Female Acts Dominated, Dazzled, and Electrified
Reggae Sumfest 2015
By Nicholas E. Ford
As usual, Reggae Sumfest 2015 got off to an energetic start, courtesy of the Dancehall Night kick-off. Fittingly dubbed as the Dancehall Explosion, Jamaica’s hottest dancehall acts took to the stage to strut their best stuff. International nights I and II—littered with both Jamaican cultural reggae and American overseas American hip hop and rhythm and blues acts—followed suit with pure vibes. However, as the 23rd installment of the three day music festival unfolded, it became readily apparent that this was the year in which the billed female acts dominated, dazzled, and electrified the Catherine Hall Entertainment Center.
Dancehall Explosion Night
Spice, and Gaza Slim Among the Sumfest 2015 Dancehall Night Standouts
Against the backdrop of its low mountains, Montego Bay was jerked into motion by the pulsating dancehall riddims bellowing off of the stage. Clad in a red pants suit with black trim, the young female sensation—and former protégé of her now embattled artistic mentor, Vybz Kartel—Gaza Slim took the stage in excellent form and quickly set the pace by delivering songs such as ‘You a My Man’, ‘Me a enjoy Myself’, ‘You a My Man’, and ‘Everything to Hold Him’. Not too long after she strutted onto the stage, it was very evident to the throngs of onlookers who had gathered at the multi-purpose venue for the 2015 installation of Reggae Sumfest that Gaza Slim has something special in terms of talent and poise. Surely, this up and coming artist will continue her steady ascent to stardom and will be entertaining for many years to come.
Not surprisingly, deejay Spice made her entrance onto the stage in arguably the most memorable outfit of Sumfest 2015—which was nothing new for the hyper-creative, self-proclaimed dancehall diva. Suddenly, the entire stage area went black as the lights were shut off in order to allow Spice to make her entrance in a black hazmat-like suit with flashing lights from head to toe. The crowd then burst into laughter as Spice showed off her robotic walk before placing her shoe—which also had flashing lights—on top of one of the stage speakers. Spice then gently removed her head gear to the deafening roar of the swollen audience, as she reeled off hits like ‘A So Mi Like It’, ‘Wine Up Mi Body’, ‘Conjugal Visit’ and ‘Ramping Shop’—a massive hit song that she had recorded with the now incarcerated Vybz Kartel. As it happened, Spice was not finished and yet had more tricks up her sleeve, as she then did a hand stand with her legs flailing while deejaying more of her song lyrics.
Gully Bop’s Sumfest Debut Was a Hit
The excitement that has permeated the reggae dancehall musical genre over the past year can be, in large part, attributed to the ever humorous and lyrically colorful artist known as Gully Bop. And Gully Bop certainly lived up to the hype by delighting his fans to an energetic set—laced with humorous offerings such as ‘Work offa Me’ and ‘Body Specialist’. Adorned in a red collarless suit with gold buttons and jewels, Gully Bop eagerly invited Chin, his wife, onto the stage to join him for a few songs, namely ‘Wife Mi Name.’ To top off his impressive Sumfest debut, Gully Bop stamped himself as official with his big hit, ‘None a Dem Bad Like Me’.
Capleton, Bugle and I-Octane Brought the Fire
Known widely as the ‘Fireman’, cultural reggae artist, Capleton, sprung onto the stage dressed in a yellow, Rastafarian turban and robe with red gold and green effects. Capleton, who had not been in the Sumfest line-up for the past nine years, was eager to dole out hits from his vast stash of hits spanning over twenty years. The thirsty audience was delighted to hear songs from Capleton like, ‘That Day Will Come’, ‘Jah Jah City’, and ‘Slew Dem’. Once again, Capleton’s performance was nothing short of incendiary as he repeatedly leapt high into the air—much to the crowd’s delight.
I-Octane, another elite cultural reggae artist, delivered a solid effort as well. In the eyes of his fans, I-Octane could do no wrong as he belted many of their favorite songs, such as ‘Lose A Friend’, ‘Study Yuh Friends’, and ‘Mama You Alone’. Also giving a top performance on Dancehall night 2015 was the conscious Bugle, who is known for his catchy tunes that stress perseverance and self upliftment. Bugle has certainly demonstrated his growth spiritually and artistically in recent years, and he was well received by the audience—which grew larger as the night went on—in rattling off ‘Anointed’, ‘Reflection’, ‘Nuh Compatible’, and ‘Don’t Blame Life’.
The Ever Provocative Lady Saw Closed Dancehall Night in Signature Style
Marion Hall, popularly known as Lady Saw, made things special in becoming the first female entertainer in the history of Sumfest to close Dancehall Night—traditionally the biggest night of the three-day festival event. At the stroke of 5:50 a.m., a more combative than usual Lady Saw sounded things off by gently singing: “You don’t have to hate me”, presumably a chastising barb for each of her challengers who have failed to dethrone her over the last two decades. Wearing a white dress with a wig of the same color to match, the Reigning Queen of the Dancehall seemingly went straight from first gear to overdrive in delivering a few gems from her large vault of hits—including ‘It’s Raining’, ‘God He Knows’, ‘I’m Ready’, and ‘Backshot.’ At that, the embers of the Dancehall Explosion crackled to a whisper as the weary—but yet very satisfied patrons—funneled their way to the venue exit.
International Night I
International Night I was highlighted by the performances of American rappers T.I. and Common. Both artists delivered engaging sets, with Rapper Common pausing several times in an effort to bring to light the dire plight of his native city of Chicago in terms of inner city gang violence. Aside from the social commentary, Common delighted the audience with his most notable commercially acclaimed songs, ‘the Light’, ‘Go!’, ‘I Used To Lover H.E.R.’ More than that, Common touchingly commented on the circumstances and recent happenings in the United States surrounding police brutality, while saluting the notable African American victims befallen by the violence at the hands of the police. Common then befittingly complimented his social commentary by reeling off his Academy Award winning song, ‘Glory’, recorded as duet with famed R & B singer, John Legend.
Bringing International Night I down to a smooth landing was the iconic reggae singer, Cocoa Tea, who had thinning crowd swaying and nodding to his enviable collection of hits that span more than a few decades, including ‘Good Life’, ‘Tune In’, ‘Israel’s King’, and ‘Too Young’.
International Night II
On International night II, legions of her adoring fans packed the Catherine Hall Entertainment Center once more to be entertained by the R & B songbird from the United States, Jennifer Hudson. And of course, the award-winning singer/actress did not disappoint. Jennifer Hudson impressed her screaming fans with her gifted voice as she doled out songs such as, ‘Remember the Music’, ‘No One Gonna Love You’, ‘Bring Back the Music’, and ‘Pocketbook’. With the throngs of late night patrons chanting ‘more, more, more’, Hudson unleashed her most famous hit song, ‘Spotlight’—which seemingly brought the house down.
On a Reggae Sumfest 2015 closing note, grammy award-winning reggae artist, Beenie Man, was greeted by firecrackers, screams, and cheers as he admirably carried down the curtains down on the three day festival after marching through his enviable cache of hits over the past 25 years—while displaying superb stagemanship. Also referred to as the ‘King of the Dancehall’, Beenie Man left no bullets in the chamber, as he had the masses–who had greeted the morning sunrise to see him—singing along and gyrating themselves to snippets of his seemingly bottomless catalogue of songs, including ‘Wickedest Slam’, ‘Old dog’, ‘World Dance’, ‘Memories’ and, of course, ‘Girls Dem Sugar’. And to tops things off, his friend, Future Fambo, bolted onto the stage with a bottle of red liquid splashing wildy while he chanted, “I’m drinking rum and red bull!”—a big collaborative hit that he and Beenie Man recorded. At that, Reggae Sumfest 2015 boiled down to a calm simmer. In a spirited tone, after yet another successful edition of the festival event, the Sumfest organizers exclaimed…”see you next year!”
 Nicholas E. Ford lives in South Florida.