Building Uppsala: Scandinavia’s largest reggae festival

The Uppsala Reggae Festival is the largest reggae festival in Scandinavia

Uppsala Reggae Festival started in 2001, and to date attracts audiences of all ages. For 20 years, the festival has enjoyed major success, helping to spread reggae music across Europe, and sharing Jamaica’s greatest treasure with lovers of music from all corners of the globe. It is to date, the largest reggae festival in all of Scandinavia.

But truly the name Uppsala Reggae Festival was at first attached to an “indoor festival” that promoter Yared Tekeste hosted in the early 90s. Tekeste shares that it was a conversation with reggae singer, Anthony B, that spurred him to transform the festival into something more.

“It wasn’t until 1998 when I had booked a young Anthony B for a show, he said ‘Uncle, how long you going to book us for venue shows, you should start a festival.’” Tekeste told BUZZ. This exchange, twenty years ago, makes it “all the more special” to have Anthony B featured on the festival for its 20th anniversary.

A family affair

“Right there he planted the seed, and the year after we had our first major outdoor show with Burning Spear that lit the torch for what has now been going on for 20 years.”

Inspiration from friends aside, creating the biggest reggae festival in all of Scandinavia is very much a family affair for Yared Tekeste.
“This is a family enterprise indeed,” he said when asked what role his family plays in the staging of the event. “Me and my wife Adiam Kubrom started the festival together and our daughter Malayka grew up around the festivals and shows. Malayka is now 32 years old and in charge of most of the production. I do the artist booking and then Malayka takes over the logistics.”

The Uppsala Festival is a family affair! Teskeste’s wife (centre) and daughter Malayka are integral to the planning of the event

According to Tekeste his wife, Adiam, is the ‘hub’. “She takes care of our personnel during the festival and coordinates the decoration of the site. My elder brother Saul Tekeste is also highly involved and a part of the board,” he added.

The 2021 staging of the Uppsala Reggae Festival may have been successful but it was no bed of roses for the Tekeste family. Many of the challenges were due largely to the pandemic; a process Tekeste describes as “very tough”.

“Last year we and Reggae Jam from Germany joined forces and [due to difficulties in pulling off the event] produced a last-minute Virtual festival from Harry J’s. Even this year again in April we had to announce the cancellation of the festival,” he explained.

In the end, Tekeste and his team decided to make a “bold decision” to do a live stream between Uppsala and Kingston simultaneously.

Silver lining

There was some silver lining, however, in May, when COVID-19 restrictions were being lifted in Sweden. This enabled Tekeste and the team to host an audience of 600 or 3000, depending upon whether audiences were standing or sitting, respectively. For Tekeste, the decision was a simple one.

“Of course, we took the option for 600 since we knew we had to be standing to skank while listening to reggae,” he reasoned.

The Uppsala Reggae Festival helps in spreading Jamaican culture across Europe

The festival was a success. The crowd in Sweden was ecstatic to be able to attend a reggae festival once more. The Uppsala Reggae Festival was after all the very first festival to be produced after the first COVID-19 wave.

Tekeste commended the team in Kingston Jamaica that helped to make the live stream between the Jamaican capital and Uppsala a success.

“We had a great team at Harry J’s led by Tara Johnson of Harry J & Javae Munroe of M One Production; our dear and esteemed friend Dean Fraser was in charge of the musical component with another dear brother Duane Stephenson coordinating the artists. And of course, we had our great team who coordinated the whole thing,” he said.

Tekeste shared that the highlight of this journey was being able to take the bold step in streaming from Kingston to Uppsala, places that are more than 8500 km apart.

The next chapter in his journey to spread Reggae music to the masses involves a series of shows lined up for the fall and winter.

“We have a few shows planned for the fall and winter. We are also planning the 10th anniversary of our annual One Love Cruise, a two-day cruise that goes between Stockholm Sweden, and Riga Lativa,” he said.