Impressions: Shabba’s Triumphant Return at Reggae Sumfest

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July 23, 2012

Words and Photos by Erin MacLeod—


Our photo series Impressions returns with images from Shabba Ranks’ first Jamaican performance in over a decade, at Reggae Sumfest on Saturday night. But first a few words:

“Shabba Sizzles” announced the Jamaica Gleaner the morning after the original Mr. Loverman’s triumphant SumFest performance. Sure, R Kelly and Trey Songz were the “international” acts advertised for the 20th anniversary of SumFest, and there were planned Jamaica 50 commemorative performances from John Holt, Leroy Sibbles, Bunny Wailer and a few Skatalites, but it seemed that all anyone was waiting for was Mr. Rexton Gordon. From taxi drivers to journalists to die-hard reggae fans, everyone was excited for Shabba Ranks. A banner-waving crowd numbering in the hundreds even met the man at the airport upon his arrival, as he returned to Jamaica for the first time in more than a decade.

Demonstrating show-stopping slackness and an incredible ability to work a crowd, the most influential act of crucial dancehall’s early ’90s era reminded the audience of his trailer load of hits, from “X-Rated” to “Wicked In Bed” and “Love Punanny Bad” to “Roots and Culture.”  At one point, Cherine Anderson took the stage to lend a hand on tunes like “Telephone Love” and “Twice My Age,” surprising the crowd with gyrations that left little to the imagination.

Though the official dancehall night was held the previous evening, Shabba’s performance took the crowd to “Deejay School,” providing an education in deejaying that young performers would do well to follow. Shabba came up in a time when deejays worked on sounds and, while the current era’s studio focus has produced some incredible tracks, the crop of new artists simply don’t have the practice in running a dance like Shabba. Legendary radioman Barry G, who MCed the night, made it clear: a generation of Jamaicans had not been privy to this type of performance.

Commemorating Jamaica 50, the Government of Jamaica honored the “Dancehall Emperor” by presenting him with an award for his contribution to music—specifically dancehall. “Is not only gun shot can come out of the ghetto,” he said as he accepted, introducing his wife and two sons, and explaining that it was family that had kept him in New York and away from Jamaica for all these years. Here’s hoping it won’t be another 10 years before Shabba takes the stage in Jamaica again.

Click through below for some photographic highlights from Shabba’s big homecoming.