The evolution of Spain’s most prominently loved reggae festival and the country’s second largest music festival began with a small group of alternatively minded, deeply committed, social activists who stood by their counter culture values that were in direct conflict with mainstream adversaries. These revolutionaries set a precedent that good can overcome evil without compromise.
Rototom Sunsplash, The United Nations of Reggae
Rototom Sunsplash is undeniably one of the most beautifully designed reggae festivals in existence. The festival attracts widely diverse audiences spreading “one love” energy beyond international borders. The festival is literally a city of red, gold and green synergy, saturated with pulsating tribal rhythms, intellectually fueled panels, sensual lures of aromatic cultural foods, and an inspiring children’s playground. Rototom Sunsplash is a United Nations of reggae lovers blended with an abundance of musically fueled vibes shared by peaceful loving families of all ages. The wide diversity of people create a utopian atmosphere of peace and love.
Rototom Sunsplash, Benicassim
For many years, the Rototom team worked doggedly to establish a multi-cultural village, one where different races, cultures and religions come together and live peacefully. After leaving Italy, the carefully chosen location is a beautifully landscaped park nestled in the quaint tourist town of Benicassim, Spain with close proximity to beaches and sea. Beniccasim remains overjoyed to inherit this magnificent festival; one that brings tremendous economic benefits to the cozy tourist town. The local citizens and businesses extend a happy, loving atmosphere throughout the village. The streets are filled with reggae posters, art and sculptures, including restaurant entrances and outside cafes. Benicassim fills up with international dreadlocks of every skin color, enjoying the aura of music, relaxation and fun.
Celebrating Africa, Rastafari Roots
His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, modeled the virtues and principles of compassionate living. Starting with his homeland, H.I.M.’s teachings attempted to inspire respect for universal human rights and free of racial bias as stated in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, October 4, 1963:
“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;
Until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation;
Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes;
Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race;
Until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”
These same words woven into Bob Marley’s song ‘WAR’ clearly reveal a direct connection between Africa, Rastafari and reggae music. Rastafari is the messenger and reggae music is the vessel. The Rastafarian movement, experienced through music, is a world wide phenomenon, originated by Jamaican artists and expanded through modern blending of African and reggae music. Seun Kuti, son of Fela Kuti, and a featured Rototom 2017 headliner, remarked at a Reggae University panel, that “most music has its roots in Africa.”
Rototom’s 2017 “Celebration of Africa” was a timely reminder of the beautiful traditions of African people who suffered for the past 400 plus years. Honoring Africa through music, dance and food is a strong reminder not to allow today’s political chaos and racial biases to continue the wrongs of the past. Rastafari livity honors the principle of African traditions.
The African Village at Rototom Sunsplash is a beautifully crafted grassy area embellished with a colorful Village Stage, drumming circles, clothing vendors, native foods and travel brochures of Ethiopia. The village becomes a specialized community where culturally oriented talents from Africa add to the mystical vibrancy of a reggae world with no borders. The village is designed to reflect tribal buildings and art from various countries in Africa.
The Main Stage
Perhaps the biggest attraction during the Rototom Sunsplash experience is the diversity of countries represented in performances throughout the various festival stages. The Main Stage features Rototom’s large mix of headliners. The stage is immense in size, accompanied with the finest professional sound equipment and colorful robust lighting. A rapturous crowd gathers in the main stage area each night after being summoned by a cadre of drummers who round up fans throughout the park and march ‘en masse’ to the stage just in time for the first performance.
The 2017 headliners included 31 top reggae showcases pulling from early roots legends from the Inna De Yard project, The Heptones, The Silvertones, Steel Pulse, Don Carlos, Toots and the Maytals, to modern day artists such as Gentleman, Raging Fyah, Kymani Marley, Mellow Mood, Chronixx, Luciano, Beenie Man, and Shaggy. “Celebration of Africa” was further enhanced by dramatic performances by Nkulee Dube, Seun Kuti, Alpha Blondy and Youssour N’Dour. The most outstanding showcase came from Inna De Yard, featuring legendary Rastafari ancients, Cedric Myton, Winston McAnuff (Electric Dread) and Kiddus I. Younger, highly talented members rounded out the group with solos by Var Pentateuch, Delroy ‘Wormbass’ Nevin and Kushite McAnuff.
The Lion Stage
The Lion stage is located near the entrance of the festival, nestled among a slew of aromatic food and drink vendors. The Lion stage has grown in size and displays a brilliant array of magically colored lighting. Nearly twenty countries from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, South America and Scandinavia were represented in performance throughout the eight days of Rototom 2017. Some of my favorite acts included Nattali Rize (Australia), Lyricson (Guinea), and the Patois Brothers (Italy)
The Dance Hall. Admittedly, due to long walking distances and competing stages, I did not see the full offering. Not a bad problem to have.
Dance Hall Arena
It’s no surprise the Dance Hall is always packed. DJs from twelve countries and their guest hosts continuously ram up the crowd all night. Jamaica, Kenya, Spain, France, Costa Rica, Canada, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Sudan, Gambia and USA provide an authentic cultural nuance for each night’s pleasure. Dancehall fans immerse in the pulsing sounds of a pounding bass and move to a trance-like and danceable energy heard across the park. The dancehall arena goes into early morning hours lending legendary significance to sound system culture.
The revitalization of Dub culture has grown rapidly across the world and continues to be enhanced by modern technology. Sound system DJ’s perform in a manner creating their own super-stardom. Sound system culture is at the heart of reggae music and Jamaican culture. The resident crew each night was hosted by Blackboard Jungle from France. Dub popularity has always had an underground following even when the music was not in the forefront. Dub music continues to be embraced and acknowledged as a significant contribution to the reggae music industry and is practiced throughout the globe.
Reggae University, Film Fest and Photo Exhibition
Reggae University is a daily conference in English and Spanish that covers topics of unique interest. Fans have the opportunity to ask artist perspectives and experiences regarding political and social issues.
“Music is from Creation and music is for everyone. So when one gets a sound and a feel of music…. and spreads it around, it becomes joyful.” Don Carlos
The panels begin late afternoon, hosted by UK’s David Katz and Italy’s Pier Tosi. Cultural Reggae and African related films lead up to each educational panel. This past year, the walls of the University tent also displayed legendary photographs by Adrian Boot.
Radio Rototom, the seed of success
A two story building modeling the image of a giant radio stands on the edge of the far end of the main stage and entertains through the presentation of diverse selections by international radio djs. Radio Rototom in its early stages spread the word, grew the masses and cultivated the branding that is now the largest, most respected reggae festival in the world. Sista Irie’s Conscious Party has presented live on Radio Rototom and was honored to be included.
For an amazing overview of the history of Rotator Sunsplash check this link: History of Rototom video
Rototom Sunsplash is perfection for an unrivaled reggae experience. Rototom Sunsplash can best be described as a universal group of reggae fans who love each other through music and art, no matter race, culture or geographical birthplace.
This year’s staging of Rototom Sunsplash from August 16 to 22, marks the 25th Anniversary of the festival. One can only imagine the additional excitement and care being considered in this year’s presentations.