Reggae SunsplashReggae is Jamaica's largest cultural export, and since its humble beginnings from the ghettos of Kingston, reggae has grown to become a worldwide cultural and musical expression. There are reggae bands from every habitable continent of the world, and as with music from the Jamaican source, reggae is a vehicle to teach, uplift, and inspire. The music that came from the ghettos has been the most powerful voice of the downpressed, music that carries the cry from Trenchtown (the Kingston neighborhood so named for the open sewer trench) to the heavens—if you want to hear the heartbeat of The People, listen to Reggae music! Since the early days in Jamaica, and through to the present day worldwide, Reggae is filled with Social commentary, reflections on life (often by the poor and those marginalized by society), musings on systemic corruption- living in Babylon, a call to love, raising African consciousness, repatriation, teaching self-reliance, and of course—rejoicing the blessings of life, and giving praises and exaltations to Jah Rastafari...
Jamaica's booming tourist industry is fueled largely by the world's love and fascination for Reggae Music and Jamaican culture. Tourists come to enjoy Jamaica's many festivals, including Sunsplash (which has also toured multiple times outside of Jamaica), Sumfest, Rebel Salute, Sting, White River Reggae Bash, among others. Not only has reggae become Jamaica's largest cultural export, but the large Jamaican and Caribbean communities in the United Kingdom (London and Birmingham particularly) have made the UK the second-capitol for reggae. Germany, France, Italy, many parts of the US—especially the coasts, plus Hawaii...Brazil, Argentina...all of these nations are skankin' and swayin' to the beats of their own native reggae bands. Most notably throughout the past 5-7 years, the U.S. Virgin Islands have been producing a new wave of strictly conscious roots reggae music.
Ska The original sound of reggae (pre-reggae), played in Jamaica in the early 1960's, originated largely by the island's resort and studio players who came together to form The Skatalites. The early hits from The Wailing Wailers, such as "One Cup Of Coffee," "Simmer Down," and the original "One Love" are all great examples of ska featuring vocals. (A large part of original Jamaican ska was instrumental—check anything from The Skatalites! The Skatalites were the instrumental backing band for some of the early Wailers' tracks.) Ska relies heavily on the saxophone, trumpet, and trombone to carry the melodies, and has a prominent steady upbeat carrying the music forward.
Rocksteady is similar to ska, yet with a slight slowing of the tempos: not quite as fast beat per-beat as ska. While the horn sections could still be heard in some of the rocksteady era, more importance is placed on the piano and guitar in both the rhythm section, as well as the melodic role. Rocksteady begins to slow the baselines down, and thickens the feel—a direct precursor to reggae. Alton Ellis (The King of rocksteady: "Girl I've Got A Date" a seminal rocksteady track, that thanks to U-Roy's "Wake The Town," would also form the basis for the dawn of the Deejay era), Bob Andy, Ken Boothe, Toots & The Maytals, The original Wailers are all performers of rocksteady
Reggae, like ska and rocksteady, reggae emphasizes an off-beat, syncopated guitar, piano, or sometimes horn chop (known as the 'skank' rhythm), only in reggae the tempo is slower, the skank is heavier than in ska and rocksteady, the bass even heavier and thicker. Reggae also has a greater predominance of lyrics dealing with spiritual calling, faith, poverty, systematic down-pression, Babylon tribulations, ganja, and—back to that spiritual calling: Rastafari! Much of Reggae is nothing short of a devotional form of music celebrating the teachings, life and works of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, praises to The King Of Kings, chants and exaltations to The Conquering Lion of The Tribe Of Judah, "sighted" or "seen" by Rasta to be "Christ in his Kingly Character." (Rasta will differentiate 'belief' in Selassie vs. 'knowledge' of The King, saying that in belief there can still be doubt, while in knowledge there is only certainty.) Reggae in and of itself is still nowadays a general and broad description of style, wide-ranging, deep and wide in its breadth, and includes several sub-genres:
The first Reggae Sunsplash festival was staged at Jarrett Park, Montego Bay, Jamaica in June 1978 and began at dusk and continued until dawn for seven days. It was billed as the "biggest Reggae festival in the history of the world". The festival introduced the concept of music and travel as a boost to tourism in Jamaica. Prior to the staging of Reggae Sunsplash, the hotels in Jamaica were traditionally closed during the summer period. The four founding partners staged the festival each year for a number of years and successfully created an annual summer tourist season in Jamaica. The success of Reggae Sunsplash led to a wave of annual music festivals in Jamaica and the Caribbean islands. The festivals popularity led to a shortage of hotel rooms and a tradition of camping out on local beaches.
From 1981 the festivals were filmed and recorded, with several videos and albums released, the first being Reggae Sunsplash '81: Tribute to Bob Marley, released by Elektra Records. From 1987 the festival included a sound clash event, with finalists from a national sound system competition competing as a precursor to the rest of the festival. The festival also expanded to include an 'oldies night' featuring stars from past eras of Jamaican music. For many years the festival was emcee's by Tommy Cowan.
In 1984 the Reggae Sunsplash festival also expanded into international events with a one day festival staged at the Crystal Palace in London, England. In 1985 the Reggae Sunsplash World tour was launched in the USA and Japan and subsequent years saw the Reggae Sunsplash festival touring extensively throughout North America, Europe, South America and the Far East. 1991 saw the introduction of a 'Caribbean Night' featuring other Caribbean music such as soca, and the following year the festival's scope increased further with the addition of a 'World Beat Night'.
While the festival had become hugely popular, opening new global tourist niche markets to Jamaica and attracting millions of dollars of foreign exchange into the country, it had not been a financial success, largely due to the lack of sponsorship or government support. In 1995 the Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board operating through a company called Radobar Holdings Ltd offered financial assistance in exchange for equity in Synergy Productions, the founders of Reggae Sunsplash. This initial offer was never consummated and in a disputed claim Radobar Holdings announced the formation of a company called Reggae Sunsplash International in Jamaica and proceeded with the hostile take over of the Reggae Sunsplash festival. The first attempt at staging Reggae Sunsplash without the original owners Synergy Productions in 1996 was a financial disaster for the new claimants. In 1997 the Reggae Sunsplash festival was postponed until 1998 when it was timed to coincide with celebrations of the birth of Bob Marley but more losses were incurred. More futile attempts at recapturing the original spirit of the Reggae Sunsplash festival were never replicated by the Radobar group. New Tune For Reggae Sunsplash", Black Enterprise, November 1997.
The festival was re-established by the Johnson family in 2006, but it was not successful. The international touring festival, however, has continued.
Two of the founding directors, John Wakeling and Tony Johnson died and with the passing of Tony Johnson a number of individuals have tried to claim the rights to the festival unsuccessfully and all have failed to recapture the spirit of the legendary Reggae Sunsplash. Don Green and Ronnie Burke are the two remaining Reggae Sunsplash founders alive.