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THE FESTIVAL market is very saturated around the world. It seems not a week can go by without there being a major setting for the music styles that we love. The countdown has begun for Trinidad Carnival 2018 in four weeks’ time, but before then we are faced with the annual curtain raiser in the Caribbean, Rebel Salute.
This is its 25th staging and its uniqueness still stands strong. The show is run by the ethos and principles of Rasta. There is no meat or alcohol on site, and the celebration of the Rasta faith can be seen across the festival. So, as we approach the special presentation, the man behind it all spoke to me from a very busy production office in Kingston.
“You can expect the experi- ence of the last 24 stagings culminating into one,” Tony Rebel assures me. The first event happened on January 14, 1994. It was my birthday party (his birthday is on January 15).
“Myself and Garnett Silk drove from Kingston to Mandeville, but thought the event was going to be washed out because of heavy rain. We decided to leave the hotel and just make a passing visit, as it was my birthday event, I had to attend.
“As we got there we saw Jamaican media personality Elise Kelly entering the venue. When we got in we were surprised to see how packed out it was. It was a wonderful night.”
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It was that night that made Rebel realise that he had to keep the festival running because there was a demand for a night like it. He added: “Not just the music, but the entire experience. It is like no other festival that I have witnessed. It has grown hugely over the last few years, but managed to retain all of its intimacy.
“We have the best craft village food court with Jamaican cuisine, and we are at one of the best Caribbean venues,” Rebel tells me.
Rebel Salute has an exemption from the authorities to showcase cannabis in all of its forms – from sacramental, to economic to spiritual and medicinal. The festival aims to educate people about marijuana and hosts forums with specialists from around the world.
Rebel says it is having open and honest discussions that places Rebel Salute at the ‘top of the tree’ in terms of cultural significance and relevance. It’s this approach that has also seen a booking policy which doesn’t just go for the obvious artists on the line-up.
“We have gone around the world to bring back some of our artists home – we came to England and got JC Lodge and also went to America to get Althea and Donna,” says Rebel.
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This year’s line up is very strong, with artists such as Barrington Levy, Cocoa Tea, Freddie McGregor, Third World, Agent Sasco, Elephant Man, Ding Dong and some of the new generation of artists like Vershon and Romain Virgo all expected to appear on January 12 and 13 at Plantation Cove in St Ann’s.
Rebel went on to explain his thought process behind the bookings. He said: “It’s not difficult to think about which artists to bring on to the show, it is a challenge to get people to know who they are, as many of them don’t play day-to-day on the radio. For example, we brought Jimmy Cliff and Bob Andy to Rebel Salute, and many people thought they were singing over other people’s songs, when those tracks were their own.
“The musical education is also important, so the younger generation know who set the foundations for the music. We call it the preservation of reggae, because wherever you stand, you always stand on the shoulders of your ancestors.
“Reggae is alive and well here in Jamaica, but unfortunately there are some who don’t understand the history of the music and don’t make the most of ensuring it is at its strongest. When they see other cultures seeping into the music, they jump on it.”
“When you see what artists like Chronixx are doing you see that the music is alive and well – it isn’t going anywhere. It’s now just for the stakeholders to make the most of it.” He added: “When I came to London, I heard the Jamaican sound being played in many different forms – you can call it Tropical beats, Afrobeat, Reggaeton… whatever.
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“When it comes down to it, the core of those music styles comes from Jamaica, whether it is dancehall or reggae. That means it is up to us here in Jamaica to understand how powerful the music is and to preserve and respect it. You know what they say though, a king never gets honoured in his own country, even though the world rightly still sees Jamaica as the Mecca of reggae.”
He tells me there are three notable moments in the history of Rebel Salute that stand out for him, including a 2005 Jimmy Cliff performance. “The young people wondered why they had never seen this Jamaican perform here before,” he explains, adding that the same happened the following year with Burning Spear.
His third moment came when he worked with Junior Byles. “He was mentally impaired, and we arranged for him to get medical help, and got him to work with a band and perform. It was his first performance in more than 20 years and we are proud that we managed to give him a platform to work. He is an important person in our history.”
Tony Rebel is one of the rocks within the Jamaican music industry, and should be recognised for his unflinching belief in the music, the culture and how to do things correctly. It is his single-minded attitude that has made Rebel Salute such a success.
We wish him all the best for this year’s event.
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