FEELING FESTIVAL – TENERIFE
JUNE 29, 2018
By John Masouri.
Tenerife, the so-called ‘Island Of Eternal Spring’, is the ideal place for a reggae festival with its sun-drenched climate and long-standing popularity as a holiday destination. [Not to mention the fact that it’s less than two hundred miles from Africa.] Starting off in the north of the island, this second annual Feeling Festival has now moved to Costa Adeje, a picturesque bay area on the southern coast, close to the airport and teeming with nightclubs, all-inclusive resorts and luxury hotels, like the magnificent Iberostar Bouganville Playa, situated just yards from the beach.
The festival itself is held in a football stadium overlooking the town. The short journey from Adeje takes us through a landscape scarred by a volcanic past, where palm trees and tall cacti provide welcome splashes of colour, as the minibus climbs high above the city, drawing ever closer to the mountain range ringing the venue. It’s early evening, and there’s a cool breeze to offset the heat, although the sun won’t go down until much later.
The night before, I’d given a one hour talk in a nearby theatre, part of a campaign for The Wailers to receive national honours in Jamaica. Nearly 40 years after the death of Bob Marley and they still haven’t been awarded any official recognition in respect of their outstanding achievements, either musically or in spreading an appreciation of reggae globally. The audience was small but responsive [and included Angus Taylor from Reggaeville], whilst the host was promoter Julian Garcia Mancebo, whose pioneering exploits on the mainland helped lay the foundations for today’s vibrant Spanish reggae scene.
Some of those same faces were there at the festival in their capacity as deejays, dancers and photographers. Tenerife’s own reggae roots stretch back to the mid-seventies, when American surfers clutching a copy of Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration visited the island. Eddy Grant, Jimmy Cliff and Ziggy Marley were among the first reggae acts to perform there and they in turn inspired local acts such as Tiritana, Africuya, Eclipse Reggae, DJ Susoundsystem and Pachumba, who all helped in establishing “Reggeh Kanaryo.”
Several Tenerife based artists performed during the first part of the festival, backed by the excellent One Xe Band, of Ras Kuko fame. Those appearing included Isiah, Lioness Den, Dadda Wanche, Don Virgilio A Jah and all received – and deserved – an enthusiastic welcome, as did the Jamaican born Sumerr, who featured Damian Marley’s Welcome To Jamrock in her set. She wasn’t alone in using popular Jamaican songs and rhythms as the basis of her performance, yet there were no props for Morgan Heritage as One Xe swept into the majestic Liberation, or whenever any of the deejays energetically revived lyrics and vocal styles associated with Cutty Ranks, Admiral Bailey or Red Dragon. These Tenerife artists are certainly talented, but would gain far more recognition by writing their own material, rather than relying on ready-made hits. What they did create was good vibes and excitement, aided by sound systems like Lava Sound and Triggafinga, as well as the Tenerife Dancehall Crew.
By the time the Roots Radics took the stage, the stadium was still half empty. There was no lack of atmosphere however, with original members Flabba Holt and Dwight Pinkney being joined by former Peter Tosh sideman Steve Golding on rhythm guitar. Here at last was the authentic sound of Jamaica and it wasn’t due to any lack of musicianship from the other band, but the feel these veterans brought to their playing. It’s a sound born in the Caribbean and honed in studios like Channel One, where The Radics backed so many hit-makers of the late seventies and early eighties. The ease with which Flabba plucks those heavy basslines with his thumb was a joy to behold, but it was Israel Vibration‘s show and they’re still impressive, even when reduced to a duo and despite omitting some of their best-known songs, including The Same Song, Don’t Worry and Rude Boy Shuffling. The loss of Apple Gabriel’s stuttering lead vocals was lessened by the addition of a female backing singer, but the group’s always been a democracy in any case, with Skelly and Wiss both having contributed songs since the beginning, when they’d rehearse under the night skies after being expelled from Kingston’s Mona Rehabilitation Centre. That’s where they spent most of their childhood, together with other victims of the polio epidemic that swept Jamaica during the fifties. The pair still need crutches to move around, and took alternative turns at the mic when singing their own compositions. Skelly’s the more expressive of the two, yet Wiss was no less compelling in his oversized hat and Rasta scarf as he lamented the sufferers’ plight. “No one cares about poor people,” he wailed – a line that seems truer than ever in this age of Trump and May.
Tarrus Riley was next, in his pork pie hat, shades and long thin dreadlocks, running through a repertoire that embraced the recent hits Simple Blessings, Just The Way You Are and Don’t Look Back, as well as hymns to Rasta, rebellion [Skateland Killer], Michael Jackson’s Human Nature and anthems such as Gimme Lickle One Drop and She’s Royal, which had most of the crowd singing along with him. Son of the late reggae singer Jimmy Riley, he’s always looking to push at the boundaries, whether musically or in his choice of topics, since few artists write about relationships with such insight. Earlier in the evening, Tarrus let slip that he has more than sixty new songs on hold and he’s working on a joint project with Konshens, that he likened to Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives. In the meantime all eyes were on bandleader Dean Fraser, who proved a trusty foil for Tarrus and stayed alert to everything happening on stage. Short and stout and wielding his alto sax like a gunslinger, he’d be singing harmonies one minute and prompting his fellow band members the next – the most venerable being bassist Glen Browne, who was dressed for the occasion in bright Rasta colours, and has an unbelievable resume spanning the whole of Jamaican music.
Following Tarrus was going to be difficult, but there was a change of mood and also expectation when it was announced that artists and musicians campaigning on behalf of Proactiva Open Arms were about to perform. This is a non-governmental organisation based in Lesbos [via Barcelona], whose main mission is to rescue refugees from the Mediterranean Sea who are fleeing wars, persecution or poverty. To date, they’ve rescued an estimated 60,000 people at sea and raised funds and also awareness of the refugee crisis through social media, talking in schools and by various other means, including the production of a one-rhythm album. [You can learn more about Open Arms at www.proactivaopenarms.org, and donate funds to their campaign account by using IBAN ES59 1491 0001 2121 8580 1020.] As the last of the Open Arms’ artists finished their set, a shadowy figure could be seen standing at the rear of the stage, cradling a six string headless bass and dressed in a long, leather, sleeveless coat like the one that Robbie Shakespeare sometimes wears. It wasn’t until a little later that we noticed the black fingerless gloves. This was Mikey Fletcher, who plays with the new band Alborosie has put together and that includes an Italian lead guitarist, German keyboard player and male and female backing singers. Their opening fanfare was dramatic to say the least. It gave the feeling that something special was about to happen and when Alborosie then strode out on stage singing Poser, his ankle length dreadlocks flowing behind him and head tilted back, as if he was drinking in the acclaim that exploded all around him, it was easy to see why he’s consistently chosen to headline festivals throughout Europe and the US. This has nothing to do with skin colour or nationality, and everything to do with talent. The gently spoken Sicilian is a true star and his songs, delivery and showmanship resonate perfectly with today’s global reggae audiences. [Night Of The] Living Dread was next, followed by tracks like Rocky Road, Rock The Dancehall and Contradiction, taken from his new album Unbreakable. Sections of the crowd knew all the words to some of these songs and were so enthusiastic, they almost drowned him out at times. Another highlight was when the two backing singers took over for a rollicking cover of Byron Lee and the Dragonnaires’ Jamaica Ska that had people singing and dancing like crazy, but the energy levels had scarcely dropped throughout in truth and they even peaked again during the encore, when Alborosie closed his set and the festival with a rousing Kingston Town.
People looked happy as they left the stadium and this second Feeling International Reggae Festival will surely be remembered for all the right reasons.
Text: John Masouri © 2018
Photos: Catherine Gillo © 2018