18 August 2018
Occasional rainfall couldn’t dampen the spirits of Rototom on the Friday of its historic 25th anniversary. The Main Stage witnessed a dancehall masterclass from seasoned singer Johnny Osbourne as he closed a 2 hour showcase by drum and bass duo, Sly and Robbie, and their Taxi Gang.
Once again, the bill mixed Jamaican and Californian artists – but this time the Californians came first. Progressive reggae outfit Groundation, led by Harrison Stafford returned to Rototom for a third appearance. Boasting a new line-up of musicians dubbed The Next Generation by Stafford, their sound was more traditionally reggae than the previous incarnation. The bearded Harrison’s face and body were almost contorting in total commitment to his music and Rasta messages. He reminded everyone that it was Marcus Garvey’s birthday and performed a cover of Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey as well as original material like Hebron. The unfaltering crowd standing in a shower of rain to hear it all, gave proceedings a biblical feel.
The audience dispersed then replenished in time for the arrival of Sly and Robbie and their black clad Taxi Gang (augmented by trombonist Henry Matic Tenyue and saxophonist Guillaume Stepper Briard). Sly Dunbar’s drums exploded like fireworks and Robbie Shakespeare’s bass had the gravitational pull of a small planet during Black Uhuru’s Shine Eye Gal, before a procession of guest vocalists took the stage. Swedish former child star Junior Natural, now a tall man, sang two tunes from his Sly and Robbie produced album Militant. The voice of Birmingham England’s Bitty McLean, who recently celebrated his 46th birthday, still sounds as youthful as ever. He too paid tribute to Marcus Garvey with a smooth reimagining of Redemption Song and gave the mic to Robbie for a soft rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s Queen Majesty.
By contrast the voice of albino deejay superstar Yellowman sounds very different from his heyday. But the reborn conscious Yellowman is a far more uplifting and positive presence. Jogging on in lycra sports gear emblazoned with a skull, he shared hits Nobody Move and Zunguzeng, alongside a cover of the Maytals’ Bam Bam (performed by Cocoa Tea the day before).
Then it was the turn of the second of “two living legends” Johnny Osbourne who immediately asserted himself as the performer of the night. “I was there in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and in the new millennium” he explained as he delivered superb roots material (Truths and Rights), lovers laments (Ice Cream Love) and digital dancehall classics (Buddy Bye). He called back Bitty Mclean for a collaboration on his Jahovia.
Finally, it was time for the ultimate living legend, 70 year old Jimmy Cliff to close the show. Dressed in a bright red jacket and a black hat with a gold ankh symbol on the front, Mr Cliff and his slick band demonstrated the eclectic nature of his vast catalogue. From a Rasta drummed Rivers Of Babylon to the bouncy Rub A Dub Partner, from hand waving ballads Wild World and Many Rivers To Cross to the driving tenacity of the Harder They Come, Jimmy has done it all. The highlight of the set was a ska section including his early hits King of Kings and Miss Jamaica. The lyrics to I Can See Clearly Now were imbued with literal meaning after the earlier showers of rain.