". After her performance the iconic banner of Reggae Geel attached to the top front of the stage caught fire, but luckily no one got seriously injured.
After having checked the new stage called The Yard, where Fullanny was performing with riddim backing from Charan, the Skaville Circus with Prince Fatty & Horseman getting the people move their dancing feet, and the Reggae Market, we went over to the Bounce Dancehall to see Oliver Shrader & Joscha Hoffman, better known as Silly Walks Discotheque from Hamburg/Germany, in full action. In a very crowded and thus extremely hot Bounce Dancehall tent they brought an appealing selection of tunes and got good response the crowd, which consisted of mainly young reggae & dancehall fans.
Due to the fire on the Main Stage, the performances of Tifa, Cutty Ranks and Bounty Killer with the Jamaican Ruff Kutt Band had to be postponed and thus it was already past midnight when Latifa 'Tifa' Brown took the stage, kicking off the dancehall part of the Friday evening. We were not overly fond of her performance, which sometimes was reminiscent of Lady Saw's. Probably not that surprising as her stepfather Sampalue is the producer who assisted in the building of several music careers including Lady Saw. Cutty Ranks made a far better impression. The dancehall deejay started off with "Welcome All The Pretty Girls", and then brought well known tunes such as "Rude Boy Number", "A Who Seh Me Dun (Six Million Ways To Die)", "The Bomber", and "Limb By Limb" along with some newer material.
Luckily Saturday wasn't as hot as the day before, which was a good thing. Protoje's "Kingston Be Wise", the last song of his set, filled the air when we entered the premises. All in all a great opener for our second day at the festival. For some kinda reason we always missed Leroy 'Heptone' Sibbles when he was performing in our neighbourhood. So this time we made sure to be in time for his show. One of the most important figures in the history of Reggae music, again expertly backed by the Asham Band, entertained the crowd with a wonderful selection of classic songs. He opened with the popular "We're Having A Party Tonight", instantly indicating that good times were ahead. Mr. Sibbles, who can lay so much emotion in his voice, then performed the beautiful "Mama Say", which gave us goosebumps. After that he continued with "Rock & Come One", and "Book of Rules", a tribute to his late Heptones partner Barry Llewellyn, which was delivered to strong applause. He then took the ladies in the crowd on a "Sea Of Love", treated the roots fans to "Equal Rights", and referred to The Heptones days at Studio One with "Give Me The Right" and "How Can I Leave" aka "My Guiding Star". Then it was time for a reggae history lesson from the bass player Leroy Sibbles, bringing the Reggae massive the "Full Up" and "Satta Massagana" riddims. He ended with a medley of "Baby Be True", "Feel Like Jumping" and "54-46 That's My Number". But it wasn't over yet as he returned for an encore: the uplifting "Never Give Up".
Third World's Cat Coore opened with a guitar solo before A.J. Brown, who replaced Bunny Rugs, started to sing "96 Degrees In The Shade". Even though this tune has nothing to do with weather conditions as it is a song about the execution of Paul Bogle, a Jamaican Baptist deacon and a National Hero of Jamaica, it was greeted with approval by the crowd including those with sunburnt faces. Of course, A.J. Brown isn't Bunny Rugs, but this very skilled and criminally overlooked singer did a real good job. After having played a set with nuff hits, Third World rounded off in fine style with "Now That We Found Love". Afterwards Cat Coore told us that Bunny Rugs was hospitalized, but luckily he was getting better.
After the 'Reggae Ambassadors' it was time for another legendary artist and Reggae icon, Freddie McGregor. It were classic songs such as "Africa Here I Come", "To Be Poor Is A Crime", "Prophecy", "Push Come To Shove" and "Stop Loving You" that were well received by the massive. He turned up the heat a little bit more when he performed his signature tune "Big Ship". Then he did a few songs of his latest album called "Di Captain" including "Africa", "Equal Rights", "My Story" and "Let It Be Me", the latter being a collaboration tune with Etana, whose part was now sung by Freddie McGregor's daughter Yeshemabeth. After that he treated the crowd to a medley of the Jamaican Classics: "Let Him Try", Loving Pauper" and "I Was Born A Winner". As usual he made a special dedication to the sorely missed Crown Prince Of Reggae, Dennis Brown, singing the songs "Here I Come a.k.a Love And Hate" and "Revolution", which caused some real excitement. After that he left stage but came back for an encore. The love song "Just Don't Want Be Lonely" preceded his wicked roots anthem "Bobby Bobylon". His commendable performance then came to an end with the Ska tunes "This Carry Go Bring Come" and "Wings Of A Dove".
We left the main stage and went to The Yard to capture Chantelle Ernandez's performance. We'd expected more people had come to check her out, but there was only a small group of fans attending her show. Unfortunately the sound engineer in charge didn't manage to create a good sound for her, which was a real pity as she's a very talented singer with a great voice. It was party time in the Skaville Circus with people skanking & moving to the music spun by London's energetic Tighten Up Crew with Oxman at the mic. Real nice revival vibes. While Capleton turned up the heat on the Main Stage, it was Germany's everlasting sound Sentinel, the first European sound to win the World Clash title (2005), that got the crowd in the hot steaming Bounce Dancehall really going.
Back to the Main Stage, where the High Voltage band was ready to back Romain Virgo. In recent years the winner of the 2007 edition of Jamaica's Digicel Rising Stars competition has earned his place in the forefront of Reggae music with quite a number of hit songs. The young singer has a real good voice, which he fully showcased during his set that consisted of almost all his big hits. He captivated the massive with tunes such as "Wanna Go Home", Dem A Coward", "Mi Caan Sleep", "Who Knows It Feels It", "All Out", "Love Doctor", and "I Know Better". Busy Signal delivered an electrifying show and proved to be the worthy headliner of the festival as he got the fully loaded field in front of the Main Stage in a frenzy with tunes such as "Unknown Number", "Step Out", "Badman Place", "Up In Her Belly", "These Are The Days", "Jamaica Love", and "Come Over (Missing You)". He caused huge excitement once again when he performed "Watch Out For This (Bumaye)". With an extended version of this collaboration with Major Lazer, he brought his exhilarating show to a close.
Hearing Bob Marley sing "Sun is shining, weather is sweet, make you wanna move your dancing feet" when we headed home after two days Reggae Geel, made us think that this would have been the perfect theme song for this year's edition.

Big up the promoters of Reggae Geel for doing a great job regarding the many good acts they managed to book for this year's edition. However a 'big up' also goes out to all volunteers involved in this festival. They deserve to be mentioned too, because they play an important - although sometimes underrated - role in making this festival a well organized reggae event. See you all next year!!
Text : Mr. T   Photos: Teacher & Da Dreamer