By all accounts, this year’s Reggae Sumfest concert, held July 13-19 in Montego Bay and one of the island’s largest multi-artist events, was a major success. Although rumor had it that international guests like T-Pain and Lil’ Wayne did not fare so well with the notoriously fickle Jamaican audience, local veterans and new talent all shone at the well-produced three-day event. XLR8R was lucky enough to have two representatives at the festival, who have provided exclusive images and commentary. Thanks to Cascade Wilhelm and Pierce Stacy for their contributions. Here’s a taste of what it was like to be among ten thousand fans as reggae’s biggest artists did their thing.
July 17, Mavado: When Mavado walks onstage, you can hear the energy of the crowd lift, voices raise to howls of excitement and, depending on the show, you can hear bullets fly. In this photo, Mavado was getting to the height of his song, "We Shall Overcome." He was backed for the track by a 10-person choir and, for a brief moment, the massive crowd was quieted, hypnotized in respect and awe before being rocketed back into the high-stepping beat of "Gangster for Life.”
July 17, Etana: Etana's powerful voice, lyrical empathy for struggle and injustice, as well as her grace as a performer all ensure her inevitable success as an international reggae star. She was one of the most engaging artists at Sumfest, with songs that were hopeful, introspective, romantic, and political. She continuously connected with fans, answering back to the adoring audience, "I love you, too!”
July 17, Vybz Kartel: Seeing Vybz Kartel live was a highly intoxicating experience. With one of the most unique lyrical styles in dancehall, a disarmingly polite and poised stage presence, and an arresting charm, it might have taken you a few minutes to even notice that Vybz Kartel was wearing a full-length fur coat and hat in the middle of July in Jamaica. Despite being dressed to kill (holding his signature "Vybz" rum throughout most of the performance), he delivered one of the freshest, most sensual and danceable performances this year.
July 19, Beres Hammond: Backstage at Sumfest, a music producer described Beres Hammond as the "Marvin Gaye of Jamaica,” but you've got to see Hammond live to believe it. For all who know Hammond’s legacy as a singer, producer, bandleader, and musician, it is true that love, in all forms, is his inspiration. During his lengthy, engaging set at Sumfest, Beres seduced a willing crowd, while his band of younger musicians kept the beats hot.
Photos by Cascade Wilhelm.