Seattle Hosts Its First-Ever International Reggae Festival

Seattle-based reggae artists Black Puma and Clinton Fearon. Photo courtesy of Black Puma.

This Saturday, August 14th, The Canal in Ballard hosts the First Annual Seattle International Reggae Festival. Founder and promoter Jeremiah Blake, known in the music world as Andrew Hype, promises a fun, family-friendly experience of reggae music, art and culture and, if all goes well, hopes to make it an annual tradition. “It’s like the new birth of a new baby. We going to watch it grow, you know?” says Blake. “Just expect great food, great music, great artwork.”

Hosting this festival shows just how far Seattle’s reggae scene has come. When Blake first moved to Seattle in 2001, there were hardly any Jamaicans in the area, except for a few pioneering Pacific northwest reggae artists like Clinton Fearon, who helped establish a local scene. But in the last twenty years, the number of Jamaican immigrants in Seattle has grown steadily, and as a result, Afro-Caribbean musical styles like reggae have become more prevalent.

“Everyday I see more Jamaicans coming to Seattle. Seattle’s a good place to live so you find more people gravitating to Seattle,” says Blake. “I got here in 2001 [when] the reggae scene was a bit shaky, like, you could find one reggae spot. It’s grown massive, huge, since then. You can find reggae actually every day of the week now at places like Red Lounge and Havana.”

Still, Blake had never planned to do a festival until the pandemic hit, forcing everyone to quarantine. Blake says the inability to get together and perform took its toll on the community reggae musicians and promoters had been building, so when restrictions on gathering loosened, he was inspired to put on a new festival and offer artists a fresh way to be together.

“The artists, they are having cabin fever right now, they’re trying to do their thing,” says Blake. “And we promoters are so in the same mode. We’re longing to see artists on stage and getting back to normal. As we get opportunity now for events and stuff like that we going to take this first opportunity to bring forward a reggae event.”

This isn’t just any reggae event, either—it’s truly international, and Blake says there will be opportunities for festival-goers to meet and greet with certain artists. For instance, international reggae star AJ Brown, of the legacy Kingston-based reggae band Third World, will be performing, as well as New York-based reggae artist Taj Weekes, Portland’s Jubba White from Dubtonic Kru, and Trinidad’s Dakeye are all slated to perform.

Additionally, the festival will feature a solo performance from Seattle-based reggae artist Nkrumah Miller, also known as Black Puma, and a member of local reggae band Irie Lights. Similar to Blake, Miller moved to Seattle in 2001 and, with his soulful blend of hip hop, fusion, reggae, dancehall and Reggaetón, has found a sizable following here in Seattle.

“The reggae scene at this point in time is alive. There’s a lot of bands out there and a lot of people loving it, especially the roots and reggae music, it’s booming,” says Miller. “And it’s not only happening here, but across the state.”

Music starts Saturday night at 9 pm, but starting at 12 pm that day, AJ Brown, who is also an accomplished visual artist, will be leading art classes for all ages called “Paint n’ Sip.” Ticket pricing for the festival is offered at different levels depending on whether you attend both the painting class and the show, or just one part of the festival. Additionally, there will be Jamaican food and vendors for attendees to enjoy.

“I am also a chef. We do catering and pop-up Jamaican cuisine,” says Blake. “Most of the [reggae] events and shows in Seattle you can find my food there.”

Regardless of how much of the day you decide to spend at the festival, Blake and Miller promise there will be plenty of “positive vibes” to go around.

“I’m excited to see the people, the interaction of the people, the kids, the families, and the good vibes after this Corona virus and quarantine keeping us from enjoying the natural music of life,” says Miller. “Now we have an opportunity at this event that’s bringing us together. It’s a blessing, mon, and I’m looking forward to performing.”

Follow Andrew Hype on Facebook for ongoing updates about the First Annual Seattle International Reggae Festival and other events.

PREMIERE: The Big Takeover Channels Late Night Retro Vibes With “Shy” Music Video


Pop/reggae outfit The Big Takeover premieres their retro music video for “Shy” today. In the Dino Davaros-directed clip, the New York-based band star as guests of a 70’s late-night show, where they perform their latest single. The new video comes as the band hits the summer festival circuit in support of their forthcoming record, slated for release in the fall.

Frontwoman Nee Nee Rushie moved from Jamaica to the U.S. 16 years ago and has since shared the stage with legends like The Wailers, Pete Seeger, and Sister Sparrow. Here, she talks about what’s next for The Big Takeover, the move that changed her life, and the highlights of her career so far.

AF: Tell me a little bit about your song “Shy.” Did the idea come from a personal experience?

NNR: No, actually. I was going through a hard time in my relationship at the time when I wrote it. I found it therapeutic to write about a fictional scenario that was completely different from mine. It is about a girl that is in love with her best friend. He may be in love with her too, but he has a girlfriend.

AF: What made you want to go with the retro late-night show theme for your music video?

NNR: The song has a retro pop vibe that pairs perfectly with the retro late-night show theme. We knew we wanted to do a performance video, but the idea for a retro late-night show came from the director.

AF: What age did you move to the US and did you move for your music career?

NNR: I moved here when I was 15 years old. I moved to attend college. I went to college in New Paltz, NY. That is where I met my bandmates and started the band. Looking back, I realize that if I had not moved to the states and went to college where I went, The Big Takeover would have never happened. So in a way, my music career was directly linked to my move to the US.

AF: With three albums out already, what have been some highlights of your music career?

NNR: We actually have four albums out already. Our very first album called Following Too Close was released back in 2008. We sold 1000 copies of it and never made any more copies. It is on our “to do” list to re-release it online or something. Over the years, we have had the opportunity to play alongside many artists that I consider to be legends: Toots and the Maytals, Beres Hammond, Sister Nancy, The Slackers, The Skatalites… When we get these opportunities we use it as a learning experience. We have ventured out on tours across the US and have been included on prestigious festival line ups such as Mountain Jam, Burlington Jazz Festival, Musikfest and more. It is also amazing to watch our fanbase gradually expand over the years.

AF: What can you tell us about The Big Takeover’s upcoming album?

NNR: We always feel that our upcoming release is the best work we have ever produced. This time around, we feel very comfortable and confident in saying that. We branched out and got outside producers and engineers to work on this album. Usually, we do it all independently and homegrown. We were able to work with David Baron, for example. He has produced and recorded songs and albums for people like Meghan Trainor, The Lumineers and Lenny Kravitz. He produced and recorded two songs on our upcoming record. We also have new members in the band that have been breathing new life into our writing process and taking on producer responsibilities. I love all the music on this record. We are experimenting with new sounds and styles and taking bigger risks. I think people who do not know us will enjoy it, and people who are anticipating the release will be pleased.

AF: When will the album be released?

NNR: We look forward to a fall release.

AF: How has your tour been so far?

NNR: We often take on national runs in the summer. This summer we decided to take a step back from that and focus on finishing the record and doing as much media appearances as possible. We have already done some amazing festival performances and look forward to the upcoming ones later in the season.

HIGH NOTES: A New Column About the Intersection of Music and Drug Culture

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image via Shutterstock

It’s hard to talk about drug culture without talking about music culture. From the abundant weed references in reggae to the psychedelic imagery in 60s rock songs, drugs have irrevocably shaped music. And, in turn, music has shaped how drugs are used and thought of.

Just look at festival culture. There’s no setting quite like music festivals where drug use is so widely accepted and publicly celebrated. As of March 2015, 25,605 Instagram posts about 15 of the world’s most popular festivals talked about MDMA, 9,705 talked about weed, and 4,779 referenced coke, according to a study.

Why is this? Of all the places people can get high, why have concerts, clubs, and festivals become among the most popular? What do we gain from getting high as we listen to music? What might we lose?

On the first Monday of every month, I’ll explore those questions in a new column about music and drugs, along with ethnographic questions like: How does a drug become a club drug? Why are certain drugs associated with certain genres (even to the point that they’re named after them, as with psychedelic music)? How do drugs shape other aspects of music-centered cultures?

I’ll also delve into political issues like: Why are the drug-testing stands you see at European festivals absent from American ones (hint: we’ve got the RAVE Act to thank for that)? And scientific ones like: Why does MDMA make music sound so good?

I’m also here to help you navigate the world of drugs and music yourself. I’ll talk about how to stay as safe as possible at festivals, get the most out of musical settings where you’re planning to take drugs, avoid the combinations that truly are dangerous, and make comedowns and hangovers less awful.

My interest in this topic is personal. Like many people, I got introduced to drugs through music festivals. At the time, I knew shockingly little. After all, most festivals’ sites and signs echo what we learn in health class: “say no to drugs.” The reality is, many of us say “yes.” We decide that despite the risks, what we get out of drugs is worth it. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Perhaps it’s this shame that’s made identifying with music a stand-in for identifying with drugs. I plan to drop those pretenses and acknowledge how central drugs have been to various musical subcultures. Through both music and drugs, people seek to alter their minds and expand their perspectives. And hopefully, this column will do that, too.


NEWS ROUNDUP: Missy is Back, Lily Allen Protests, & More

  • Missy Elliott Is Back With New Video, Documentary

    Last night Missy Elliott released “I’m Better,” a new song and video featuring the song’s producer, Lamb. The sparse, downtempo track creeps along with clinks of keys and surges of bass, while the video is vintage Missy, depicting backup dancers in stunning outfits suspended by ropes, underwater, and on exercise balls. Along with the track comes an announcement of a soon-to-be-released Missy documentary; watch the trailer here and listen to Missy and other artists discussing her ground-breaking work – some describe her as “a creative genius” and “extraterrestrial.”

  • Madonna Gives Speech Women’s March In D.C.

    “Good did not win this election, but good will win in the end,” she began. The speech resulted in Madonna’s songs being banned from the radio station Texarkana’s Hits 105. Apparently they weren’t happy with the speech’s profanity, and that she said she had thought about blowing up the White House. Hey, we’ve all been there. Watch the speech below:–feJk&list=RDoKhVp–feJk

  • Lily Allen Protests With Rufus Wainwright Cover

  • “I’m going to a town that’s already been burnt down.” Lily Allen turned Rufus Wainwright’s “Going to a Town” into a political protest, singing its poignant lyrics over Mark Ronson’s subtle string arrangements. The accompanying black and white video shows footage from the London Women’s March, where she also performed the song. Check out the video, which was directed by Bafic: