This past weekend Montego Bay, Jamaica hosted the 20th anniversary staging of Reggae Sumfest, which has come to be known as "The Greatest Reggae Show on Earth."
The festival kicked off with Thursday's Dancehall Night, where the hottest Jamaican stars take center stage. In a year without big names like Vybz Kartel—who is currently incarcerated—and Mavado—who was busy recording and performing in the U.S.—fresh talents stepped to the forefront. After sharing the Sumfest stage with Kartel last year, Popcaan turned in his first ever solo performance, rocking the crowd with hits like "Party Shot" and "Only Man She Want." Another Kartel affiliate, Tommy Lee, wore a black mask and brandished a copy of Kartel's book from the stage, repping Gaza to the fullest. Raised in MoBay's rough Flankers area, Tommy Lee had the crowd buzzing that night and the next morning as well. Singer Romain Virgo turned in a breakthrough performance, and the rising star Konshens worked the enormous crowd like an old pro. Veteran acts like Kiprich, Elephant Man, and Beenie Man also delivered outstanding sets. Cham was joined onstage by his wife O, and they both had the crowd jumping with sexy new tunes like "Tun Up" and "Back Way." Female artists like Spice, Tifa, Stacious, and Baby Tash made the most of their early slots, working the stage with style and confidence. Then it was time for Lady Saw to be crowned Queen of the Dancehall. The crown on her head was a fitting tribute to a fearless artist whose shows are so raw that she was once banned from performing Montego Bay.
International NIght 1 came on Friday, and it was all about the Dancehall Emperor Shabba Ranks, who has not performed in Jamaica for 11 years. After Shabba's powerful performance—including a medley sexy duets (and even sexier dance moves) with Cherine Anderson—Trey Songz took the stage and got such good vibes from the crowd he didn't want to come off. Trigga Trey's cover of Bob Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low" was an appropriate choice for the singer who "invented sex." Tarrus Riley was brilliant as usual, battling his music director and saxophonist Dean Fraser in a note-for-note voice versus sax battle. Later that night a legendary lineup of vintage reggae stars—including John Holt, Leroy Sibbles, U Roy, and Yellowman—took the stage to celebrate Jamaica's 50th anniversary of independence.
On International Night 2, Christopher Martin turned in a powerful performance, getting the MoBay massive with his smash hit "Cheaters Prayer." R. Kelly kept the crowd waiting before turning up a little rough around the edges. But the Pied Piper of R&B eventually won the crowd over with a free-flowing selection of songs from his deep catalog. Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley moved the crowd with a truly amazing performance on his birthday. Newer songs like "Affairs of the Heart" and "Set Up Shop" were just as well received as his reworkings of classic cuts by his father Bob Marley. His set was followed by a classic performance from Bunny Wailer, the only surviving member of The Wailers, who brought the whole festival back to where it all started.
Written by Rob Kenner (@Boomshots)