21 August 2019
The Main Stage hosts Jamaican singing groups from the 40s, 70s and 90s, with enormous rhythmic diversity on offer throughout the festival.
Since recording began in Jamaica, singers and players of instruments have come together. Tuesday evening saw Rototom invite three unique groups from the island to the Main Stage, while showcasing infectious Afro-Latin rhythms elsewhere.
The roots reggae of the 1970s was embodied by Rasta harmony duo Israel Vibration. Skelly and Wiss (backed by legendary studio band the Roots Radics, featuring bass player Flabba Holt, and guitarists Dwight Pinkney and Steve Golding) blended their distinctive voices over their vast catalogue of music. It was nice to hear them include vintage material such as Why Worry and Same Song, alongside later tracks like Surfin’, as the audience sang, waved and clapped at their command.
A very different take on reggae came from hugely popular Californian band Slightly Stoopid. Visiting Rototom for the first time, their fun, bouncy, speedy approach to music occupied a similar space in the evening to The Selecter the night before.
Heavier vibes awaited at the Dub Academy. Italian “Traditional Roots Sound” 48 Roots stayed true to their remit, laying down some Lee Perry produced Wailers, Enos McLeod and the Mighty Diamonds and early Michael Rose. Next, African dub specialist Jacin played his crisp and clear digital productions on Sheffield, England’s Sinai Sound.
Sound system boxes gave way to Rhumba boxes, as the Main Stage went even further back in time. Evergreen mento group the Jolly Boys have been playing the precursor to reggae and ska since the late 1940s – and show no signs of slowing down. They stuck to mento staples like Hold Him Joe rather than their covers of Iggy Pop’s the Passenger and Bobby Fuller’s I Fought The Law. Before their performance they gave a talk at the Reggae University about how they have endured changing line-ups and fashions over the decades.
The last of Tuesday’s Main Stage Jamaican groups was forward-thinking reggae dynasty Morgan Heritage. The brothers Gramps, Mojo and Peetah shared everything from the title track to 2015’s Grammy-winning album Strictly Roots, to their old favourites Don’t Haffi Dread and Down By The River, to fresh music from their new album Loyalty. Mojo’s son Esh and Gramps’ son Jemere were invited on as “the next generation”. A more surprising guest was Wednesday’s Lion Stage headliner Stonebwoy. The family continued the Rototom 2019 trend of the big returning Jamaican headliners, turning in their best shows yet.
A close cousin of ska, reggae and mento is Colombian Cumbia – and after midnight, fans of the winding, syncopated style were spoilt for choice. Italian DJ Cumbia Rey and Saxophonist Kiko Nunez played over records in the Caribbean Uptempo; while on the Lion Stage, Italian collective Instituto Italiano Di Cumbia All Stars, performed with a full ensemble of musicians and energetic dancers.
As a light shower of rain fell, quirky French entity Stand High Patrol created their unique mood. On microphone duties was Italian singer and emcee Marina P and her ethereal, sultry voice over their sparse soundscapes like a cross between reggae and 90s ambient electronica such as Lamb. Party music of a more Jamaican flavour was in full force at the Dancehall. Legendary sound system Stone Love delivered their usual mix of creative dub-plate specials, well known classics and eclectic choices.
Having played a superb ska and rocksteady set on Monday, and given a Tuesday afternoon University talk on the history of Trojan Records, white-gloved UK soundman Gladdy Wax returned to the Caribbean Uptempo. He was joined, for a Trojan tribute, by University panel chair and author David Katz and another highly skilled selector from London, Mistah Brown. The fabled British imprint was a recipe for much joyous dancing before the dawn.