Destiny’ s Child, Jay Z, Nikki Minaj, Ne-Yo, Snoop Dogg, Usher, Kanye West and a teenaged Rihanna, at the threshold of her career in 2006, are just a few of the hip hop and R&B luminaries who have performed at Reggae Sumfest. But Jamaica’s biggest music festival was built and is sustained by the island’s reggae and dancehall acts. In observance of its milestone anniversary, here’s a look at 25 unforgettable moments at Reggae Sumfest over the last quarter century provided by Jamaica’s extraordinary, diversified talent.
1993—At the inaugural Reggae Sumfest dancehall toaster Super Cat, then at the height of his international fame, unleashed a blistering performance of his hits and an arsenal of attacks aimed at Babylon in a flawless, furious cadence worthy of his Don Dada superlative.
1994—The original (so-called) reggae revival (of the mid 1990s) spawned some of the genres most enduring talents including the brilliant singer Garnet Silk. This would be Garnet’s only Sumfest performance: in December 1994, at 27 years old, he was killed in an explosion at his mother’s home.
1995—Following his release of the heavily anticipated Til Shiloh album Buju Banton delivered a memorable Sumfest set marrying his boisterous dancehall beginnings with his newfound Rastafarian identity.
1996—With his rich baritone guiding a spiritually laced performance at the peak of his prolific hit making output, Luciano, at Sumfest 1996, ranks among the most mesmerizing appearances in the festival’s history.
1997—Despite being injured in a car accident en route to the festival, Lieutenant Stitchie, sporting a bandage over his left eye, gave an instructive, entertaining performance that stood above the others on Dancehall Night.
1998- Following hit making experiments with jazz and soca, Beenie Man dazzled the Sumfest audience when he brought out a robe-clad choir to back him on his just released Christian themed yet slightly risqué dancehall hit Gospel Time.
1999—Jamaican music lost one of its biggest stars on July 1, 42 year old Dennis Brown, and Sumfest paid tribute to the iconic “Crown Prince of Reggae” with a three the hard way performance of Brown’s hits delivered by veteran singers John Holt, Gregory Isaacs and George Nooks. Isaacs passed away in 2010, Holt in 2013, and both were honored with respective Sumfest tributes.
2000—Shaggy closed Sumfest with the energetic, consummate showmanship that has kept in demand around the world, more than 20 years after he started out.
2001—The sole surviving founding member of the Wailers Bunny Wailer brought Sumfest to a stunning conclusion, reminding the audience of his legacy while forthrightly addressing corruption in politics, law enforcement and religion.
2002—A rare performance by veteran singer Burning Spear in his native Jamaica offered spellbinding roots reggae that included his early hits Marcus Garvey and Creation Rebel, which helped introduce reggae and Rastafari to an international audience.
2003—Summerfest Productions Ltd. took Reggae Sumfest on a mini Caribbean tour in April and held another show in Miami in May with Beenie Man, Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Wayne Wonder among the headlining acts.
2004—Elephant Man brought dancing back to the dancehall with Signal The Plane, Ova Di Wall and Willie Bounce and an uproarious performance to Sumfest, justifying his Energy God moniker.
2005—Absent from the Jamaican stage for several years, Sanchez astonished with his mellifluous vocals as the Sumfest massive sang along, word for word, to his numerous, beloved hits.
2006—Buoyed by the success of his hit Ghetto Story, arguably the reggae single of the year, (Baby) Cham’s charisma, robust vocals and versatility transfixed the Dancehall Night audience of near 16,000.
2007—Following the success of She’s Royal from his critically acclaimed sophomore album Parables, Tarrus Riley, in his fifth Sumfest appearance, transformed from impressive opening act to brilliant prime time performer, accompanied by his Blak Soil band.
2008—Lukie D, Thriller U, Singing Melody and Tony Curtis delivered their individual hits in customary great form but excelled when alternating leads and harmonizing their hits as vocal super group L.U.S.T.
2009—10 months before the release of their celebrated, collaborative album Distant Relatives, Damian Marley and Nas performed to great fanfare, deftly trading complex rhymes, demonstrating the ancestral connection between hip hop MCs and dancehall DJs.
2010—In his fourth Sumfest performance (but first prime time slot) I-Octane, armed with an arsenal of hits and a laser beam focus, ascended to dancehall’s major league with an explosive, mesmerizing set.
2011—Beres Hammond’s flawless conveyance of gritty, soulful lover’s rock has a proven timeless appeal and he was duly honored by Summerfest Productions, following his performance, for his decades of contributions to reggae music.
2012—In celebration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence, two-time Grammy Award winner Shabba Ranks, who took dancehall to the mainstream in the early 1990s, made a triumphant return to Jamaica-and Sumfest, after a 17 year break, with a performance that raised the bar for all dancehall acts.
2013—At just 20 years old dominating the island with such hits as Odd Ras, Behind Curtain and Smile Jamaica, Chronixx was remarkable in his Sumfest debut, his second appearance on a major Jamaican stage show.
2014— Tessane Chin dazzled in her first Sumfest performance following her season 5 win on NBC’s The Voice, her duet with Assassin on Everything Reminds Me of You, one of several outstanding moments.
2015—Once banned from Sumfest for her X-rated lyrics then honored by the promoters in 2012, Lady Saw threw down a scorching, risqué set in her final performance in Jamaica; she is now a born again Christian performing gospel as Minister Marion Hall.
2016—Seven years after making his Sumfest debut as part of Vybz Kartel’s Gaza consortium, Popcaan was the only artist whose performance received an encore on Dancehall Night, staking his claim as a leading light among a new generation of stars as the genre’s Unruly Boss.
by Patricia Meschino