By Mel Cooke—–
Narrow and winding is the road which has led to the Rebel Salute festival at Port Kaiser Sports Club, St Elizabeth, for a baker’s dozen of years. Broad and smooth is the Northern Coastal Highway which runs past its new home for 2013 – and the foreseeable future – at Richmond Estate, Priory, St Ann.
It is more than simply the relocation of a large-scale concert on its 20th anniversary. The shift from laid-back South Coast to humming North Coast puts Rebel Salute smack in Jamaica’s major tourism corridor and the mid-January date is the heart of the winter tourist season. It is also easier to reach from the island’s two cities even as Rebel Salute becomes identified with Ocho Rios, much as Portmore is with the year-end Sting; Montego Bay with the mid-summer Reggae Sumfest; and Negril with the party series centred around the Independence weekend.
In addition to moving, Rebel Salute is going to what one of the organisers terms “two nights and a day” – major concerts on Friday, January 18, 2013, and Saturday, January 19, the latter preceded by daytime activities.
But while the relocation entails logistic and support infrastructural changes, the seven-person Rebel Salute team assures at length that the event’s fundamental characteristics will be unchanged – and the presentation enhanced by the superior facilities at Richmond Estate.
Strikingly, five of the seven Rebel Salute organisers are women – and young women, at that, who would have been children when Rebel Salute started at Fayor’s Entertainment Centre in Mandeville. The other male, Ryan Bailey, is on the telephone, but sounds young as well.
Tony Rebel is the elder (more than chronologically) of the unit, whose birthday the festival marks and whose 50th celebration was held on stage at the final Port Kaiser staging in January this year.
He said “Rebel Salute was always about a lifestyle and that includes cuisine, Jamaican folklore and is family oriented”. Two of the women are his daughters, Kenya and Jahyudah. Maxsalia Salmon, Kerise Wright and Kiana Adams complete the team.
Jahyudah noted an imbalance among the festival’s components, saying “We have all the elements, but the emphasis has always been on music. We never got to highlight the other elements of this lifestyle. For the 2013 staging we will be doing more of that. You will see the other elements on an equal footing”.
Richmond Estate is Rebel Salute’s fourth home, after Fayor’s and Brooks Park in Mandeville then, for its longest stay, Port Kaiser Sports Club.
While it is unusual for a long-standing event to pull up stakes after making its home in a particular community, there is a precedence for Rebel Salute’s move.
Reggae Sunsplash started in Montego Bay, St James, in 1978, and left in 1992 to be replaced by Reggae Sumfest.
Sunsplash wandered and waned through Jamworld in St Catherine, then Dover and Chukka Cove in St Ann before calling it quits in 1998. In 2006, the brand was revived at Richmond Estate for three marathon nights, each of which ended well into daylight hours, and suffered from generally dismal attendance which was rendered even more minuscule by the sheer size of the venue.
Since then, however, there have been successful events at Richmond Estate. Among them are the Jamaica International Kite Festival, which moved there in 2010.
A Gleaner story listed a number of performers for the concert which followed the daytime kite flying, including Macka Diamond, D’Angel, Freddie McGregor, Laden, George Nooks, Kiprich, Richie Stephens and Anthony Cruz, making it effectively a large-scale concert.
Although others events have been to Richmond Estate before, Rebel Salute’s organisers are determined that the festival’s brand of predominantly roots reggae and atmosphere will be transplanted from Port Kaiser.
“Our sign says it all. New home, new format, same Rebel Salute,” Salmon said. This includes the no meat and no alcohol policy.
However, there is no denying that the feeling of an annual pilgrimage to a secluded area for Rebel Salute will be lost, even as the organisers point to venue similarities, including the mountains.
As many other events (such as Reggae Campfire, Island Explosion and Champions in Action) have wilted, Rebel Salute has stuck to its music marathon guns, often going for close to 12 hours.
In 2006, Burning Spear, Inner Circle, The Congos and Third World, performing long sets in that order, tested the limits of the Salute audience’s musical appetite. It did not help that there was a 20-minute band change for each.
With the two-day format, the possibility of a recurrence seems to be diminished. Wright said “Since it is over two days, artistes will get a longer time to perform and you feel it more. Artistes will have a longer time on stage”.
The 20th anniversary move coincides with the end of Pepsi’s three-year title sponsorship, Rebel saying “Our contractual arrangement with Pepsi was for three years and that has been completed.” The team is mum on sponsorship for 2013, but Jahyudah speaks about a consistent supporter – although the amount of the sponsorship, especially in relation to other events, has come in for question.
“As always we are supported by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and, hopefully, it will be in a bigger way,” she said.
In 2009, The Gleaner reported that Rebel Salute received $500,000 from the JTB, while the staging of the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival immediately preceding that support had been granted US$500,000.
However, there was a time when, chances are, Rebel Salute would not get any money at all. The JTB shied away from sponsoring Reggae Sunsplash. In her Jamaica Journal article ‘Reggae Sunsplash: A Pioneering Role in Local Entertainment’, Clover Taylor-Johnston quotes a JTB memorandum of October 10, 1975:
“[A] good part of the attraction of reggae music to its metropolitan audience is the anger and protest of the lyrics. We obviously face a contradiction between the message of urban poverty and protest which reggae conveys and that of pleasure and relaxation inherent in our holiday product. In short, when we promote reggae music we are promoting an aspect of Jamaican culture which is bound to draw attention to the harsher circumstances in our lives. All the articles written on the sound so far do this. Our view is that we should leave other agencies and local music interests to carry the ball from here.”
That stance seem to have long changed.
Rebel explains the move in a personal context, reminding The Sunday Gleaner that “Rebel Salute started out of the commemoration of my birthday”. He comes from Mandeville and lived at a place where he could look over into St Elizabeth, the next parish the festival moved to. He points out that many people would not know that he grew up and went to school in St Ann.
As a venue, he said Richmond Estate “Is one of the best in Jamaica. It is more appropriate to the kind of show we want to display for our 20th anniversary.” Bailey added that the intention is “to make it easily accessible to people from all over.”
And while Salute has accessed more room for itself, over the past six years the coastal area of St Ann has seen a huge increase in hotel rooms. The 600-room Gran Bahía Principe at Pear Tree Bottom was officially opened in January 2007, with Riu Ocho Rios also among the post-2005 hotel openings. Added to the other large and small hotels, they constitute substantial accommodation which was not available to Rebel Salute patrons in St Elizabeth – as well as, potentially, a ready-made source of extra ‘Saluters’, from the pool of winter-season tourists already vacationing in Jamaica.
With bigger almost invariably comes more expensive, and the team confirms that production costs will “definitely” go up. However, Kenya says that ticket prices “will not go up significantly”, Rebel adding that the intention is “Our price must always be affordable”.
As Rebel Salute moves from the mystique of St Elizabeth onto the main in St Ann and expands to two days, it is inevitable that there will be comparisons to other events. Still, the Rebel Salute team plays down notions of competition, Bailey pointing out that in terms of line-up “We can put on artists we do not hear of in Jamaica and they are doing well overseas.”
And, so far, as the team works on the new format (Rebel describes it as “a work in progress”) three artists have been confirmed so far for Rebel Salute 2013 – Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica and Tarrus Riley.