You don't have to die to spend a night in reggae heaven. Zion is a place within easy reach. Heavenly reggae music is captured every January in the heart of Jamaica. The greatest show on earth resides within the exquisite rural countryside skirting the sandy coast of Alligator Pond. Each year, in honor of Tony Rebel's birthday, Rebel Salute beckons a colorful array of Jamaican nationals and a growing number of international reggae fans to the mystical crossroads of mountain and sea. Rebel Salute embodies the soulful heart of "out of many, one!" Nothing could be more symbolic of Jamaica's cultural legacy than a resounding clash between heart and mind, "when the music hits, you feel no pain." From dusk till daybreak, Rebel Salute rides the royal riddims of vintage, roots, dancehall, dj, and dub creating an eclectic musical porridge enticing the most memorable moments of reggae and setting the foundation for the future evolution of a society through music.

         Tony Rebel is pure genius at creating one of the hottest line-ups on the island. He also remains true to his commitment of not selling out to corporate sponsors who promote alcohol or meat. In a recent statement from the Messenjah, Luciano proudly states "Rebel Salute is no doubt the event of the year which incidentally is the first fundamentally cultural event of every New Year in Jamaica. Even though a few of the artistes billed for Salute are hot in the dancehall, Brother Tony Rebel and myself try to keep the event a cultural one." A show as massive as forty-three artists in one night is a critical undertaking. The skill to produce such an event is mind boggling. Throughout the weeks and months before, Tony Rebel, also known as the cultural ambassador, stays cool and collected while carefully piecing together the most crucial of elements, demonstrating the strength of his vision. When finally executed, small disappointing moments of the night, evaporate with the morning dew and the historical significance of Jamaica's most accomplished artists establishes itself in permanent memory.

Junior Byles.

Tabby Diamond.


         Each musical segment delivers unique and inspiring moments too numerous to capture. Undoubtedly, the most breathtaking memory of the night was the emotional return of Junior Byles as he returned to the stage for the first time in thirty-four years. Slowly, he lumbered to the forefront, kneeling delicately, and grasping his artfully carved coffee root while resting his face on the twisted points. His initial words were delicate and mysterious. Quickly he evolved into amazing recall proving that artistic genius lies beyond scientific description of mental capacity. Each song re-charged Byles' strength and confidence. As he launched into the familiar rendition of "Curly Locks", Byles memory locked into automatic pilot. His self- assurance and professional reconnection made the final song "Fade Away" even more bitter sweet.

         The Mighty Diamonds presented another joyous highlight for vintage afficiondos. Tabby, Judge and Bunny were in top form demonstrating that time only sweetens the best of harmonies, aging like a fine wine. The Jays, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Charlie Chaplin, Josey Wales, and Culture infused layers of foundation roots into a night so full, even the poignant Jamaican sky could not compete with the brightest of stars. As usual, Joseph Hill of Culture delighted adoring fans with his Rastafarian hymnal of reggae anthems and trademark humor, artistically displayed by a fine white suit and smiley face tie. Dwight Pickney rounded out foundation roots with an expert set of guitar instrumentals.


U Roy.

Aaron Silk.

          One favorite characteristic of Rebel Salute includes the presentation of international performers. The selection of singers and players from various countries instill tremendous pride in all Jamaicans. The musical legacy of reggae music lives throughout the world, symbolizing the heartbeat and unity of humanity. The incredibly talented and charismatic Nasio Fontaine (Dominica) is well recognized in the United States and Europe. It was thrilling to see Nasio onstage in Jamaica, mainly because his personal singing style reflects the intrinsic depth reggae music has inspired within other Caribbean countries. Nasio magnifies reggae soul and his lyrics reflect the extreme spiritual consciousness of Rastafarian philosophy deeply embodied in his music. Queen Omega (Trinidad) revealed her female elegance and straightforward righteousness. Ras Ites (UK) carried the hard line UK riddims and erased any doubt that reggae still rules in the streets of Britain. Gentleman was challenged with the most difficult obstacle due to his hard dancehall delivery combined with a German background. If there lingering doubts, Gentleman quickly removed predetermined biases with an outstanding set appreciated soundly by the growing audience of dancehall fans.

         Rebel Salute pays homage to old and new dancehall. My favorite surprise was the appearance of Daddy U Roy. Consciousness in the dancehall is undoubtedly still alive today and demonstrated by the flawless deliveries of Ancient Monarchy, Junior Kelly, Chuck Fender and the spell bounding Queen Ifrica. Look to the future and Queen Ifrica could easily be appointed to the next dancehall throne. Queen Ifrica exemplifies sophisticated talent and artistic intelligence marking a huge impression on reggae fans locally and internationally. She may well move dancehall back into the arena of education instead of degredation.

John Holt.

Queen Ifrica.

Ancient Monarchy.

         From the firy side of dancehall, Capleton and Sizzla unexpectedly clashed on stage. Multitudes of followers from both camps added turbulent scorch to what was intended as a tribute to modern dancehall music. Tony Rebel and his staff quickly doused the uprising before any safety issue was apparent. The situation was unfortunate for the dancehall dons. The audience who eagerly anticipated individual performances by the Fyah Man and Kolonji was cut short by the melee. The lack of respect for the promoter was criticized by Luciano who later said "I am certainly disappointed in the behavior of artistes who are hailed as internationals to behave in such unprofessionally manner. Storming the stage with loads of followers, shouting out indecent language, giving in to their ego rather than educating the people and serving Jah. This behavior is not condoned by Jah MessenJah. I stand for equal rights and justice, defence of the poor, care for the needy, and high regards for the elderly. I pray that those brothers who are constantly blaspheming before the Almighty and his people will wise up before they become an open disgrace. He that exalted himself shall be a base but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted in those days."

         Throughout the night, Rebel Salute presented a well integrated collage of Jamaica's finest reggae singers. The musical intoxication continued from dusk to dawn with flawless performances by wondrous singers such as Nadine Sutherland, Half Pint, Richie Spice, I'ngel Chanta, Taurus Riley, Brah Yan, Sweet C, Cherry Natural, Abijah, Natty King and Aaron Silk. The air filled with the sweetest of songs. Iley Dread introduced Lady Saw into his set, as well as a variety of other artists enhancing the diversity of his own unique talent. Each artist added another level of ingenuity and finesse to the many facets of reggae and with each passing moment, one's heart filled with the joy of the power and glory of reggae music. As darkness slowly faded into the magical essence of morning, white doves flew gently threw the air, floating like kites above a sea of red, gold and green flags. The peaceful beauty settled quietly into one's consciousness. The sun rose and soon Luciano took stage with his small army of Rasta sons and nephews. Luciano's voice calmed the waiting crowd like the parting of the Red Sea. Jahmessenjah brings peace and love to the people each and every time. Luciano is reggae's most powerful and established musical prophet, sorely needed in a world full of confusion and oppression. JAH MESSENJAH, harbinger of gospel truth and rights, filled the air with the sensibility of a righteous revival ending the show with the authentic nature of what reggae music represents, the respect and honor of life itself. Selah.


Junior Kelly.


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Article & Photos: Sista Irie (February 2004)
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