When you’re one of the premier events for dancehall and reggae music outside of Jamaica, and it’s your 10th anniversary, how do you celebrate?
You do what you’ve always done: offer a lineup with some of the top reggae acts, say the organizers of the annual Best of the Best Concert set for Sunday at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.
“We have a lot of great artists,” said Steven Beckford, aka Jabba, one of the event’s promoters and a popular deejay on New York’s Hot 97. “Almost all of the artists have a catalog, and they can perform for hours.”
There won’t be any hours-long performances by any single artist when gates open at 2 p.m., but there will be plenty of great music, Jabba said. Among this year’s headliners are reggae artists Beres Hammond, Mr. Vegas, Cham, Half Pint and Cocoa Tea, and soca artists Destra, Denise Belfon and Patrice Roberts.
Best of the Best also will showcase the wild-haired Elephant Man, whose “Pon De River Pon De Bank” lyrics still send fans into a dance-off. Sunday’s appearance at the concert will be Elephant Man’s first in three years.
The draw of dancehall artists like Elephant Man and Cocoa Tea come as the genre continues to face challenges both at home and on urban radio airwaves. A number of well-known Jamaican dancehall artists continue to face travel bans after their U.S. visas were canceled, and two of the biggest stars, Vybz Kartel and Buju Banton, remain incarcerated. Despite it all, the show has continued to go on.
“It’s not easy,” said Jabba. “Ninety percent of the artists who can’t travel, we’ve had them on at Best of the Best.”
Jabba said the travel bans and incarcerations have undoubtedly hurt the music and are partly to blame for its ongoing struggle to remain relevant on the Billboard charts.
“When an artist has a hot song and a radio station can’t promote it or get a show off that artist, it holds back the music,” he said. “I work on urban radio, and my show used to be a full reggae show. Now it’s half reggae and half hip-hop.”
But the continued relevance of the music and culture will be demonstrated on Sunday, said Tracii McGregor, the concert’s publicist.
“Despite all of the fanfare, controversy and all of the things often associated with our music, our culture, this 10th anniversary is a testament to the power of the music, the influence of this culture,” McGregor said. “We are here in numbers, we are powerful and our music is influential.”
McGregor said the event draws more than 30,000 people. It does so, she said, “without the support of major sponsors, who still look at our community like we don’t spend money.”