Print this Page

World Music Features

Tony Rebel

By Patricia Meschino
Published October 4, 2005

Jamaica’s Rebel With a Cause has a divine mandate to advance the spirit of reggae. Besides Rebel's consistent output of hit records throughout the 1990s, he has earned accolades as a record producer. Rebel Salute, the annual festival he launched in 1994, is reminiscent of Reggae Sunsplash in its heyday.

Tthere was a moment at the staging of Rebel Salute in January 2002 when Tony Rebel ceased being an artist with one of the year's biggest reggae hits or the promoter of arguably the most important concert held in Jamaica. In that moment onstage, about 4:15 a.m., Rebel manifested himself as a proud father desperately trying to keep up with son Pato’s energetic dance moves. Father and son also traded rhymes in an amiable lyrical exhibition. Despite 15-year-old Pato's precocious talents, it was difficult for him to challenge the mic skills of a veteran, trendsetting "deejay" (rapper) who has had several number-one records, even if that artist happens to be his dad.

This familial exchange was one of the many highlights of Rebel Salute, the annual Reggae concert at the Port Kaiser Sports Club located on Jamaica's lush, unspoiled south coast. Rebel Salute was inaugurated in 1994 as a birthday celebration/concert for Tony Rebel; performers at that show included his close friend singer Garnet Silk who died tragically in a fire later that year. Rebel Salute soon outgrew its original venue in Mandeville, in the south central Jamaican parish of Manchester; in 2000 moved to the Port Kaiser Sports Club, picturesquely situated on Alligator Pond in the neighboring parish of St. Elizabeth.
      "We decided to take it to a place where you can hold your show until 10 the next morning," Rebel explains, "where the sea and river meet beside each other. The people in Mandeville weren't so happy when we took it away because of the revenue spinoff: the hairdresser makes money, and the clothes shop because people buy new clothes to wear. Every hotel is full and people who have a house with an empty room rent it to people attending the show. It's like a one-day Woodstock, you can come in and be joyful."

Rebel Salute is reminiscent of Montego Bay's Reggae Sunsplash in its mid to late '80s heyday, when Jamaica's enormous talent pool provided sufficient talent for an internationally renowned four-night festival. More than 15,000 patrons turned out to hear popular deejays such as Capleton and Sizzla, alongside veteran singers including Culture, Marcia Griffiths and Carl Dawkins, just five of the 40 artists who performed. The Rebel Salute concert reflects Tony Rebel's commitment towards maintaining reggae music as a spiritually and socially uplifting force. "Throughout the year people keep all sorts of shows and we want this one to be different, something that can motivate and elevate the minds of our people, to set a precedent at the initial stage of the year," Rebel explains. "When I keep my show, I don't sell meat, not even alcohol because we don't invite someone who want to get drunk and make that sort of mischief! People know the show is like a spiritual renaissance."

Rebel Salute enforces a strict policy against artists using profanity, which unfortunately has become a major issue at concerts throughout Jamaica, with several artists having been served summonses in the past year for the use of indecent language on stage. With extremely rare exception, this doesn't happen at Rebel Salute, due to the respect artists have for the positive musical path Rebel has chosen. "The artists know that I'm serious about what I'm doing," Rebel sa