First to step on stage was Etana. The Strong One was a last minute addition to this year’s line up but that didn’t seem to bother her at all and her voice sounded amazing from the first tune, an acapella version of Selassie Chapel. As the first one, several tunes from her latest album, I Rise, were played like On My Way and Steppin Outta Babylon alongside her older hits such as Reggae, Blessings and Jah Chariot. A few covers also were part of her show, with a ska medley with Simmer Down, Monkey Man and Wings Of A Dove making everyone dancing. Her set went to its conclusion with the hit the launched Etana back in 2009, Not Afraid, and with Redemption Song, the latter introduced addressing the theme of this years’ Festival, Peace Revolution. “If there’s someone who brought peace to the world that’s the great king Bob Marley” said Etana, before unleashing her beautiful voice.
Second on stage was the band that represented to me the absolute surprise of the Festival, the Uprising Roots. Playing with no lead singer, the centre of the stage was left to a picture of Rastafari leaning on the drums with the drummer and the keyboard player sharing the singing part of the show. Their sound was pure roots, powerful and organic, the kind of sound only a proper band can put up and brought us back to the 70s – 80s reggae sound reminding us a little bit of the mighty Black Uhuru with a more poetic sound. Their show reached its peak on tunes like Skyfia, Trench Town, Time and Black To I Roots, our personal highlight of the show.
I have to admit I didn’t know much about this band before, but their music and their attitude made me want to learn more and more about them.
Third on stage was one of the most awaited artists of this edition, Protoje. On tour to promote his album Ancient Future entered the stage on the note of Lose My Way. “We play music to make you move your feet but we also have messages”, Protoje’s voice sounded clear and strong introducing Who Dem A Program followed straight after by Dread and Rasta Love. Sudden Flight definitely missed the beautiful presence of Sevana, who luckily for all the lovers of her music is back in Jamaica recording a new single (that’s what Protoje told us in the press conference just after his show), but introduced a set of the tunes from the new album such as Stylin and Criminal. His very solid performance ended with three big hits, Who Knows (“big up Chronixx anywhere him deh, the thing is global!”) JA and Kingston Be Wise, with this last one being sung loudly by the whole Rototom massive.
After Protoje it was finally time for the most controversial act of Rototom 2015, Matisyahu. The whole controversy about his participation at the Festival had put the organizers in a very delicate situation having to deal on the one hand with the boycott and the possible violent demonstrations organized by the Pro-Palestine BDS group and on the other with the International condemn for the decision to cancel Matisyahu’s show and with the ignominious and unbearable for the Festival’s history accusation of antisemitism. The final decision to have the American Jewish singer on stage seemed in the end the right one but a certain tension remained in the air for the whole day, getting bigger and bigger as the time to Matisyahu’s show quickly tickled down and the presence of a group of protesters making their way to the Main Stage area with Palestinian flags increased.
Luckily nothing serious happened; Matisyahu put up a strong show and did, in our opinion, everything he could not to increase the tension while the small group of protesters exposed a big banner with the message “Peace For Palestine” and booed him. On the musical side Matisyahu provided two goose bumps moment when he sang Jerusalem and most of all when he sang One Day, one of his most important tunes that goes “All my life I've been waiting for, I've been praying for, for the people to say that we don't wanna fight no more, there will be no more wars and our children will play […]One day this all will change, treat people the same, stop with the violence down with the hate”. After that tune he left the stage screaming “Peace, peace every time” and the image of him, an American Jewish artist singing for peace in front of Palestinian flags was an unforgettable moment that could be used by both parts to promote peace and dialogue if only there would be a real will to do that.
Last but not least on the Main Stage in their Rototom debut the band SOJA. Starting with Mentality, from the Strength To Survive album, the band showed immediately what their concert would have been like: powerful reggae with pop and rock contaminations. Sorry was one of the highlights of the show, alongside I Believe (originally written with Michael Franti and Nahko) I Don’t Wanna Wait and Rest Of My Life, sang loudly by the whole crowd and accompanied by a sea of lighters.
Their powerful music was the right way to end the shows on the Main Stage, which year after year has welcomed an incredible amount of great artists.
As always the Rototom Festival is alive until daylight and we had the pleasure to close the 2015 edition with two special shows. In the Dancehall Area Saxon Sound celebrated 40years in music with a special 4 hours set with the presence of Papa Levi and Tippa Irie singing their most popular tunes and bringing back the flavour of the dances that made Saxon one of the most important sounds in the world.
In the Dub Academy, where we spent our last hours of the Festival, Blackboard Jungle played a final set of pure rootical dub music, after having hosted the rising star Micah Shemaiah, showing their class and the incredibly powerful sound of their system.
Another Rototom Sunsplash edition is over, and we can’t wait to be back in Benicassim in 2016. So until next year, farewell Rototom!