Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dancehall Days in Montego Bay

July 07, 2008

by John Oseid

I spent three sleepless nights in Jamaica a few years ago. Yeah, I was high, but it wasn't what you think. I was in Montego Bay for Reggae Sumfest, the world's premier reggae and dancehall showcase, and I was running on pure adrenaline (okay, and more than a few Red Stripe beers). Because it was, as the kids say, totally insane.

The latest incarnation of Sumfest takes place next week, July 13-19, and tickets are still available. Be warned: The last seventy-two hours are high-octane fun, with fans setting off enough aerosol fire torches to turn the night air into a Dante-esque spectacle. You'll be lucky to get to bed before 8 a.m.

When I was there, Sean Paul, who had just hit stardom with "Gimme the Light," shared the stage with Beyoncé and Destiny's Child for a ninety-minute bootylicious extravaganza. Here are this year's top draws:

The Thursday, July 17th lineup features hardcore dancehall reggae. As always, my favorite performer Beenie Man will appear, as will the notorious Elephant Man (who climbed the stage scaffolding during his set a few years ago). Traveler contributing writer Henry Shuckman opened his February, 2005 Caribbean music story "Rebel Rhythms" with a cell phone interview he conducted with Jah Cure. The up-and-coming artist happened to be in jail at the time. He's out now and on the schedule.

A good portion of the Sumfest audience comes from the States, as does some top talent. Bay Area R&B singer Keyshia Cole shares the bill on Friday, the 18th with New Orleans "Hot Boy" Lil Wayne, arguably the hottest hip hop star of the moment.

For those who like things a little slower, Saturday, July 19th is devoted to so-called roots reggae and its more spiritual songs. Top artists include the love-song crooner Beres Hammond, who will also tour the States through September, and the popular group Morgan Heritage.

You heard it here first: There is a star in the making in a new artist named Etana. Go to her MySpace page and listen to her soul tune "Roots"--I defy you not to order her brand-new album The Strong One afterward. You can also view Etana's video clips on the VP Records site. The Jamaica, Queens label has practically cornered the reggae market, and puts out numerous anthologies that will help you get started before the big Montego Bay event.

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