Earlier this month, Los Angeles’ city council proclaimed Bob Marley Day. Ostensibly, the recognition signifies a new level of respect for a musical style that has lingered behind a veil of smoke since its emergence in the 1960s. Embodying the resilient spirit of reggae, Calgary’s International ReggaeFest is a direct descendant of the rural mountain music of Nine Mile and the seaside hubbub of Kingston. According to festival director Leo Cripps, the key to the success of this annual celebration of reggae music and Jamaican culture lies in its ability to present the modern expression of a genre that has been steadily evolving over the course of the past five decades.
“I think that capturing the different aspects of reggae’s nature is one of the things our festival does really well,” says Cripps. “We try to be a little different from the other festivals of this type because we’ve found that most people carry around mythical assumptions about Rasta culture. It’s a hip musical form that revolves around freedom and resonates with the young, but there’s far more to it than just getting baked in the sun. While that’s certainly a part of the picture, reggae today has its own merits. We want people to see reggae for what it really is — a multi-dimensional term that embraces everything from mento and rocksteady to ska and dancehall.”
The lineup at ReggaeFest brings the original cool factor to Calgary’s August swelter. This year’s 12-hour gala will see a dazzling array of life-long redemption singers and loyal buffalo soldiers take to the Millennium Park mainstage.
“It’s a beautiful venue and the perfect spot for enjoying our laid-back island philosophy and some really good music,” says Cripps. “This event is completely family-friendly. It’s completely reasonable. Children under 12 get in free and anyone can come down and picnic with us regardless of their culture or age. We try to create an atmosphere that is very positive and uplifting and on top of that we have some of the best reggae bands in the world.”
Among the highlights is a trio of Jamaican artists, including Bryan Art, smooth operator Cherine Anderson, and dancehall crasher Hawkeye, who will bring their authentic island grooves to the fest. These exotic imports are bolstered by a bevy of Canadian talents, such as Torontonians Chester “Motown” Miller, hip-pop phenom Jermaine Cowan, and party-starter Amoy Levy — all of whom will be backed by beat-makers the Ultimate Crew. Delving into the full depth and breadth of the genre, festival organizers couldn’t pass up the chance to highlight award-winning acts like Friendlyness and the Human Rights, Vancouver’s Redeye Empire, and Edmonton’s incomparable Souljah Fyah.
“It’s a feather in our cap to hear about fans from across the globe who are bragging about the superior quality and organization of our festival,” says Cripps. “At the same time, ReggaeFest is about promoting the local music made here in our own city; this year we really wanted to create a wonderful showcase of homegrown talent. We look to artists like Cherine and Bryan as the fresh new faces of reggae. They are branching out with their original music and at the same time handle themselves with the grace and confidence of veterans. Nine years into this event and ReggaeFest is still a passion for us as an organization; we hope that Calgary will discover and share our passion for positive reggae.”