Salute 25 Years – Rebel Salute Music Festival Bringing Reggae Lovers Together for 25 Years

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Photos by: Alyssa Mahadeo - Toronto Caribbean Newspaper

BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO

Smooth rhythms, melodic beats, honest lyrics, slow and steady Irie vibes. Everything you could imagine at a reggae festival and more encompassed at one of the Caribbean’s biggest celebrations in the preservation of reggae music.

This January, Rebel Salute celebrated 25 exciting years of wholesome entertainment and is commended as one of the greatest roots reggae shows on this planet. It’s one thing for a person who is a lover of reggae music to attend a reggae festival, and it’s another thing for a person who has limited knowledge of reggae music, it’s vast history and culture to go experience something so enlightening.

The Toronto Caribbean Newspaper was invited by the Jamaica Tourist Board to head down to Jamaica for the weekend to cover this must-see festival, listed in the Billboard Magazine’s top four festivals in the Caribbean. Rebel Salute began as a concert to celebrate the birthday of reggae icon Tony Rebel but has since evolved into a unique Jamaican entertainment brand that has managed to capture the hearts of thousands of reggae lovers at home and around the world.

The Reggae music genre is unique to Jamaica, but it’s roots lie in New Orleans R&B. Reggae’s direct forefather is ska, an uptempo, rhythmic variation based on the New Orleans R&B.

“Jamaican musicians heard broadcasts from the US on their transistor radios. Relying on skittering guitar and syncopated rhythms, ska was their interpretation of R&B and it was quite popular in the early ’60s,” as cited from allmusic.com.

However, during one very hot summer, the weather was too hot to either play or dance ska, so the beat was slowed down and reggae was born. Since then, reggae has proven to be as versatile as the blues, lending itself to a number of interpretations, from the melodic rock steady of Alton Ellis and the rock and folk-influenced songwriting of Bob Marley to the trippy, near-psychedelic soundscapes of dub artists like Lee “Scratch” Perry. It has crossed into the mainstream through the bright, bouncy “Reggae Sunsplash” festivals and pop-oriented bands like UB40, but more adventurous reggae artists, such as Marley and Perry, have influenced countless reggae, folk, rock and dance artists. Their contributions resonate throughout popular music.

Lovers of reggae music travel from near and far to attend Rebel Salute, it’s authentic tribute to good clean and honest music, a testament to the hearts of the people who create it. The lyrics of each song hold a deeper meaning, calling out injustice, discouraging hate, and exploring solutions to issues affecting people and the masses.

Right in line with the preservation of reggae is the Rastafari social movement fighting resistance and calling for social change. A very powerful means of spreading these messages is through reggae music. For a new movement to effectively change the system that is in place, it must realize several goals. The movement must have a clear ideology that is supported by the general population. The message of Rastafarianism has been spread worldwide by reggae artists like Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, and many others.

January 12th and 13th from dusk until dawn, a range of locally and internationally acclaimed artists provided an exciting lineup of musical entertainment at Grizzly’s Plantation Cove in St. Ann, a vast venue overlooking the Caribbean Sea. “Saluters” or festival patrons were treated to performance after performance and the many delights of the arts village and ital food vendors. 

Back for another year was the Herb Curb implemented in 2016 featuring an array of exhibits, herb practitioners, educators, speakers and medical professionals who explore everything from the sacramental to the medicinal marvels of marijuana – as well as a private smoking lounge.

The curb’s enclosed area displays educational, spiritual, medicinal and recreational products and content which affords patrons the opportunity to unlock the world of marijuana, its uses, applications and numerous byproducts on the cutting edge of organic medicinal exploration are on full display for hands-on experience and sampling.

Rebel Salute served a strictly vegetarian menu of ital food selections complimented by a diet of cultural roots and other provisions as modelled by reggae’s finest. In tandem with this, was the concept of a drug-free, violence-free and non-alcoholic event which serves to further the movement and promote peace.

A little rain and mud were not enough to dampen the spirits of those in attendance, who came to enjoy the full Rebel Salute experience from the music, to the food, lifestyle and culture. Island life is infamous for it’s relaxing and easy-going nature, and on an island like Jamaica rain or shine everything is ‘ALL RIGHT.’

Day one greeted the crowd with a warm-up and included a jam-packed list of headliners with so many names to mention, featuring locally and internationally renowned artists like Chevaughn, Anthony B, Big Youth, Bugle, Charly Black, DaVille, King Sounds, Mighty Mystic Lutan Fyah, Wickerman, Bushman, Jesse Royal, Agent Sasco, Prohgres, Notis Heavyweight Rockaz, Anthony Cruz, Zamunda, and of course the man himself Tony Rebel. Special surprise appearances from various artists also included reggae queen Marcia Griffiths and lovers rock aficionado, Beres Hammond.

Day two continued to deliver with even more explosive performances from the likes of Abatau, Admiral Tibet, Barrington Levy, Bernard Collins of the Abyssinians, Ding Dong, Duane Stephenson, Fantan Mojah, Freddie McGregor, Garnet Silk Jr., Jahmiel, Kenyatta Hill, Leroy Gibbons, Leroy Sibbles, Little Hero, Louie Culture, Luciano, Meleku, Nitty Kutchie, Nkulee Dube, Pablo Moses, Pinchers, Ras Shiloh, Romain Virgo, Rondell Positive,Vanzo finally welcoming the rising sun with appearances by Gyptian, I-Octane, I-Wayne, Capleton, Elephant Man and Sanchez.

Gracing the stage right alongside their brethren were sistren JC Lodge, Glacia Robinson, Althea & Donna, Davianah, Ikaya, Nkulee Dube, and Queen Ifrica, powerful queens, spreading good clean music.

As the night went on more and more people filled the grounds to explore and enjoy the festival. The Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a short guest appearance and the event passed without conflict.

It’s hard to say that even after the sun was high in the sky the next morning that people were even remotely ready to go home. Every artist who took to the stage put on an unforgettable performance, commanding the crowd and leaving them wanting more. With the scent of herb high in the air, horns blared and praises of Jah were heard throughout the venue. It was a reggae music lovers dream, and for someone there for the first time definitely, something words can’t do justice, it’s better off experienced live in person.

The festivals impressive list of partners is what continues to contribute to its success. The unwavering support of the Jamaica Tourist Board, Ministry of Culture Gender Entertainment & Sports, Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS), Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA), Television Jamaica (TVJ) and many more local hotels and resorts as well as media outlets have been critical to the success of the festival’s world-class production. With their help, Rebel Salute has been able to secure a steady population – tourists being 38% (the largest for any festival in Jamaica) and locals being 62%.

The islands lifestyle and culture encourage togetherness, comradery, and unity. Their warm hospitality and abundant culture allows for everyone to feel welcome, and their ability to throw a reggae festival cannot be underestimated. Rebel Salute is an annual event where everyone is welcome. Consider heading down to Jamaica just once to experience the music first hand.

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