22 August 2019
The penultimate day of Rototom welcomed some of the biggest names in reggae music and culture to Benicassim for a remembrance of legacy and heritage.
Before the music began, Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie 1st, spoke at the Reggae University. He was greeted by Nyabinghi drums and chanting by a delegation from the House of Rastafari. Among the many topics covered, he praised Rototom and its environmental theme, Stand Up For Earth, and hoped that such a festival could take place in Africa.
At the Main Stage, after some brief heavy rainfall, Jamaican progressive reggae supergroup Third World commemorated the giant milestone of 45 years in music. Guitarist/cellist Stephen Cat Coore led his ensemble through decades of boundary-pushing yet accessible cultural reggae. As well as playing their famous hits like Now That We’ve Found Love and 96 Degrees In The Shade, they shared singles, Loving You Is Easy and Na Na Na, from their forthcoming album produced by Damien Marley.
Spain’s Iseo & Dodosound returned to the festival, showing how far reggae has travelled since the 70s. Their crisp, triphop influenced digital dub rhythms, Iseo’s ethereal, reverb-shrouded voice, and the Mousehunters’ saxophones, trumpet and flute, were the perfect mental lift-off in the cool night air.
Over at the Dub Academy, area hosts Green Light, France’s Blackboard Jungle, and Bologna’s 48 Roots Sound were engaged in a friendly 3-way clash. Knowing that 48 Roots would be bringing the foundation rarities, Green Light dropped an absolute killer in the form of the Rockstones’ slavery lament, Oh Jah Man. Later on, the Academy hosted a surprise set by Stand High Patrol.
The legacy of the Wailers was brought to life on the Main Stage. Deep-voiced Rasta singer Bushman, back for the first time since 2010, threw out copies of new album Conquering Lion and paid tribute to his hero Peter Tosh with the songs Bush Doctor and Igziabeher.
But the moment many had been waiting for was the headline appearance of Bob Marley’s son, Ziggy. Like Third World, Ziggy’s take on roots reggae is a progressive one, melding rock, dance and pop to the original template. From his father’s classics to the title track of his own latest album Rebellion Rises, every note of every tune was rendered with pinpoint accuracy. During Get Up Stand Up, he used Haile Selassie’s speech popularised by another of his father’s anthems, War. His band included the great drummer Carlton Santa Davis, who played live with Peter Tosh, and on the recording of Bob’s Coming In From The Cold, which was lovingly recreated.
Dancehall’s role in the global conversation was evident away from the Main Stage. Ghana’s multilingual, multitalented vocalist Stonebwoy, who appeared as a surprise guest of Morgan Heritage the night before, delivered his own extraordinary high energy set on the Lion Stage. “I represent the reggae, dancehall and Afrobeats community” he said – and his abilities likewise were threefold: as a singer, rapper and deejay. In the Dancehall, Spanish singer and emcee Mad Muasel displayed similar versatility. She and her dancers had people jumping to dancehall, reggae and cumbia at the same frenetic pace. She was followed by non-stop strictly Jamaican dancehall crowd-pleasers, from area headliners Renaissance with selector Jazzy T.
Fans of soulful singing were treated to a choice between generations. On the Lion Stage: the emotive tones and summery crossover rhythms of French sensation Naâman had a huge and familiar audience waiting for him from the start. Meanwhile at the Caribbean Uptempo, veteran Studio 1 crooner Winston Francis reminded everyone why he was the voice of some of Jamaica’s best loved songs such as Mr Fix It and Let’s Go To Zion.