Reggae Artists and the Road to Reggae Sumfest

Next month, thousands of reggae fans, supporters, management teams, and experts will gather in Montego Bay, Jamaica for the annual pilgrimage of the genre's most celebrated and showcase of the hottest vibrations made across the Jamaican music industry over the year. The 27th annual Reggae Sumfest music festival is scheduled to take place the weekend of July 19 and 20, with events and festivities underway as early as July 14. Throughout the nine official days of celebration, there will be discussions and sound clashes, themed parties, and gatherings, concluding with Beres, Buju, Chronixx, and a plethora of reggae's finest who have been given the opportunity to bless the Sumfest stage.

Sumfest is more than just a concert, it is an experience in itself, when the town of Montego Bay fills will locals and tourists brought together for their common love for reggae music. The invite-only GET SOCIAL AWARDS takes place on June 29, followed by the SYMPOSIUM on July 12, giving reggae aficionados the opportunity to honour, discuss, and challenge the reggae industry through innovation, thoughts, and new ideals.

Starting on July 14, the partying begins! The MAWNIN' MEDZ event takes place on a Sunday from (6am to 1pm) at Tropical Bliss--a brunch-inclusive party featuring dancehall star Stylo G and soca artiste Skinny Fabulous, with music provided by DJs Crazy Neil, Jigga, Courtney, and Antsman.

After Sunday's day event, the STREET DANCE is scheduled for Monday, July 15 (7pm to 2am) at the Old Hospital Park on Montego Bay's Hip Strip, featuring music from Sky Juice, Foota Hype, Team Shella, and C-Note. The party continues the following evening, Tuesday, July 16 (7pm to 2am) at the annual ALL WHITE party at Pier 1 with music from DJ Smoke.

Another themed event, the BLITZ ALL BLACK takes place on Wednesday, July 17 (7pm to 2am) at the Hard Rock Cafe, and will feature DJ's Crazy Neil, Bishop Escobar, and Rolexx. DJs Tom and C-Note return again for the early juggling when soundclash lovers get ready to take in the anticipated GLOBAL SOUND CLASH on Thursday, July 18 (8pm to 2am) and support international sound systems representing Jamaica (Ricky Trooper and Pink Panther), Germany (Warrior Sound), Japan (Yard Beat), and Canada (King Turbo).

And all of this is before the stage shows even begin!

Since the inaugural showcase in 1993, the Reggae Sumfest stage has seen the likes of reggae legends from the Marley family to Leroy Sibbles and Freddie McGregor, in addition to dancehall greats like Mavado, Vybz Kartel, and Elephant Man. Founded by Summerfest Productions Limited, the show is now produced by DownSound Entertainment Ltd as of April 2016, when the festival and trademark were sold.

It's a music lover's experience, and what better way to celebrate and appreciate the sounds of reggae music than through this selection of events, festivities, and enjoyment of Montego Bay's nightlife?  For some, Sumfest is more than just another party location, however, it is a destination. Being able to perform on the Reggae Sumfest stage is a badge of honour, a sign of prosperity, and an indication that your presence on the reggae music scene is acknowledged, appreciated, and requested. Necessary, even.

The proverbial Jamaican stage is a definite must for reggae performers, regardless of origin. As the root and home of Jamaican music, the Jamaican audience and fan base is essential to the success of reggae artists and musicians.

The reggae Sunsplash stage once had this position, from it started back in 1978 until its last annual showcase in 1996. There have been a few other occurrences of the show since then, however, Sumfest has now become the yearly large scale showcase of Jamaican talent in the summer. Also an important stage: Tony Rebel's Rebel Salute that takes place in January, in St. Ann. Another that can not be forgotten, the end-of-year dancehall stage show Sting, which has not taken place since 2016.

The events have changed, and the overall fire behind them may have shifted, but one thing remains: the Jamaican stage has power.

Reggae soul artist KHESAN, like many other reggae artists, has had the opportunity to view performances from Sumfest, Sting, Rebel Salute, and Sunsplash over the years, in addition to the countless other special events and showcases that take place on the island. Jamaica is overflowing with talented musicians and messengers, so much that the influence of the music and culture reaches musicians around the globe.

Khesan was raised in Canada, but has recently returned to Jamaica with a determination to make it in the music industry. His style is a fusion of dancehall and R&B, and it is his hope to nurture this sound and great memorable music. "I believe that the next great sound will come from Jamaica," said Khesan, who is not afraid to "push the soulful horizons of his career" while he works on his music. "I have been experimenting with the fusion of reggae and R&B so that I can rock the world."

Richard Dixon aka Khesan has always been determined to perform, and has been winning talent show competitions and commanding the stages at community events since he was a child. His songs like "Going Nowhere" and "Waiting for Your Love" range from jeep-rockers to beautiful ballads, and he hopes to one day perform "Mi Fed Up" and his other compositions on stages across Jamaica. Also a goal of Khesan: to collaborate with artists he admires, like Busy Signal and Vybz Kartel.

"I'm going to shake up things a little. You can count on that," he said, always ready to put in the necessary work to push his career to the next step.

Working hard in the U.S., American born musician PROPH3T N'SER is also looking forward to using his music to influence reggae lovers, and "give a voice to people worldwide" while igniting the "spiritual fire of positive energy that burns in everyone." Like Khesan, the spirit of music has been with Proph3t from  a young age, growing up in the heart of Detroit aka Motown.

A musical town by nature, Proph3t used the influences around him, as well as the blueprints from legends like Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Sizzla Kalonji to help infuse his own personal soul. A combination of reggae, afrobeats, and world sounds, Proph3t hopes to break through radio airwaves and compose a sound never heard before.

Currently working with veteran guitarist Errol Moore (who worked with the legendary Maxi Priest), Proph3t is ready to make a name for himself in the music industry based on his eclectic inspirations and dedicated work ethic.

JAHDON, a Jamaican native, took to Florida recently to promote his new EP an make new connections in the North American and urban markets.

"His music reflects authentic Jamaican culture and experiences," said JahDon's manager, Francine Bacchus, working diligently to communicate his music, messages, and mission to entertain. One of the hottest young acts in Jamaica, JahDon has been sharing his new EP "Congo Bongo," generating an international fan base along the way.

Notably, JahDon's been featured on the TIDAL Rising: Dancehall/Reggae Playlist, and his track has been enthusiastically pulled up by Mutabaruka and Elise Kelly on-air. His energy is contagious, and rhythms catchy, as he too tries to lead with originality and develop a unique sound to guide his career.

After the release of his track "Congo Bongo Emperss" earlier this month, JahDon was featured on Irie FM's EBuzz on June 19th, along with recording artist Charly Black who was there to celebrate the gold-certification of his international hit "Party Animal." The energy surrounding this project has been extremely upful, as JahD continues to circulate this song and his EP.

DERAJAH has been making music for years, and living in Jamaica, is naturally familiar with the flow and environment that creates the reggae music that drives the pulse of the island. With media coverage from Jamaica Observer, United, and other esteemed outlets, his message over the years has been consistent: positive energy, and conscious intention.

"I don't partake in derogatory stuff," he told "Anything I listen, it's supposed to be conducive for my child to listen or for anyone's children to partake. I try not to be sucked in by the vacuum that is turned on right now."

Sticking to his own inner messaging and direction, Derajah has maintained longevity over his career and ensures that his music is in alignment with his lifestyle and well-intended actions.

"The hype is surrounded by gangster, bling-bling, slackness, badman, thug. I don't know if I'm that type of person," he said. His latest release "What You Gonna Do Now" (video below) speaks to his morality and Rastafari beliefs. His sound is comfortably a traditional reggae vibe, rooted in the spirit of the island, despite his rigorous wold travelling.

As reggae musicians from Jamaica, and around the world, all have their eyes fixed on the recognition and respect that can only come from their Jamaican fans and peers in music, Sumfest prepares their monumental stage to highlight the legends and a few up-and-comers of the industry.

Last month when the festival launched in Montego Bay at the Iberostar Grande hotel, festival owner Joe Bogdanovich of Downsound Entertainment expressed his anticipation for the upcoming experience. His goal, to place "innovative production and service" to demonstrate how "unique and wonderful Jamaica is" remains his energy behind the annual showcase.

Having resided in Jamaica now for twenty years, he has been linked to the Sting music festival, along with other advances in the industry. Born in California, Bogdanovich is an advocate of Jamaican music and culture, and wants to ensure that locals and tourists are comfortable and entertained while attending the Sumfest. Last year, amidst the looming threat of violence in Montego Bay and the related state of emergency around the time of the festival, he told Pat Meschino of Billboard magazine: "We must understand the economics of survival, and acknowledge that unity is one of the keys to survival. Stop the violence! Let's celebrate unity and togetherness and show just how serious we are about our music, our festival, Reggae Sumfest."

Since taking on Sumfest, he has made a conscious decision to no longer use international acts as headliners, and instead showcase Jamaican talent as the must-see performers, in alignment with the festival's slogan: #OurMusicOurFestival. He has also introduced live streaming and 360 virtual reality access via smartphone app, to the overall production.

For some artists like Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, the Sumfest stage is a familiar one, as they prepare to share the platform as a united front, wise and experienced in their crafts. Buju Banton will return to the Jamaican festival circuit now, after a long endured absence from the scene, much to the excitement of his long time fans. For an artist like Squash and The 6ix squad, they have been given the honour of closing out the dancehall night of the festival.

FESTIVAL NIGHT ONE (Friday, July 19) will feature Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Chronixx, Spice, Dexta Daps, Agent Sasco, Spragga Benz, Elephant Man, Munga, Govana, Dovey Magnum, Chronic Law, Jahvillani, Shane E, Unknown Gringo, Shauna, and Squash.

FESTIVAL NIGHT TWO (Saturday, July 20) will have performances from Buju Banton, Beres Hammond, Protoje, Christopher Martin, Romain Virgo, Jah 9, Dalton Harris, and Etana.

Some of the artists know that they will always be welcome on the large Jamaican stage, whether it's Rebel Salute, Sunsplash, Sting, or a list of other up-and-coming festivals like those presented by Iba Mahr (Sound Di Alarm) and Popcaan (Unruly Fest), There are artists like Squash that perhaps didn't know during the 2008 or maybe even 2018 Sumfest season, that he would be given the honour of closing out the Friday night show. Given the ambiguity and trend-based movements in the music industry, it's difficult to predict what will be hot, who will be reliable, and what audiences will respond to. While the industry has its consistency, it can also be marked with an unpredictable fluidity.

As Khesan, Proph3t N'ser, JahDon, and Derajah continue to create music, pen lyrics, and craft their musical journeys, stages in Montego Bay or stages in their own individual home towns are all possibilities, with the right song and the right time. That is the beauty of music and the uniqueness of a genre like reggae: those who appreciate it will travel the world to hear it authentically, and those who are injected with the rhythm usually have it embedded in their souls, indefinitely.

Like most summers in Jamaica, Sumfest will be one of many musical highlights, and this year promises to be one filled with power, legends of the game, and new energy. Whether watching live from Catherine Hall Entertainment Center in Mo Bay, or via livestream, the music will continue to inspire and influence musicians and artists worldwide, and those of us who live and breathe reggae music will keep our ears and souls open and ready to receive the next best thing inspired from the heart of JamRock.

Tickets for all Sumfest events and performances are available through the Reggae Sumfest website. Interested visitors and viewers can also connect with the event through their Instagram page (@ReggaeSumfest), Twitter (@ReggaeSumfest), and Facebook (/ReggaeSumfest). For live streaming and Sumfest videos, connect to their YouTube channel.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.


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