19 August 2019
Jamaica’s lady of song, Marcia Griffiths, reminded us why she has led her profession for 55 years. Her joyous voice, natural stage presence and unique sense of style connected with people instantly. As well as bringing her considerable catalogue, such as Feel Like Jumping, Young Gifted And Black and I Shall Sing, Marcia generously invited her favourite singers to the space via her many cover versions. Always current, she shared The Cables’ What Kind of World, the single from latest Studio 1 tribute album Timeless. Pride of place was given to the songs of Bob Marley (with whom she toured and recorded as one of the I Threes).
The headline act was another female reggae trailblazer, Queen Ifrica. The daughter of Marcia’s contemporary and last year’s Main Stage sensation, Derrick Morgan, Ifrica is equally at home singing and deejaying over one drop and up-tempo rhythms. She hailed the foundation with a ska medley of music by her father and his colleague Monty Morris; adapted the lyrics of the In Crowd’s Milk And Honey to “Rasta bring forth reggae”; and moved from Essence Of My Life to its original cut, Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear, the day after Garvey’s birthday. Her Rasta messages are uncompromising – she stated “I am a lioness not a feminist” before her hit Lioness On The Rise. But she clearly loved her international fanbase. “I am looking in the audience and seeing all colours, all nations” she said, removing her shoes, as is her custom, to feel grounded.
At the Lion Stage, French dub dancehall sound system and label OBF brought a trio of emcees for a barrage of lyrical prowess. England’s Charlie P, France’s Shanti D, and Spain’s own Sr Wilson all showed why they are so in demand on the international scene. A gigantic crowd had assembled, stretching back beyond the parameters of the congregation area, past the Lion Bar. “Are you ready to go crazy?” asked Charlie P, before launching into his tongue twister fast chat, as the three leant on each other like brothers. Dancehall lyricism over spine-shaking bass was a recipe for some of the most enthusiastic dancing the festival had seen.
Once their party wound down, it was time for another spiritual experience. One of the most serious roots reggae artists of Jamaica’s current generation, Micah Shemaiah, and his globally diverse Dreadites band, revealed his Roots I Vision of “a world of Rasta” to the people. His mesmerising voice and the band’s playing drew an audience heading for the exit within minutes.
In terms of ticking all the right boxes, no one was more suited to play the Caribbean Uptempo area in the early hours than the UK’s Natty Bo. As well as being well versed in ska and rocksteady, the immaculately dressed lead singer of The Topcats spun vintage cumbia from his record collection, its infectious rhythms filling the dancefloor.
Text by Angus Taylor