19 August 2018
The continuous appeal of Jamaican music was demonstrated by the Main Stage offering on Saturday night. One of the island’s first ever superstars and one of the last additions to the line up enthralled in equal measure.
The special 25th anniversary shows continued with a history packed opening set by the group that started it all – The Skatalites. None of the founder members still tour with the band – but the ultra-tight ensemble boasts veterans Sparrow Thompson on drums and Val Douglas on bass. Joining them was the first of three distinguished guests: legendary Studio 1 trombonist Vin Gordon (who had participated in that day’s Reggae University discussion before taking the stage).
Gordon, nicknamed Don Drummond Junior after the Skatalites genius of the same horn, blew his ‘bone through immortal instrumentals Freedom Sounds, James Bond, Guns of Navarone and Confucius. The group then beckoned on original Skatalites vocalist Doreen Shaffer. “The Queen of Ska” serenaded everyone with her signature Sugar Sugar, Delroy Wilson’s Can’t You See and “my good friend” Ken Boothe’s When I Fall In Love.
The final guest was one of the cornerstones of Jamaican music, now in his sixth decade as a singer, Derrick Morgan. Helped to the mic stand by his wife, the roar that greeted the 78-year-old when he raised his hat and announced himself as “the King of Ska” was something to behold. He commanded the gigantic crowd as he delved deep into his bag of hits: Tougher Than Tough, Greedy Gal, Fatman and Hold Yuh Jack. He and Doreen Shaffer then sang Simmer Down by Bob Marley (a man Derrick helped to discover).
After so much history and live instrumentation, the vibes shot up to date with a short set from Barcelonan rap, reggaeton and dancehall vocalist Bad Gyal. Flanked by a troupe of dancers and a hype man on the mic, the pink haired singer performed to pre-recorded backing tracks. Speaking in Spanish, she said she had been in the Rototom audience many times and she hoped that some of them would enjoy her music. The screams of recognition for her songs from younger fans down front suggested that they did.
Bridging the gap between the two acts that came before was the catchy, contemporary reggae of Romain Virgo. A worthy late replacement for American group Slightly Stoopid, the 2007 Digicel Rising Stars winner, backed by the Unit Band, delivered his trademark sweetly packaged tales of hard Jamaican realities. Songs like Can’t Sleep, Rich In Love, Live Mi Life, and Another Day Another Dollar, were received with a joy that predicts they could become classic material in years to come.
It was left to smoky-voiced Ivorian reggae singer-activist Tiken Jah Fakoly to inject some roots vibrations to proceedings. Dressed in flowing robes and holding his red, gold and green staff in his hand, he greeted the adoring throng “In the name of Rastafari”. His band stood back, giving him freedom of movement on the front half of the stage. His emancipatory lyrics rode on thumping rhythms, subtly different in their drums to their Jamaican cousins, a reflection of reggae’s journey and return to its motherland. The audience sang as one during Plus Rien Ne M’Étonne, questioning the colonial drawing of borders to create African countries. His mystical closing set rounded off the 25th Rototom’s most diverse evening of entertainment yet.