Words by Jesse Serwer, Photos by El Puru—
Rebel Salute started out in January 1994 as a birthday celebration for the artist Tony Rebel, attended that year by Lennox Lewis, Garnet Silk Malik Yoba, among others. Following Silk’s passing later that year, the event took on a new life as a tribute to Rebel’s close friend and collaborator, and it’s grown ever since into Jamaica’s most important annual reggae festival.
Rebel Salute differs from the other events on Jamaica’s festival calendar (Sting, Sumfest, Jazz and Blues) in several ways: Artists must perform conscious and “uplifting” material, with no cursing, and neither meat or alcohol are not served.
Having relocated last year from its original home in St. Elizabeth to Richmond Estate, a farm and entertainment complex near Ocho Rios in St. Ann’s Bay last year, Rebel Salute is now a two-day affair. This year’s edition on Friday and Saturday brought a veteran-heavy cast—Max Romeo, Bob Andy (pictured above), Bunny Wailer, the Tamlins— together with marquee names such as Damian Marley and Capleton and up-and-coming acts like Jesse Royal, Kabaka Pyramid, Pentateuch and Jah Bouks. The Warlord, Bounty Killer, also performed, shortly after sunrise on Sunday morning. In keeping with Rebel Salute protocol, though, he was billed as Rodney Price, performing conscious fare like “Roots, Reality and Culture” and “Sufferer,” with a few PG-rated love songs thrown in.
The most unique set of the weekend belonged to ’80s-dancehall-star-turned-gospel-artist Lt. Stitchie, who revisited his secular comical classics “Wear Yuh Size” and “Natty Dread” after delivering a rousing sermon of a freestyle as the first rays of Sunday sunlight lit up St. Ann’s Bay. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.