There was a time when the combination of Rastafari and rum would have at least raised eyebrows, if not tempers. However, Capleton being slated as one of the headliners for the 2022 Jamaica Rum Festival at Harmony Beach, Montego Bay, St James, on 25 June does not seem to have turned a hair (or a dreadlock). Maybe it did the first time around when the second Jamaica Rum Festival was held at Hope Gardens in St Andrew, which I missed, as Capleton also performed at the 2020 staging. So did Protoje and Cocoa Tea, while Sizzla was a part of the virtual staging in 2021, when COVID-19 moved entertainment matters online.
Now that that they are back to the real normal, rum and Rasta will once again be in the same physical space. Yeah, sip and Selassie! (Just in case, that does not mean that I am saying Rastafari will be drinking rum at the festival. I am talking about an incongruous confluence.)
It was not always this way. In one striking instance, sometime in the 1990s Luciano was very upset when he saw a rum banner on stage while performing at a staging of the Trelawny Yam Festival. I can’t remember any more public rejection by Rastafari of alcoholic beverages on stage at an entertainment event, but I do remember being surprised (although I did not show it) when the press launch of a staging of the now defunct East Fest, hosted by the Morgan family at the former Goodyear facility in Morant Bay, was held at a certain liquor company headquarters on Spanish Town Road.
Of course, Rastafari singers and deejays have performed at innumerable large scale and small events sponsored by alcoholic beverage companies in Jamaica, Red Stripe’s longstanding title sponsorship of Reggae Sumfest coming to mind.
Against this background, it is almost laughable to remember the accusations of hypocrisy in some quarters when Rebel Salute took on title sponsorship from Pepsi in 2010. The arrangement lasted three years, during which the American drink company (which stocks liquids other than its flagship carbonated product) had a very strong branding presence at the marathon concert, which was then held at the Port Kaiser Sports Club in St Elizabeth. After that, Rebel Salute moved to Grizzly’s Plantation Cove in Priory, St Ann, and expanded to two days. At the time of the Pepsi sponsorship, the naysayers sneered at Rastafari and soda. The organisers pointed out that the company had several other drinks and they were not breaking their code of “no meat, no alcohol, no weapons”. Do the critics have an opinion about Rastafari and rum money? I do not get out much these days, so perhaps I missed it.
I won’t be at Harmony Beach on 25 June either, but for those who do be cautious when Capleton is blazing on stage. Min’ de rum ketch a fia!
Festivals on the North Coast
As COVID-19 fades, leaving the unvaccinated majority still standing unjabbed and getting back to life (not that they had left it) the festivals are cranking up again and the 2022 Jamaica Rum Festival’s move from Hope Gardens in Kingston to Montego Bay adds to the stock of events on Jamaica’s north coast. It puts a dent in the strategy of spreading festival tourism to Kingston, but it remains to be seen if the calendar will return to scheduled programming in 2023. Previously, the Jamaica Rum Festival was held in late February to early March, so the June staging is unusual.
It is not the only festival which has been rescheduled in order to be staged outside of its accustomed time frame in 2022. This year’s carnival in Jamaica will be held from 1-10 July, which should pacify the Christian community somewhat, if only for this year, but it may be back to Easter period programming in 2023. Fortunately for Sumfest, the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) restrictions were lifted in good time for the festival to go full speed ahead in its well-established time frame, so we shall see if it can come anywhere close to its ‘BBC’ physical staging before COVID-19 hit.
Festivals are a big part of Jamaica’s tourism industry, which has reported huge post-pandemic growth figures. And, sponsorship is a huge component of festivals. And everyone has a standard which they wish to live at – baldhead and Rasta.
Mel Cooke covered Jamaican entertainment as a print journalist for almost two decades, overlapping with his MPhil research on dancehall and experiential marketing with the Institute of Caribbean Studies, UWI, Mona, where he is now working on a PhD while lecturing in the Bachelor of Arts, Communication Arts and Technology (BACAT) programme at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech, Ja.).