18 August 2019
From the Babylon Soundtrack to Busy Signal, the festival gives a place to reggae’s many forms.
Rototom’s second day was a reminder of reggae’s longevity from the celluloid to the digital age.
The Main Stage commenced with the first of two anniversary celebrations of classic reggae films. Nearly 40 years after its release, Babylon, Franco Rosso‘s unflinching look at reggae and racism in South London was screened in the University in the afternoon. That evening, two of the film’s key participants, soundtrack creator Dennis Bovell and lead actor Brinsley Forde brought the music of the film to life on stage. Dennis, who missed the University discussion, made his considerable presence felt vocally on the atmospheric jazzy dub he created for the movie. Brinsley revealed the unreleased vocal cut to his former group Aswad’s Hey Jah Children, the dub of which appears on the Babylon soundtrack. To close, Brinsley and Dennis brought out the film’s co-writer Martin Stellman before Aswad’s Warrior Charge. The trombone was played by the recording’s original hornsman Henry Tenyue.
The London to Spain connection continued with Madrid harmony group Emeterians. Brother Wildman, Sister Maryjane and Maga Lion showed why their commitment to roots reggae has seen them living and working with top producers in the UK capital. Their music is very much in the spirit of the classic style of Bob Marley and his contemporaries but with a modern edge. They welcomed on some special guests – Thiano Bless from Chile, and Saritah from Australia.
After Protoje discovery Lila Iké‘s well-received performance on Friday, her soulful voiced colleague Sevana had her chance to shine. Less active on stage than Lila, she possessed a poise and elegance that held the same attention. “Big up Protoje wherever you are in the world. He gave me my first glimpse of a Rototom stage”, was her introduction to her 2015 debut single produced by him, Too Shy. She was backed, like Lila, by the UK’s Soul Rebel band including Jazzwad on keyboards.
Before a monster crowd, Busy Signal closed the main area with his catchy and creative approach to dancehall. In keeping with Chronixx the previous night, his music spans a wide range: from frenetic dance smash Wine Pon Di Edge, to ingenious reggae covers of Phil Collins and Lionel Richie. Happy to be back at Rototom after five years, he saluted the fans, saying “You are the reason why I’m here”. He then invited Catalonian dancehall artist Bad Gyal on for their recent collaboration Santa Maria.
Over on the Lion Stage, reggae music’s international footprint trod deep. Poland’s Bednarek gave a lively performance to a youthful demographic, backed by an equally young band. A massive star in Poland, he was visibly humbled to be performing in Spain at Rototom.
US-based reggae singer and children’s educator Aaron Nigel Smith confirmed why he topped the Billboard chart with socially conscious debut solo album Our America. He demonstrated effortless crowd control in getting people singing and dancing with minimal movement. As well as songs from Our America, warning against the rise of the Far Right, he acknowledged his band’s drummer Jubba from Dubtonic Kru, playing Natty Roots, his cut from Jubba’s Sweet Reggae Music rhythm.
Rebel music of a different flavour was the order of the night from Parisian singer Tairo. Many of Busy’s huge audience stopped off before the exit to hear him sing. When asked if any French people were in the house – half the hands in the vicinity went up. They seemed to know the lyrics to songs like Reggae Français (about the things one must do to achieve musical success) and broken-hearted love song Si J’Avais Pas Connu Cette Fille. But his broken-toned roots voice cut through any language barrier.