Last Saturday’s wet weather didn’t dampen spirits at the Rastafari Ancient Living Arts & Kulture Festival in Black Mountain. The day was headlined by a Holy Trinity of sets by Ras Michael, Damian and Stephen Marley, and Bunny Wailer, each of whom contributed to what was likely the best reggae festival WNC has ever seen.
Ras Michael took the stage in the late afternoon just as the sun broke through the clouds, laying down deep, percussion-heavy Niyabinghi grooves that resonated perfectly with the celebratory vibe of the moment. Joined by his longtime backing band, The Sons Of Negus, Michael called forth the assembled masses for “Gathering Time,” which featured shout-outs to local festival organizers and the Black Mountains. Another highlight was an inspired version of “None A Jah Jah Children,” the driving rhythms fusing with a heady, spy music-like horn line.
Next up was Bunny Wailer, whose lively performance encompassed the entirety of his career and the reggae spectrum, from the early ska of the Wailing Wailers’ “Simma Down,” to inspired renditions of Bob Marley’s roots-rock classics like “One Love,” and his own, more recent dancehall-influenced tracks such as “Rise and Shine.” The 63-year-old legend – dressed like a Rasta-wizard and brandishing a (magical?) staff – prowled and danced around the stage with the energy of a teenager, declaring in various between-song sermons that “reggae will never die” and that this was the “big time.” It was nearly impossible not to agree with Wailer during “I’m the Toughest,” as he repeated the refrain that “anything you can do, I can do it better, I’m the toughest!”
It was a hard act to follow, but the Marley brothers did about as good as anyone could. Their performance was delayed by a return of the rain, with a torrential thunderstorm soaking anyone unable to squeeze under one of the few available tents scattered around the site.
Lightning was still visible along the neighboring ridges as Damian took the stage, igniting the drenched crowd into a frenzy with a ferocious set that included rousing versions of heavily hip-hop and dancehall-influenced tracks like “More Justice,” “We’re Gonna Make It” and “Road to Zion.” Stephen joined in to sing hooks and happily hype-up his bro, which seemed to contradict rumors of a recent family feud between the duo.
The show ended with a hair-raising “Welcome to Jamrock” finale that literally blew out the speakers. Damian persevered through the sound outage, however, by viciously spitting the verses to his mega-hit so loudly that he was audible even without amplification. Calling to mind the haunting refrain of his song, “It Was Written,” it was a moment that will forever be written into the Book of Life for those who were fortunate enough to bear witness.
For more on RALAK, read Xpress’ preview of the event.