I’m a little late with this review of Rototom Sunsplash 2016, but it is in good time to get you in the mood for New Zealand summer festivals.
Rototom Sunsplash is an amazing 8-day (9-days including the pre-party) reggae festival which encompasses music like ska, dancehall, dub and African, and includes related culture such as Rastafari, sound system, sustainability and health and well-being.
If you haven’t heard of the festival I suggest you check out the official website and YouTube channel, there is so much info and live footage there. In fact even if you know about Rototom or have been before I still suggest you check both! This review is just a small snapshot of my experience at Rototom Sunsplash 2016.
So I missed the bus to Rototom (if you have read my other reviews there is a theme emerging here), and arrived at 2am on the first night. I managed to find my friend and set my tent up, then went straight into it, walking around checking out all the stages; Showcase, Dancehall, Dub Academy and Roots Yard, and the ‘club stages’; Juanita, Vibra/Estragon, Cross and Black Dynamite (the main stage finishes at 2:30am every night).
There is so much happening at Rototom it is hard to take it all in. As well the music stages there are zones; Pachamama (hosting yoga meditation etc.), African Village, Rototom Circus and Foro Social (hosting activists and Q&A sessions). Also Rototom has its own radio station that plays throughout the festival at the stores in Benicàssim, on the bus to the beach and also online. Rototom is literally a Reggae City!
I watched ‘Bruk Out’ a dancehall queen documentary which was very interesting and provided a look into this high energy and sometimes controversial world.
I caught a little of Ijahman Levi and saw Israel Vibration who were backed by the Roots Radics on the main stage. Both foundation artists sounded good and still have conviction of their Rastafari beliefs. The next act I saw was the German dancehall sound and producers Jugglerz who played a high energy set, then rising Jamaican artist Rassi Hardknocks. I missed Maasai Warrior in the Dub Academy but by all accounts it was a very heavy set right until the last tune.
Maasai Warrior last tune
The main stage had a high profile and solid line-up of Kabaka Pyramid, Meta, Morgan Heritage and Alborosie. All artists played very well with Alborosie being the crowd favourite. For me Kabaka was the highlight. He is unique in the way he combines hip hop and reggae. Check his new track Kabaka vs Pyramid (both voices are him by the way…he is battling himself).
This night was all about Damian Marley and he didn’t disappoint, playing tunes off his 3 albums as well as his dad’s tunes, and new material off his upcoming album due for release later this year.
Silly Walks Discotheque played a 25-year anniversary set on the Dancehall stage with Damian Marley passing through on their set. This was my favourite DJ set of the festival.
Silly Walks playing Damian Marley’s new tune Nail Pon Cross
I caught up on sleep most of the night but got up at 3am and went straight to Iration Steppers and Macky Banton, which really woke me up! Mark Iration played a diverse set covering Roots, Dub and of course their signature sound, Steppers.
Taurus Riley played a high energy set of all his hits. And on this day Rototom sold out, due to Spanish artist Manu Chao playing.
I enjoyed a couple of hours of Jah Shaka’s 6-hour set in the Dub Academy. Shaka played heavy UK roots and meditative style dub and hosted and toasted in his distinctive style. This tune, Jah Jah Thank You by Don Diego and Moa Anbessa was a stand-out for me.
Last day of Rototom! I saw a very interesting talk from Ras Flako Tafari on the foundation of the Rastafari movement. The talk was concerned with early Rasta in Jamaica, the persecution of these people, how they couldn’t get work or any government services due to having dreadlocks, and more sinister aspects of police brutality and unjust arrests. He made a very interesting point that certain industries are now profiting off what these early Rasta were promoting and got persecuted for, e.g. clean water, (’spring’ bottled), veganism, healthy living, marijuana (legal and medical), and even the fashion of dreadlocks.
Legal Shot Sound played a wicked set at the Dub Academy, and then the main stage had a full line-up consisting of a Rototom and friends showcase featuring Jr Kelly, Randy Valentine, Wailing Souls, Raphael, Jahcoustix and Iriepathie. These artists did a European tour pre-Rototom as a showcase to get people ready for the festival.
It is so hard to summarise and even try to capture my own experience at Rototom, let alone all the other stuff happening over the 8-days, but I hope this inspires reggae music lovers to join those that come to Rototom from all over the world. A reggae city!
Thank you to all the crew, artists, media, and everyone that makes Rototom happen. Until next year!