woensdag 1 september 2010

Rototom 2010

For the first time in my life I went to the Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival, one of the biggest reggae festivals in the world, and the biggest of Europe. The 2010 edition was held in Benicassim, on the Spanish eastern coast somewhat north of Valencia city (province Castellón). From the 21th to the 28th of August.
This was the 17th time it was held, but the place it has been held – the 16 times before it – used to be in northeastern Italy, near Udine, on the foot of the Alpine mountains. The reason for the location change seems to relate to recently more repressive Berlusconian policies against (among other things?) the overt marijuana smoking on the festival.
Now the setting changed to the Spanish Mediterranean coast, but the main ingredients of the festival remained more or less the same. These are 8 days of concerts on larger and smaller stages, debates, sound systems, films, stands, shops, workshops, food…you done know.
The common theme: reggae of course, and related aspects. Rastafari(anism) got understandable attention, but also progressive social movements, such as related to various developing countries, and, well, also marijuana and the desirability of its legalization.
The line-up of artists performing, especially on the main stage, were (mainly Jamaican) reggae artists of note: Anthony B, Bob Andy, Bushman, Marcia Griffiths, the Abyssinians, Pablo Moses, the Mighty Diamonds, Etana, Jah Mason, Fantan Mojah, Max Romeo, Alpha Blondy, Glen Washington, Chuck Fenda, Wayne Wonder, and Busy Signal (and others). Overall to my opinion an adequate mix of old and new roots reggae, as well as dancehall singers and deejays.

I’ve been to many of these concerts and enjoyed most of them. I rocked my body line! Personally I enjoyed most the Abyssinians’ show (on the final day), as well as earlier in the festival Anthony B, Bushman, Pablo Moses, Bob Andy, and Etana. I have for instance never seen Pablo Moses or Bob Andy (photo left/above) live before, so that’s an extra.

On the smaller stages and venues mostly European reggae or ska bands performed, relatively often Spanish and Italian bands, but further from various countries (there was even an European reggae band contest). Some weren’t even that bad. I especially enjoyed the sound of a regional Valencian band, and of 2 Andalusian sisters (named the Real Sisters) who stayed truer to the reggae roots, unlike vague, party vibe bands mixing reggae-like music not always effectively with other genres like salsa or ska.

My primary reason for visiting was my love for reggae music. As an Amsterdam resident finding a place to freely smoke marijuana - if that were my wish - is not that spectacular to me. I don’t judge people who find that important, though. I draw the line at cocaine or excessive strong drink use, both hard drugs in my opinion.
Apart from the music, which had more than enough to offer that I surely liked and loved, I also experienced the vibe, the general atmosphere, observed other visitors, the debates, and the entire organization. Let’s start with the main thing for me, the music. Then comes the rest.


I am more into roots reggae than dancehall, but can enjoy some inventive or well-written dancehall. Especially when it’s not too fast. The concerts I enjoyed most were thus roots, or roots dancehall. Even when accompanied largely by European, white reggae musicians (seemingly making it less authentic), such as from
Switzerland or France, the concerts were outstanding by Bushman and Pablo Moses (photo left). My compliments for the French (from Toulon) musicians of the band No More Babylon for keeping up with real reggae. Anthony B, Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths, Etana, and the Abyssinians had Jamaican musicians accompanying them, so it’s not all cheapness of the organization, luckily. Anthony B was fire (or: fya)!
The Abyssinians (photo left under) with the Jamaican Live Wya band, had one of the best concerts: good sound, good songs, good vocals, good musicianship. Good show, all in all. I am more or less an Abyssinians fan so I could sing all songs along, while rocking along.

The Mighty Diamonds concert was fine, but main singer, with a beautiful singing voice, Donald Shaw (Tabby Diamond), could not make it (due to “Babylon visa problems”), leaving the performance to the mostly backing singers, Fitzroy Simpson and Lloyd Ferguson. Still, the strength of the songs of the Mighty Diamonds (their main strength I think) shone through. The main songwriter was present, that is Fitzroy Simpson, for me a legend in his own right. Further, Etana also showed to be a talented lady singer.

On the dancehall/deejaying side of things my experiences were varying. I guess jump-up sessions are not my thing, and I find them monotonous. I enjoy dancing more to one-drop or rockers reggae. Others in the audience seemed to like the jump-up sessions: chaqu’un son gout. (or since it was in Spain: cada uno su gusto).
Fantan Mojah and Chuck Fenda had for that reason – and for too much interruptions – mediocre performances. While Wayne Wonder (photo left/above) also had a dancehall vibe, but to my opinion a nicer (singing, soulful) one. Busy Signal is “digital” heavy dancehall. Let’s just say that this is not my cup of tea. Glen Washington was nice but not spectacular, maybe due to lesser (in this case European) musicians, as well as Jah Mason.

Other concerts (I’ve seen so many) were also solid, such as of Big Youth (though it began somewhat late: about 02.00 at night), Marcia Griffiths (photo left), and newcomer Romain Virgo.
I did not see Italian/Sicilian reggae artist Alborosie, because that was on the only day of the festival I did not go (not even only at evening), so others may judge that.

Like I mentioned there were some interesting European reggae bands, while several sound systems (mostly European) played here and there, but I attended only a few. I guess I focused on the main stage


I noticed different remarkable things on the festival terrain. First, there were so many shops and stands.
More than I thought there would be. You can consider this commercial, but some had interesting Rastafari-inspired items or clothes I seldom find elsewhere.

Another thing: I have never seen so many white people with dreadlocks in one place before in my life! Visitors were relatively often Italians (I would say about half, due to the festival’s organizers and former venue), so these white dreads were often Italians, though I encountered quite some Spanish dreads, as well as from France, Germany or elsewhere. Black dreads, be it African or Caribbean, were not absent (apart from genuine artists), but were not too numerous.
Note that I use the word “dreads” for dreadlocked persons, and not Rastas, because Rasta is a mental thing, which goes of course beyond the superficiality of a hairdo. Even if the locks reach to one’s middle or are well-maintained: that does not mean a thing. You have to know a person to know whether he/she is a true, “conscious” Rastaman or Rastawoman.
The audience was not really unified and tended to be divided in separate sections. Friends with friends, Italians with Italians etcetera. This was a pity, but maybe it’s in part because of the language barrier. I hoped for interesting discussions on relative preferences within reggae, how other people came to reggae, such as I have had in the Netherlands, but these remained unfortunately limited.

Maybe the festival context was not the right occasion for that. Many went to party, smoke a lot of weed, and listen to reggae, of which they often even didn’t know too much beyond a few Bob Marley songs, and maybe Max Romeo’s Chase The Devil (a good song, I don’t contest it). But that differs, I think, from person to person, or from age to age maybe, and I must respect differences. Some dreadlocked persons (with also Rasta-like clothing) even did not seem to care what occurred on/came from the stage, even during the outstanding roots concerts, but I’m not in their head. Maybe they were tired, or smoked too much mediocre bush weed.
Maybe they were also annoyed by the hot weather (about 35 degrees Celsius by day), and found it difficult to adapt to after (near to) Alpine Northern Italy.

There was also a Reggae University, which I visited on some occasions. Debates on social movements in Latin America, other developing countries, Berlusconi, activities of NGOs, poverty, press freedom, showing the “reggae scene” as in a sense related to a left-wing, progressive border-crossing alliance.
There were also debates on reggae and reggae history in the strict sense, however, such as on early deejaying in Jamaica, with artists like Big Youth attending, sound systems, dancehall culture and dancing in present-day Jamaica, Rastafari and reggae, with members of the Abyssinians and the Mighty Diamonds participating. I found these discussions interesting, especially the one with the Abyssinians and Mighty Diamonds (photo left above). I did not know that Mighty Diamonds member Lloyd Ferguson was a founding member of the Twelve Tribes group within Rastafari (back in 1968). Abyssinians member Donald Manning explained what Rastafari meant to him, and argued justly that Rastafari is about knowledge, and not just about hair. Veteran deejay Big Youth explained how he was early in starting to deejay about “conscious” Rastafari themes, and related about the Jamaican music scene, e.g. how many producers (“criminals”) tricked artists like him.

There were also movies shown at the House of Rastafari, some of which I’ve seen already, or at the cultural centre.

All in all the debates and other things I attended added to an overall enjoyable experience for me at the festival, along with going to several great concerts.

(See also my YouTube page - http://www.youtube.nl/MichelConci - for video fragments I recorded of concerts)