Reggae Sumfest 2017’s ‘90s Era Throwback Reflection Proved to be Crystal Clear
By Nicholas E. Ford
Jamaica’s yearly Reggae Sumfest festival in Montego Bay is no doubt a huge tourism attraction and lure for the country. And the 2017 edition, which was Sumfest’s 25th, just the same featured a flood of visitors to the island to witness the very best of reggae and dancehall music. To sweeten things up even more for this year’s concertgoers, a ‘90s themed block party and a traditional sound clash were also on the menu of entertainment offerings.
‘90s Retro Block Party Event
The Sumfest 2017 happenings kicked off in earnest with what was dubbed as the ultimate “retro block party” devoted to ‘90s dancehall music, which was held on the grassy field adjacent to Pier One on the Waterfront—arguably Montego Bay’s most pulsating open-air Seafood Restaurant, Bar and unique Entertainment Center. There, patrons were delighted see perhaps Jamaica’s most storied sound system in action—the Immortal Stone Love. In addition, several dancehall acts—including Mr. Lex and Ward 21—from the ‘90s gave great performances to complement the smooth tunes juggled by Billy Slaughter, one of Stone Love’s premier selectors. The Metromedia sound system also gave the crowd a wonderful vibe, not to mention the on-stage theatrics of front man selector—Big Belly Sky Juice.
Heavyweight Sound Clash Event Was Nice and Hectic
Aside from the usual buzz surrounding Sumfest’s dancehall night, the inaugural Reggae Sumfest Heavyweight sound clash competition saw patrons turn out in numbers to take in the action—once again at Pier One in Montego Bay. Many anticipated a competitive and animated clash environment among the sound systems jugglin’ their best selections on the lawn, and they surely got what they paid for. In the end, Dancehall selector, Tony Matterhorn, and the man behind the smash hit song a few years ago ‘Dutty Whine’ that seemingly took the world by storm, was declared the winner of the Reggae Sumfest Heavyweight sound clash competition. After the musical dust up, Tony Matterhorn and his sound system stood tall over the likes of Warrior Sound International, Yardbeat from Japan, New York’s Soul Supreme, and No Limit Sound. In victory, Matterhorn grinned from ear to ear after claiming the sound clash bragging title and the $500,000 (in Jamaican dollars) cash prize.
Main Event Night One (Dancehall Night)
Spice and Her Bedroom Excitement…Who Will Forget?
Many Jamaican dancehall music fans can attest to the fact that female deejay artist, Spice, was among the relatively few female acts on this year’s festival line-up for Dancehall night. But nonetheless, Spice as always did not let the sold out venue down as her risqué stage performance certainly earned her a place among the most memorable dancehall night performances. Accompanied by her dancers clad in furry bedroom robes, Spice was wheeled out on a bed and wasted no time in transforming the stage into her bedroom, literally. Known for her stand out entrances, I must say that Spice outdid herself with that ensemble. And decked out in a body fitting-gold suit underneath her bedroom robe, Spice was not shy in reeling off her hits songs such as ‘Indicator’ and ‘So Me Like It’. Her enduring smash, ‘Rompin’ Shop’, which featured the embattled deejay warrior, Vybz Kartel, was also a crowd favorite.
Dancehall Icon, Bounty Killer, Gave a Stellar Performance While Inspiring the Younger Generation of Artists
Known as the ‘Five Star General’ in Jamaican music industry circles, Bounty Killer expertly demonstrated his mastery of the dancehall deejay craft. As Bounty canvassed the far reaches of the stage from end-to-end, he mesmerized his musical contemporaries, adversaries, as well as the thousands of onlookers by delivering snippets of his enviable catalog of music spanning 25 years as songs like ‘Anytime’ and ‘Eagle and Di Hawk’, echoed in the crisp night air. As the Dancehall night line-up moved along, space in the Catherine Hall venue was at premium as the swelling crowd eyeballed the stage with the hope of seeing their favorite artist at his or her best.
As it happened, the sea of patrons who came out to be entertained by the likes of Dexta Daps, Spice, Alkaline, Mavado, Aidonia, Bounty Killer unquestionably got their belly full where excitement was concerned. To cap off a splendid dancehall night, Tommy Lee Sparta rose with the morning sun and closed Main Event Night One by delivering a high-energy performance that sent electricity and shock waves throughout the entertainment complex that will be remembered for a long time to come. Yes, Tommy Lee was that good!
Josef Bogdanovich (head of the DownSound Entertainment Group that puts on Sumfest) and his team were absolutely elated in the aftermath of the 2017 Sumfest dancehall night that they put on. Quoted by the Jamaica Gleaner, Mr. Bogdanovich stated: “When you put together a line-up such as the one we did, with the hottest acts in dancehall music sharing the same stage, you can only expect good things, and we were very pleased with the result. Patrons came out in droves and the venue was at capacity, and we had to close the gates to manage that and ensure the safety of those in and around the venue.” He added that he was even more pleased that “despite the massive crowd, the one-week festival, which kicked off with a beach party at Tropical Bliss, was incident-free.”
Main Event Night Two (Reggae Night)
Singers, Jah Cure and Fantan Mojah Put and End to their Fued in an Entertaining Sumfest Set
Jah Cure and Fantan Mojah shook hands and embraced on the Reggae Sumfest stage, a perfect setting for ending their fued. Reportedly, the pair had been at odds since May when it was alleged that Jah Cure assaulted Fantan Mojah near the home of fellow artist, Capleton. Mojah had admitted on social media afterwards that an incident did in fact take place, but said that he held no grudges against Jah Cure. Mojah then ably assisted Jah Cure on stage to perform their recorded collaboration, ‘Nuh Build Great Man’. Jah Cure then delivered ‘Love Is’, after which Fantan Mojah belted out his own hit, ‘Hail The King’, which was greeted by loud cheers of approval from the crowd. Mojah then left the stage to allow for Jah Cure to finish his performance with ‘Longing For’ as well as ‘Unconditional Love’.
Sean Paul Was Dynamite
International superstar, Sean Paul, ignited the fans by delivering ‘We Be Burning’. He even had fireworks to complement his performance, as he unleashed ‘Get Busy’, ‘Got to Love You’, and ‘Like Glue’.
Stephen Marley, Mad Cobra and Richie Stephens Conjured up Nostalgia from Reggae’s Past
One of the high points of the night was Richie Stephens, who teamed up with SkaNation, in reminding the older generation of fans throughout the entertainment complex of the Ska vibe that emanated from Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. As part of his set, Richie Stephens fittingly invited Mad Cobra, a well-known dancehall star from the ‘90s in his own right, on stage to perform ‘Legacy’—a very melodic collaboration that had the crowd swaying back and forth in the night breeze. Mad Cobra also took the opportunity to sink his fangs into the Catherine Hall crowd, by performing local favorites, such as ‘Press Trigger’, as well as ‘Tek Him’ and ‘War’. With doses of classic after classic Cobra’s distinctive voice reminded the crowd that he was the man behind the monster ‘90s hit, ‘Flex’, which brought the park back to 1992 when Cobra’s career took off.
Stephen Marley, one of the sons of late reggae icon, Bob Marley, certainly had with him that classic, feel-good reggae vibe. Multi-tasking by playing the guitar and singing at the same time seemed so natural and instinctive for Stephen Marley—who effortlessly resonated with the audience. Stephen also introduced his son, Jo Mersa, who got his feet wet by performing on his own. Fans were also pleasantly surprised when the reggae artist, Capleton, who is known as the fireman, joined Marley on stage to perform ‘It Was Written’.
Queen Ifrica – Showed She is a Lioness on the Rise
Queen Ifrica did not shy away from showing off her vocal talent, especially as she transitioned from one song to another in her cache of hits, including ‘Lie Dem ah Tell’ to ‘Lioness on the Rise’, with ease. She also offered some needed political commentary by noting that Jamaica would overcome its current ills – from the high rate of murders to both child and domestic abuse.
Sumfest 2017 Culminated in Seasoned Closing acts of Sizzla and Beenie Man
Beenie Man was in top form as always, and the self-proclaimed King of the Dancehall’s appearance appropriately commenced with ‘Who Am I?’ and his loyal fans already knew the answer. As usual, Beenie did not hesitate to affirm that he is still the ‘girls dem sugar’ and capable of giving the ‘Wickedest Slam’, even if only on a stage through his lyrics. Aside from his big hit ‘Wickedest Slam’, Beenie delighted the audience with ‘Memories’, ‘Romie’,‘Old Dawg’, and ‘Dude’.
At 8:15 a.m., the venue remained packed with those awaiting the closing of the Sumfest 2017 festivities courtesy of Sizzla Kalonji. In closing, Sizzla was quick to remind the audience that he is as ‘Solid as a Rock’—perhaps an indicator to the strength of his commitment to the Rastafarian religion which, of course, was birthed in Jamaica. The audience rode along smoothly with Sizzla as he reeled off his anthems, such as ‘Woman I Need You’, ‘You’re So Lovely’, and ‘Just One of Those Days’.
For 25 years, Jamaica’s annual Reggae Sumfest festival has been celebrated as the biggest and best weekend for Caribbean music lovers. The thousands that flocked to the Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex for Sumfest 2017’s closing night were undoubtedly reminded of how powerful and lasting reggae music has been. Other notable attendees at this year’s festival who were: the Hon. Mrs. Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange (Jamaica’s Minister of Sports, Culture, Entertainment and Gender Affairs), Mutabaruka (legendary dub poet), Dean Fraser (iconic saxophonist), and Barry ‘Barry G’ Gordon (legendary radio broadcaster and Godfather of Jamaican airwaves).
“I think patrons got their money’s worth and more, as several of the performances were simply amazing,” said Bogdanovich when he spoke with the Jamaica Gleaner. Mr. Bogdanovich, I can personally attest to that!
 Nicholas E. Ford lives and works in South Florida.