Live Report: Nine Mile Music Festival, Miami

Marleys and more line up for the 21st instalment…

When you’re visiting an outdoor concert in Miami, one boasting an outstanding selection of reggae, dancehall and hip-hop music, it’s not difficult to enjoy yourself. On February 15th, the 21st annual staging of the Nine Mile Music Festival offered further proof of this axiom.

But by the end of the night, the organisers achieved something rarer than enjoyment – the best moments of the festival offering what Bob Marley once described as “songs of freedom”, redemption songs.

Now named for the village where Marley was born, the Nine Mile Festival has gone by various titles over the years but one thing has remained consistent: it’s always incorporated an element of social justice, as stipulated by Marley’s late mother Cedella. Along with a paid ticket, festival goers are required to donate at least four cans of food, later distributed to homeless shelters around Miami.

To maximize the benefit to the community, show organizers line up some of the best acts in reggae, including for 2014 Stephen Marley, Damian Marley, Julian Marley, Chronixx, Mavado, Tessanne Chin, Shaggy and Lauryn Hill. No wonder the tickets sold out, and the canned-good collection centres were filled to capacity.

Early in the afternoon, Shaggy came through with a full band and his trusty sidekick Rayvon to get the crowd revved up with an energetic, fun-filled set that included mega-hits from his deep catalogue, as well as selections from his latest album, 'Out Of Many, One Music'. Hitting all angles of love, Shaggy got the same response from the crowd whether he was singing a chart-topper like 'It Wasn’t Me’ or a new release like 'Fight This Feeling'.

Held at the sprawling Miami Dade County Expo, Nine Mile had two stages, one of which is much smaller than the other. For some reason, the festival organisers elect to put Chronixx and Alborosie on the smaller of the two, causing this set to conflict with other big name performers. Not that attendees have any idea what they’re missing without a set list or running order, which were not available to the public. Even those who were armed with this inside information found it difficult to find their way to right place at the right time, without feeling like they were missing something good.

The other major malfunction for the night was when Mavado's band failed to catch their flight to the festival. But in true the-show-must-go-on style, the Gully Gad overcame all obstacles and decided to perform for the crowd backed by his DJ. However, that was only the beginning of his troubles, as his DJ's MacBook got knocked off the bandstand whilst the performance was in full flow, rendering the machine useless. But despite the setbacks, he seemed to be on top of his game – both super-chilled and emotional. After bigging up Bob Marley, Mavado belted out his track 'I’m On The Rock', the entire crowd filling in all the harmonies for him. The rousing performance served as a reminder to those who are used to hearing Mavado deejay that you forget how powerful the man’s singing voice is.

Mohawked hitmaker Sean Paul was on hand to do his thing, flinging down Dutty classics 'Like Glue' and ‘Get Busy’. He also brought out Konshens to tear up the stage with their recent duet ‘Want Them All'.

Talking about surprise guest appearances, another crazy moment was when Damian Marley brought out Cham to perform their collaboration, 'Fighter'. As producer Dave Kelly and Cham’s wife O looked on backstage, the pair worked the crowd into a frenzy. By this point it felt like they were wearing machine guns strapped to their chests.

There were many other high points throughout the day, but the climax of the festival was the act that everyone was dying to see. Lauryn Hill hit the stage looking like she just stepped out of a glossy fashion magazine, but when she opened her mouth she sounded like she was all guns blazing, in the darkest ghetto streets.

The eight-time Grammy winner and former Fugees member has been through some rough times, but since being released from prison late last year she has gone from strength to strength. Just a few days before her Nine Mile performance, L-Boogie turned in a stunning performance of The Beatles’ classic 'Something' on The Late Show With David Letterman, so the crowd was expecting something special.

Lauryn drove the crowd to ecstasy with the hits 'Ready Or Not’, 'Killing Me Softly' and ‘Fu-Gee-La'. Listening to her fresh interpretations of classic cuts from her personal catalogue as well as the Fugees’ was a truly mind-blowing experience. Lauryn would segue from the original track to a reggae remix to a super-fast rap segment when least expected. At times her lyrics flowed with such fury that she almost looked possessed, with her head moving frantically from side to side yet somehow getting the words out perfectly. Then she dropped Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’ in her own style, giving new meaning to the words “every day we pay the price with a living sacrifice”.

Lauryn is no stranger to the reggae world. She recorded parts of her classic album ‘The Miseducation Of…’ at the Marley's studio in Jamaica. And her duet with Bob Marley on the Stephen Marley-produced remake of ‘Turn Your Lights Down Low’ is probably one of the most successful Bob cover ever. Not to mention she is the mother of five of Bob’s grandchildren, courtesy of Rohan Marley. So it seemed fitting that the evening would climax with Lauryn joining Damian, Stephen and Julian Marley for a performance of ‘Could You Be Loved’.

Unfortunately due to lack of time this climactic moment did not go to plan and Hill was walked back to her trailer before – where, in true star fashion – she hung out and greeted every single fan who gathered to see her. And the smile on her face was as genuine as the fans’ smiles every time she took a photo. That’s what redemption songs will do for you.

Welcome back Lauryn.

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Words: Reshma B (Online / Twitter)
Photos: George Martinez

Read Reshma's regular Reggae & Dancehall columns on Clash

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