Words by Allie Mason

MONTREAL, QUE. – If you walk a few blocks south of Montreal’s bustling downtown financial and fashion districts, you’ll find yourself in Chinatown. And if you go a few steps further toward the mighty Saint Lawrence River, you’ll find yourself taken back in time.

As you walk past stained glass cathedrals, cafe’s, museums and street performers, the beauty of the surrounding European architecture will amaze you. The cobblestone streets, uneven beneath your feet, may inspire you to travel by horse-drawn carriage, rather than risk turning an ankle. Most of the residents are bilingual, but speak French as their primary language, so you will genuinely feel like you’re in the streets of Paris.

But, for one weekend a year, if you continue your walk along the quays of the Saint Lawrence River in the Old Port of Montreal, you will find yourself transported once again “this time back across the Atlantic to the Caribbean Islands. It’s a sea of dreadlocks, Jamaican emblems and Rastafarian flags, and the smell of beef patties and pot lingers in the air. This could only mean one thing: it’s Montreal International Reggae Festival weekend.

In its eighth year, the Montreal International Reggae Festival has brought together not only some of the best in Reggae, but also in Soca, Dance Hall, Calypso, R&B and other uplifting island genres. The two-day festival was held this year on August 20 and 21 and boasted top Reggae artists like Wayne Wonder, Mavado, Beres Hammond, and Third World. Gyptian also graced the Reggae Fest stage and drew huge crowds with his recent success and popularity in mainstream music, having made his first appearance on the Billboard Top 100 list in 2010 with his hit “Hold Yuh.”

Day I
Reggae Fest 2011 kicked off in a big way, with promoters estimating roughly 10,000 in attendance. In typical island fashion, the festivities began an hour and a half late, with a DJ starting things up with some vivacious Calypso rhythms.

M’City Solo, one of Montreal’s hottest local MCs, really warmed up the crowd with a high-energy performance including his hit tracks “Zone” and “Mary,” a meaningful tribute to the strength in the face of adversity “ a theme consistent throughout the Montreal International Reggae Festival. Acts like NakyB, a Persian Reggae artist from Ottawa, Ontario, Don Skilachi representing the Toronto Dancehall scene, and Jamaican Dancehall / Reggae artist Jah Vinci brought the Caribbean vibes and heat to Montreal.

Midnight, a rapper from Arlington, Texas, was less than impressive. Perpetuating the negative stereotypes of the scene, the artists’ lyrics included paying homage to alcohol and weed. Finally, under the hot Montreal sun, Soca artist Ghost really got the crowd moving in with his flamboyant performance, including a two-piece, purple satin suit complete with gold chains and a skull belt buckle, and, of course, his high-energy Soca style.

Temperatures for the day hit a high of 85 degrees as the sun shone down from a mostly cloudless sky. Thankfully, slight breezes off the Saint Lawrence River and soul food from Ma’s Place Caribbean catering managed to bring some relief to an otherwise scorching hot crowd.

Saturday afternoon’s showstopper went by the name of Ammoye. Born in Jamaica, Ammoye has become a powerful multi-genre female vocalist who now calls Toronto home. She commanded the crowd and fixed the medias attention on stage with her talent, beauty, and edgy style including spiked bangles and gold armoured stilettos. Her look was Rihanna meets Lefteye meets Beyonce, but her sound was all-original.

Keeping with the mission of the festival, Ammoye’s songs spread messages of anti-violence, equality and forgiveness; her songs are lessons on life and love, and her quest for political justice, so prominent in Reggae and Caribbean music, distinguishes her strong Jamaican roots. The crowd was amped up to see Saturday’s headliner, Mavado, but due to unforeseeable circumstances, his performance was cancelled. Montreal International Reggae Festival reps didn’t say what exactly happened, just that their legal team was in contact with his team and that bringing him to this year’s festival was a “Herculean feat.”

Don Skilachi, Exco Levi, and Jah Vinci warmed up the stage for the new headliner of the night, in Mavado’s absence, Gyptian. Knowing the hype he had to live up to in light of replacing Mavado, the Jamaican born Reggae / Dancehall singer brought 110% to the crowd at this year’s Montreal International Reggae Festival. Playing hits like “Nah Let Ya Go,” and collaborating on stage for “Love & Hate” with Nitty Kutchie, Gyptian had the audience wrapped around his little finger. Closing with his international hit, “Hold Yuh,” Gyptian won over the crowd and everyone left satisfied, with Mavado’s cancellation nothing but a fleeting memory.

Day II
Day two of the Montreal International Reggae Festival was channeling Jamaican weather yet again, but very much rain.

Despite poor weather and cool temperatures, the artists and audience arrived to enjoy another day of warm Reggae rhythms. Soul / R&B singer Sansanna helped to raise the soggy-spirited, along with DJ Examine Sound, who spun some Lovers Rock featuring Sahchez.

By 3:30 pm, the rain had mostly cleared up just in time for Iley Dread’s performance, which included a full band and back-up singers. Iley brought Reggae sweetheart Judy Nelson on stage for three songs including Iley’s hit “Lover’s Holiday.” They wooed the cold Montreal crowd and had the people moving and singing again, holding hands and dancing together.

Around 5:00 pm the rain returned, this time harder than before. But that didn’t stop the hype that was building up to the performances coming later in the evening.

In fact, in true Reggae fashion, the rain seemed to bring the people together. “One love” gained a whole new meaning for those who shared their umbrellas with complete strangers. One festival attendee, Fraser MacDougall, of the roots/electronic inspired band FM Hi Low, said at one point he had five people taking cover underneath the shelter of his umbrella.

To stay warm while they waited for the legendary Reggae artists that would take the stage on Sunday, festival-goers lined up in droves for some warm Caribbean and African cuisine from one of the many food vendors on site. Ma’s Place, a Caribbean restaurant and catering service, had a line-up at least 50 people long almost the entire weekend, and that’s not counting the separate line that was dedicated to ordering only Jamaican beef patties.

The anticipation leading up to Third World’s performance was undeniable among the audience and fellow performers “and they didn’t disappoint. They opened their set by blessing the people with the song “There is a Land,” and throughout their hour-long performance they played other classic originals like “Now That We’ve Found Love,” and covered unexpected songs like “Love Train” by the O’Jays. They even performed a cello rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

Demonstrating their sense of humor and good spirits, some audience members jokingly sang along to “96 Degrees in the Shade” replacing the chorus lyrics with their own, “15 degrees in the rain,” in tribute to the terrible weather.

Third World finished off their set with an incredible 15 minute long Reggae jam, and afterward they were recognized for their dedication to the emancipation of people fighting for human rights by being presented with the Reggae Ambassador Plaque. It was a touching moment for everyone on stage and in the audience.

Next, Reggae artists Angola and Visionary took the stage before hometown Reggae favourite, Jah Cuttah, brought some serious Reggae beats to the wet Reggae Fest mass. Mello G had taken up some of Jah’s set time, so unfortunately, Montreal didn’t get to hear as much of Jah Cuttah as they wanted to.

Finally, Sharon Tucker warmed up the audience with her sweet Reggae vibes before Wayne Wonder took the stage “an act everyone was looking forward to seeing. Wonder sang “The Full Has Never Been Told” as a tribute to Buju Banton, who was recently sentenced to ten years in prison. Bringing the positive vibes back, he performed his hits “Joyride” and “No Letting Go” to a sea of swaying red, yellow, green and black umbrellas as the rain came down in tropical storm intensity. Finishing off the festival with a bang “quite literally“ was Beres Hammond, whose set was threatened by impeding thunder and lightning. Natasha Von Castle, who was in charge of on-site publicity for the festival, said Beres, “brings the rain.” She has seen him twice before in bad weather conditions.

The Reggae lovers remained for the length of Hammond’s set even though more than a half an inch of rain had fallen in the past 12 hours. Still, Hammond’s warmness emanated from the stage, especially during crowd favorites “I Feel Good” and “Can’t Stop a Man From Trying.”

All things considered, the Montreal International Reggae Festival was a huge success and an authentic experience, despite rainy conditions and one canceled headliner.


TheWaster.com | North of the Border