How Cocoa, Beres, and Bunny Made The Sumfest Crowd Forget R.Kelly

A funny thing happened on the way Sumfest Night #2. After a last-minute cancellation by headliner R.Kelly, who was reportedly suffering from a throat ailment, Reggae Sumfest promoters had 48 hours to scramble and find a replacement for the Pied Piper of R&B. After scouring the whole world for options, they decided to call on two legends of Jamaican music: Cocoa Tea and Bunny Wailer, both of whom performed brilliantly along with the island’s #1 soul man Beres
Hammond—who was honored with a Reggae Icon Award this year. Cocoa Tea
did not hesitate to needle Sumfest management for calling him in on a last-minute rescue mission, asking the crowd over and over “Do you miss R.Kelly?” Some of the night’s other standouts included
Christopher Martin, Half Pint, and Tanya Stephens, whose fearless
songwriting addresses topics that some women won’t dare to discuss
even among their closest friends. Tanya’s pungent performance and
kick-ass boots definitely left a lasting impression. But nobody could
surpass sixty-something-year-old Bunny Wailer’s two-hour-plus
set—ranging from solo hits like “Cool Runnings” and “Ballroom Floor”
to Wailers classics like “Simmer Down,” “Dancing Shoes” and
“Trenchtown Rock.” Although much of the crowd had gone home, those who
remained were treated to a legendary performance, skanking tirelessly
in his Rasta finery as the morning sun beat down, Bunny and his
band—complete with a live horn section—put the exclamation point on an
evening that shall forever be remembered as International Reggae
Night. Friday night was more than a great show, it was also a great
opportunity for debate and discussion about Reggae Sumfest’s mission
as it moves into its 20th anniversary next year.


The crowd is hyped and ready.


Tanya Stephens checks for the “Boom Wuk.”


Cocoa Tea takes it back to the original dancehall style.


Even on the big Sumfest stage Beres Hammond’s just kickin’ it.


Marion “Lady Saw” Hall joins Beres Hammond to sing a duet.


Sumfest execs present Jamaica’s #1 Soul Man with a Reggae Icon award.


Bunny Wailer walks the proud land.


Don’t try tell Jah B about dancehall style.


I Stand Predominate. I and I.

Photographs By Radcliffe Roye and Rob Kenner

For more Sumfest reportage, check out vibe.com