Back in April, when the organizers of Reggae Sumfest announced that this year’s staging of the show would be cancelled due to COVID-19, many were left disappointed. Although they knew it was for the best, everyone – from loyal supporters to artistes to sponsors and production crews – was hard hit by the decision. But when Downsound Records’ CEO, Joe Bogdanovich, announced that his team was planning on hosting a virtual edition of the ‘greatest reggae show on Earth’, the void left from April’s announcement was slowly replaced by anticipation and excitement. Now that the curtains have closed on what many have described as one of the best online productions Jamaica has seen, the Reggae Sumfest team is being flooded with high praises for its dedication to Jamaica’s music industry.
In a post-performance interview with The Sunday Gleaner, ‘90s dancehall duo Tanto Metro and Devonte said they were glad Sumfest organisers were able to put together the virtual event. According to them, after a festival history that has spanned two decades, missing a year of Sumfest would be a sad state of affairs. “After 20-something years of Sumfest, to cut a year out of it would have been really sad, and so we glad the organisers found a way to deliver it and get the fans all excited again. A year without Sumfest is like it’s not a year. The year would have been blank without this, honestly. Plus, they did it on such a huge scale. The production was top notch,” said Devonte. Tanto Metro agreed. “This was a great way to show the Jamaican people and the world how dedicated Sumfest are to the music and the people in spite of what is going on. When we got the call to come on this platform, we said yes without a doubt because it’s a good likkle while Tanto Metro and Devonte don’t perform in Jamaica. We are all over the world performing, and so we don’t get to do this type of performance at home very often, and to know that the platform we get to reach out to our home fans is the big platform such as Reggae Sumfest, online or not, we had to come. Looking at the cameras, we felt the love and appreciation reaching us through the screens.”
Internationally renowned Grammy-nominated artiste Maxi Priest said that although it was kind of strange performing in front of cameras instead of a live audience, Reggae Sumfest’s organisers have proven that they will pull out all the stops, even in a pandemic, to please their supporters. “I think this whole show was just an awesome idea. This is the world that we’re living in now, and we have to be able to adapt to it and make the transitions as they come in order to keep up with the rest of the world. Putting together this level of production in a global pandemic speaks volumes about what we are capable of as an industry, and the Reggae Sumfest team should be commended,” he said. “In my mind, I was going, ‘Crowd, no crowd’. I was caught in a place that I’ve never been before, but I had to remember that whether they were in front of me physically or not, the fans were still watching, and I channelled that energy to give them the best I could give.”
Captain of the Big Ship Freddie McGregor said that having been booked for Sumfest 2020 from earlier on in the year, he was looking forward to gracing the stage and sharing an unforgettable experience with his fans. He said he was one of those disappointed that the show had to be cancelled, and so when he got the call about the virtual show, he said yes without hesitation. “When things happen, they happen at the right time and for the right reasons. So we weren’t able to gather in a physical sense for Reggae Sumfest, but in a time when the world is going through so much hard times, this is exactly what the people needed, a show with positive energy, good vibes, and great music,” he said. “We, as Jamaicans, are there with the rest of the world. We have been showing up in the virtual space and showing that our industry is capable of adjusting to any situation. I thank Joe for being a part of our music because since Mr Bogdanovich arrived here in Jamaica, he has shown nothing but love for our music, and we have to be thankful for that because not many people who have the funding to do this would take on such a challenge. And so when I was asked, I would not say no. As someone a part of the music industry, I want to see it grow, and if I can do anything to help that, why not?”
A phenomenal set of performances on festival Night Two last night closed the curtains on the first-ever virtual staging of Reggae Sumfest. The night was filled with one scorching performance after the other as in addition to sets from Maxi Priest and Freddie McGregor, the online world was treated to musical presentations from the likes of Gyptian, Tarrus Riley, Sizzla, and the Grammy kid, Koffee. It was hard to pick a standout performer for the night as each act stamped their class on the historic show. Gyptian, who was among the earlier acts, delivered songs such as Serious Times, Love Overdue, Beautiful Woman, and Hold Yuh. He was followed by Tarrus Riley, who churned out hits such as Simple Things, One Drop, and his new single, Healing. All in the Same Boat, I See It In You, To Be Poor Is A Crime, Push Comes To Shove, Bawling, and I’ll Wait For You are some of the hits McGregor dished out during his set. Maxi Priest thrilled with songs like Prayer To The World, Wide World, Close To You, and I Believe In You. Sizzla, in his first onstage appearance since his biking accident in November last year, gave a memorable performance when he served up hits like Thank You Mama, Rise to the Occasion, Dry Cry, and Solid As A Rock. Closing out a solid line-up was 20-year-old reggae sensation Koffee. In addition to her breakout hit Toast, the Grammy kid served up songs such as Raggamuffin, Rapture, and her latest hit, Lockdown.