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Memorial Day Monday, May 30, 2016 marked another fun-filled staging of the 3rd Annual Oracabessa Festival in Roy Wilkins Park, Queens NYC produced by IrieJam Productions. Weather reports threatened a whopping estimate of 90% rain showers and not a single drop materialized. Rain or no rain either way did not deter Irie Jam fans from filling the park to full-joy the expected festivities that by curtain-call furnished us with an entire day of surprise after surprise after surprise!
Billed as “a day of Caribbean celebration,” among the most notable early warm performers at Oracabessa Festival 2016 was Ras Attitude who sprang to the stage and immediately commanded the attention of attendees. He sang songs like “Please Mr. Police,” and “Most High Protect” that received thunderous applause in appreciation of his excellent vocal abilities and brief but high-energy performance. When Ras Attitude was through he left us wanting to hear more and I couldn’t help hoping that next time he’d be elevated to the featured section of the program. Other great early warm performer was Royalty hailing out of Mount Vernon NY who shared original songs like “Can’t Let Go” and then “We Can Stay All Day” that was not only timely but well presented. Next up was Lion Melta who is also a NY based artist and one well endowed with an abundance of Roots & Culture vigor and “nuff” talent. Another well placed early warm artist going by the stage name of Dr. Love was interesting as he sprinkled his performance with light humor that thoroughly delighted the audience. The segment ended with artist Noah Landale, a Jamaican born artist who as we learned mainly lives in London but in town to entertain the crowd. He accomplished entertaining us with songs like “Take You To Jamaica” that was clearly an audience favorite; Landale closed out the segment with a song called “Give Thanks for Life” that had many of us up on our feet and gleefully singing along.
DELCITA’S BORDER PATROL
In-between performances Irie Jam plied us with plenty of great onstage MC entertainment antics but then came the first of a few surprises. Nobody expected to be treated to a full performance of legendary Jamaican comedic actor Delcita’s original comedy “Border Patrol” performed with a cast of other stellar actors. Granted, the one hour-forty-five minute production began with a few minor technical bugs involving the microphones that caused a slow start but once the kinks were worked out nobody cared because the play was hilarious making it a great special treat! Shortly thereafter young African dancers took the stage and in well rehearsed step they gyrated their way into our hearts – these kids were marvelous and Irie Jam is to be commended for giving children an opportunity to showcase their awesome dance talents.
Around 5PM in a segment of the Festival I call the “inspirational ” Pastor Son took the stage sharing a few songs determined to uplift our spirits. Closely following his performance the one and only Natalie Evans, who is one of the original Grace Thrillers gave a dynamic performance. Evans is known to have a beautiful voice, and I felt good just listening to her. Fully prepped by Evens uplifting performance and ready for more inspirational music, the audience was not disappointed in performances by Gospel artists Kukudoo, and Little LeRoy both giving hardy performances. Special guest MC Ragashanti was up to his usual stage antics bringing his fiery humor to the stage.
An artist previously unknown to me, a 25-year old out of Jamaica W.I. going by the stage name Jah Lil shared two songs but nonetheless the combination of his lifting performance and cutting edge lyrics provided a crystal clear glimpse into his musical mission. Short of calling him Reggae Gospel, I’m inclined to categorize him as an “Inspirational Reggae” artist based on his artful blend of Roots Reggae and Praise music. The second song he performed was “Siren,” released on the VP Records label in 2015 and it was so good that the next day I started following his artist page on Facebook!
Afterward came Kiprich for a short but high-energy set with my personal favorite from his performance being “Let Go Ya Belly.” Now if Delcita’s play was not enough of a shocking surprise, when surprise guest artist Gully Bop popped up on stage the audience became unhinged! A woman sitting behind me had been loudly calling out Gully’s name wishfully all afternoon and when he made his entrance I turned just in time to see her face light up as she jumped up to scream. Gully’s presence was unquestionably another Irie Jam, let’s see your faces now, surprise moment.
The next segment of Oracabessa Festival went full circle when artist Barbie, well known for being a hot artist, took the stage and did indeed spice up the evening. Flashing ultra-bright green hair (with fingernails to match) it was a clear signal it was Dancehall entertainment time. After her opening song she offered a loving shout-out to the legendary Sister Nancy Barbie before launching into the song “Turn Me Up.” Barbie looked and sounded great and left no doubt that she can sing and dance equally hard.
As for Gully what can anyone say other than the fact he is one artist who knows how to entertain by incorporating his current shenanigans into his music; staged comments like “nuh boy with no teeth have gyal like me” that he then backed with songs like “Every Gyal Ah Wine Off Me.” Yeahman…his set was a huge hit!!
MAVADOgave the longest performance of the day sharing thirty minutes of his rich catalog of hit songs which of course, were expected and welcomed. For an unexpected encore (which given the fadding time was welcomed but not at all expected) he gave us a 100% guaranteed crowd pleasing favorite song, “I’m So Special.”
Somewhere in-between setting up for the next act Irie Jam squeezed in another up and coming artist by the name of 3 Star who in honor of Memorial Day, is also a military man. Decked in camouflage fatigues head to toe he belted out one song but his token performance was also warmly welcomed.
Javaughn Bond (Mavado’s Band) on Bass
Caribbean Heritage Awards
Bobby Clarke presents Lavern Tatham-Riley with an award for for the late Jimmy Riley
Irie Jam gave out a number of ‘Caribbean Heritage Awards’ bestowed throughout the afternoon including one posthumously honoring the late artist Martin James Ziggy Norman Riley popularly known as Jimmy Riley, father of Tarrus Riley who died in NY in March 2016 following a long battle with cancer. The presentation was preceded by a short clip of Tarrus performing at Oracabessa Festival 2015 and bringing out his beloved father to join him onstage. It was a heartfelt moment as Taurrus’s mother Lavern Tatham-Riley humbly accepted the award presented by Bobby Clarke, CEO of Irie Jam Productions. Another award went to to forty-five (or more) year veteran of radio Gil Bailey who along with his wife Pat are staples on the NY Caribbean radio market. Accomplished Musician / Producer Haldane Wayne Browne better known as Danny Browne was also a recipient of the Carribean Heritage Award, and the final Caribbean Heritage Award went to the legendary hit maker Mighty Sparrow who in great style shared with the audience some of his greatest songs like “Mister Walker.”
Oliver Samuels and Mighty Sparrow
New Kid took the stage for another brief set that opened the door for one of the most respected names in Reggae Ken Boothe (aka Mr. Smooth and looking just that from head to toe). Let me just say that as expected his entire performance lasting thirty-minutes was outstanding; the audience pretty much sang to every song he selected, and based on the way he fully moved about on stage, that man in no way appears to be increasing in age. He shared with the audience his philosophy as it relates to his music stating: “songs live forever, people don’t.” Along that theme Ken Boothe’s rendition of the Nat King Cole song, “When I Fall In Love” Reggae style was without doubt one of my favorite songs of the entire event.
Oracabessa Festival Fans in the moment!
SUPERCAT joined us next and I can tell you that by the response of the audience, his 15-years away from NY stages has made him sorely missed. He managed to look dapper in a fresh nostalgic red checkered suit (reminiscent of 1970’s style) and he too sang from his extensive catalog of music sharing classics like “Guiding Star.” The producers may have been taken aback by some of his lyrical content and sudden reemergence to the stage after his set was cut short but truth be told, the audience expected him to act up and loved every second of the showbiz fracas.
NESBETH The final act of the day was to have been Nesbeth but more on what happened next in a minute. Meanwhile, an on-stage Nesbeth still clearly grieving the recent loss of his beloved wife Annmarie dedicated a song to her before his segue to “My Dream,” a song that he was honored to sing at the swearing-in ceremonies for Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
By way of explanation as to the last artist that took the stage at the 2016 Presentation of Oracabessa Festival, the final act was Vershon only to be booted off shortly after. Producers let us know, the lyrics were not as wholesome as had been expected. Well, for the very short time that he sang, Vershon was in strong voice and I would have liked to have heard more.All-in-all Oracabessa Festival 2016 was a success. Irie Jam Productions is a professional team with a great reputation for delivering what they promise so no surprises there. What was surprising are the great lengths they undertook to outdo themselves in 2016 by introducing so many extras. Most everyone loves getting more than they pay for and attendees were given plenty. I left Roy Wilkins Park elated that the producers had put a lot of painstaking time and energy into figuring out how to delight ticket holders, and caring enough to do so. As always, ticket prices were affordable with special low rates beginning at $25 for early bird purchases and increasing slightly with the approach of the event. Hats off to all the fabulous vendors and of course to loyal and supporters like sponsors People Choice Furniture, Golden Krust, the Real Estate Authority (who donated and raffled both a TV and radio), WIADCA, Signature 78 Fashion, Moving Forward and Irwine Clare and Team Bickle Jamaica
for continually supporting a high-quality and well produced event. Jah willing, we all have the 2017 presentation to look forward to with eager anticipation!
Enjoy more photos from Oracabessa Music Festival 2016 in our slideshow below.
Grace Vanriel is the founder and CEO of the Live Reggae NYC network and co-founder of The Reggholics Movement to preserve and promote Reggae music as a traditional Jamaican art form; she is a freelance writer for Where Itz At Magazine, Senior Correspondent for ReggaeReflection.com, CatchTheVybe.com, Melvin Calendar is a freelance photographer based in NYC covering a wide variety of Caribbean shows and festivals in the NYC region.