Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Martei Korley
Jamaica’s Tony Rebel founded Rebel Salute in 1994, as a tribute to his friend, the late singer Garnet Silk. Since then, Rebel Salute has relocated from St. Elizabeth, on the island’s South Coast, to St. Ann in the North, and expanded from presenting a handful of acts on one night to nearly 100 over two. In 24 years, the show has never wavered from its focus on clean living and pure, conscious Jamaican reggae. No alcohol or meat is served at Rebel Salute, and cursing and slack lyrics are strictly prohibited. In a long-standing Rebel Salute tradition, the small handful of dancehall artists granted space on the show are required to perform under their birth name (so as not to send any mixed messages to the all-ages crowd), and all artists are encouraged to deliver only songs with conscious and uplifting lyrics.
More than just a music showcase, Rebel Salute has come to be known for its vegetarian cuisine, with some of Jamaica’s most popular Ital food vendors serving up livity in the form of healthy meals. This year, Rebel Salute was also granted a special legal exemption allowing vendors to openly retail ganja and chalices in an area dubbed the “Herb Curb,” an early, but significant, step towards tapping the potential of marijuana tourism in Jamaica.
With Sting (the long-running Boxing Day dancehall showcase) and the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival both cancelled, and Reggae Sumfest significantly scaled back, Rebel Salute took on even greater prominence as a marquee event within Jamaica’s music calendar this year. This year saw the Jamaica Tourist Board come on board as a sponsor.
This year’s lineup largely relied on veteran acts, with some of the most remarkable performances coming from elders like Stranger Cole, Derrick Morgan, Errol Dunkley and Leroy Gibbons. Few members of reggae’s youth movement were present on the bill, though those who did appear (Jesse Royal, No-Maddz) left a positive impression. In her first major festival appearance as Minister Marion Hall, the artist formerly known as Lady Saw delivered a strictly gospel performance on Night One, though it was unfortunately overshadowed by a dispute between the evening’s co-headliners, Anthony B. and Tarrus Riley. Night Two was closed by Popcaan and Beenie Man, performing as Andrae Sutherland and Moses Davis. Both were faced with the unenviable task of following an invigorating sunrise set from iconic singer Sanchez.
If you’ve ever been to a festival or major stageshow in Jamaica, you know it’s all about the long haul, with the best and most anticipated performances occurring deep into the morning hours. This year was no exception, with the show running past 9.am. on both days. Those who stuck it out were sufficiently rewarded. Here’s some of the highlights, as captured by LargeUp creative director and co-founder Martei Korley.
Crowds filing into the venue, Grizzly’s Plantation, just outside of Ocho Rios, on Night One of Rebel Salute 2017.
Sister Nancy, widely regarded as dancehall’s pioneering female deejay, made her first Jamaican appearance in over a decade, at Rebel Salute. The Kingston native, who has lived in New Jersey for the past 20-odd years, appeared as part of an ’80s dancehall segment on Night One that also featured Lone Ranger and General Trees.
General Trees brought humorous lyrics and a natty pink suit to Night One. Of course, he had to perform his 1986 classic “Minibus,” which always gets laughs and forwards from a Jamaican audience.
Your host for the weekend, Mr. Tony Rebel. No Rebel Salute is complete without a performance from the festival founder.
Beres Hammond is a close friend of Mr. Rebel’s and a fixture at Rebel Salute, even when he’s not performing. He was present for both evenings as a spectator. Here he is taking in the show from behind the stage, on Night 1.
The artist formerly known as Lady Saw, performing her first full gospel set as Minister Marion Hall. Her set resonated emotionally with many members of the crowd, a number of whom were visibly brought to tears.
Night 1 got off to a mellow start, with much of the action occurring later in the morning and on Night 2. Here, singer Tinga Stewart (at center), listens to a sermon from Minister Marion.
Two of Jamaica’s greatest entertainers talking shop. Beres commented to us that he was especially taken with the sincerity of his long-time friend’s performance.
Warrior King offers a salute.
“There is a land far, far away…” The current incarnation of the Abyssinians, with founder Bernard Collins at center, after a set of deep, deep roots. The vocal group were one of several acts who delivered versions of their iconic “Satta Massagana” over the course of the weekend.
Wayne Wonder’s performance was like a hit parade, with the sweet-voiced crooner dropping tune after tune.
Half Pint had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hands. Many in the crowd remarked that they thought his was the best performance of Rebel Salute’s first night.
“You live the life you love. You love the life you live.” Half Pint brings the crowd his “Greetings”…
Tarrus Riley did not perform with his band, Blak Soil, as scheduled on Night 1, but he did make a surprise appearance during Fantan Mojah’s set. It appears his decision to air his grievances with Anthony B. took Mojah by surprise.
I-Wayne performing at dawn, as the lifting fog reveals the hills of St. Ann.
After Tarrus Riley’s tirade, all eyes were on Anthony B.
Anthony B. brought all the fire you would expect to his performance.
Anthony B., fielding the big questions from TV personality Winford Williams.
I-Wayne in the driver’s seat, after his performance on Rebel Salute Night 1.
Starting off Night 2 with a smoothie…
Fresh fruit, roasted nuts, roots tonic… All the necessary tools for a very long night.
Johnny the Hat Man shows off some of his creations.
Rebel Salute is now one of three events (along with Stepping High and Rastafari Rootzfest, both in Negril) granted ganja-exempt status — meaning marijuana can be used freely during their duration — by the Jamaican government.
Vendors at the Herb Curb talking shop.
Ziggi Papers, out of Slovenia, showcased its rolling papers.
For those who prefer to bun chalice.
In keeping with the times, oils and extracts were also available.
The tools of the trade.
Backstage with Jesse Royal, before his performance on Night 2.
Slick doesn’t even begin to describe the vibe of original dancehall singer Leroy Gibbons. His set was a definite highlight of Night 2, even if he didn’t give us a proper version of “This Magic Moment.”
Night 2 really caught its stride with a segment of performances from some of ska and reggae’s original pioneers. Here, Stranger Cole performs what is literally the first reggae song, 1968’s “Bangarang.”
At age 71, Stranger Cole still can move. His spastic skanking was just as much of a highlight as his burgundy zoot suit.
“I am the King of Ska,” Derrick Morgan announced as he took off his hat to begin his set, after an introduction from host Mutabaruka. Morgan’s movements might be limited —he’s blind and requires a cane to walk — but the gravity he brings to the stage is tremendous.
Nuff movements a gwaan here: Former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis delivers a punch, while Tony Rebel and Babsy Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Youth, Culture and Entertainment, make their respective points.
I-wara Mamher-Tafari, of Kingston raw-food eatery Mi Hungry Whol-Some Food, serves up a dish. Mi Hungry’s “Pleaza” (“live” pizza with “not cheese” made from sunflower seeds) is a top choice choice for Rebel Salute denizens in for the long haul.
Kick Outttt! Queen Ifrica steps out with an international group of dancers who appeared during her set.
Radio personality and DJ Nikki Z (Fame 95FM) on set.
Queen Ifrica put on a live-performance clinic that showcased her talents as a singer and a deejay. Her show resonated deeply with the audience, as she touched on current scandals and events.
Ifrica has a laugh with Babsy Grange and Delano Seivright, director of Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority, after her set.
Popcaan, we mean Andrae Sutherland, backstage.
Popcaan and Chi Ching Ching, sipping on sum’n.
Legendary guitarist Cat Coore of Third World strumming away as the sun begins to rise on another St. Ann morning.
Sanchez shakes the hand of fellow singer Wayne Wonder right before taking the stage.
Only in Jamaica will you find peak crowd levels at 7am!
Sanchez, a singer known for his dancehall covers of pop and R&B songs, isn’t the first artist you associate with Rebel Salute, but he had the crowd’s number. Many people we spoke with agreed his might have been the festival’s most effective performance.
Sanchez exits the stage with his wife, after a job well done.
Assassin a.k.a Agent Sasco delivered another jarring set to start the morning.
VP Records A&R Neil “Diamond” Edwards, spotted in the crowd.
The hits just kept on coming: iconic ’90s duo Tanto Metro and Devonte brought out a set of ’90s dancehall classics to match Sanchez’s. Tanto ended their set by taking a stab at Tory Lanez’s melodic refrain from “Luv,” the massive 2016 pop hit based on the group’s own “Everybody Falls in Love.”
Jack Scorpio, founder of Black Scorpio sound system, awaiting Spragga Benz’s set.
Spragga brought out Wayne Wonder, during an action-packed set.
Popcaan makes his entrance, with flag man in tow.
A little elevation on a Sunday morning…
Popcaan brought out the youth. These fans sang along to his every word.
Popcaan’s set list spanned his six-year career, from the early hit “Dream” to his big 2016 tune, “World Cup.”
Tony Rebel (in green shirt, at left) congratulates Popcaan on a job well done.
You can count on Beenie Man being among the most impeccably dressed performers at any show he’s booked to perform on.
Beenie Man surveying the crowd, as he gets set to close out the show, sometime around 9am.
Spragga Benz exits the premises…
Time fi lock up… another Rebel Salute is in the books.