It’s 9:30 on Sunday morning, and I’m just going home. My feet hurt from dancing for the last 14 and a half hours, and the sun is pelting my brown skin black – and I couldn’t be happier. Rebel Salute satisfies my soul every single time.
This year’s stars, for me, shone brightest on Saturday night. Agent Sasco was flawless. Stringing his set together with a short storyline that drew you in. Surprise performer Wayne Wonder wasn’t on the bill, but boy, did he come to work. The man did a set that ran song into song into song. No intros, no long talking. Just music. Half Pint had us rocking and singing along loudly to all his hits, and Yellowman was pure entertainment, looking like Mighty Mouse – complete with muscle shirt and the muscles to go with it.
Louis Culture took me back. The man rode that Pepperseed rhythm like it was 1994 all over again. He reminded everybody why he was considered one of the greatest lyricists of the time, and my high-school brain chipped in as I sang Gangalee, Excellence, Bogus Badge, and Old Before Dem Young, word for word. Bounty Killer only needed to offstage say “People deeaadddd!” to electrify the crowd. It’s easy to please when you have solid hits. And Killer threw those punches.
Queen Ifrica proved herself royalty in a way you have to respect. Laced with social commentary and unspoken truths, her delivery was not just a performance. Her last song had her seated on a speaker box, virtually face to face with the prime minister, singing A Nuh We Dis. She connected.
There were many moments that gave me goosebumps. While Ken Boothe was performing, an elderly, white British couple walked through the crowd. They said “excuse me” with a thick accent and continued to make eye contact with and serenade everyone they passed, going toe to toe with Ken, singing every word. They knew his music.
ALL WAS RIGHT
At about 6 a.m., I took a look around the venue, and my heart was full. There were people as far as the eye could see, and even as the sun was rising, no one was leaving. Every race and age group was huddled together in the audience singing one song. I sipped my cup of Jah B’s Blue Mountain Coffee, and all was right with the world, if only for that moment.
A 36-year-old Ugandan performer reminded me of the power of Jamaica. He introduced himself: “I’m not a politician. I’m a leader. I’m a freedom fighter and a revolutionary.” Bobi Wine told the story of how his military government beat him, shot his driver, placed him in detention, and banned him from attending public gatherings in his home country because he is a rebel.
He credited reggae music with shaping his thoughts, and filled with palpable gratitude, he thanked Rebel Salute for giving him a platform to speak to his countrymen, who could watch the show live online and hear his message. He spoke of growing up in the ghetto of Uganda and rising to a consciousness unimaginable, thanks to Jamaican reggae music.
Halfway around the world, a country of less than three million was making an impact on the lives of a country of 40 million. Little Jamaica did that.
One thing’s for sure, everyone left Rebel Salute feeling something. Feeling something good.
Of all the 2019 winners I have mentioned, my biggest winner is the man Tony Rebel himself. Tony wins for giving audiences good music to refresh them, year after year. He wins for affirming that people don’t need alcohol to have fun. He wins for giving artistes like Ifrica and Bobi Wine a stage to deliver a message. And he wins for giving Jamaica one more reason to be proud. See you next year.