The Top Reggae Festivals in Europe
Reggae music was born in Jamaica in the late 1960s, a distinctively Caribbean sound that evolved from Ska. Pioneers of the genre like Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh, as well as legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, brought the genre to world-wide attention. Bob Marley in particular, with his lyrics that celebrated life, the fight against poverty and oppression, and peace and unity, caught the popular imagination, making him an international symbol. Through him, reggae music became associated with the Rastafari religious movement, a sect known for their worship of the Emperor Haile Selassie, their long dreadlocks, and their love for the “sacred herb” (Marijuana).
Reggae has evolved, and along the way it spawned and influenced different musical movements. Both Ska and Reggae influenced Punk musicians like The Clash. Dub music, through the aforementioned Lee “Scratch” Perry, was derived from reggae samples. Nowadays Dancehall music is the rage in Jamaica. Lyrically the genre has shifted from the socially and politically conscious music of the 60s to themes common in hip hop, such as money, sex, and violence, as well as extensive use of sampling and synthesisers. Nevertheless traditional Roots Reggae remains popular, especially in Europe, where the biggest Reggae festivals are found.
Rototom Sunsplash is a yearly festival held in Benecassim, the coastal Spanish town near Valencia. The festival lasts 10 days, spanning two weekends, but festival goers can choose to go for fewer days as well. It’s seaside location makes this festival stand out, with buses that go from the camping to the beach. On the beach there are sound systems, and areas for dancing, meaning that you can party from when you wake up, to the early morning. Besides the main stage, there is also a stage for Dub, Ska, newcomers, and the increasingly popular, Dancehall stage. Record breaking numbers came to see Damian Marley’s only European performance this year, as well as Alborosie and Busy Signal.
Furuvik Reggae Festival
Furuvik is a spin-off of the now discontinued Uppsala Reggae Festival, which before held the title of Europe’s biggest festival. Held in Sweden, Furuvik shows how far reggae has gone from its birthplace in the warm Caribbean shores of Jamaica. Furuvik is a 2 day festival that includes camping. It features many local artists, as well as a significant amount of international talent. This year’s edition featured Julian Marley, Israel Vibration and Protojoe.
Summerjam takes the crown for Europe’s biggest reggae festival, with some 30,000 people attending. It’s held in Germany, on an island in the city of Cologne. So if you like chilling in the middle of a lake, with extremely cheap beer (€2 for 0.5 liters), listening to Reggae, then you should check it out. The German Reggae scene is actually one of the biggest outside of Jamaica, but the headliners at this festival are international. This year’s edition included Snoop Lion, Snoop Dogg’s Rasta alter-ego, Major Lazer, the Dancehall group that are blowing up right now that includes super-star DJ Diplo as well as many other famous names like Alborosie, Max Romeo and Matisyahoo.
Notting Hill Carnival
Not really a reggae festival, but might as well be one. Notting Hill Carnival is Europe’s biggest street carnival. Come for the massive floats, delicious Caribbean food, and scantly clad men and women, and stay for the massive sound systems. The Carnival, held during the August Bank Holiday, starts at 10 in the morning with family friendly processions; as the day progresses (and let’s be honest, as more and more rum is consumed) the carnival turns more into an outdoor party, with sound systems on every street blasting out Reggae, Dancehall, and Hip Hop. The event draws loads of people, so if you do not like big crowds in extremely small spaces it is not advisable to go. If you can handle the crowds and the energy, and happen to be in London in August, this is not to be missed.