Tag: Appleton Rum

Reggae Sumfest Set for July 12 – 18, 2015

Call it by either of its branded names “The Greatest Reggae Show on Earth” or the “World’s best Promotion of Music as a Universal Force”, it comes down to one thing – the best experience you will have at a music festival (including the latest trends of festivals on the high seas) anywhere in the world this year. This festival which many skeptics predicted that in a few years would have gone the way of most over hyped music festivals – out of business, will celebrate a quarter century in 2018.
Reggae Sumfest (formerly Red Stripe Reggae Sumfest – named for its former headline sponsor) was first staged in 1993 when faced with the loss of Reggae Sunsplash – at that time the world’s largest reggae festival, a group of Montego Bay based business men and women came together to form Summer-fest Productions Limited. That year the first festival was staged in Montego Bay, August 11th -14th.. That same year Reggae Sunsplash moved to Jam World in St. Catherine, Jamaica  (on the outskirts of the city Kingston) and pulled in 60 thousand attendees. Many predicted that because most the attendees of Sunsplash in Montego Bay drove in from Kingston, this new location near that city, coupled with the huge first year attendance at Jam World marked the “death nail” for any competition in Montego Bay.
What those “predictors of the doom for Reggae Sumfest” did not quite understand was the fact that the majority of attendees of Sunsplash and even those from Kingston did not simply attend because of the opportunity to listen to reggae music. The music festival location – Montego Bay, provided an occasion to get away (for a few days) from the hustle of Kingston or to plan a vacation that include sun, fun, beach, great food, hanging out with the most friendly strangers and the opportunity to replace stress with best reggae music on earth.
Personally, even as one who consider myself a Kingstonian, my Jam World experience in 1993 lasted only one night – although I spent the entire five days of the festival in the city. After attending the first night at Jam World, I completely lost my desire to attend a music festival in a location where as a child we referred to as the “other side of back-a-wall”.
The nomadic experience of Reggae Sunsplash in the years that followed – Jam World to St. Ann (near Bob Marley’s place of birth) and later Ocho Rios and now “out of business” is testament to the fact that leaving Montego Bay represented a huge lost of perspective on the part of the organizers. Festival attendees are mostly middle class working young people with limited time and resources. The  music festival provide a single opportunity for vacation and great music.
Since 1993, Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay has provided the opportunity for foreigners, expatriate Jamaicans and Jamaicans at home to plan a vacation that includes beaches, sun, fun, great people and good music. One has to simple look at the over-head shots of an Isle of Man festival – off the cost of Great Britain, or the music festivals on the Gulf Shores of Mississippi and Alabama to understand the impact of a reggae music festival by the sea. The ambiance of Montego Bay provides that kind of a back-drop for Reggae Sumfest.
Add a highly committed and well organized team of promoters who have struggled through the years of “back-breaking” financial losses to a point of profitability over the last ten years. The growth and success of the festival over the years can mostly be attributed to this team of promoters who are highly motivated to expose attendees to the “best of “rising stars from all music genres throughout the world; to remind us of the great international stars who continues to create our music and culture – from Lionel Richie, Usher, Mary J. Blige to the Temptations, while showcasing the very best that reggae music has to offer. In its twenty plus years, Reggae Sumfest has showcased almost every artist that has been of any significance to our creative music culture.
The list is long and include many modern acts like Shaggy, Chronixx, the second generation of Marleys, Beres Hammond, Tessane Chin and many from the dancehall genre such as Bounty Killer, Beenie Man and Lady Saw; in addition to several who are no longer with us, such as Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and John Holt. Unfortunately the late legend Desmond Dekker never got to perform at Sumfest and we are still waiting for the living legend – Jimmy Cliff.
The festival has now cemented its place as one of the world’s great “music festivals by the sea”. Each year international press coverage continues to grow with entertainment journalist coming from major television, analog radio, digital audio and print outfits – including E-television, BET-TV, Access Hollywood, Vibe Magazine and Billboard in the United States; BBC in England, Channel O, South Africa and media form Brazil and several Central and South American countries.
Reggae Sumfest has been successful in part because the promoters have received strong support from the Montego Bay business community. In addition to Red Stripe beer that initially partnered with the production as a headline sponsors, others such as Appleton Rum, VP Records , Ocean Spray, Pepsi and local hotels such as Iberostar Resorts, Secrets, Holiday Inn Sunspree and Sunset Beach Resort continue to provide strong support.
This has been a brutal winter for those of us who reside in the North East and East Central areas of the United States. Even my friends in Florida inform me that they too have had several 30 degrees days. I am told by relatives in Great Britain that Europe have not fared much better. This has moved the thinking about, and planning for summer vacation higher up on our list of priority for 2015. Thus the producers of the festival might well take note of this and begin to announce the line-up for this year’s concerts a bit earlier than is normal. That will provide many of us who like to plan in advance the encouragement to write on our calendar in large print – Reggae Sumfest vacation, July 12th thru 18th, 2015, Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Look for updated information on the Sumfest Facebook page facebook.com/ReggaeSumfest

Giants Behind the Music: Chris Blackwell

Chris Blackwell (born Christopher Percy Gordon Blackwell) was born in Westminster, London. His father –Joseph Blackwell was an Englishman who came to Jamaica as a major in the Jamaican Regiment of the British army. His mother – Blanche Lindo was a Jamaican Jew of Costa Rican descent. Chris came from a family of wealth – his father was related to the founders of Crosse & Blackwell, a British food processing and canning company. His mother belonged to one of Jamaica’s famous sugar plantation lines who were the original owners of Appleton Rum and one of the “21 families that is said to have controlled” the island in the 20th century.
Chris spent his childhood in Jamaica and was sent to Britain to continue his education at Harrow School. At the end of high school he opted to return to Jamaica instead of attending college. He became an aid to the Governor and later decided to step out on his own.  At first he entered the real estate business, and later distribution and management of jukeboxes. This later project brought him in direct contact with both ordinary Jamaicans and the music business. It is rumored that Chris’s introduction to “deep roots music” was quite accidental.  Author Brent Hageman (2005) noted that Chris was “sailing off the Hellshire Beach in 1958 when his boat ran aground on a coral reef.
The twenty one-year-old swam to the coast and attempted to find help along the shore in searing temperatures.  Collapsing on the beach, Blackwell was said to have been rescued by Rasta fishermen who tended his wounds and restored him back to health with traditional Ital food. Hageman noted that this experience gave Blackwell a spiritual introduction to Rastafarianism and was a key to his connection to the culture and its music.”
In 1958, at the young are of 22, Blackwell formed Island Records with an initial inheritance of $10,000.  His initial business partner was Jamaican radio personality – Graeme Goodall.  Their first release was an instrumental/vocal album by a Bermudian artist name Lance Hayward. A year later Chris started recording Jamaican popular music with artist like Laurel Aitkens – producing the island’s first locally produced hit – “Boogie in my Bones”, baked with “Little Sheila”
In 1962 Chris produced 26 singles and two albums. At the end of that year he returned to England in search of better production facilities and a larger market. Among the master tapes that Chris recorded that year and took to England was one by a fifteen-year-old Jamaican female singer name Millie Small. In 1964 he brought her over to England to record a Ska version of Barbie Gaye 1956 hit – “My Boy Lollypop”. The rest is history as that song went straight to number one as the very first Jamaican-linked song to make it to the top of the British charts. This marked the beginning of Island Records as the first great independent label.
Chris later joined forces with Stanley Borden of RKO Entertainment – producing some of the greatest artists of our time – artists that has impacted our lives and the music world in ways that can hardly be measured. Among them – Bob Marley, Grace Jones, U2, Steve Winwood and the Spencer Davis Group, Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, Sly & Robbie, Robert Palmer, Jimmy Cliff, Ike & Tina Turner, Third World, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Melissa Etheridge and African superstars Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, King Sunny Ade and Angelique Kidjo.
Blackwell sold his stake in Island in 1989 and eventually resigning from the company in 1997.  He went on to form Palm Pictures, a media entertainment company with music, film and DVD releases. In the late 1990s, Blackwell merged Palm Pictures with Rykodisc to form RykoPalm, a new operation. That same year he purchased Netherlands-based conglomerate PolyGram. He stayed on for a few years to supervise the companies that operated under the Island label.
Simultaneously, in the early ’90s, Blackwell created Island Outpost a South Beach based hotels and resorts company that purchased and managed hotels such as the Marlin Hotel in South Beach, Miami and Jamaica’s Strawberry Hill (1992), followed closely by Bahamian Pink Sands and Compass Point and The Caves, Jake’s and Golden Eye, in Oracabessa, Jamaica. Chris currently lives in Jamaica and has made the island his base of operation for several companies. These include multiple hotel properties – Golden Eye, Strawberry Hill in St Andrew, and the Caves in Negril, Jamaica. In recent years he has had some difficulty staying away from his family’s legacy and in 2009 he introduced his own brand of fine rum “Blackwell Black Gold” to the international market.
In April 2009, the UK magazine Music Week named Blackwell the most influential figure in the last 50 years of the British music industry. When he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, they described him as the “single person most responsible for turning the world on to reggae music”.  Although others like Johnny Nash and Paul Simon have certainly played a part in introducing reggae music to the US, Chris certainly stands out as the individual who took reggae around the world.  Today at the ripe “young” age of late seventies – when most people who have made such significant contributions to our lives are ready to retire, he spends most of his time with his favorite philanthropic organizations.  Among them – the Island ACTS, the Oracabessa Foundation, the Mary Vinson Blackwell Foundation (established in honor of his late wife to whom he was married from 1998 till 2009), and the Jamaican Conservation Trust.