November 20, 2017

Words by LargeUp Crew
Photos by Martei Korley

Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise set sail on its annual voyage from Florida to Jamaica last week, with over 4,000 passengers on board including many of reggae and dancehall’s biggest names. After five sold-out treks in four years (and one ship and venue change — the event now departs from Fort Lauderdale on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, a boat tied for the largest cruise ship in the world), this floating festival is now worthy of being called an institution.

This year’s edition featured a mixture of veterans Stephen Marley, Bounty Killer, Busy Signal, Jah Cure, Tarrus Riley and Cham, each of whom has yet to miss a trip, and first-timers Spice, Sizzla, Luciano, Inner Circle, Freddie McGregor (with his Big Ship Family including sons Chino and Stephen McGregor), Cocoa Tea, Tanto Metro and Devonte, Iba Mahr, Raging Fyah and Pressure Busspipe, the latter representing the U.S. Virgin Islands as one of the program’s only non-Jamaican acts. Damian himself has been on the road all year promoting his new album, Stony Hill, and of course he didn’t hold back delivering the longest and most powerful set of the cruise during the Friday-night finale, while popping his head up for on-stage cameos throughout the cruise. Dancehall’s Unruly Boss, Popcaan, also made a third consecutive appearance.

Sounds and selectors have been a big part of the cruise since its inception, with King Jammy himself delivering a live dub set each year that’s often hailed as one of the hallmarks of the cruise. This year’s DJ lineup was no different with a cast that included Rory and Geefus from Stone LoveYaadcore, ZJ Liquid, Foota Hype, DJ Norie, DJ Madout, Delano and Jazzy T from Renaissance Sound, Bambino, U.K. reps Seani B and Ras Kwame, Shinehead and Max Glazer. And Mighty Crown, David Rodigan, Tony Matterhorn and World Clash winners King Turbo went head to head at the third-annual Sound Clash at Sea, with the “Far East Rulaz” emerging victorious once more. (Look out for highlights from that one in a future post).

Our Martei Korley has been on board for each of the Jamrock Cruise’s four years, documenting every detail from the ships in port to the sweat and preparation backstage. Here are a few of his favorite shots from this year’s edition.

 Waiting our turn for departure in FLA…

Stormy skies delayed some of the proceedings on the cruise’s first night, but they couldn’t stop the vibes

“Welcome to Jamrock!” Damian Marley introduces cruise DJs Rassarella and Bambino at the “Sail Away” party

U.K. DJ/radio personality Seani B introduces himself to the crowd, as Nikki Z, ZJ Liquid and DJ Delano (Renaissance Sound) look on 

Sean, Veronika and Jason were among the many veteran cruisers who returned for Year 4 

Three the Hard Way: selectors DJ Delano, ZJ Liquid and DJ Madout pose for a shot

Mitchum “Khan” Chin, guitarist for the Blak Soil Band, prepares for his sets with Iba Mahr, Cocoa Tea and Tarrus Riley

Host Nikki Z goes over some final details before showtime on Night 1

The Blak Soil Band (L to R: Mitchum “Khan” Chin, Oral Brown, Dean Fraser)

Iba Mahr, making his first appearance on the Jamrock Cruise, was Night 1’s first performer

Lighters Up!

Iba Mahr was followed by ageless wonder, Cocoa Tea…

… And a powerful show by Tarrus Riley

Big Youth performed a fantastic set backed by the Blak Soil Band on Tuesday afternoon

Christopher Ellis, dressed to kill at the Tuesday night ‘White Party’ 

Big Youth backstage with Sky High the Maumau

Nikki Z

Host Nikki Z, revving up the crowd on Night 2

The Blak Soil Band playing for Pressure Busspipe

Pressure Busspipe appeared on the Jamrock Cruise for the first time, delivering one of this year’s strongest shows with a little help from the Virgin Islands massive 

It was a family affair as Chino and Stephen McGregor performed together, with backing vocals from their sister, Zosia McGregor

Yaadcore was among the selectors providing the sounds for Night 2 

Captain Freddie McGregor followed his kids to the stage after a brief intermission. Of course, his trademark tune went over big on this ship.

Damian Marley’s son, Elijah (“Little Zilla”), takes a seat at the drums after the show

Arrival in Ochi!

Passengers didn’t have to travel far from the cruise terminal in Ocho Rios to find entertainment, like this bit at the dockside venue Margaritaville. 

A crew of cruisers pose for a pic by the beach 

From the beach, the size of the ship can truly be appreciated

A quick pic with a legend before passing through customs…

Masta Simon of Mighty Crown poses for a selfie with some fans 

Back on the ship for Night 3…

Popcaan sends an unruly salute, as Tony Matterhorn, Dre Island and his father relax in the background 

The Cruise Deck all lit up before the performances on Night 3 

Spice made up for the relative lack of female artists on the Jamrock bill with an unrelenting display of feminine power. Here, one of her dancers shows off her flexibility with a challenging headtop maneuver. 

“I like you, you get straight to the point,” Spice told this man after calling him up to the stage to showcase his wining skills… 

“…But it seems like you run out of energy quickly.”

Dancehall ace Nigel Staff (of the Ruff Kutt band) opens a water bottle with his mouth, mid-set. Now that’s a pro!

People were wondering how Luciano would fare performing after the whirlwind that is Spice, but he just turned up the energy with a great performance

It was all laughs as Luciano met up with Jr. Gong, Richie Spice and Ragga Marley after his set 

It was Popcaan’s second time performing on the Jamrock Cruise. 

Jah Cure, who has performed on the Jamrock Cruise on each of its four years, returned to the Jamrock stage once more

Bounty Killer and Cham exchange high fives during the Warlord’s set on Night 3

Docking Montego Bay…

She’s in the running for the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise’s most hardcore supporter, right?

Inner Circle singer Trevor “Skatta” Bonnick enjoys some ice cream, with MoBay as his backdrop.

Another view that really captures the size of the ship

Selfie time with Sizzla…

Hanging back on the pool deck on Day 4

While most passengers disembark from the ship for sun and drinks while in Ochi and MoBay, there’s another option for those who wish to stay fit

Sizzla delivered a show-stopping performance backed by the Firehouse Crew

Kabaka Pyramid lets out a roar of approval during Kalonji’s strong set

Whether you call him “Wrong Move” or “Right Move,” Firehouse Crew musician Paul Crossdale is a legend in Jamaican music circles

Sizzla definitely draws out all of the camera phones when he takes to the stage

WTJRC coordinator Cristy Barber models her ink tribute to one of the cruise’s star performers, Busy Signal


Nyabinghi at sunrise…

After a rainy morning, the skies cleared for the Jamrock Cruise’s final day, just in time for a performance by dancehall hit machines Tanto Metro and Devonte 

Inner Circle, gearing up to celebrate their 50th anniversary as the Bad Boys of Reggae, made their cruise debut on Friday night

Singer Kumar Bent of Raging Fyah inna vibes…

Bianca and her mother, both from London, England, have made every cruise so far

Stephen Marley and his powerful harmony singers, Erica Newland and Rochelle Bradshaw

Damian Marley performed a two-hour set featuring many of his new songs from Stony Hill, deftly delivering

The electricity shorted in the middle of Damian’s show, but the drummer kept playing and the audience chanted until power was restored — for over 10 minutes. As the power roared back on, so did the band, jumping within four measures into the bridge of “Caution”. Here, the cruise’s host shares the stage with brother Stephen Marley and protégé Kabaka Pyramid. 

Jr. Gong brings out an all-star cast for the cruise’s finale, including Sizzla, Busy Signal and Stephen Marley