An overflow of innovative rum and cocktails, pick-your-own food, signature mugs (plus other novelties), interactive activities and live entertainment, all combined to make the Jamaica Rum Festival (JRF) a sensational experience.
A celebration of culturally vibrant rums, the fourth edition of the festival, held at The Aqueduct in Rose Hall, Montego Bay, was a must-attend event not only for spirits lovers, but those who love music as well.
Appleton Estate and its partners certainly haven’t deprived patrons of musical libations in their main stage presentations – from the J. Wray & Nephew Limited Academy Mix Off, which featured bartenders demonstrating mixology and choreographed dance to reggae and dancehall hits, to moving performances by recording artists Sevana, Tessanne Chin, Romain Virgo, Runkus and Sanchez, who, despite mourning the loss of their mother and son, delivered a strong and emotionally charged set.
The veteran singer dominated the stage even showing a moment of vulnerability towards the end of his performance. As he sang the much-loved gospel-reggae recording of amazing Grace, Sanchez’s voice was top-notch as he shed tears onstage. Before he could leave the stage, the evening’s host, Khadine “Miss Kitty” Hylton, ran to his side and urged the audience to give another round of applause.
“To come here and play his heart and soul after everything he’s been through, he’s an amazing human being. I want everyone inna Jamaica ‘RumFest’ to recognize his greatness and the legend that Sanchez is. I don’t know how you do it, but God bless, no one curses it. Being an artist is not easy because even when you go through hardships, you have to leave them at the foot of the stage and play with all the fibers of We want to honor Sanchez tonight,” she said, while holding the hand of the grieving performer.
Emotions were already running high before the I am here artist gracing the stage, so much so that even with the threat of a heavy downpour halfway through the live concert, festival-goers remained center stage. The transformation of the grassy field into a musical mecca came as the crowd thickened. Many people seemed particularly interested in opening for D’Voyce and Kalyra, making their JRF debut – and with good reason. Both were head turners despite competing with all the activity going on around the site. Runkus, who has stuck to a style that focuses heavily on engaging people, easily gained a thousand more followers in a 15-minute segment.
As two female stars of the music showcase, Sevana and Tessanne Chin were a refreshing balance of sexy and soulful.
No stranger to the JRF scene, Sevana, thrilled to be back in the spotlight, said, “I’ve always wanted to throw all the elements of who I am in there.” Integrating dancehall, the young siren was armed with moves – physical and lyrical – that kept the audience spellbound from start to finish. Above all, she left the public spellbound with her choreography for Nobody’s Man, during which she did a live remix with Vanessa Bling’s A manwhile never missing a beat.
She said the gleaner she aimed to excite customers with her performance. “The look, the dress, the drummer and the dance all mean a lot to me. I’m the friend in the middle of a circle in the party a gwaan with a bag and things, but few people really know this side and I don’t want to have to hold it back, ever.
Tessanne also seemed to throw off any veil of anxiety. Motivated by cries of ‘We love you!’ echoing the audience, she delivered a full set that included fan favourites, Messenger, You have what I needhis reggae version of below everythingand Refugeafter which she was called back for an encore.
Romain Virgo applauded all the animators. Speaking after his performance, he said: “We see changes in the music in terms of what people call ‘hot’ or ‘trendy’, and if as an artist you’re not focused, it is easy to get distracted. We see here artists staying in their lane and loving what we do. When you do it from the heart, you don’t feel any pressure, and it works. That’s what people have seen here tonight.
As the night wore on very early in the morning, veteran artist Capleton, who was the festival’s closing act, was “controlled fire” and not the usual raging hell, and probably, that was the best way to close the curtains for the eventful 12 noon festival.