Thinking of a Caribbean vacation…but can’t afford one? Don’t worry…the Caribbean is coming to New Orleans!
For one long weekend (June 6-9), the city serves up non-stop live reggae, calypso, soca and Latino music; dozens of authentic arts and crafts artisans; and plenty of mouthwatering Caribbean cuisine at the 5th Annual Reggae Riddums Festival.
Headliners for this year’s fest include “Soca Godfather” Arrow from the West Indies; South Africa’s biggest reggae star, “King” Lucky Dube; Half Pint; Nadine Sutherland and the legendary John Holt from Jamaica. Bob Marley’s fifth son, Julian, is also part of the lineup. From the U.S., Algorhythms, the Infrared Rockers, and local favorites Irie Vibrations, Latin Sensations and Ben Hunter and Plantation Posse.
Reggae and Caribbean music continue to enjoy a growing popularity in New Orleans, maybe because many of the rhythms of the music identified with the city is drawn from Caribbean roots. At least a dozen bands in the region perform reggae and soca music exclusively. Tipitina’s features reggae music at least once a month, and Kilimanjaro features weekly reggae, African and Calypso bands. Club Sinsations features live reggae every Thursday night.
Weekly reggae programs are regular features on non-commercial stations WWOZ (Saturday from 8:30-10 p.m. with local Caribbean music expert Gene Scaramuzzo; and from 10 p.m.-midnight, the “Best of Reggae” with Elisa Abolafia) and WTUL (Monday nights from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. with Shepard Samuels; and the World Music Show, from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. on Tuesdays with Stacy Soten). Commercial station WQUE Q-93 also features reggae in its regular rotation of music.
A MINI JAZZ FEST
The promoters of the 1991 Reggae Riddums Festival promise the biggest and best festival ever (the Fest is the only outdoor reggae festival this summer). In the tradition of the Jazz Fest, most of the music, food and crafts can be found on the weekend of June 8-9, giving locals and visitors the opportunity to sample the islands. This year’s Fest will take place at the City Park Old Driving Range, from 11 a.m. ‘til.
In addition to the activities at City Park, this year’s festival will include activities that take place all over the city: from a Brown Bag concert at Duncan Plaza on June 6 featuring live reggae music with Irie Vibrations and New Revelations (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) to arts and crafts showings. That concert is free and open to the public.
On June 7, Armstrong Park will be the site of another free afternoon arts and crafts show with entertainment by Wisdom, stiltwalkers and African dancers from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Dozens of craftspeople will be on hand to create an island atmosphere. Peddling a wide assortment of jewelry, paintings, imported clothing, tie-dyed fashions, posters, books, records, art, hand carvings, t-shirts and assorted African and Caribbean paraphernalia. Many craftspeople travel from as far away as Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the West Coast to participate in Reggae Riddums.
Lucille Fortin, the Fest Food Director (and Assistant Food Director for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival), promises a wide assortment of Caribbean dishes, including Palmer’s Restaurant’s ever-popular and delicious Caribbean fish, black beans, curried goat, African stew and chin chin. This year’s Fest will also feature a Caribbean fruit stand serving cold fresh pineapple, coconuts and an assortment of melons.
Saints 1990 first-round draft pick Renaldo Turnbull, a native of the Virgin Islands, will be the Fest’s special guest emcee. Renaldo claims “I’m excited about the music and food that I won’t have to go home to hear and taste. In many ways, New Orleans reminds me of home. When I’m in the French Quarter sometimes I have to remember I’m in New Orleans.” Renaldo will also serve his own Caribbean favorite at a festival booth called Renaldo’s Fru Fru Concoctions. He’ll prepare his own recipe for a fruit drink similar to New Orleans smoothie but “better.” The non-alcoholic drink is made from 100% fruit juices native to the islands.
A festival first is an evening concert at Club Sinsations starring the legendary John Holt.
Holt, possessor of reggae’s most accomplished voice (and most mesmerizing look), began his singing career at the tender age of 12. His first record release in Jamaica was on Beverly Records, Forever I Will Stay. Most reggae historians and long-time aficionados of the art form of reggae will remember him as the lead singer of the famous Paragons back in 1962. The Paragons had many number one songs including “Love at Last” and “Happy Go Lucky Girl.”
After leaving the Paragons, Holt branched out into a solo career. Working in the U.K., he recorded his 1,000 Volts of Holt LP on Trojan Records with his song “Help Me Make It Through the Night” going number three on the British charts.
John Holt has that magic ingredient in his voice that makes a song stick in your mind. His voice has a feel that forms a human connection and communication with the listener that is every songwriter’s dream. Holt himself penned the international hit “The Tide Is High” (popularized by Blondie) and the recent international chart-toppers “Stick By Me” and “Wear You to the Ball.”
On the same bill are Julian Marley, the legendary Bob Marley’s fifth son, and local reggae group Irie Vibrations.
SATURDAY AT CITY PARK
Reggae Riddums’ outdoor activities get started Saturday when gates open at 11 a.m. at City Park. Music starts about noon. In addition to the following internationally-known acts, local bands The Algorhythms and Latin Sensations perform.
Today, at only 33 years old, Arrow is recognized as one of the godfathers of soca. In 1983, Arrow recorded what is generally regarded as the soca national anthem, “Hot, Hot, Hot,” which sold over two million copies worldwide. “Hot, Hot, Hot” was an international hit at almost the moment of its release. It reached the top of the charts in four countries on two continents, has been performed in 12 languages and was the theme song of the World Cup competition in Mexico. Most recently, soca music was introduced to the MTV generation with Buster Poindexter’s version of the tune.
Arrow’s message to his fans is succinct: “The basis of my music, my message, is enjoy yourself! Dance, get away from the burdens of the world, at least for the moment you’re dancing along.”
From the cool mountains of western Jamaica, via the hot, hot music scene in funky Kingston, comes the rock-solid roots sound of the premier reggae trio, the Itals.
Critics agree that the Itals’ live performances easily match the excellence and excitement of their recorded music. While reggae has developed many layers of the years, the Itals’ music retains the spirituality that has been the core of the musical genre’s success of in America.
Since releasing their first recordings in 1984, MoJa Nya has gained a widespread following worldwide. The group’s singles, “Rise Up,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” and “Are You Really Roots” have proven very popular at the festival on Gore Island in Senegal, Africa.
MoJa Nya blends reggae polyrhythms with a rock-funk-jazz style and delivers the resulting mixture in a form that is all its own. The group has a progressive upbeat sound containing elements that appeal to a cross-section of people with a wide variety of musical tastes. Sometimes the music sounds like rock or has a real jazz flavor, but it is always backed by a syncopated island beat that moves your feet.
Lucky Dube, the biggest-selling recording artist in South African musical history, is a Rastafarian who believes that he can educate people through the message in his music and lyrics. One of the few artists who can draw 70,000 people in Cape Town, Lucky Dube (pronounced “doo-bay”) keeps his audiences in the palm of his hand. With a reggae style resembling Peter Tosh, Lucky’s stage antics resemble Bob Marley’s, although his roots are clearly South African and his music carries a powerful social and political message to his devoted fans.
Half Pint: a rising star. Born London Andrew Roberts, Half Pint’s neighborhood nickname became a musical heavyweight moniker in 1983 when his self-penned smash single, “Winsome,” topped Jamaica’s music charts.
By the end of 1985, Half Pint was one of the top performers in reggae throughout the U.S., England, and, of course, his native Jamaica. His strong lyrics, with their direct appeal to the vast majority of Jamaican ghetto youths, have labeled him as an artist for the people whose works are destined to last a long time.
In 1986, the Rolling Stones re-recorded Half Pint’s “Winsome,” re-titling it “Too Rude,” and placed it on their CBS album Dirty Works. Since then it has been one great achievement after another for Half Pint, and this year’s tour of America promises to uncover a whole new legion of fans.
Julian Marley, the fifth son of Bob Marley, was born in London and began his singing career at the age of six, when he appeared in Jamaica’s Sunsplash 1981. He has since performed in the U.S., Jamaica, England and Belize.
Marley’s natural style and fresh talent carries on the work and message instituted by his father years ago. He has been backed by the Wailers, the One Love Band and Copacetic, and was the featured performer at Miami’s Jamaica Awareness Day Celebration in 1990.
Nadine Sutherland began her singing career at an early age. Often called “Teen Queen,” at age 12 she was a top finals winner in Jamaica’s Tastee Talent Contest in 1980. So far, her talent has been guided by promoter Sargie Davis from Tuff Gong, who was so impressed by her performances at the Tastee Contest that he took her and started an association that has produced scorcher hits in Jamaica. Today, Nadine remains a crowd pleaser.
The Infrared Rockers is a seven-member self-contained reggae group based in, of all places, St. Louis, Missouri. The band has appeared all over the U.S.
Also appearing Sunday are popular New Orleans reggae group Irie Vibrations, featuring former lead singer of the Shepherd Band, Curt Hopkins.
More than ever, this year’s Reggae Riddums Festival is the city’s most-attend event, with 40,000 fest-goers projected over the weekend. The fest is supported by the Mayor’s Office, the Chamber, Louisiana Office of Culture, Recreation & Tourism and City Council members Peggy Wilson and Dorothy Mae Taylor. Sponsors include Coors Light, Cox Cable of New Orleans, Ozone Spring Water and OffBeat Magazine.
Tickets for the City Park festivities are available at all Ticketmaster Outlets and are only $8 in advance and $10 the day of the event. For more information, call Orpus Entertainment at (504) 367-1313.