The Dayton Reggae Festival is a celebration of music and art
By Benjamin Dale
Few can resist the inexorable pull of reggae. The sheer joy and exuberance conveyed via smooth, offbeat drumming and rollicking basslines remain an unrivaled concoction for good vibes, mon.
Originating in 1960s Jamaica, reggae took cues from the Caribbean styles of ska and rocksteady and molded it into a slower, groovier genre that has now come to influence the culture, the dress, and even the religion of the Caribbean and beyond.
Bob Marley himself defined reggae as “the king’s music,” claiming the word was derived from the Latin term for king – regi. However disputed Marley’s claim may be, there is certainly something irresistible, positive and even uplifting about the genre — and this probably explains why almost anywhere you go on this blue ball of goo we call the globe, you can find Rastas of all colors and races, decked out in dreadlocks and the Jamaican flag, espousing the values of Jah, herb and good vibes, mon.
Dayton is lucky — for a town of this size, the music scene is incredibly diverse, encompassing all varieties and genres, if you know where to look. For 24 years now, the City of Dayton has sponsored the Dayton Reggae Festival. Big tings, mon. Big tings.
This year’s festival will be held on Sunday, September 4 at the Dave Hall Plaza on the corner of Jefferson and E. Fourth Streets, featuring live music from the Nyabinghi Culture Collective at 1 p.m., Yellow Springs’ Soul Rebels at 2 p.m., followed by a new band every hour, starting with Johnny Payne and continuing with Demolition Crew, The Cliftones, SEEFARI and featuring Mixed Culture from Miami at 7 p.m.
Get ready to be hypnotized all day long by the mellow, oftentimes trance-like songs that take little snippets of sonic simplicity and compile them into songs that induce a bouncy cheeriness that even toddlers will groove to.
“When you hear only one instrument at a time,” said Jonny Dreadlocks, of local reggae band Soul Rebels, “it might sound pretty boring. But you put each part in together in a groove and you get this big, loud sound, and it’s like an orchestra, in a way.”
But reggae is about much more than music.
“Reggae is a feeling, an emotional gesture of music,” said Dreadlocks. “It’s about the community feel. In tough times like these, reggae is something that keeps us together.”
In a way, reggae is punk – it is rebellious music, containing politically charged attacks on the status quo and detailing the everyday toils of the poor and working class. Along with that challenge to the powers that be, reggae stands firmly in resistance to negativity of any sort, and its adherents prefer the power of positive, peaceful change to the more radical, and sometimes violent action propagated in some circles of punk rock. In this way, it has more in common with gospel music and its “we shall overcome” mentality.
As the official music of the Rastafari movement, the religious overtones of the music refuse to be understated. Informed by the Rastafarian ideology, Reggae regularly reveres the virtues of cannabis in the music, as the plant is seen as a holy sacrament in the religion. When combined with reggae, it is seen to clean the body and mind, heal the soul, exalt the consciousness, facilitate peacefulness, bring pleasure and promote closeness with God.
“It’s a global consciousness,” said Dreadlocks. “What we’re trying to do is celebrate all different kinds of music and cultures. It’s the new football game on a Sunday afternoon. Reggae has powerful messages, it stands for positivity, peace, love, unity, and respect for humans.”
After 50 years of reggae music, differing styles, tastes and fashions have crept into the genre and influenced the music to varying degrees. Most reggae shows these days have an element of jam band-iness to them, adding spontaneity to the music, allowing the crowd to experience a show that will never be the same twice.
“It’s about truth, simplicity,” said Dreadlocks. “You can put so many adjectives in front of a band — genres and subgenres. But reggae is simply music that makes you feel good.”
The Dayton Reggae Festival starts this Sunday at 1 p.m. and admission is free. There will be food and beer vendors to satisfy any possible cravings for jerk chicken and Red Stripe. For more information contact (937) 333-8400 or visit www.daytonrecreationandyou.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Dale at BenDale@DaytonCityPaper.com.