There is very little work on the island, and the tourist industry pays below-subsistence wages so it can afford to offer All-Inclusive vacations to tourists for whom “Jamaica” is like a virtual reality backdrop for their beach boozing. There they are on Long Bay in Negril bellowing out Marley’s “Everything’s gonna be all right.” Performers like Daps struggle through the fuckery and come out the other end, poised and singing sweetly.
Referring to the 2014 MIRF, Richard Lafrance brings up another problem that can plague organizers. “Whether you like it or not,” he says, “a festival depends on the weather.”
Montreal went cold and damp during last year’s festival, which is usually blessed by sunny skies and warm nights. The Old Port didn’t warm up until the third day, the bad weather peaking during Saturday night’s dancehall music line-up. A deluge slammed the crowd when international dancehall star Sean Paul gave a supercharged performance. But in my vicinity, the harder the rain came down, the wilder drenched fans danced under umbrellas swinging overhead.
Despite the wet and cold, the 2014 crowd enjoyed artists like silky-voiced I-Octane, who merges roots reggae and dancehall music, irreconcilable forms for some purists. Not a purist himself, I-Octane told me backstage, “Dancehall is inevitable, reggae music is inevitable.” Rejecting either would be like parents turning their backs on one of their children.
As for the difference between performing at home in Jamaica, or in “foreign,” I-Octane (Byiome Muir), says that “It’s about the fans, but when you’re performing, it’s not about the fans. You know what I mean? It’s about you presenting.” Whoever is watching and listening, I-Octane’s focus is on mastering his own creative process. The deejay-singer, whose popularity on the island rivals runner Usain Bolt’s, is also up to his ears in business, acting as a spokesman for the cell phone company Digicel, Guinness, and the soft drink Busta.
Other major attractions in 2014 were hyperkinetic, mad whining QQ, (the 2014 hit track One Drop), Londoner Maxi Priest, Soca Queen Alison Hinds, reggae revival star Etana, and Marcia Griffiths, legendary member of the I-Threes, Bob Marley’s backup singers, and a versatile solo artist for years. Following her set, Griffiths received a plaque honouring her long career. (See Divas at the Montreal International Reggae Festival, online at Salon .ll.).
Marcia Griffiths and the award
The 2014 fest closed with Luciano (born Jepther Washington McClymont), whom I’ve seen in different venues over the last couple of years and who’s probably the most generous of all roots performers. The man known as “The Messenger” balances between flamboyantly, wildly physical performance and seriously dread words of wisdom.
Luciano, like Bob Marley and most roots artists, sings mainly in Standard English with smatterings of Jamaican patois. Dancehall performers tend to rap and sing in deep patois. For some, that’s a mistake because it makes them less accessible to foreign audiences. Others, like dancehall deejay Lady G, says, “Patois is what keeps the whole sweetness of dancehall music. To English it out, it would lose its flavour.”
The magic and charm of the Montreal International Reggae Festival are all about the many flavours of music it serves up, a Caribbean music that has been going strong since the early days of Calypso, Mento, Rocksteady and Ska.
“There's a lot more to come,” says Lady G, “a lot more good things to come. Just like anything else, you can have good and bad. The bad is going to get lost somewhere. The good is going to prevail. Because good is always over evil. It's just one of those things. Every day you have a new artist from the reggae or the dance hall fraternity. It can never stop. Music will surely live on.”
For Part I, please follow this link.
© Maurie Alioff, 2015
Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off and online, including Canadian Cinematographer, Take One, POV Magazine, Salon .ll., and The New York Times, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter. Alioff is also researching other Jamaica-related projects including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island.