Montreal International Reggae Festival – Day 1

Tucked away on Ile Ste. Helene within Parc Jean Drapeau this weekend the 6th annual Montreal International Reggae Festival is happening. With the summer music festival season here and all the outdoor festivals/events happening at Parc Jean Drapeau I think I'm beginning to learn every square inch of it. Using a smaller area than the Virgin Music Festival or Osheaga created a more intimate venue for this smaller festival.

Reggae artists from all over the world (Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Jamaica, and Antigua) will be in town for the festival. For 72 hours there will be wall-to-wall reggae music filling the air around the island with plenty of rhythms to move your body to. The festival has become part of the cultural makeup of Montreal and attracts on average roughly 10,000 festival goers over its three day period.

Reggae music exploded during the 1970s with international superstar Bob Marley's career taking off. Reggae comes in several different forms with ska, dancehall, rocksteady, and roots being some of them. It became so popular that other cultures other than Caribbean began to take up reggae music like Jewish, Brazilians and Japanese. It is a form of music that has an international appeal.

That international appeal shows itself every summer in Montreal when people of all ages and cultures take in the Montreal International Reggae Festival. Beginning each of the three days at 1:00 p.m. and ending at 11:00 p.m. providing fans with 30 hours of reggae music.

Though we got there on Friday at 7:00 p.m. it seemed to me like the festival had just begun. There were probably less than 100 people there in attendance and the act that was scheduled to be on at 2:45 was just finishing up her set. I have learned over the years that you've got to just roll with the punches when it comes to the Reggae Festival and the schedule is just a loose indication of what will happen on any given day.

Empress Lyrics, hailing from Toronto, is a dancehall performing who sings and raps with the best of them. Lyrics that come from the heart and keeping her focus, the lady did not seem to be disturbed by the lack of an audience; she played to those that were there. She still gave them all the passion she had inside of her. Her lyrics are filled with intellect and insight. With a great delivery and nice onstage presence she is a force to be reckoned with.

Next up was the veteran reggae act Jah Lin from Ottawa. This five-piece band performed dub rhythms that were so smooth you could skate on them. With several different lead vocalists coming onstage to front the band they offered plenty of variety and danceable music.

Following Jah Lin was more female influence with Nicky Trikky, representing all single mothers in the world. She really connected with the growing crowd and got them up to the front of the stage dancing. With her warm stage presence the lady really draws you in. Nicky Trikky finished off her too short set with an acapella number that required crowd participation and they were all to happy to oblige her.

The next announced performers were Tru Bucks. They are a Montreal group that features several players from the Concordia men's basketball team. Unfortunately I never got to see the group as there was a big delay – maybe band members missing, maybe equipment problems. I never found out as there were no announcements made and we just sat there for near 1 hour. There were two DJs playing music that the crowd seemed to appreciate, but I just grew more and more frustrated. Add to my growing frustration was that it began to rain. Not heavily, but enough. With no news and no sign of an upcoming act, I decided to call it an evening. I planned to be back the next day and I hoped I would get to see more performances.

From the Saturday line-up I am hoping to catch Anthony B, Onyan & Burning Flame and Capleton. And hoping for some good weather. Cross your fingers, reggae fans!

Photos by Maha Haddad

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