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Pon the River 

not just reggae

It's Reggae time again. And this year that means just one thing. With the fall of Reggae Rising 2010 due to failure get a permit, the Mateel's 26th Annual Reggae on the River is the River is Humboldt's undisputed major music festival of the summer. Bumped up to two days this year, it's bigger and better than ever. As always the lineup features reggae music in its many forms, with an emphasis on what's known as roots and side trips involving African sounds. 

Things start rolling Saturday morning with gates opening at Benbow at 10 a.m. A quick opening ceremony is followed by music at 11, with Tchiya Amet and The Lighthouse Band from Covelo, led by a Cherokee singer/astrologer from Chicago whose reggae pulls in all those influences. Quinto Sol (12:25) out of East L.A., folds Latin/cumbia rhythms into their roots/dancehall sound. Rob Symeonn (1:15) is a Rastaman from Brooklyn. Jamaican old schoolers Pablo Moses and The Revolutionary Dream Band (2:40) put a political spin on roots and culture. Young Jamaicans Rootz Underground (4:25) take roots forward into the future. The legendary Riddim Twins, Sly and Robbie, session players of choice for countless projects (and awesome live performers), close the show with a set running from 8:45 until 10 p.m. (park rules call for an early end to music).

The Twins are preceded (at 6:25) by Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, the Brooklyn-based Afrofunk phenomenons. The band has never played in Humboldt before, however, founder/bari-sax player Martín Perna notes, "We were invited to do [Reggae on the River] maybe three years ago, but something went down, I don't know what happened, but it got cancelled that year."

This is not the place to explain how or why that happened; Perna didn't seem to care. "We're just happy that it's going on this year. We're looking forward to it -- the lineup looks great and it's a beautiful area."

The band, started 12 years ago to play music inspired by Fela's large Africa 70 band, has been getting major press attention since the members started serving as the pit orchestra for the acclaimed Broadway show Fela! That said, they have not really reaped increased financial rewards. Record sales have not spiked. And, said Perna, "We're basically playing the same decent-sized festivals and venues that we've been doing for years... The important thing is that this music is on more people's radar and people are getting a broader picture of African culture.

"Obviously there's a lot more to it than Fela, but he encapsulates a lot of the contradictions, the brilliant innovation in culture, but also the corruption and violence. The [Fela!] show does a good job of introducing people to that, but on Broadway, the bulk of the audience is still middle America, so you can only go so far."

Of course Antibalas is more than a Fela tribute -- the players takes the Afrobeat sound, update it, add other flavors and make it their own. Perna for example was an original member of The Dap Kings, the neo-soul combo behind Sharon Jones, as were others in Antibalas. "It's a big musical family," said Perna. "It extends out from there to The Budos Band, El Michels Affair and so on." You definitely do not want to miss this set. 

(BTW, those who want more music after the 10 p.m. curfew can head over to Cook's Valley Campground (next door to the Dimmick Ranch) for an unofficial after-party with dancehall by Million Stylez and Binghi Ghost running until 2 a.m. Admission $20.) 

Sunday's RotR music starts again at 10:45 a.m. with East Humboldt reggae by Seed N Soil. It's almost all reggae that day, with the exception of an afternoon set (12:45) by Congo-born Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca, a dynamic performer with a pan-African sound emphasizing Afro-Cuban rhythms. Kingston-born Sister Carol aka "Mother Culture" plays at 2:20. Messenjah Selah (12:40) and Dezarie (6:30) both come to us from the Virgin Islands. Young Fire Pashon (4:05) is the daughter of reggae vet Sugar Minott (4:50). Closing the show (8:30-10) is the venerable Don Carlos, one of the founders of Black Uhuru.

Tickets for the 26th annual Reggae On The River at Benbow Lake Recreation Area are still available. Single day passes run $50; $85 covers both days. Need further details? Call the Mateel Community Center at 923-3368 or go to

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About The Author

Bob Doran

Bob Doran

Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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