Words and Photos by Ravi Lloyd and Kristelle Laroche
After more than 20 steady years, Rebel Salute still holds its own as Jamaica’s premier festival for reggae music and culture. This year’s edition of Tony Rebel’s annual concert (held on the grounds of Richmond Estate in the parish of St. Ann) was no different, with performances from a slate of Jamaica’s top up-and-coming acts, and some notable veterans.
A late arrival is a must if you plan on seeing any heavy hitters at Rebel Salute. Any veteran attendee knows that the show really starts at sunrise. So we can’t tell you too much about the early, warm-up acts. We can say that Etana ignited the stage at midnight on Friday/Day One, captivating the audience with her strong presence, as they sang along to “I am Not Afraid” and “Richest Girl.” She was later reintroduced to the stage to perform with Alborosie. A touching performance by Third World paid tribute to late lead singer Bunny Rugs, who passed away last February. The vibe was different without Bunny’s unmistakeable voice, but new singer A.J. Brown held down the harmonies. Their heavy cover of “Redemption Song” with electric symphonics was an inspiring reinvention of a classic chune.
Tarrus Riley brought the Saturday sun up with a powerful performance, followed by Jesse Royal’s appropriately-timed delivery of “This Morning.” Kabaka Pyramid, royally fitted, and Capleton, finishing his performance backstage, capped off Friday night’s show. Or should we say Saturday morning’s show!
Saturday night was full of classic reggae music. Queen Ifrica performed a conscious and melodic set. Freddie McGregor showed his veteran experience, carrying the crowd though a timeless act. We wish we could say the same about Leroy Smart’s performance, but the band was too young to know his big chunes, as he admitted that they hadn’t rehearsed before the show.
Inner Circle reminded the crowd about the roots of reggae music and played their ’80s hits, “Bad Boys” and “Sweat.” The crowd’s energy level was heightened when reggae revivalist, Chronixx, made an unannounced appearance and joined Inner Circle to perform “News Carryin’ Dread,” their 2015 remake of Jacob Miller’s “Tenement Yard.”
Luciano lost his sole during his set—he literally lost the sole of his shoe, as he removed his boots mid-performance, denouncing vanity. Sizzla blazed up the stage with classics including “Thank You Mama” and “Woman I Need You,” and a number of new tracks, hyping the crowd for his forthcoming album, 876. Kalonji then closed his performance—and closed the book on a weekend of Rebel Salute— by introducing a crew of young artists, and his father to the stage.
Rebel Salute is truly a roots representation of reggae music. From the spirit of the crowd to the food to the rawness of the performers, it truly fulfills its purpose: the preservation of Reggae.
Brave and bold, Kabaka Pyramid stands strong for a portrait after his show.
Sunrise… and the best has only just begun.