Rotterdam Reggae Festival 2011

Skanky skanky...

There’s many ways to launch a new event but losing your headliner isn’t one of them.

To add to the woes of the first ever Rotterdam Reggae Festival, a second major act didn’t appear either, sparking a row about whether the organisers knew in advance or not (see below).

At least fans arriving at the Ahoy Arena knew before they entered the building that headliner VYBZ KARTEL wouldn’t be making it. Notices on the doors proclaimed “visa reasons”. Obviously with Jamaican artists this raises more questions than it answers, but as everyone knows you can never be sure if a dancehall star will be allowed to board a plane. As compensation the promoters offered a 50% discount to ticketholders for their next festival.

So it was down to the other acts to fill the gap on the night, which they did with style. DUANE STEPHENSON, starting his set with ‘Nah Play’, thrilled the crowd with his great hit ‘August Town’. British dancehall talent GAPPY RANKS on sparkling high energy form, got the audience (filled with couples) hotted up with ‘Heaven in Her Eyes’, and TANYA STEPHENS showed she’s still dancehall royalty with a set including ‘Yuh Nah Ready Fi Dis Yet’. She’s soon to release a new album, as yet unnamed, focussing on her main interest social change, and described as “a lot of discussions”. Enigmatic!

Roots reggae has always been big in Holland and the crowd at the Ahoy (venue for a Bob Marley gig in ’78) loved the rhythms and lyrics of rasta man RICHIE SPICE, especially ‘Earth A Run Red’. To coin a phrase, his ‘Marijuana’ also went down well – in fact it was a night when all the weed songs scored. Speaking of being relaxed, Dutch roots outfit PUNKY DONCH were on particularly confident form, with good new tracks ‘Once More’, ‘Never Seen’ and (my personal favourite) ‘Sweet Sexy Girls’. KALIBWOY and RAS MOTIVATED also hit the mark.

JAH CURE more than filled the gap as replacement headliner. Looking tiny on stage, he showed again he’s a big talent, with a set including ‘Journey’ and climaxing with ‘Call On Me’.

But the night belonged to a blast from the past – veteran double act CHAKA DEMUS & PLIERS, joining forces again after many years and bringing back memories with ‘Tease Me’, ‘She Don’t Let Nobody’ and ‘Murder She Wrote’. And the icing on the cake: they’re bringing out a new album! No title yet but they tell me it’ll mix reggae, dancehall and gospel.

Now, as for Elephant Man. It’s not the first time he’s been involved in an alleged ‘no-show’ situation, but speaking to me after the event he was certainly keen to proclaim his innocence. Insisting that the promoters were told on March 16th he wouldn’t be appearing, he was furious about being branded a no show: “Even though the promoters know I won’t be appearing, they knowingly let my name appear on posters and tickets in order to make more money,” he said. “If they thought I was appearing, where’s the flight tickets? Where’s the hotel confirmations? I should be suing them for damaging my name. If they can show me a contract with my signature on it, let them sue me for everything I own.” Kenneth van Rangelrooy, director of 1st Priority Entertainment (promoters of the event), said “Elephant Man double booked the weekend”. The booking agent, Brad Hemmings of Caribbean Entertainment, told me: “We have Elephant Man’s personal signature. He received payment. He did video drops… artists never do drops without cash”.

Anyway, all the acts were genuinely sad Kartel and Elephant Man weren’t there. Chaka Demus in particular told me he’d have loved to see how the crowd reacted to both acts, since European audiences are more attuned to roots.

Richie Spice said he was determined not to get into any trouble. “So I can continue to come and perform for you”.

Words by Reshma B (

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