The number 13 may prove to be lucky for Jamaica's economy, as its most successful cultural enterprise, the Reggae Sunsplash Festival, is celebrating its 13th anniversary.
Producers of this year's marathon reggae festival say they hope the '90s will start a resurgence in the popularity of the musical form, which has gotten a much-needed shot in the arm from young artists like Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.Additionally, the touring offshoot of the festival, Reggae Sunsplash 1990, will make Salt Lake City one of its 40 U.S. stops on Saturday, June 9, at the Utah State Fairpark.
This year's tour includes artists that represent current trends in reggae - such as hip hop, rap and traditional reggae stylings. Acts as diverse as Burning Spear, Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths, Shinehead, U-Roy, Shelly Thunder and the 809 Band - along with seasoned Sunsplash master of ceremonies Tommy Cowan - will perform in the continuous four-hour music festival.
Winston Rodney, a 23-year music veteran, said he chose the name Burning Spear for his recording career because of famous African politician Jomo Kenyatta, who used the name in his political writings.
Rodney is a three-time Grammy nominee (including for his 1989 "Live in Paris" LP) and was the first reggae artist to break the status quo of the traditional male-dominated horn section by bringing to stage reggae's first all-female horn section.
In addition, Rodney was born on Jamaica's northern coast (the birthplace of such legends as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and one of reggae's spiritual leaders, Marcus Mosiah Garvey). He is touring in support of his "100th Anniversary" LP, which celebrates the birth of the Rastafarian faith.
McGregor, who has been recording since age 7, is unique among reggae artists because of his performances in such unusual locations as Arizona (for a Hopi Indian reservation), Africa (for Masai native tribes), Japan (in their native language) and South America.
McGregor also blends soul stylings into his reggae recordings, such as 1986's "All in the Same Boat" album, which was Grammy-nominated and gave him his first chart success with the single "Push Comes to Shove."
Griffiths is one of reggae's first ladies and was one of the legendary I-Threes (along with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt), who lent backing vocals to Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Griffiths has also tasted chart success (with her 1989 "Electric Boogie" single) and is touring in support of her "Carousel" LP, her first for the Mango/Island label (which gave the Wailers their first U.S. exposure).
Shinehead, Carl Aiken, was born in Jamaica and raised in the Bronx. Aiken is perhaps unique in his eclectic style, which blends rap and reggae in equal amounts.
Aiken has also worked with experienced rap and reggae artists such as Sly and Robbie, Dennis Brown, Josey Wales, Big Daddy Kane and the Jungle Brothers.
U-Roy, the king of prerap reggae chanting, often known as toasting, is the only other reggae artist besides Bob Marley to have three songs holding the top three positions on Jamaica's singles chart. Singles from his latest LP, "Keep on Learning," appear ready to repeat that feat.
Toasting's leading female artist, Shelly Thunder, has taken her fast-talk/patois-infused rhymes to every corner of the Jamaican island.
Thunder, who has been recording since age 15, is currently supporting her "Fresh Out of the Pack" album.
The 809 Band, which takes its name from the Jamaican telephone area code, features veteran reggae musicians who have backed up such legends as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown. Since 1985, however, the band has been touring as one unit, and this is their first Reggae Sunsplash appearance as a band.