Five artists to watch at the Ragga Muffins festival

If you are in Long Beach, California, the Ragga Muffins Festival is on this weekend. Here is what you can look forward to.

It’s that time of year when yellow, red and green overtake the streets of downtown and the smell of jazz cigarettes defiantly wafts above helpless ushers in the Long Beach Arena. This weekend, the two-day Ragga Muffins festival, formerly known as the Bob Marley Day festival, celebrates its 29th year of everything irie. Equally full of legends and newcomers, the festival is bound to provide enough dub, jah and riddim to keep most everyone happy until next February. Here’s who to look for:

GREGORY ISAACS Jamaican-born crooner Gregory Isaacs is the king of lovers rock. His pleading voice is as steeped in Philly soul as it is in the Kingston beat. Although his recordings have appeared on over 500 albums, Isaacs’ biggest success came when he cooed over a loping beat and synthesizer on his 1982 Island record Night Nurse, pining for a little love and medical assistance. After a debilitating addiction to cocaine—wherein he lost most of his teeth and hardened his vocal pipes—Isaacs returned to the concert stage and recording studio in the ’00s.

YELLOWMAN “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng” has to be one of the greatest song titles ever written. Cocky showstopper Yellowman barked his 1983 hit to widespread recognition, introducing his rapid-fire vocal style to a world of budding hip-hoppers who would later sample the hell out of it (e.g., Tupac, Biggie, Mos Def). In recent years, he has dedicated himself to singing about more spiritual concerns. Raised in a Jamaican orphanage, Yellowman is definitely reggae’s most successful albino/cancer survivor/sex symbol.

BARRINGTON LEVY Barrington Levy released his album debut at the age of 14. By that point, he was already a dancehall mainstay. By the mid ’80s, still only in his 20s, Levy had had a string of hits in Jamaica and the UK, including “Mary Long Tongue,” “Love of Jah” and “Robberman.” His swaggering vocals appeared on hundreds of singles before earning his Long Beach stripes by collaborating with both Snoop Dogg and the Long Beach Dub All-Stars in the late ’90s.
KEN BOOTHE Mr. Rock Steady is the elder statesman of this party. A veteran of the Trojan Records scene, Boothe began his recording career in the late ’50s. He found success several years later with a few laid-back covers of songs by Jackie Wilson and Wilson Pickett before striking it big with a reworking of Bread’s “Everything I Own,” which became a surprise #1 hit in the UK in 1974. His quavering, unmatched tenor and personal style should have made him a far bigger star than he was. Bonus points for being mentioned in the Clash’s “White Man in Hammersmith Palais.”

BIG YOUTH Jamaican DJ Manley Buchanan’s unmistakable squeal was first heard on 1972’s “The Killer.” From there he and his dreads toasted their way across Jamaica, eventually amassing seven singles on the charts at one time. Big Youth’s style of punchy riffing over producers’ tracks was a decade-early influence on the hip-hop movement. His grill, however, was an even bigger influence, with his teeth capped in the colors of the Rasta flag.

SHAGGY Gulf War veteran Shaggy was the most successful major-label bid at reggae marketing. “Mr. Boombastic,” his 1995 single, sold over one million copies in the US, leading to more than a fair share of vocalists imitating his Jamaica-by-way-of-Brooklyn baritone to considerably less acclaim. The 2000 radio mainstay “It Wasn’t Me” was an even bigger hit, juxtaposing Shaggy’s low-end with a straight-ahead R&B chorus. Not quite a one-hit wonder, Shaggy has made more money and sold more albums than the rest of the festival’s artists combined. Does this mean he’s a better artist? No, but he might be the only artist this weekend that your mom can sing along with.


From the DIstric Weekly at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s