MIDNIGHT RAVER’s 2014 visit to Kingston on the 38th anniversary of Bob Marley’s historic performance at Smile Jamaica was already in full effect when I stumbled upon the Wickie Wackie show at Bull Bay, St. Thomas. Doctor Dread is barrelling through downtown Kingston with Brigadier Jerry wailing through the car speakers. It is loud, real loud, but it doesn’t seem to bother my bredren Sheldon Senior who is struggling to get directions from Kareem Burrell, son of the late Fatis Burrell and friend and personal manager for Jesse Royal.
“Yeah mon! We a meet you at de roundabout! Maybe 5 minutes dread! Just wait! We a come quick.”
Kareem, one of the most solid bredren I’ve come across in Kingston, was going to make damn sure I made the show.
“You a come see de show bredren.” Not a question, but a simple order whispered quietly as we linked up for the first time at the hotel.
“Brother, I’m sick man. Laid out. Fever and all” I described to him as I shuttered the thought of spending the next six hours tracking people down throughout Kingston for a show that probably won’t go off until sometime early morning. Having been in Kingston for less than 24 hours I had already reasoned with Freddie McGregor, discussed wha gwaan with Alex Marley, spent three hours in a business meeting of sorts with Bunny Wailer at his gated home in Washington Gardens, interviewed Barrington Levy in my hotel room about his forthcoming acoustic album, and linked with Jah Screw to eat paddies and ice cream at Devon House in Kingston, which he explained was the former home of the island’s first black millionaire. “Raver nah romp.” I was far beyond spent.
“What time Jesse perform?” I ask.
“It start 7:30. Jesse go on around 10:30, then Raging Fyah after Jesse. You a come to de show.”
Burrell, along with Earl “Chinna” Smith, is waiting on us so that we can follow him to the show. But Jesse goes live soon and Chinna must be there. Kareem calls back.
“Just keep go dung and turn right on Ocean Avenue” says Sheldon to Doc, who is still neck deep in Briggy and the last lick he took from the steam pipe.
As we pull onto Ocean Avenue all we see is darkness lit only by the light of the full moon. A sandy beach road not different from those I used to drive down during my days surfing Cape Hatteras, NC. Familiar territory. Not foreign like the dark Kingston ghettos we drove through last night, the smell of Jamaica – hot metal, gunpowder and grill-smoke – making its indelible mark on my senses.
Then we see the parked cars and gatherings of Rastas reasoning and smoking. An elder Rasta puts out his hand and the car stops. Earl “Chinna” Smith lowers his head to the window with a smile as bright as a thousand suns.
He reaches out to shake my hand.
“Is that Gary?” he asks already knowing the answer as he reaches across to grasp Doc’s hand. “Yeah mon, you at the right place tonight.”
After reasoning with Chinna for a few moments I feel someone grasp my shoulder. Turning around I see Kareem who introduces me to Jesse Royal, the man of the hour. We chat for a minute and I ask him if he’s looking forward to playing his first show live in Washington, DC on February 6, 2015, a Bob Marley birthday celebration at the 930 Club with Third World.
“Wha you mean look forward to performing? Me a look forward fi murder dem slow!” he exclaims as we walk toward the gate.
For those who have not attended one of these beach shows at Bull Bay, it is one of the nicest shows you’ll ever see as a reggae fan. Everything positive, no tension, level vibes, everyone there to support this burgeoning movement of young, conscious roots singers. The whole event takes place on the beach behind a large beach house. The artists perform live on a low-lying stage which is met on one side by the crowd and by the vast, wide-open sea on the other.
It is one of the finest reggae shows I’ve ever seen. Jesse Royal is a dynamic and charismatic performer who appears to be the happiest man alive while on-stage. I am struck by his enthusiasm and by his passion. He gives everything he has to the crowd and calls upon other artists to take the stage with him, not at all threatened by the likes of Chronixx and Dre Island, both supremely talented performers in their own right. The artists do not battle but uplift one another with their brilliant and energetic performances. Rather than tearing each other down, they build each other up. Each artist works in their own unique way to bring the best out of the other, resulting in better performances from everyone. Iron Sharpen Iron.
Royal brings Dre Island onstage during “Preying On The Weak” (Militancy riddim). Dre Island’s “Live Forever” and “Live Forever Dub” made my BEST OF 2014 list for my favorite single and dub track respectively. ‘Nuff respect to Dre Island for representing strong for the crowd. This performance was crazy. Backed by Chinna, a slight man with a weighty stage presence, and several members of Notice Productions, Jesse wows the crowd as he medleys other artists over the Rootsman riddim. The crowd goes mad when he invites Chronixx on-stage during “Modern Day Judas,” the best reggae single I’ve heard since “Welcome to Jamrock.”
Standing with Sheldon Senior just feet away from the stage I can barely steady the camera to capture this moment for all to see. Somehow I captured this craziness on high-quality video and it is sure to go down as one of the livest and most memorable shows I’ve ever witnessed. I felt that we were witnessing something truly special, something that only a few hundred people were blessed to witness. I’ve never felt so at home among strangers. Chinna runs this…
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Give thanks to the whole crew who made this happen: Jesse Royal, Chinna, Kareem Burrell, Sheldon Senior, Doctor Dread, Jah Cure and crew, Susan DeLeon, Keznamdi, and “de whole a dem!”
More Jah Raver inna Jamdown soon come!