A Taste of Sumfest, the two-day virtual edition of Reggae Sumfest, proved the perfect antidote for event-starved patrons who would have spent July 17 and 18 in Montego Bay taking in live performances at the annual show.
Initially cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, efforts made by organiser Joseph Bogdanovich and sponsors like FLOW allowed for a free, virtual treat to music lovers on Friday and Saturday through live streams on Facebook and Instagram.
Certainly not the overlong show which usually sees thousands of patrons leaving the Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex at the crack of dawn, the condensed experience retained its Night One and Night Two format, with the crème de la crème of reggae and dancehall. In case you missed it, here are the top picks from A Taste of Sumfest.
Best Performer – Sizzla Kalonji
The term ‘saving the best for last’ aptly applied when Sizzla closed Night Two of the virtual show. Adorned in a black suit with a chain boasting an elaborate map of Africa, Judgement Yard’s ‘Dada’ executed his set as if he were performing before a 30,000-strong crowd. Starting with his 2003 classic, Just One of Those Days, Sizzla worked every crevice of the stage and belted those impassioned falsettos we love him for. His spiritedness never faltered, neither did the chain of classics. With the Ruff Kutt band and saxophonist Dean Fraser rivaling his infectious high energy, Sizzla unleashed hits like Solid As A Rock, Good Ways and Get To The Point. Between high jumps and hails of “Rastafari,” Sizzla also showed just how much he knows his audience, by pulling up songs like Rise to the Occasion and Holding Firm, which would have undoubtedly reaped encores in an in-person concert.
Sizzla interacted with patrons no differently, asking them to shout out “mama!” at the intro of Thank You Mama, and even asking them to stick out a foot, hand or raise their lighters, essential show antics that every dancehall lover lives for. He wasn’t just there to deliver music, but also gems of Pan-Africanism, peace and the importance of education, some of which he did through rapid-fire freestyles. Just when you thought his set was over, he returned to the stage (classic Sizzla) and served a quick medley including Got It Right Here.
Most Anticipated – Koffee
For some it’s the Grammy factor, for others it’s the cool music and androgynous style. Whatever the reason, all eyes were awaiting Koffee’s second Sumfest appearance. Her performance was just like her music: easy, laidback and cool. Decked in a camouflage fit with a white mesh marina top, she delivered songs including Rapture, Toast, Lockdown and Raggamuffin’ just as they appear on the record. When performing the latter, she hailed veteran singer Cocoa Tea, the man credited for bringing her to the big stage at his 2018 Rebel Salute set. Her background vocalists doubling as dancers was also a conversation piece.
Best Return Act – Teejay
Fans voiced their disappointment in 2019 when promoter Romeich Major announced that none of his three acts (Teejay, Shenseea and Ding Dong) would be appearing on Reggae Sumfest because of booking fee disputes. Fans seemed most upset at Teejay’s absence, as it was on the Sumfest stage that he made his big break in 2018 among the rising acts from the West. It seems all is reconciled between Downsound Records and Romeich Entertainment as all three acts performed at the virtual show, and Teejay was the return king. He was seemingly comfortable on stage, and his vocal skills were more appreciated with the omission of horns and cheers. Grooving across the stage, the ‘Uptop Boss’ effortlessly performed tracks like My Type, Henne and Weed, Baller, and even shared the spotlight with up-and-coming singer JDon.
Best Viral Moment – Ishawna
Former Downsound Records signee Ishawna delivered the best arranged set while serving stage experience, pink hair, sexy vibes and a tongue-sticking meme. Building her 12-minute virtual story on the varied experiences in love were the stalker hit, Restraining Order, side chick anthems Cheerful Giver and Everybody Need Someone, and raunchy number Mi Horny. Then came the tongue-sticking moment. Culminating with her 2017 banger Equal Rights, Ishy demonstrated the puppy-licking style of fellatio that apparently isn’t keeping any woman at home. Her charisma saw some production crew members bursting out in laughs, the first sign that signalled the shaping of a viral moment.
Frisco Kid was no doubt the best 90s representative, Agent Sasco delivered as usual, and Tarrus Riley added to the experience with an acoustic segment.