Sumfest Boss Shares His Personal Highlights—And Says Octane vs Vegas Was “Blown Out of Proportion”
It’s that time of year again. As most reggae lovers around the world know by now, during the third week of July all roads lead to Montego Bay for Reggae Sumfest. And with just one more day to go before the 22nd staging of “The Greatest Reggae Show on Earth,” anticipation is reaching a fever pitch. Between Sean Paul returning to the Sumfest stage for the first time in a decade, international pop star Jason DeRulo tweeting pictures from the emergency room, and I-Octane and Mr. Vegas trading barbs like Beenie and Bounty in the ’90s, this year’s festival promises to be entertaining in more ways than one. To get the inside scoop we reached out to the big man himself, Mr. Johnny Gourzong, executive Director of Summerfest Productions, who shared his personal thoughts on which acts he’s most looking forward to—and let us in on a few possible surprises. If you can’t make it down to MoBay tomorrow night, don’t worry—you can still purchase a live stream of all the Dancehall Night action. Full Story After The Jump…
THURSDAY July 17: Dancehall Night
HELLO JOHNNY, WHICH ACTS ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO AT THIS YEAR’s SUMFEST?
I’m looking forward to Freddie McGregor. We’ll be honoring Freddie for his 50-odd-year contribution to the Jamaican music industry.
I’m also looking forward also to Sanchez. He has been absent from the Sumfest stage from about 2005. It’s been a while, so we’re looking forward to hearing his voice once again.
I’m looking forward to Tessanne Chin. You know she released her debut album last week or thereabouts. And she’s made Jamaica very proud, so we’re excited for Tessanne’s performance.
Definitely looking forward to Sean Paul. He has been absent since 2003. That was the year he performed with Destiny’s Child. And he has not performed at Sumfest since then.
“To be truthful Sean wanted to perform last year, but he came a little too late and we couldn’t fit him in.”
So Jerome [Hamilton of Sean’s booking agency Headline Entertainment] called me from early early this year: “Sean want to be on Sumfest so make sure you find the time and the space and lock it in.” He has a new album coming that has spawned a few songs that are getting a lot of airplay locally. We felt it was the right time to present Sean again. And he has some surprise guests—I can’t even tell you but he has some surprise guests that will be joining him on stage.
I’m looking forward to Chronixx and Jah Cure on Friday night. Jah Cure’s new album is a really tremendous album. He is one of the top reggae artists out there. I thoroughly enjoyed Jah Cure last year. He closed the Friday night, but this year Beenie Man is closing the Friday so he will be quite a bit earlier and I can’t wait for that performance.
And of course having Beenie Man on the Friday night to close the show that’s a big thing. That same night Jesse Royal and Nature and Shuga—three young artists on the Friday night. Yeah man, they are gaining quite a bit of popularity and they are very very talented. I will be anxious to see their performance.
FRIDAY July 18: International Night 1
And of course you know Wiz Khalifa and Jason DeRulo and Future. They’re very popular in Jamaica—all three. Actually we looked at Future last year. He was offered to us by somebody else, so it kinda got messed up a little bit. Somebody misrepresented the festival. We couldn’t quite reach a resolution last year. But we were looking at him from last year cause everybody—all the young people were coming to us saying “Johnny why you don’t book Future? Future… Future…” And he’s played extensively in the dances out here. Yeah man, everywhere he’s playing. So it wasn’t a case of us just looking at him this year.
Wiz, I mean, we’ve been trying from about four years ago. We had attempted and he wasn’t available. He was in Australia… it never quite worked out. But this year things just kind of came together.
Jason DeRulo is kind of blowing up this year. He’s getting bigger by the week. “Talk Dirty To Me” that’s pretty big right now. And I think he has a new one too. He has a few new ones that are very popular, both here and internationally.
“We were fortunate to get DeRulo when we did cause his fee has more than doubled since we booked him.”
He’s been getting some big exposure on national TV—Dancing with the Stars and this and that. So we locked him in from early.
So we’re looking forward to a successful event. We feel that we have something for everybody cause we’re presenting people like Freddie and Sanchez to complement the persons who are coming here to hear Tessanne and Sean Paul. You’re gonna get the hardcore reggae fans for Chronixx and Jesse Royal and so on. And then you’re gonna get people coming to hear Jah Cure and Beenie.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO INCLUDE SOUND SYSTEMS ON DANCEHALL NIGHT THIS YEAR?
We felt that Stone Love and Bass Odyssey are kind of iconic sound systems that both survived the test of time. And we felt it was only fitting to pay our respects to them. They have spanned several decades in the business and they have been an integral part of the Jamaican music culture—not only dancehall but reggae. We have not done it before—we have never able to integrate it into the Dancehall Night. But I thought this year let’s do it. Let’s get them onstage under the spotlights and let them juggle some tunes. It’s not going to be a clash, but they’re going to go on and juggle. They’re gonna be up there for maybe 2 hours.
And of course Busy Signal returning to the Sumfest stage on Dancehall Night after about a five-year absence. And then we have people like Alkaline, who’s very very popular in the dancehall right now—pople like him and Aidonia have a big buzz right now. Of course we’re looking forward to I-Octane’s closing performance. He has a big big performance planned for dancehall night he will be closing the show.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THE WHOLE I-OCTANE VS. MR. VEGAS CONTROVERSY?
I think the whole thing was blown out of proportion. Because I don’t think Vegas ever wanted to close the show. They kind of pulled up something that he said all the way back into last year. And I don’t know, it was kind of pulled up again. It was kinda like, “If I can’t close it, then you close it.” But Vegas never ever wanted to close it. I think it was more of a challenge to him to close it. And we already decided on Octane as the right person. I mean, he gave a dynamic performance last year. He has a big big big presentation planned. We were not looking at anybody else to close, to be truthful. We were not looking at anybody else.
Beenie had said he wanted out. From last year he said “Listen, I closed the damn show for 17, 18 years. Give me a rest.” Yunno, when we booked Wiz Khalifa and we booked DeRulo, we figured that Beeine would kinda fit over there on the Friday. So we took him out of the dancehall for the time being. He’s certainly an international name.
SATURDAY July 19: International Night 2
BESIDES SEAN PAUL’S MYSTERY GUESTS, MIGHT THERE BE ANY LAST-MINUTE SURPRISES IN STORE?
We were trying to get Mavado but he’s living in Florida now and he’s trying to work on his papers, I guess it’s his green card or something. So we’re not holding out much hope. But he says he wants to come, so who knows?
Sizzla was talking to us too, but I can’t quite convince my fellow directors that we should use him.
“I think Sizzla would be good for dancehall night, but everybody is kind of on pins and needles that he might say something that might upset the sponsors.”
That’s the problem. And everybody will come to me and say “You knew better, you knew better. You’re irresponsible.” [Laughs] So it’s kind of a no-win situation. I think Sizzla would be good for dancehall night. I think so, but I can’t convince my people.
Jordin Sparks is coming with DeRulo but I don’t know if she is going to perform. She’s his girllfriend, and she’s coming to the show. But I don’t know if he’s gonna take her out there and do a song with her.
There are a lot of artists on the show that I am really kind of very very waiting with great anticipation to see. I want to see Kat Dahlia with Wizard. That’s Beres’s daughter. So we’re looking forward to that also. And there is a rumor that Beres might go on stage with his daughter. And I’m going to call him and try to encourage him to do it. So we’lll see.
Click through the gallery above for a sample of all Mr. Gourzong’s personal picks.
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