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Best of the Best

It's time for the Caribbean massive to stand tall once again. The biggest reggae concert of the year takes place in South Florida this weekend, as the inaugural Best of the Best stage show hits Miami's Bicentennial Park.

The concert features quite a few bona fide legends such as Barrington Levy and Lady Saw, plus a few new-school luminaries like Akon, Bounty Killer, Mavado, Wyclef Jean, and the list goes on. All told, at least 19 artists are scheduled to play the daylong gig, which starts at 1 p.m. and goes deep into the night. It's been hyped since December and widely promoted on websites, radio shows, and fliers all over the tricounty area, pitching for lovers of the genre to flood Miami in support of the event. On a trip to New York two weeks ago, I noticed that city was flooded with subway banners advertising the concert as well, and I couldn't help but realize how large this weekend really is. Sure, there's a strong connection between New York and South Florida, but to see signs advertising a concert in Miami while strolling around Central Park says a lot about how organized the efforts are to promote the festivities.

There appears to be a lot at stake with this concert, not just financially but culturally, as reggae is still under the scrutiny of media watchdogs, tepid promoters, and, most prominently, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, which still has a beef with such artists as Buju Banton and Capleton, to name just a couple. I spoke with some of the performers last week via phone, Banton included, to pick their brains on issues of homophobia in music and on what they think a concert of this size means to the local Caribbean community.

First was new reggae sensation Collie Buddz, who's been causing a stir ever since his popular ganja anthem "Come Around" started getting airplay throughout the Caribbean and the States. Since Buddz is a white Bermudian who looks like a cross between David Beckham and Axl Rose, he's definitely not your average reggae star. He knows a thing or two about getting the cold shoulder from the dancehall community and is happy to have a chance to perform on the Best of the Best stage with acts like Barrington Levy and a slew of artists he grew up listening to on the radio.

"I can't wait to get out there and perform, 'cause that concert is going to be massive," Buddz says. "There's a lot of Bermudians flying in straight for that deal, so I've got to come proper with my show. I'm probably the most inexperienced performer on the whole bill — everybody else on the show has at least three or four years under their belt, so I'm really trying to represent."

If Buddz isn't the most inexperienced crooner on the show, it's because he's running neck and neck with new singjay sensation Jovi Rockwell. She's only 24, a year younger than Buddz, and she attended Flannigan High School in Pembroke Pines. Aside from Lady Saw, she's the only other woman slated to perform, which in itself speaks volumes. Somehow, she didn't think it was a big deal.

"I feel great to be just representing for the ladies, and I feel very happy that I can perform on the same bill as Lady Saw," Rockwell says. "If there were more women on the show, that would be cool, but if there's not, that's cool too. I'm going to give them the best of Jovi — that's all I can do."

Asked about the pointless homophobic lyrics that at times taint the genre, she was ballsy enough to be candid in her response.

"Well, the times are changing, and I don't think people should bring that vibe anymore," Rockwell says. "It's time to kill that vibe and let everyone come out and enjoy the shows. There are going to be artists performing that represent everyone in the crowd. I hope we're reflecting the Caribbean culture as a whole. We're a diverse culture, and, yes, we're unpredictable, but that's the spice of life."

As for Banton, one of the most-respected yet most controversial artists on the gig, he in fact wasn't ballsy enough to tackle the question. He declined to talk about the subject of homophobia, though he does refrain from using those lyrics during his stage shows, which, I guess, is some sort of a step forward. He says he's excited to play a show in Miami, which he considers to be a western extension of the Caribbean, and glad to see so many people of African descent.

"The good thing is that this concert shows unity," Banton says. "To have so many Africans playing one show together is important so people can see how we all get along. Even Akon, who is from the motherland, is playing the show. Only a divine force can bring all the brothers together like this."

So he forgot to mention the women on the show and Buddz, but why nitpick? As long as he doesn't sing "Boom Bye Bye," his most antiqueer song of all, things should be fine.

Despite certain lingering issues like this, the overwhelming feeling among people I talk to in the Caribbean community is that this is a positive show, one in which appeals to baser instincts will be shunned. Jabba, the popular DJ of the Massive B sound system, summed it up:

"This is a family show. It's a universal show, not just dancehall. So people can bring their families and have a good time. We have the African massive, Haitian massive, Bermuda massive. We just want the people to come together and help reggae become the biggest music in the world."

As far as Caribbean community in South Florida is concerned, this weekend, reggae music definitely will be.

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Jonathan Cunningham

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