The 28th Annual Ragga Muffins Festival
February 21 – 22, 2009 – Long Beach Arena
Photos Jan Salzman
March 10, 2009 – Long Beach, CA – Day One – The weekend event started with a press conference hosted by promoter Barbara Barabino. Buju Banton and Leroy Shakespeare were two artists who showed up; Buju was in particularly good humor.
The much-anticipated show began for me with Etana, winner of an EME award for “Best Female Vocalist” and a Reggae Academy Award for “Best Solo Female Reggae Vocalist.” Etana brought the vibe up to a very positive level. She played rather early (about 3:30 pm), but knocked out the crowd with her powerful voice. I first heard Etana’s “Warrior Love,” from the VP release Reggae Gold 2008. I was astounded! She sang it to perfection during her Long Beach performance, backed by our local band Detour Posse, who had every lick and riff together. Other songs that highlighted Etana’s set were “Don’t Forget” and “I Am Not Afraid” from her debut album The Strong One. She definitely was one of my faves for Saturday.
Then came a British invasion with the sensational Dennis Bovell and Macka B, mixed by the one and only maestro at the board, The Mad Professor. It was a strong dub sound backing the two singers’ vocals. They were magnificent!
The Somalia-born singer K’naan brought his unique blend of hip-hop with traditional African melodies to a completely receptive crowd. The entertaining performer delivered songs from his sophomore CD Troubadour, recently recorded at Tuff Gong in Kingston and released on A&M/Octone.
Son of reggae legend, Bob Marley, Julian Marley opened with his father’s classic “Give Thanks and Praises.” He could’ve won an award for the best flashing locks of the day. He performed a couple of new tunes from his upcoming CD Awake, including “Boom Draw” and “Little Too Late” – both were really rockin’. He closed his set with the crowd favorite, “Exodus.”
There was a roar when veteran Michael Rose hit the stage. He sang hit after hit from his days with Black Uhuru, commencing with “Shine Eye Gal.” His vocals sounded fantastic, staying true to his very recognizable style.
Gruff-voiced singjay Buju Banton closed Saturday’s performances with an all-out energy infused set. Singing such chart-topping hits songs as “Shiloh” and “Destiny,” Buju had the massive audience cheering. He often spoke to the audience, spreading his positive Rastafarian philosophy. He left the throng exhausted from dancing. It’s easy to get exhausted just watching Buju, as he puts out as much energy as I have ever seen from an artist.
Sunday started off with a great press conference chaired by promoter Barbara Barabino. Several artists stopped by including Edee, Leroy Sibbles, Pressure, and Etana. Before long it was time to get organized and head off to the venue.
The first act I saw performing this day was one of Jamaica’s younger bands, Rootz Underground. They have a driving hip-hop, dub stylee. I’ve seen one of their videos on BETJ’s Saturday show called Wick’d. Check your local listings for this fun show.
Then came the magnificent Wailing Souls who played hit after hit from their long established repertoire. They started off with “Bandits.” Favorites included “Things and Time,” “Firehouse Rock,” and the mega-hit “Shark Attack.” They closed with “John Shop,” which was redone by the group Sublime and called “Pawn Shop.”
Leroy “Heptones” Sibbles followed. One of the most prolific influences and hit-makers of the rock steady era, Leroy thrilled the crowed with classics such as “Party Time” and “The Book of Rules.’ Hailing from the US Virgin Islands, a young singer called Pressure came onstage and delighted the audience. Amongst other songs, he performed his two hits “Love and Affection” and “Ghetto Life.”
Then it was time for the man known as the Godfather of Dub and The Upsetter — Lee “Scratch” Perry stormed the stage adorned with bangles, buttons and lots of rings. This classic reggae veteran performed very energetically, considering his 72 years of age, his red beard accented by the stage lights. He performed a number of his songs from his latest release Repentance. The crowd was thrilled to see the reggae legend in action!
The time had come for the highlight of the day, the long anticipated acoustic set by five-time Grammy winner Stephen Marley. Steve came onstage to resounding cheers and sat down behind his drum and a red, gold, and green wrapped microphone stand. He waved to the enraptured audience and launched into the gripping “Mind Control”. He really possessed a full sound for an acoustic performance. The crowd, including myself, was mesmerized by his set. Stephen closed with his father’s “Could You Be Loved,” as in his days with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. For the finale, he was joined onstage by his brothers Ziggy, Julian, and Rohan. It was a thrilling moment for all and the maximum capacity crowd went wild. The Marley sons scurried out to the bus right after the set and I had to wait quite awhile to greet them. It’s always worth the wait to get a hug! As a result, I missed part of the dynamic dancehall activist Queen Ifrica, whose set was riveting. I missed Tony Rebel completely as I was hungry and my older feet really hurt! I send apologies to the fans for this.
We thank everyone at Moss Jacobs Presents and Ragga Muffins Productions for an excellent festival. You have managed to make this THE Reggae event of the year for the Los Angeles area, and all Reggae fans truly appreciate it.