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Monday, June 17, 2024

THE SECOND GOSPEL REGGAE FESTIVAL HELD IN ABUJA

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By Paul Liam

Reggae music has for decades served as a tool for social protest and the struggle against unjust political systems, and the conscientization of the people against the antics of their oppressors. For the Rastafarians, reggae music held both spiritual and moral significance as it was regarded as the gateway to the outer realm, and it enabled a deep consciousness that manifested in the evocative music produced by the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Lucky Dube, Majek Fashek and many other superstars. While reggae enjoyed unalloyed reverence as the music of emancipation, especially for the decolonization of Africans from the grips of neocolonialism and imperialism, on the other hand, it influenced a social vice that became synonymous with the music genre; smoking marijuana became a cardinal feature of the adherents of reggae music. Thus, while mainstream reggae music existed along with its deviant characteristics, a subgenre that became known as “Gospel Reggae” which is rooted in Christianity, with famous proponents like the multiple Grammy award winner Lieutenant Stitchie, Tommy Cowan, Carlene Davis, Nora Dean and several others who converted from dance hall reggae music. This new genre over the years has gamed traction around the world with its own unique set of followers who are mostly Christians.

In Nigeria, this group of gospel reggae artists calls themselves Kristofarians, indicating an alternative to the mainstream reggae artists who are called Rastafarians. Gospel reggae in Nigeria has come a long way as it has produced notable musical stars including the likes of Buchi, Mama Lucy, Zikky Man, Kingfranki Holyflames, Fred Williams, and a host of others. Consequently, in 2021 the Gospel Reggae (Kristofarian) group held the maiden edition of the Gospel Reggae Festival in Abuja, tagged, “Rydeem of Light International Gospel Reggae Festival. Following the success of the maiden edition, on the 26th of November 2022, the second edition of the Rydeem of Light International Gospel Reggae Festival was held at the Old Parade Ground in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, with several musical performances. The festival which has become an annual event aimed at the celebration and institutionalization of Gospel Reggae music in Nigeria is gradually establishing itself as one of the major cultural festivals to look forward to in the city of Abuja.

This writer had the chance of speaking with the Festival’s Director and Chief Executive Officer of Isu Media Limited, Mr. Odoh Diego Okenyodo who provided insights on the origin, prospects, and challenges of managing such a unique festival.  According to Mr. Okenyodo, the “Rydeem of Light International Gospel Reggae Festival is the world’s first platform for gospel reggae artists to jam with their own kind. Before now, gospel reggae artists could only hope to perform in concerts for other kinds of reggae that are not Christian inclined or they performed with other gospel artists that are not reggae artists. So while you have Reggae Sunsplash and Rebel Salute for secular reggae, gospel reggae acts used to be side attractions.” And on the organizers, he posits that the “Rydeem of Light Festival is organized by the Kristofarians, officially registered by the CAC as Gospel Reggae Team Initiative.” In other words, the festival and its handlers have institutional backing from the government which also legalizes their existence. 

Text Box: “Rydeem of Light International Gospel Reggae Festival is the world's first platform for gospel reggae artists to jam with their own kind. Before now, gospel reggae artists could only hope to perform in concerts for other kinds of reggae that are not Christian inclined or they performed with other gospel artists that are not reggae artists. So while you have Reggae Sunsplash and Rebel Salute for secular reggae, gospel reggae acts used to be side attractions.”Speaking on the significance of the festival, Mr. Okenyodo submitted, “we believe that through reggae was created for physical liberation of slaves, putting the gospel of Jesus Christ in it helps to elevate it to the liberation of the soul. Reggae had been polluted by drugs and substance abuse.” And on the milestones for this year’s festival, he had this to say, “the festival this year had big interest from all the greats: the legend Panam Percy Paul personally met with the team and gave his desire to headline the event. Also, the multiple award-winning Jamaican, Lieutenant Stitchie, was to be in attendance, as well as Buchi. Due to various circumstances, these superstars did not make it, but we had more artists from Gombe, Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Bayelsa, Nasarawa, and more.” Comparing this year’s edition to last year’s edition, he opined that there was an increase in growth and awareness and even participation from artists, “last year, we had one full band, this year, we had 5 full bands who came along to play for 20 artists.” Mr. Okenyodo is convinced that the future of the festival is brighter despite the paucity of funds and lack of corporate support for the festival, he is optimistic that as more people develop an interest in the festival, it will grow and become a formidable festival that will attract tourists around the world. “It is just in its second year and we see the kind of national and international acceptance it has gotten. In ten years, it will have become an annual festival of note in the world, bringing tourists and fans from everywhere to Nigeria.” He asserted.

Although, the 2022 edition has come and gone, its memories will linger in the hearts of those who had the privilege to see the beautiful performances live at the Old Parade Ground, Abuja.

Paul Liam is a poet, author, critic, and Head of Operations of Isu Media Limited, Abuja. He is the Contributing Art Editor for Daily Review Newspapers.

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