By TOM GODFREY
Some of Toronto’s top musicians were among a Who’s Who of reggae pioneers honoured on stage at the 12th annual IRIE Music Festival last weekend at Nathan Phillips Square.
Thousands of reggae fans packed the grounds of City Hall for the August 1 to 4 festival that featured a mix of headliners and upcoming performers. A second festival will take place in Mississauga later this month.
Fans went wild as veterans Hugh Hambleton and JoJo Bennett of the Satallites, joined brothers Carl and Rupert “Ojiji” Harvey of Messenjah, Dr. Jason Wilson of Tabarruk, Adrian “Sheriff” Miller of Earth, Roots and Water and dub poet, Michael St. George on stage to perform.
Many of the bands were regulars at the now-defunct BamBoo Club, the city’s “central nerve” for local and visiting reggae acts from the 1970s to its closure in 2002.
“It was real nice for all of us to play together on stage again,” said Hambleton. “It was great for the fans who love our music.”
The musicians were part of the flourishing Toronto reggae scene at the time in which many local and visiting dub and ska acts could be seen at local clubs.
“Reggae music in Toronto goes up and down,” said Hambleton. “Right now there is more interest being paid to reggae music in Toronto and that is good.”
IRIE officials point to top Toronto reggae fusion band Magic, whose debut single, “Rude”, reached Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart last month. Members of the band attribute their success to the pioneer reggae acts before them.
The Satallites, which has won two Juno awards, was formed in 1980 when Bennett and Hambleton met as a part of Leroy Sibbles’ tour band.
The band topped the charts with their unique blend of 60s pop music and reggae. Hailed as Canada’s UB40, the Satallites released six albums and a greatest hits compilation in 2013.
“It felt like home being on stage with the other musicians,” said Miller. “I have been playing music for years and I am one of the cornerstones of reggae music in Canada.”
He was a founding member of Earth, Roots & Water, which opened for The Police and The Stranglers. Miller was then the frontman for the 20th Century Rebels, a 10-piece band that worked the ska groove and released a recording in 1984.
St. George said reggae is in his soul and the music will not go away.
“It was an honour to return to the festival after 10 years,” he said. “The fans love the music and it was a great event.”
St. George is involved with a charitable Turn Around Project to help Jamaican youth and operates Full Stride Sounds in Hamilton.
Festival Artistic Director, Phil Vassell, said the early Toronto bands laid the foundation for reggae music in Canada.
“The Toronto melting pot of the 1970s was fertile ground for the mixture of Jamaican-Canadian influences,” Vassell said in a release. “What happened in the music scene up until the early 1990s still reverberates within the pop music scene.”
Vassell said the golden age of Canadian reggae left an indelible imprint in the country’s musical landscape.
“It’s a legacy that continues to influence today’s music scene with Toronto connections in many of the successful pop/reggae infusions that are charting everywhere,” he said.
The IRIE festival in Mississauga will take place at Celebration Square on August 23 and 24. Some 10,000 fans attended the event last year.
This year’s IRIE lineup includes Alison Hinds, Richie Spice, Etana, Richie Stephens, David Rudder, Juno Award winner Odel, The Arsenals and soca DJ group D’Enforcas.