Until 2002, Reggae Japansplash was Japan’s longest-running non-jazz summer music festival until it was moved up to the spring. The change made it easier to book a reasonably priced venue, but also eliminated one of the festival’s most basic appeals: grooving to deep, sinuous riddims under a sweltering sun. Now, after a three-year hiatus, Japansplash returns, and if the venues chosen lack open-air ambience, the event itself boasts one of the finest lineups ever.
Headliners Gregory Isaacs and Marcia Griffiths span the spectrum of Jamaican music since it gained international attention in the 1960s. Both are veterans of the talent-show circuit that cultivated singers and musicians, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, who would define all forms of reggae in the ’70s and ’80s.
Isaacs actually didn’t do that well to begin with, and it wasn’t until after he started his own Kingston record store and label in the early ’70s that he found his niche: lover’s rock, a sub-genre he practically invented with his smooth crooning style. Isaacs produced so many hits over the next decade that some people forget that he was also considered a premier roots reggae stylist — it’s what earned him his nickname “Cool Ruler” — famous for his “suffering songs.” Though he fell slightly off the radar in the late ’80s, he found new life as a dancehall singer in the early ’90s.
Griffiths had a few early hits, but she is mainly known as the leader of Bob Marley’s backup singers, The I Threes, which included Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley. Another lover’s rock mainstay, Griffiths reinvented herself with dancehall, although she’s a great soul singer in the American R&B tradition as well.
Also on the roster is backing band Live Wyya, Jamaica’s newest hitmaker Junior Kelly, and a host of local reggae artists, including Pushim, Home Grown, Pang, dancehall duo Megaryu and DJ Lecca.