The 2008 Ragga Muffins festival was an improvement on several fronts from festivals past. The increased presence of “earthy” people combined with the decrease in the poser/wannabe crowd (Matisyahu fans…grrrrr) was refreshing. This trend was reflected in the make-up of the vendors; homogeny and commercialization reigned but there were a few bright spots of individuality.
Speaking of the vendors, there was quite a dichotomy present in their sales approaches and wares. This year real artisans finally returned. A local artist named Jimothy, sold handmade leather purses and cuffs returned for his 3rd consecutive year. New to the mix was a gifted metalworker from Jamaica, whose copper jewelry was intricate, unique and lovely. Though this artisan was reluctant to be interviewed we hope he returns.
In sharp contrast to the artists were several booths featuring scantily dressed booth babes hawking everything from medical marijuana to tawdry and cheap clothing. The medical mary jane babes, dressed as naughty nurses, reminded passersby that “weed is medicine.” Taking the ticky-tacky prize were the women at an undisclosed clothing vendor who were not only dressed as two-bit prostitutes but also acted like them, bending over and licking their lips copiously when men passed. These women seemed intent on selling themselves in order to sell clothes.
Switching gears, the line-up did not disappoint. There are always a few artists whose lack of experience makes for a lackluster set. However as Barbara Barabino co-founder of Ragga Muffins Productions noted, these artists are often hand picked for their potential and should not be discounted. Our highlights this year were Anthony B, Gentleman, Sly & Robbie and Capleton. Aside: While Beanie Man was a headliner, the crowd enjoyed his show with a certain detachment, but more on that later.
Both Anthony B and Capleton had danceable beats with a spiritual message. Toward the middle of Anthony B’s set people filled the music hall drawn by his anthemic (yeah we made up a word…and what?) music. Capleton hyped the crowed with his calls for “mo’ fiyah,” in reference to a spiritual fire.
Sly & Robbie’s performance on Saturday was a special treat, living up to their billing as “truly great Jamaican musicians”. The hypnotic rhythms of the bass and drum lines lulled the hall into a trance which was accentuated by the haunting brilliance of the saxophone. No single instrument took precedence over the others except when intended; each solo ultimately paving the way for an awe inspiring guitar solo to close the set.
And now on to the “King of Dancehall.” Beanie Man proved to be a good entertainer, his set was tight, and he demonstrated he could play to a crowd. So why did his set fall a little flat? For starters, the crowd had been prepped with sets that sucked them into the music rather than watching a performance. In contrast, watching Beanie Man’s performance was a bit of an insult. He seemed more concerned with convincing us of his bedroom prowess; with lectures on foreplay, suggestive grinding and constant groping resulting in a semi-erection. This replaced any true connection with the audience. One had to wonder if his gratuitous display of machismo is reserved for U.S. audiences or if that’s really all he has to offer.
While this was certainly not the Bob Marley Festival of yore, this year’s Ragga Muffins Festival is definitely back on track. Though the days dominated by dreaded Rastafarians spreading a vision of one-love are gone, the pervading sense of community has been reignited.