And remembering some late greats…

Reshma B kicks off 2015 with the good word on all that’s bubbling in the worlds of reggae and dancehall…

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King Sporty, born Noel Williams, the co-writer of Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Soldier’, died of cancer on January 5th 2015 in Miami at the age of 71. After serving as a selector for Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat sound system in the 1960s, Sporty went on to record numerous 45s in the “toasting” style made famous by U-Roy and Dennis Alcapone. In the 1970s he moved from Jamaica to Miami, where he established his own record label and released a range of funk and electronic dance records, including ‘Self Destruct’, which was sampled by Justin Timberlake on his ‘That Girl’. Sporty is survived by his wife, the renowned soul singer Betty Wright, and 21 children.

On January 7th Adidja Palmer, aka Vybz Kartel, marked his 39th birthday behind bars. Although he has spent three consecutive birthdays in prison, this was his first time blowing out the candles since he received a life sentence for murder. While the dancehall star’s attorneys prepare an appeal, he continues to dominate the Jamaican charts with a steady flow of singles on all the latest riddims, all of which were apparently recorded before his arrest in 2011.

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It’s been 40 years since Inner Circle and Jacob “Killer” Miller released their classic ‘Tenement Yard’, so what better time to bring back that rhythm track with a brand new song by roots reggae star Chronixx (pictured)? The song, ‘Tenement Yard (News Carryin’ Dread)’, picks up on the original theme of life in a government housing scheme, where somebody’s always watching your business.

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The release of ‘Hard Food’, Dub Syndicate’s first album in over a decade, was supposed to be a celebratory event. But since the death of legendary drummer “Style” Scott last October, the new disc has become more of a sombre event. With guest vocals by Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bunny Wailer, and U-Roy, and a masterful mix by UK dub master Adrian Sherwood, this album stands as a fitting tribute to Scott’s legacy.

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Miami-based producer Troyton Rami made his name with Sean Paul’s smash hit ‘Gimme The Light’. On his latest juggling, the ‘Intoxxicated’ riddim, he adds acoustic guitar flourishes to his hard-hitting digital sound. Features vocals by Tarrus Riley, I-Octane, Christopher Martin and Bugle.

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The Jamaica Jazz and Blues Fest kicks off on January 29th with its usual blend of R&B, pop, and reggae. This year’s headliner is Mariah Carey, with supporting acts like Charlie Wilson and the Pointer Sisters. The big surprise this year is that the top reggae acts are both white American bands: SOJA, the DC-based group whose album ‘Amid the Noise and Haste’ has been nominated for a Grammy, and Magic, whose single ‘Rude’ was a huge pop hit in 2014. Both will be making their first appearances in Jamaica. The Jazzfest audience might not be as tough as, say, the Sting crowd, but don’t be surprised if the boys experience some pre-show jitters.

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There’s nothing like Christmas in Jamaica. It’s party ’round da clock. Not even warnings of a pre-Holiday crime surge or mosquitos bearing the dreaded Chikungunya virus could dampen spirits.

Ghetto Splash set off the party fever on December 16th in the downtown Kingston community of Waterhouse – a famed location that’s been part of reggae culture since day one. A free stage show for people who love dancehall, Ghetto Splash started in 1989 and went on hiatus in 2003, but returned with a vengeance in 2013.

This year’s highlight was the grand finale featuring Waterhouse native Beenie Man. The King of the Dancehall went on to introduce Popcaan, who in turn brought out Aidonia, Sizzla, Teflon and Kiprich. Passing the mic from hand to hand, they drove the crowd insane, building energy as they traded off verses from their signature tracks. The unpredictable excitement kept going for almost an hour before Popcaan closed out the evening at 6am or so.

In contrast to his usual raving vibe, Popcaan performed his first-ever acoustic set two nights later in the parking lot of Manor Park Plaza, an open-air shopping centre. Base Kingston boutique hosted a pop-up shop for Popcaan merchandise as well as the OWSLA brand from Skrillex, who was also in the place with the Major Lazer crew of Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire. With his hair bushed out and his hard-hitting lyrics slowed down, the Unruly Boss sang over an acoustic guitar, keyboard and bongo drums, revealing a whole new side to his artistry.

The party continued the next day, EDM style, at the Major Lazer show – their fourth on the Island and the biggest yet. The Caymanas venue was packed out with a young mostly uptown crowd who came to see them, Skrillex, Rudimental and guest appearances by Sean Paul, Trinidad’s Soca king Machel Montano, and once again, Popcaan.

Check out Popcaan performing ‘Gangsta City’ unplugged:

For those who fancy a more laidback vibe, Live from Kingston would be the gig of choice. Staged on a beautiful tree-lined slope within Hope Botanical Gardens, the twice-yearly show has been a stronghold for the new roots movement, with artists like Chronixx and Jesse Royal taking the stage before they became household names.

This year, the No-Maddz styled out as usual, and brought their off-beat performance-art vibe to the stage before Kabaka Pyramid came through resembling Peter Tosh in both image and message. Protoje closed the night by inviting Chronixx onstage to perform their smash duet ‘Who Knows’. At that point, everyone in the place felt “pleased to be chillin’ in the West Indies”.

Just like rum cake and sorrel, the Boxing Day stage show Reggae Sting is a Christmas institution – the gig everyone on the Island talks about, regardless of whether they plan to go or not. It’s a love-hate thing that happens each year.

Famous for epic lyrical clashes, Sting inspires plenty of pre-show drama – between the artists who are booked and those who refuse to perform for one reason or another, and the vibe always creates headlines comparable to a heavyweight boxing match. This year‘s big clash of the night would have been between veteran Ninjaman and the newest sensation on the island, Gully Bop – formerly known as Country Man – a 50-year-old artist who fell on hard times but revived his career via a raw camera phone video that went viral on YouTube last year. Even Major Lazer got in on a piece of the action, remixing his track ‘Dem Nuh Bad Like Me’.

On the night though, Gully did not get to clash as Ninja declined the challenge, claiming his competition was “not in my class”. However, Gully came and gave the crowd what they needed at 8am. Unfortunately the next act, a clash between Kiprich and Blak Ryno, was interrupted by a stampede in the crowd, leading to a few injuries.

Get to know dancehall’s new kid on the block, Gully Bop:

After all the Sting drama it was time to head out of the city to Ocho Rios for Cream Of The Crop, a show that delivered exactly that. The line-up included the likes of Romain Virgo, Busy Signal, Jah Cure, Tarrus Riley and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. Along with the most gorgeous location (the scenic Pearly Beach) and some of the best food spread on the Island, the crowd was treated to unforgettable performances. Highlights of the evening included Virgo’s ‘Feel Like Letting Go’, Cure’s powerful rendition of ‘Life We Live’, and Jr. Gong closing the show with a guest appearance from… yes, Popcaan.

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See ya next month!

Words: Reshma B (online / Twitter)

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