Barbados, Week 14: Reggae on the Hill

It’s exam time at UWI, and the blocks have become pretty quiet now that everyone is holed up inside studying.  However, not even exams could stop me from buying a ticket to one of Barbados’ biggest days in music, Reggae on the Hill.  I’m not going to pretend like I know the history of the concert or when it started, but if I had to compare, I’d say it was like a Barbados-sized Woodstock.  Obviously I’ve never been to Woodstock either, so I suppose I’m going out on a bit of a limb there too.  Point is, there was a ton of hype about the all-day concert, and when some friends and I cabbed over we started hitting traffic miles down the road from Farley Hill National Park, where the concert was taking place.  Some of the biggest names in Reggae music were scheduled to perform that afternoon, but I only recognized one artist, Chris Martin, winner of 2005’s “Digicel’s Rising Stars” (think Caribbean version of American Idol).

Security was pretty tight for an event of this scale, and I was a little surprised when I encountered a TSA-like pat-down before being allowed entry into the park.  Speaking of which, they couldn’t have picked a better spot for the concert:  the park was covered with huge trees providing cover from sun and rain, with a comfortable lawn perfect for spreading out a chair or blanket for the 8 hour show.  Knowing that the hill would get progressively  packed as the night went on (naturally, Bajans would be expected to arrive on “Bajan” time) we decided to take advantage of the myriad of different food vendors set up on the outskirts of the park.  Fish, chicken sandwiches, and hamburgers abounded and, unlike concerts in America, they didn’t even jack up the prices just because they knew they could.

Reggae has come a long way from its beginnings in 1960s, but the spirit for which the music stands was still evident in the crowd at Farley Hill.  From its birthplace in Trenchtown in Kingston, Jamaica, it has taken over the Caribbean and disseminated to every corner of the globe.  The genre was heavily influenced by Rastafari such as the legendary Bob Marley, and many people in the crowd were waving the Rasta Flag, a triple layered green, yellow, and red flag with the Lion of Judah in the center.  The audience, although clearly excited for each artist, was notably more laid back than a typical American concert in which some of the most popular musical artists of the year were present.  There was no pushing, shoving, or raucous jumping up and down, but rather everyone gave each other sufficient space to actually breath and enjoy the concert in their own space.  Below I have included a YouTube video of one of my favorite songs of the concert, enjoy:

Jah Cure – Call On Me

If you’re a Marley fan, it’s not a guarantee you’ll dig these tunes as well, but it’s catchy, contemporary reggae at its finest and an interesting example of how far the genre has come in 50 or so years of innovation and development.  I will admit, I missed American rock, rap, and top 40 for a good month or so after I arrived in the Caribbean and refused to embrace these types of songs until much longer than my exchange counterparts.  I ignorantly insisted that “they all sound exactly the same” and couldn’t even understand a word of the lyrics.  However, there came a point where I found myself bobbing my head and tapping my foot to the beat as I realized that as much as I tried to convince myself that I didn’t like the music, it had seeped into the part of my brain that overruled cultural attachment.

The sun set behind the hill, it started to pour rain, and the line-up of reggae artists continued to perform their sets with exuberant energy.  I looked back at the hill that had been dotted with people only hours before and saw that the hill was absolutely packed.  The young, married, and old alike had taken out their umbrellas and were determined to fight the downpour in order to finish out the most celebrated concert of the year.  I think that’s what struck me most about the concert. The fact that, while concerts in America are generally populated with a homogenous crowd, its demographic depending on the band playing, Reggae on the Hill was able to bring together Rastas, students, couples, and older people alike to enjoy the concert.  I may have been slightly more stressed the first day or two of studying for exams, but it was one hundred percent worth it for the experience.

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