Concert report
Reggae '98 Geel.
Festival grounds ~ Geel ~ Belgium.
08 - 08 - 1998

With its twentieth annual open air festival the promotors of Reggae Geel - what regular visitor and legendary "best dressed chicken in town" Dr. Alimantado once described as the most Jamaican event outside Jamaica - unmistakable have proven that their formula appeals to many a reggae fan in Belgium and abroad. Throughout its two decades lasting existence the festival had its heights with unforgettable performances of e.g. Jazz Jamaica, Anthony B, Michael Prophet and Studio One veteran Horace Andy. But, of course, its depths can be counted too with Reggae '95 being the most significant example as that year's top of the bill artist Buju Banton (with the addition of Twiggy & Wayne Wonder) didn't show up. At Aug. 7-8 the festival grounds located in a woody area between Geel and Mol were once again the time and place to be for all reggae minded people. This year's edition mainly focussed on the rootsy side of reggae with veterans Ijahman Levi, Earl Sixteen, Max Romeo and Michael Rose as their most prominent representatives.

The festival already started on Friday evening with a so-called camping special in a large tent called the Marquee, which actually featured the "dancehall" part of the event. The main ingredient was a sound system clash with four sounds: Boombastic, Back II Bass, Spots Roadshow and Survival High Power. In between Amsterdam-based band Redemption did a live performance, showcasing their ability to lay down some fine contemporary dancehall riddims.

However, the main event took place at Saturday evening and night. By the time we entered the festival area we had missed The Ras Ites - the first artists to take the stage - and were just in time to witness Ijahman Levi performing the last two songs of his set, not enough to get a good impression of his delivery. Then it was time for the band of U.K.'s foremost drum & bass team Leroy and David Heywood - better known as Mafia and Fluxy - to take over the proceedings.

After the band's warm up with nice interpretations of "Shank I Shek" and "Swing Easy" Levi Roots was the first to step to the microphone. Levi Roots, a U.K. based roots singer who combines seventies roots sensibilities with the technology of the nineties, presented the crowd songs from his earlier this year released "Free your mind" album. As usual he delivered his incisive lyrics in his very own impassioned style, thus surely pleasing those in the audience who can be reckoned among the contemporary roots followers.
After this young lion the MC introduced a singer who made his entrance in the music business in the first half of the seventies after he had won some JA local talent shows. As Earl Sixteen he recorded a collection of notable material with producers Lee "Scratch" Perry, Mikey Dread, Augustus Pablo, Linval Thompson, Coxsone Dodd and others.
Since 1988 he has recorded predominantly roots songs for a growing number of U.K. producers and "lent" his distinguished voice to Leftfield ("Release The Pressure") and Dreadzone. Earl Sixteen's "Dem A Raiders", titletrack of an album he recorded for Horace Swaby aka Augustus Pablo, was the opener of an entertaining and solid performance of this sympathetic singer who furthermore delivered a varied selection of songs including "Freedom Now" and the Studio One classic "A Love I Can Feel".
Next to take the stage was the often underrated roots reggae veteran Max Romeo, who already recorded gospel-influenced tunes about social and cultural topics before they became fashionable in the last half of the seventies.
Max Romeo is probably best known from his best-selling album to date, the Lee Perry produced "War Ina Babylon". An album that not only brought him to a broader reggae audience, but also attracted attention of the international rock press. So it was no real surprise that Max Romeo kicked off his performace with "Chase the devil", one of the stand out tunes on the aforementioned album. What then followed was mainly a set of memorable and instantly recognizable songs like "One Step Forward", "War Ina Babylon" and his major local hit from 1975 "Three Blind Mice", the adaption of a nursery rhyme telling the story of a police raid on a party.
Besides that Romeo delivered some nice tunes - including the Wailers' song Wings Of A Dove" - that brought back memories of the 'ska' days. Another Wailers' cover "Rock My Boat" was part of the last songs he did in front of a fairly enthousiastic audience.
However, the best was yet to come....the first reggae artist to win a Grammy award, ex-Black Uhuru frontman Michael Rose. Since he left Black Uhuru to pursue his solo career he has issued a number of superb singles and some excellent solo albums, thus making clear he's a stronghold and defining force in reggae music. And indeed, he fully lived up to expectations. Rose delivered a stunning and highly appealing performance with authority and class stamped all over his wicked roots reggae outburst, expertly backed by a tight and wicked playing Mafia & Fluxy Band. He satisfied his long-time fans as he presented a well-balanced set of some twenty songs. "Too Short Temper", "Stalk of Sensimilia", "Bonanza", "New York", "Dance Wicked", "How You Fi Do That" and "Black Maria" were drawn from his solo period. But the majority of the songs he delivered were anthems we all know and love from his Black Uhuru days. He went through favorites like "I Love King Selassie", "General Penitentiary", "Leaving To Zion", "Happiness", "Shine Eye Gal", "Plastic Smile", Youth Of Eglington", "Sponji Reggae", "Solidarity", "Abortion", "Party Next Door" and "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner".
After Michael Rose had delivered his last tune the audience was treated to a special encore. With all artists on stage performing Bob Marley's "War" and the inevitable "One Love" the main programme of Reggae Geel '98 got a dignified end.

Writers: Teacher & Mr. T. ~ Pictures: Teacher

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