Written by Tony M. Centeno
The sun was shining and the weather was sweet when the doors to Kaya Village opened for the first time ever over on Saturday, April 22. One could smell the clash between the fresh smells of Jamaican and Latin soul food and the smoke rising from the abundant weed cyphers in the lawn facing the stage at Bayfront Park. These factors plus the unforgettable performances from the Marley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Sean Paul and more allowed Kaya Fest to give other reggae festivals a wild run for their money.
Stephen Marley, the second eldest son of Bob Marley, had a vision to make a reggae festival that embraces the everlasting music from the Caribbean and the culture that stems from it. Along with his band of brothers, Stephen made sure to concoct a strong line-up with Caribbean-based artists of all calibers and teach everyone about the benefits of cannabis and hemp to create an once-in- a-lifetime experience reggae fans have never witnessed before.
In between each act, MCs like Supa Cindy of 99 JAMZ and Tanto Irie of Hot 105 helped push the other primary focus of Kaya Fest throughout the day. Part of Stephen Marley’s vision for his new festival is to teach the world the benefits of cannabis and hemp all in one place. After passing by pop-up bars, ‘Education Before Recreation’ tents sat in front of Kaya Village, which was filled with information about the uses of hemp and cannabis. There was even a car that was completely made of hemp materials on display across from the tent.
After Inner Circle got the show started with good vibes and a peaceful atmosphere, other artists on the playbill established unique vibes and brought their own surprises to the stage. Miami native Shifta got the crowd off their feet when he brought out Red Café to perform “Do You Wanna.” Following DJ Yaadcore’s quick set, Cultura Profetica put the show on cruise control and followed the scenic route as they took everyone on a trip through their block in Puerto Rico with their Spanish lyrics and soulful, reggae chunes. Afterwards, the party moved from Puerto Rico to Trinidad and Tobago with a soca-filled set from Bunji Garlin, who opened up with his international hit “Differentology.”
Just when the party seemed like it couldn’t get any more lit, Sean Paul made his grand entrance and turned everything upside down. The Jamaican rapper had all the ladies twerkin’ and dutty wining when he broke out classic records like “Deport Dem,” “Like Glue,” and “I’m Still In Love With You.” He also performed a slew of past hits like “Give It Up To Me” and delivered new cuts like his Tory Lanez-assisted “Tek Weh Yuh Heart” off his forthcoming album.
DJ Nasty of 99 JAMZ kept the party rocking with his set before the night's host Sway Calloway brought out Wyclef Jean. The singer and former Haiti presidential candidate bonded with the crowd more than any other performer on the roster. After singing “If I Were President” and “Gone Til November,” Wyclef ran through the middle of the crowd to bring his performance of “Sweetest Girl” to the people. Unfortunately, Lauryn Hill didn’t pop up for the Fugees reunion we’ve all longed for, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t show out at all.
The Marley family’s set was the most anticipated act of the night, aside from a special appearance by Ms. Hill. Jo Mersa Marley and Skip Marley, who are Bob’s grandchildren, opened the set with their notable songs. For those wondering, no, Skip did not mention Katy Perry’s name or their collaborative effort “Chained To The Rhythm” while on stage. Instead, he moved the crowd with a powerful rendition of his new song “Lions.”
Ziggy, Ky-Mani, Stephen, Damien, and Julian eventually made their way to the stage to perform a slew of songs from their extensive catalog. The crowd roared as each brother took turns dominating the stage with his memorable records. While one sang, the others danced in the background in support. Towards the end of the set, Pitbull made a surprise appearance to perform he and Stephen Marley's joint single "Options." The Marleys also wheeled out their mother in a wheelchair to give her the spotlight before the closing performer.
Lauryn Hill emerged from backstage in a black dress scattered with leopard print, essentially on time, and ready for a killer performance. The strength of her distinct voice flexed loudly as her notes echoed throughout the park. With the help of her band, Hill brought timeless songs like “Everything Is Everything” and other favorites off her debut album to life. Once she began to rap her verse to “Fugee-La,” fans were on the edge of their seat as they prayed for Wyclef to run out on stage.
Unfortunately, Lauryn’s set time just wasn’t long enough. The show ended abruptly, but that didn’t change how fans' final impressions. Audience praise echoed throughout Downtown as the event came to a close. Like many new festivals, Kaya Fest has minor bugs to work out; but the event made a huge impact on the reggae community and gained experience to help it prosper in future years.