One day with Jamaican culture in the heart of Wrocław

text by Mikołaj Płótniak
photo by Emilia Drewniak

You may wonder, how it is possible? To experience this you need enough energy for an all-day event and a ticket for the biggest indoor reggae festival in Europe – One Love Sound Fest.
13th edition which took place at the Centennial Hall on 19 November once again attracted all lovers of positive vibrations, not only from Poland but from the whole Europe. As I and my friend approached the Hall, we encountered tens of reggae fans wearing dreadlocks, heading in the same direction – towards the tonight’s unofficial embassy of Jamaican music in Poland. We were checked by security, received our armbands and entered the Hall . Its area was divided into the Main stage, the Soundsystem stage and cinema facilities. Corridors were filled with stalls and spots where performances featuring artistic acts took place. The Main stage hosted the greatest musicians from the line-up, including Capleton from Jamaica, also known as the Fireman – the king of dancehall, full of charismatic energy he shares with his audience when being on stage. He and The Prophecy Band were about to gave an astonishing performance. There was also Balkan Beat Box – an Israeli musical group collaborating with Americans. Their music is hardly restricted to any particular genre and I thought of their performance as a nice peculiarity but I grew to like it so much, that after the concert I started to listen to their songs over and over again on Spotify.

But the biggest star of the festival was Lee “Scratch” Perry performing with Pura Vida band. Scratch is the legend of reggae, one of the pioneers of dub music, mentor and the producer of Bob Marley and the most eccentric musician I’ve ever seen.
Apart from the greatest music stars performing on the Main stage, there were many foreign musicians on the Soundsystem stage. Fans could admire Sugarcane, an Italian reggae band with Raphael and Lion D; Jah Sun from Miami, USA and Bizzarri Sound also from Italy, who gives singers the spark only by using his mixer. The British reggae was represented by two musicians: Mad Professor, an old hand at dub, once cooperating with Lee Perry; and young Randy Valentine who took a liking to the mixture of reggae and rap. The festival began with the performance of Damian Syjonfam. Unfortunately, I spent too much time checking out interesting stalls and I missed it. Mesajah, a Polish reggae artist (with Peruvian roots) was next. He introduced his new album, “Powrót do Korzeni” (eng. “Return to the roots”). His first concert was a boost of energy, people were singing and swaying in the rhythms of roots reggae, ska and dancehall. Seeing Paxon joining his brother on stage, and Yanaz was a positive surprise. These two used to cooperate in Natural Dread Killaz – a band suspended long time ago. I’ve heard the old songs which introduced me to reggae years ago. It was clear that I wasn’t the only one to go back in my memories to those good old times. We all sung the songs which haven’t been played for years. After the concert, Mesajah met his fans to talk to them and make some photos.

Great! We had a while to wander in the Hall. We found some interesting workshops in the corridor. Lithe, charming girls swinging their hips taught how to use hula hoops. After that, we came back to the Main stage . Balkan Beat Box, another band featured in the line-up, took the stage encouraging the audience to join in the fun, jump and run below the stage. Balkan Beat Box grew from a peculiarity to a band whose music I would like to hear at a party.

But the real show was about to start. The next performer was King Shango – Capleton. I sat down near the stage getting ready for an earthquake. A moment later all my positive attitude and energy evaporated. Pablo, the host of the festival went on stage along with one of the managers of One Love, Maken. They had one sad message for us. Capleton, who had a concert in France a day before, fell off the stage and was transported to the hospital with broken ribs. Doctors did not allow him to leave, so he did not make it to the festival in Wrocław.
To cheer us up, The Prophecy Band decided to perform without their singer so as to compensate for the absence of Capleton. Despite the good music and willingness of one of the band’s members to actually sing, I was really disappointed because I’ve been waiting especially for this particular concert. I decided to move to the Soundsystem stage, where the concert of Sugarcane had just begun. I spent two hours there, dancing together with other people, singing with the singers and yelling PULLLL UUUPPP!!!
Every singer provided us with a fair share of hip-shaking and positive feelings, so it did not take me long to get over Capleton’s absence on the Main stage. It is close to midnight and there are still two concerts on the Main stage ahead of us, so walking out of Soundsystem’s I thought I could have a little rest on the stands while waiting for Lee “Scratch”.
I could not have been more wrong. Just as I was walking out from under the dome I happened to stop by the concert of a drummers’ band Foliba, and I ended up swaying to their rhythmic music with dozens of other people, who also caught the band’s vibe and, incidentally, blocked the way out of the corridor.
– Ok, now let’s get serious, Mikołaj – I thought to myself. – Get some rest, have a Red Bull, because otherwise, you are not going to survive until of the festival.
Fortunately, the Lee Perry’s concert was much calmer, it was more of a spectacle connected with the celebration of the legend of reggae, his unusual personality and clothes, or connection with the audience, who were encouraged to leap like frogs or shake their legs by his voice transmitted through the dub, deep sound in the microphone. He was on a tour which coincided with his 80th birthday, so naturally, there was a huge birthday cake, a gift of a red and white hat with horns, and a “Happy Birthday” sung by the crowd to Perry. The concert finished and the star disappeared backstage and reappeared among the fans at another concert, causing quite a sensation in the crowd.
The last concert: it was 2 a.m. and the band was awaited by many faithful fans nodding off somewhere, leaning on the walls or on the stands. EAST WEST ROCKERS – the band which announced their hiatus in 2012, which came as a huge disappointment to reggae circles in Poland. That is why the news about the comeback of EWR was such a big deal and why so many people endured for so long and waited for the concert. The setlist consisted of their biggest hits from all three of their albums. The band members themselves, that is Ras Luta, Cheeba, Grizzlee and Kuba1200, were enjoying their comeback on stage after focusing on their solo projects just as much as the fans. Pyrotechnics, girls doing dancehall and every song that they sang together with the fans , made the crowd regain energy and once again it got hot below the stage. They came off the stage at about 3 a.m, and that was supposed to be the official end of the festival. The crowd, however, demanded more – we began to stamp on the floor, making a massive fuss. The band simply could not ignore us, so the quick return of Kuba1200 meant that the second part of the concert was starting with the song “Więcej Ognia”   (eng. “More Fire”) and that the party is by no means finished. At 4 a.m. however, it was time to finish the festival and Pablo and Maken thanked the fans.

I feel like first time there was a very interesting experience,  I got what I had expected from a reggae festival – I reacharged my batteries with positive energy for the upcoming months, to see live some amazing performers whose songs I’ve known for years and to mingle with them – just like everybody else they were hanging around the area, often chatting to fans. I can recommend going to One Love to every music fan, because of the price of the ticket (you definitely get value for your money), the scale of the event, and, obviously, the experiences and the atmosphere at this kind of events.
BIG UP fans of positive vibes and see you next year in the Centennial Hall!