For the 130 euros the tickets cost Rototom Sunsplash was an absolute bargain. The 15-year-old ten-day (!) reggae festival, situated in the green hills of Friuli (north-east Italy), attracts a great number of high-profile reggae artists from all over the world. This year’s line up included old-time legends such as Inner Circle, Ken Boothe, Cocoa Tea, Luciano and the Heptones, as well as new roots and dancehall performers like Mr Vegas, Wayne Marshall, Bugle, Bushman, Michael Rose, Jah Cure and the native Italian vocalist Alborosie. The dancehall featured British dub acts like the Bush Chemists and Jah Observer, as well as the legendary Londoner David Rodigan and dancehall DJ’s Pow Pow Movement and One Love Hi Powa.
The festival is located amongst green hills and near a fast-flowing river with a waterfall. This, along with the music and the generally hot weather, added to an overall great atmosphere. The camping facilities are the best I have ever witnessed on a festival. Clean toilets and showers (even hot ones!), plenty of space to put up camp and a well secured camping site where you can relax when tired from raving all night. It’s not the kind of three-day festival where you hardly sleep and run around because you have to see everything, the ten-day duration of the whole thing made it a highly relaxed affair, it felt like being on a big reggae holiday camp that seemed to last forever.
This year’s highlights for me were the gigs of old-timers Heptones and Ken Boothe, with their extraordinary voices, still going strong after over 35 years of performing. The best modern acts were undoubtedly messenger Luciano, who played an incredibly tight hour-and-a-half set which proved his status as the early 1990’s conscious roots reviver. On the same night, Sicilian-born Alborosie, now living in Kingston, proved to be one of the most exciting conscious roots acts of the moment. His Sicilian rude boy demeanour, together with tunes like Kinston Town, Rastafari Anthem and Jamaica, definitely was the cream of the modern reggae cake. Other exciting performances came from the female artists Queen Ifrica and Lady Saw, the latter tearing up the main stage on the final night.
After the performances on the main stage, the dancehall would kick off until about 5 in the morning. The artists were mainly drawn from the UK reggae scene, and included acts like David Rodigan, Bush Chemists, Alpha & Omega and the legendary Jah Observer. Although Rodigan smashed it and the Bush Chemists made us all rave like madmen and women, it was Jah Observer who pulled off the most mystifying dub session playing the biggest tunes in their humble style until the sun came up on the last Saturday morning. Definitely check these artists out in London or whenever they’re playing anywhere near you in the coming year.
All in all, Rototom Sunsplash has all a reggae lover needs – modern dancehall, conscious roots and heavy dubs, set in an environment that is most conducive to chill and admire the beauty of nature. And I didn’t even mention the great food, the coffee and the cheap alcohol.