When the Raggamuffin line-up was announced a few months back I wasn’t overly impressed. Mary J Blige – talented but not really my taste in music. Jimmy Cliff – a legend but a bit played out for me. Maxi Priest – too much synth-drum-loop-machine 80s style reggae. The Original Wailers – when I hear the term ‘Original Wailers’ I think Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, but that’s another story. Ky-Mani Marley and Sean Paul were the saving grace of the line-up for me.
So I was very disappointed to hear prior to the festival the announcement that Sean Paul wouldn’t be performing and even more disappointed that Raggamuffin didn’t give any reason for the cancellation.
I arrived late at the festival (due to car problems and ticket issues) to hear some of 1814 and most of Che Fu and The Kratez. Unfortunately I only heard these bands from the front gate, as my friend was having trouble with security over allowing his nearly three year old in. A few days before the festival, Raggamuffin announced on their Facebook page, not their official website, that three year olds would not be allowed in. I understand where Raggamuffin is coming from, but to announce it in this way after people like my friend had travelled all the way from Christchurch did not seem adequate at all. I was gutted to miss Sons Of Zion and Nesian Mystik.
Ky-Mani performed his dads’ track So Much Trouble In The World, but his backing band added a wicked one-drop session on the end of the track that really got the crowd jumping. Ky-Mani announced that he was almost finished his latest album Evolution of a Revolution and then superbly performed another track of his dads, No Woman No Cry. He closed his set with a now New Zealand classic, Redemption Song, which the whole Raggamuffin massive helped him sing.
The Original Wailers took the stage and were sounding very tight. During their set, Junior Marvin livicated one of their original tracks, Black Bird, to Culture’s lead singer, the late, great Joseph Hill. They also performed Buffalo Solider to great response from the crowd. Ky-Mani Marley joined them on stage for their last tune and they performed one of Bob Marley’s biggest tunes, Exodus. The drummer did a great two-minute solo, in a kind of Cuban rhythm at the end of the track that had everybody at Rotorua International Stadium up and dancing.
Dubhead was DJing in between artist sets and laid down some nice vibes including versions on the Stagalag and Truths and Rights riddims and tunes from Alborosie and Gappy Ranks.
Maxi Priest was next up and he played quite a fast-paced dancehall set. My favourite part of his set was when he called out familiar dance moves to the crowd, including Pon De River, Pon De Bank, Give Dem A Run, Single Da Plane and Thunder Clap.
Dubhead returned and played a remix of UB40’s Red Red Wine, mashed up with Sizzla Kalonjis’ lyrics from his tune No Time To Gaze. I feel these kind of tunes, that mix-up different styles, are important at Raggamuffin. Red Red Wine is a light-hearted tune that everybody knows, and this gives a good platform for people who maybe wouldn’t listen to Sizzla or other similar artists, to hear a section of reggae and what it represents.
It was amazing to see a reggae superstar such as Jimmy Cliff live and he performed really well, playing his classics Many Rivers To Cross, You Can Get It If You Really Want, Wonderful World and Beautiful People amongst others.
A real highlight for me was when Jimmy performed By The Rivers Of Babylon in a nice Bingi style (I counted eight drums on stage). I noticed some people weren’t really to sure how to dance to these rhythms, but for me it was the highlight of the festival.
I wasn’t overly impressed with Mary J Blige. I have read other Raggamuffin reviews which said that ‘Mary J Blige may not be a reggae star but she definitely got the tens of thousands of people at Raggamuffin 2011 amped-up when she hit the stage as the headline act’. I guess this reviewer missed the tens of thousands of people leaving after only a couple of her songs, as if to say, ‘cool, I’ve seen her now’. I don’t think her R&B/hip-hop (hip-pop) style was a good choice, as the bass lines don’t compare to that of reggae – a possible reason the hype and vibe dropped when she was on stage. She did perform well, however I personally think she would have been better suited earlier in the evening. Or perhaps Sean Paul was supposed to finish off the festival inna mad dancehall style…maybe next time.
At the next Raggamuffin I would like to see, perhaps on the website, an explanation of the significance and the relationship to reggae music, of the colours red, gold and green, and the emblem of The Lion of Judah. As I’m sure many people at Raggamuffin have absolutely no idea.
All in all I really enjoyed myself at Raggamuffin – the lay-out of the festival was good, the Awop-pay card system worked well, the beer was good, and the music was irie.
Cheers Raggamuffin for another festival, catch ya next year.