On May 11, the day that marked 38 years since the passing of reggae legend Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley, the International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA) held its glitzy 37th staging at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston. And, quite appropriately, their guest of honour was Rita Marley, the widow of Bob. At 9:30, half an hour into the late start of the show, the carers for Marley wheeled her in to sit up front, close to Minister of Entertainment and Culture Olivia Grange and it’s fair to say that Marley, despite her obvious restrictions, had a ball.
“It’s good to see your face in the place,” Grange told Marley from the podium as she asked a willing audience, comprising the who’s who in entertainment, to stand in tribute to the Lioness of Reggae. As the army of paparazzi clicked frantically, Marley acknowledged the audience with a sanguine smile and a wave of her left hand. Grange then ended her short address by declaring, “Tonight we celebrate, we recognise all of you. Tonight we are here to chant down Babylon.”
And that clearly resonated with Marley, who seemed totally in tune with the entire proceedings and stayed until the last song, One Love, after which she was whisked away in a specially adapted JUTA bus. However, prior to her departure, the former member of the I-Threes really came to life during the performance of Top One Frisson, an entertainer from the Congo, who made his way right in front of her to sing, dance, and pay tribute. “I am the first artiste from the Congo to perform at the IRAWMAs in Jamaica and the first to perform in front of Rita Marley. This is a memorable night, it is a dream come true,” he told The Gleaner after his well-received performance.
Marley also smiled when Beenie Man, who copped the Entertainer of the Year award, showed exactly why he was deserving of the accolade when he took to the stage and rattled off complimentary, on-the-spot, lyrics in tribute to Rita Marley, while singing Rum And Red Bull.
In fact, it was a night of short and sweet performances from the likes of Dean Fraser and the IRAWMA All Stars band, Capleton, Freddie McGregor, U-Roy, Beenie Man, D’Angel who gave a shout-out to her ex-husband, who was seated in the audience, The Heptones, Gangoolie, who cautioned the females, “mind Mackerel tek way ay oonu man”; Spice, gospel singer, Da Flame, Orisha Sound, and Cherry Natural.
Actually, in more ways than one, it was a spectacular night for the IRAWMAs, and Ephraim Martin and his team can take a bow. The nominees turned out in their numbers, and the red carpet arrivals could very well be the standard by which red carpets will be judged going forward. Unlike previous awards shows, when the names of the winners are called and there is an uncomfortable silence as the audience waits for nobody to claim the award, this time, persons were actually present. And, more often than not, it was the winner who walked on stage, rather than a representative. A stand-out absentee was Producer of the Year winner, Notnice, for whom many persons seemed genuinely happy, but he didn’t even have a rep. The mumblings thereafter were that his absence was definitely “not nice”.
One curious thing about this awards show was the fact that no time was allotted for winners to give their acceptance speech, a highly anticipated feature of awards shows. In essence, it took on the character of a graduation ceremony, as winner after winner went up to the stage, accepted their award, posed for pictures and moved on. Perhaps the producers could look into this come next year.
Anyway, one winner who got his voice heard, was Rodney ‘Bounty Killer’ Price, who took the mic and paid respect to matriarch Rita Marley, thanked the organisers for his award and urged them to keep the event in Jamaica for at least four years before they move on to a different country. Bounty, in a quick interview with The Gleaner afterwards, said that he had to be present owing to the significance of the IRAWMAs. “It is always an honour to be honoured in your own country. Any local award means a lot to me. This is our Grammys,” he said. “And so I had to be here. I had to dress the part, just as if I was attending the Grammy overseas. It is important that we build what is ours,” he said, as he churned out words of wisdom.
Earlier in the evening, a dapper Tony Rebel, nattily attired in a shiny new jacket and felt hat, was juxtaposed against a very casually clad, Koffee, in her trademark oversized clothing – this time a dress with tights. Making their debuts as MCs, the entertainers didn’t immediately find their comfort zone, but alas, as soon as Rebel warmed up completely and seemed ready to take full charge, the duo was slowly faded to black, as the hitherto unseen VOG (Voice Of God) relinquished the cloak of mystery and emerged from the shadows.
That aside, a list of the night’s winners included Winston “Wee Pow” Powell, who was accompanied by his wife; Joe Bogdanovich, Freddie McGregor, Capleton, Spice, Top One Frisson, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Koffee, Mutabaruka, Boris Gardener, Tony Rebel, Minister Grange, Dr Dennis Howard, Norma Brown-Bell, Balfour Henry, Winford Williams, and an absent Popcaan.