I HAVE BEEN fortunate enough to have been part of each of the cruises and it is a joy to see the growth and development of the offering. From being a novel idea on the 1600 Norwegian Pearl vessel, the party on the seas now takes place in the near 4,000 capacity Independence Of The Seas ship, which boasts all the amenities you would wish for, and is basically a floating hotel.
Unless you have actually been on this cruise it is really difficult to explain what makes it so special.
One of the best ways to de- scribe it is that the return rate of passengers is incredibly high, with many fans returning year-on-year, and this has definitely created a ‘family’ vibe.
Anticipation builds up from the annual pre-party on the night before we leave, and that’s always the point when you realise that all the artists and DJs from across the reggae spectrum are in town and ready to have a good time.
This year was no different, with many DJs including the UK’s Ras Kwame and myself warming up the crowd and getting them set for what lay ahead. One of the things that can easily get your holiday off on the wrong foot is the boarding procedure for the ship – fortunately, the behind-the-scenes Jamrock team have got this sorted, and after a smooth and seamless access run, we were on the ship and ready to roll.
Now in its fourth year, the Jamrock cruise has made its name as a holiday for fans of reggae music and culture worldwide… The routing is simple – Fort Lauderdale to Ocho Rios; Ocho to Mo Bay, then back to Fort Lauderdale. You get a day on land at both Ocho and Mo Bay, and a day at sea, uninterrupted, on Tuesday and Friday.
ANOTHER LEVEL: Jamrock was host to some of the genre’s greatest stars, including Kingston-raised King of Lovers Rock, Jah Cure
As we set sail to the sounds of LA DJ Rassarella, our captain Damian Marley hit the stage to welcome everybody on board and thank them for attending, while imploring them to have a great time. The sense of anticipation from the cruisers can be felt, and the sail away party is always a highlight for both performers and cruisers alike.
Unfortunately, the weather got the better of us, and a heavy storm meant that night’s performances were brought inside to the illustrious Alhambra Theatre, where Cocoa Tea delivered a sterling, hit-ladened set before the night was closed by Tarrus Riley.
One of the added bonuses to this cruise is the unscripted events that take place while you are on board. Each year seems to bring a surprise or three, and of course this year was no different.
As Monday night turned into Tuesday morning, Damian himself decided that he would join in with the party at around 5am, and an impromptu clash between the artists (including Damian and Cham) went up against some of the selectors, including Foota Hype.
I was absolutely gutted to have missed it, and hearing about it on Tuesday while watching some of the footage gave me the incentive to ensure that the timing of my naps would be better planned for the rest of the week! I had the honour of opening and hosting one of the most innovative features of the cruise – Jamrock Radio.
CHILLING: Seani B with Cham
It is the only music cruise that has its own radio station and boasts many of the leading DJs from across the world taking part. This year we had DJs from the UK, Toronto, Connecticut, New York, LA and Jamaica all jumping on the decks and broadcasting all over the ship. In my first broadcast I had the legend Jah Youth – aka Big Youth – pass by for a quick freestyle, and he hailed up all the cruisers on board.
Tuesday night was also held indoors as Mother Nature definitely gave us greater motivation to get to Jamaica and soak up some sun. The second night was All White night, and looking out at everyone all decked out in white was something special. So much so that Damian decided to use this opportunity to shoot a video for his forthcomng single, Living It Up, from his new album Stony Hill.
Everyone on board fully took part, and after having a quick sneak peek at the raw footage I think this could be one of his best visuals to date. Shout out to B Plus, who is a top man at shooting some quality videos for Gong. Wednesday was stop number one, and a quick trip to Ocho Rios.
If you are a regular reader of this column, you will know that Jamaica is very much where my heart is, and any visit there is always special.
After some local food and a spot of relaxation, it was back on board for our first night of open air entertainment, and it was something special. It is not difficult to see why this is called a ‘festival on the water’, as the line up for that night was Richie Spice, Spice, Popcaan, Bounty Killer and ending the night was Jah Cure, who has become a Jamrock Cruise staple.
LINK UP: Popcaan and Seani B
Special shout out to Bounty Killer, who ran through his extensive repertoire in expert style, and also to Spice, who repped the ladies as only she can. Thursday brings two of the most eagerly anticipated elements of the excursion – the first is the ‘Rep Your Country’ slant of the evening, where all 42 countries that have citizens on board get to show their national col- ours to the rest of the ship.
The second is ‘The Soundclash at Sea’. This year the line- up was impeccable, with current champions Mighty Crown defending their title against Tony Matterhorn, who ran them close last year, David Rodigan from the UK and the current world clash champions King Turbo from Toronto.
This clash was very well put together and the venue perfect for it. A 1,500-capacity ballroom reminiscent of clash locations across the world – except that we are in the Caribbean Sea. After a strong and steady start by all competitors it was time for the elimination rounds. Rodigan displayed his huge experience and creativity with a skit about him being the ‘sound killer at sea’, voiced by On Stage host Winford Williams.
Dressed in a tailor made black and white suit with shoes to match, Roddy taunted the other three sounds saying that they weren’t “dressed for the occasion”. A solid boast! King Turbo was first to be eliminated, quickly followed by Rodigan himself, which left a final tune-for-tune match-up between the same two competitors as last year.
PICTURED: Mighty Crown
That clash will be remembered by most of who attended as one of the few occasions where Tony Matterhorn performed badly at the death of the competition. Surely history wouldn’t repeat itself? Had he learned from 12 months previous? Sadly, the answer was no. Mighty Crown romped to a solid 4-0 lead, which won them the clash (tune- for-tune is best out of seven).
A deserved victory, and a popular one with the fans. Can they make it three in a row in 2018? I wouldn’t bet against it.
The final day brought another great line up on the main stage which began with two bands at opposite ends of the experience range. Raging Fyah kicked things off and showed why they are so hotly tipped to go far, particularly on the live music circuit. Their stage work and style are very impressive. They were followed by Inner Circle, who showed why they have been such a big hit in America with a flawless performance, which reflected their 40 years worth of experience.
Closing the show – and the cruise – were The Marley brothers. This was one of the better performances from Stephen that I have seen, as he looked extremely comfortable running through tracks from his ‘Revelation 2’ album and even calling out his son Jo Mersa (who has an absolute banger coming soon too – look out for it called ‘Power Moves’).
LEGENDARY: Seani B and Stephen Marley
The man of the moment stepped up soon after, and this was my first time seeing the current “Stony Hill” show from Damian, which he has just toured across the United States. He did not disappoint, and even when there was a small interruption for a power fault, in a special moment Damian acoustically whipped the crowd up aided by his drummer until the problem was fixed.
There was a memorable moment when Damian and Stephen were joined on stage by Sizzla, Kabaka Pyramid, Busy Signal and Cham – a real “must be there to witness” occasion. Watching him break down the tracks from the album and what they mean is a masterclass in audience engagement, and something that many younger artists could observe and learn from. A very fitting way to end a masterful week.
It has been a great privilege for me to be part of history in this manner, and I have to thank Damian, his manager Dan, Cristy, Lindsey and the entire staff who worked so tirelessly to make this the special event that it is.
Reservations for 2018 have already begun on board and will be opening globally very soon. Take my advice – sign up as soon as you see it.