Review: The No Logo BZH Festival attracts the cream of reggae’s musical crop

Set on a large 18th-century army fort (Fort de Saint-Père) site outside St. Malo in Brittany, France, over 4 days, the No Logo BZH festival features a massive main stage and dynamic dub station. It’s also home to a selection of stalls and side shows of various types, serving the needs of about 40,000 enthusiastic reggae fans. No Logo BZH is a fine festival, that continues to grow in audience numbers and arena size since its 2017 kick-off. Most importantly, it also attracts the cream of reggae’s musical crop.  

Day 1 – Australian born but Jamaican-based Nattali Rize warmed up the early arrivals on the newly-named Tyrone Downie main stage with a stylish delivery, long before dancehall’s finest – Mr. Skarra Mucci – got stuck in via a characteristically competent and uplifting performance. But as darkness arrived, it was Naâman who swooned his huge audience, with a show far exceeding expectations from a performer with health complications. The light rain didn’t dampen spirits. That is, Naâman could no wrong, as he commanded his stage area with smiles and stamina, ably aided for the most part by his trusty lieutenant DJ Fatbabs. Working through ‘Karma’, ‘Lucky Day’, ‘Skanking Shoes’, ‘Rebel for Life’, ‘Soul Plan’ (with the able assistance of his co-conspirator, Marcus Gad), a piano solo with vocal accompaniment that is ‘House of Love’, ‘Outta Road’ and ‘Walk’ – all ensuring that his audience were more than satisfied.

This was a hard act for Grammy winners Steel Pulse to follow, whose delayed arrival on stage meant that they didn’t deliver their full song selection, but still played a competent and varied set that even included a hint of rockabilly. They also found time to go back to 1980 for ‘Drug Squad’, closing the song with a sweet sax solo. Thereafter, the audience was treated to ‘Your House’ from the ‘True Democracy’ album from 1982 and ‘Steppin Out’ from 1984’s ‘Earth Crisis’, before accelerating to 2019’s ‘Stop You Coming And Come’ from the group’s last album ‘Mass Manipulation’. However, to the disappointment of some, the classic ‘Ku Klux Klan’ was not to be seen or heard! The Dub Arena played on into the early hours, whilst it was Blaiz Fayah who closed the main stage proceedings to a dwindling audience that was still eager for more Dancehall vibes.

Day 2 – The crowd swelled considerably for the festival’s second night shows, with Horace Andy easing them in at the Main Stage via some characteristically honeyed vocals, whilst Marcus Gad joined Selecta Kza at the Dub Arena where an elevated stage gave the massive a clear view of their revered vocalists. After Lidiop’s crisply delivered opening, Gad’s well received input included ‘Forward’, the popular ‘Pouvoir’, the rap infused Indian-aired thriller ‘Tempo’, the title track from his ‘Brave New World’ album, whilst wrapping up with the classic that is ‘Kanake’. And all the while, Sean Paul was doing – on the Main Stage – what only Sean Paul can do, with a well received rendition of such songs as ‘Get Busy’, ‘Rockabye’, ‘She Doesn’t Mind’, ‘Temperature’ and ‘Turn Down For What?’ (with guest artist Chi Ching in tow for good effect). Paul’s set was promptly followed by Tiken Jah Fakoly, who is recognized worldwide as a militant artist with a powerful stage presence, as he wields his ‘Rod of Correction’ throughout the show, where almost every song namechecks his beloved African continent and the tricky topic of revolution. Fakoly’s return – with his 10-piece band – to the Main Stage was timely, given his long association with the stage bearer’s name. That is, the recent dearly departed Tyrone Downie (of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ fame), with whom Fakoly worked successfully on a number of records including ‘Françafrique’, ‘Coup de gueule’ and ‘Braquage de Capacity’.

Day 3 – Sunday’s fare brought a large bloc of the local community back to No Logo, as they eagerly anticipated inputs from Capleton, the Congos and Barrington Levy, amongst many others. Somewhat surprisingly, the Congos didn’t rely unduly on their classic and immortal 1977 ‘Heart of the Congos’ album, with a good sample of tracks from their 2006 ‘Swinging Bridge’ compilation also getting an airing. Tracks like ‘Children Are Crying’, ‘Ten Million Chariots’, ‘National Heroes’, ‘La Le Bella’, ‘Youthman/Congo Man Is Coming’, ‘Revolution’, ‘La La Bam Bam’, ‘Sodom and Gomorrow’, ‘Swinging Bridge’ and the immortal ‘Fisherman’ delighted the swelling ranks.  As ever, Cedric Myton’s abundant athleticism and vivacious vocals carried the show from start to finish. Availing of a short break from his Inna de Yard tour, Myton’s hectic schedule meant (most unfortunately) that this was the Congos’ final show in Europe this year. Their roots are well documented in Jeremy Collingwood’s recent publication (or labour of love), entitled ‘Scratch – The Super Ape’ – and such was the quality of their delivery that it is easy to see why this product of Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio continues to enthral thousands and enjoy the well-earned ‘legendary’ tag. Here’s hoping that this precious combo can reconvene soon to spread to some musical magic before the option evaporates.

Next up, Barrington Levy lost no time in promoting a new single – ‘Money is the Drug’ – from his upcoming 20th album, as his fine voice and lengthy experience in the trade confirmed why he is the consummate professional. Levy taunted, teased, and thrilled his audience with a solid selection of favorites, including ‘Murderer’, ‘Prison Oval Rock’, ‘Too Experienced’, ‘Girl Salute’, ‘My Woman She Is A Problem’, ‘Collie Weed’ and ‘Here I Come – Broader Than Broadway’. And at the same time, London town’s Brother Culture was rolling back the years and stirring it up at the Dub Arena!

Day 4 – The entirely appropriate and well-named ‘Ladies’ Day’ saw the cream of reggae’s women take to the Tyrone Downie stage. Given reggae’s (and Rasta’s) longstanding negligence on the gender equality issue, it was good to see No Logo trying to redress the imbalance. After Hollie Cook had displayed her musical wares, Jamaica’s own Lila Ike entertained the masses. Her remarkable vocal range was most evident on ‘Second Chance’ and the popular ‘True Love’ song – which was cleverly interspersed with Bob Marley’s ‘Waiting In Vain’ – before Ike gave the audience a sneak preview of ‘Serious’ from her forthcoming debut album.

Not long afterward, the commanding and cultured presence of Marcia Griffiths was in evidence, as she took over the main stage with alertness and an assuredness that ably reflected her years of experience on the circuit. It was good to hear her open with ‘I Shall Sing’, as she advised her fans that ‘as long as I live I shall sing’, followed by ‘Dreamland’, ‘Closer To You’, ‘Fire Burning’. Griffiths then brought us all the way back to 1970 for her classic ‘Young Gifted and Black’ classic. Her professionalism was especially evident in her teasing take on Eek-A-Mouse’s ‘Wa Do Dem’, Toots’ ‘54-46 That’s My Number’, Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’, Culture’s Joe Hill’s ‘Jah Jah See Them A Come’, before Marley’s ‘Buffalo Soldier’, ‘Iron Lion Zion’ and ‘Redemption Song’ set the scene for the accomplished Etana to take up the Ladies’ mantle and prolong the night’s main stage proceedings.

Overall, this is a well-organized festival, serving the needs of all reggae fans, whatever their preferred taste or type. Without public or private sponsorship, branding, or other financial support, it is truly ‘independent’, with an easy friendly vibe and professional organization. So, now the question is: to go or not to go to No Logo in 2024? Answer: Where can I get my ticket?

Review: Gerry McMahon
Foto’s: Kevin McMahon

No Logo Festival BZH

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