The Inaugural One Caribbean Music Festival (2014) – A Review

By Michael Barnett, Senior Entertainment Reporter

One Carib Music6The weekend of December 13-14, 2014, heralded the introduction of a brand new Music festival for the Caribbean population of South Florida. (This festival was evidently strategically placed on the Caribbean oriented festival calendar for South Florida, which notably consists of the Bob Marley Festival in February and the Best of the Best Concert/Festival on Memorial Weekend in May. I am surmising that the promoters thought it fit to program the One Caribbean Music Festival in December, to allow sufficient time and space with the other major Caribbean oriented festivals.)       This festival was of gigantic proportions, and this should not have been a surprise as the event was put on by some of major players in the arena of Caribbean music; key amongst this group being Walter Elmore, promoter for Jamaica’s famed Jazz and Blues Festival.

The production level of this festival could certainly not be faulted. From the size of the stage, the One Carib Music5quality of the lighting and the sound, right down to the layout of the Food and Arts and Crafts stalls around the perimeter of the park, I observed perfection. It was evident to me that this was a clear example of the mantra of excellence being applied in the field of live entertainment. The particular venue for the festival/concert, Central Broward Regional Park, was well utilized. The choice of the venue clearly indicated to me the underlined targeting that the promoters were employing in their strategy. It was the Caribbean Population that the promoters sought to attract in their droves. The musical concept of the festival was also clear. A  Musical collage of  most of the various islands of the Caribbean was what was on offer, from Kompa to Salsa, to Reggae, to Soca and Calypso; this festival offered it all.

Yours truly, a proud Jamaican, is a self confessed, die-hearted Reggae aficionado, so my favorite aspects of the festival were the Reggae performances. On Day One of the festival for instance (Saturday) I was blown away by Maxi Priest’s performance. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, Maxi Priest has to be one of the most consistent Reggae Artists that I have ever seen perform. When you talk about professionalism, when you talk about statesmanship, you are talking about Maxi Priest. This artist just keeps getting better with age, (like vintage wine). Although, having just gone past the 50 years old mark, Maxi is already a seasoned veteran in the business. (To his credit he is the first ever Reggae artist to get a number one record in the US Billboard charts, with “Close to You.” This topped the US charts in October 1990, and is a feat not to be under-estimated.) In addition to performing this Hit tune on the night, Maxi also performed his monster hit “House-Call” a hit that he and the legendary Shabba-Ranks had huge success with in the United States in 1992. On this night, Maxi performed “House-call” with a DJ artist by the name of Beniton (the Menace), who hails from New York. This was the second time that I have seen Beniton perform beside Maxi-Priest, and he is an impressive performer in his own right, not only with his DJ style which does resemble that of Shabba, but also with his irrepressible energy, bounding incessantly across the stage and around Maxi, through most of Maxi’s performance, without showing any signs of shortness of breath. The two performers combined their talents and energies seamlessly like peas in a pod, treating the audience to a dish of Reggae ecstasy.

One Carib Music3After about an hour on stage, the moderately sized audience in attendance had gone from a relatively static body to an animated group, punching the cool Broward night sky with one or both hands in syncopation with the gyrating bodies of Maxi Priest and Beniton on stage. This was certainly a performance to remember. There was no doubt that Maxi’s performance would be a hard one to follow.

Next up on stage was Sean-Paul. Seemingly undaunted by Maxi Priest’s performance, he started to reel off hit after hit as soon as he came on stage. I noted that just as in the case of his performance at Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica earlier in the year, Sean-Paul utilized a lot of special effects. We were treated to plumes of Disco smoke, along with  projected video footage of some of his previous music videos on the back-drop of the stage during his performance. Also two sexily clad female dancers exhibited some tight chorography behind the notably energetic Sean-Paul.

For me though, just as in the case of his performance at Reggae Sumfest in the summer of 2014, there was just too much going on behind and around Sean-Paul for me to totally engage with his performance. In fact it was only towards the end of his act that I was really starting to feel his performance, (perhaps because he chose wisely to perform two of his biggest hits before exiting the stage.) When he performed “Just Give Me the Light,” my emery levels lifted noticeably and when he capped things off with “Temperature,” my body temperature was distinctly raised amidst the chilly Broward Night that had definitely dipped into the fifties. This was the perfect song for Sean-Paul to have made his exit with, leaving the remaining patrons on a distinct high, as they scurried to the parking area in an effort to maintain their body temperatures against the almost frigid night air.

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One Carib Music1On  Day Two of the  One Caribbean Music Festival, the highlight performances for me were clearly that of the Queen of Reggae Music, Marcia Griffiths, as well as that Reggae Soprano, Richie Stephens.

Marcia performed some of her hit tunes such as “Feel Like Jumping,” “I Shall Sing,” “Stepping Out Ina Babylon,” and the perhaps her biggest hit, “Dreamland,” (which was originally written and performed by Bunny Wailer.) Marcia finished her performance with a performance of  “Electric Boogie,” for which the popular dance the Electric Slide is associated.  She invited some of the patrons in attendance up on stage to dance the Electric Slide with her, much to the pleasure of the remaining audience. (Ironically, the Electric Boogie is another song that was originally penned by Bunny Wailer, and then subsequently popularized Marcia Griffiths.)

For me it is somewhat mystical that the two hit songs that arguably  Marcia is most known for “Dreamland” and “Electric Boogie” were originally penned by Bunny Wailer.

After Marcia’s performance, she was presented with a Proclamation from Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness for her 50 years of exemplary work in the Reggae Music industry. She is a true ambassador of Reggae and hands down the Queen of Reggae Music. Nobody could refute that Marcia was deserving of this title.

Next up to perform was Richie Stephens and he was backed by the same backing band as Marcia, “The Code Red  Band,” one of South Florida’s  most talented Reggae bands. I thought that Marcia Griffiths would be a tough act to follow, but Richie impressed me with energy and statesmanship. His dance moves were breathtaking.  On the basis of his performance I have him pegged as Jamaica’s version of the young James Brown. He really showed of his moves when the Code Red Band started to play a Ska medley, doing the splits with his right foot forwards first, then bouncing up and going down in the splits again, but this time with his left foot forwards. I don’t know where Richie got the energy from, but he put down some moves that most of the current crop of reggae entertainers would have a hard time keeping up with.

Richie performed some of  hit tunes such as “Silent Rivers  Run Deep”   “Real Reggae Music”. Additionally, Richie showed off his Christian Repertoire when he performed his special rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. He kept the tempo upbeat at all times and brought the Reggae segment, (which also featured Peter Lloyd who performed just before Marcia Griffith) to a fitting end.

Next came the high energy Soca segment, featuring the Trinidadian  artists Bunji Garlin performing alongside his enigmatic wife, Fay-Ann Lyons.  They were later joined on stage by  Skinny Fabulous from St Vincent and  Grenadian Tallpree.

While the performances were enthralling, the audience for both nights was notably small. The big question that comes to mind is why? Could it be blamed on the newness of the event? Some of the patrons complained to me that $55 a night was simply asking too much and that they could get to see the equivalent of all the artists that were featured over the course of the two days at the festival in one go at a show such as Best of the Best. Thus in their mind the Best of the Best Concert provided more value for their money. Did the relatively steep price interfere with imminent spending on Christmas gifts?

Another factor I think was the weather. On both days the temperature dropped into the fifties by the time we got to the early evening, thus encouraging some of the potential patrons to stay indoors. In my opinion the promoters would be better off programming the festival at a different time in the year, maybe mid November, just before Thanksgiving, when it is unlikely to get so cold.

This was a high quality production that deserved a much larger audience. Only time will tell if the promoters decide to go for it again next year. Guidance and Protection.