Jamaican music legend at Caribbean Fest

Music and flavours of the Caribbean will fill downtown Maple Ridge next week

Leroy ‘Heptones’ Sibbles headlines this year’s Caribbean Festival.

Leroy ‘Heptones’ Sibbles headlines this year’s Caribbean Festival.

Finding musicians to play the Caribbean Festival in Maple Ridge has never been a daunting task for Deddy Geese.

For years now, he’s been fielding phone calls from bands eager to land the gig.

“Of course, everyone wants to play off the festival stage,” says Geese, who is getting ready to host the summer event for the 12th year in a row.

“For Caribbean and reggae musicians, there’s not many venues for them to play at in the Lower Mainland.”

For two days in July, downtown Maple Ridge transforms into an island in the deep blue Caribbean sea. It’s filled with the drum beats and rhythm and the smell of jerk chicken.

When Geese decided to start the festival 12 years ago, he never guessed at its potential longevity.

But thanks to a core group of volunteers – including Geese, Ineke Boekhorst and Debi Pearce – the festival is an event people throughout Metro Vancouver look forward to.

The festival began as a one-day event that drew 2,000, but has now grown into a two-day extravaganza that attracts more than 18,000 and features a costume parade and 19 hours of free music.

“We didn’t think it was going to get so popular,” said Geese, who’s tasked with choosing the bands and musicians who headline the festival.

This year, the California Beach Boys are back by popular demand.

The beach party thrown by the tribute band was such a success last year, Geese had no choice but to bring them back.

“The beach party in the park is going to be very difficult to top next year,” he said.

“It is so popular. People asked if they were coming back, so I couldn’t say no. It’s music for every generation.”

Leroy Sibbles closes the festival Sunday evening.

Little examination of Jamaican popular music is necessary to reveal the creativity of Sibbles. The charismatic singer, bass player, arranger, and songwriter is best known for his work as lead vocalist of The Heptones, but a closer look at his session career reveals an enormous contribution to the feel and direction of Jamaican music through one of its most creative eras.

As ska slowed to rock steady in the mid to late 1960s, Sibbles occupied a key position at the 13 Brentford Road studio of Clement “Coxson” Dodd. In addition to his work with The Heptones, Sibbles was a session bassist and arranger at Studio One during a time that much of Jamaica’s most enduring popular music was recorded.

Sibbles has fond memories of the time The Heptones first tasted success.

“We felt that we were a part of something. And that felt really good,” says Sibbles, in his biography.

“We had a purpose in the world. That was one of the greatest things, the greatest feelings. We were somebody . . . We had a say for once in our lives. ”

Sibbles left the Heptones from 1977 to 1995.

As a solo artist, Sibbles worked with Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes, Lloyd Parks, Sly and Robbie, Augustus Pablo, and Lee Perry, but primarily produced himself. Sibbles moved to Canada in 1973 and became a sizeable pop reggae star, but he feels in retrospect he lost touch with the currency of Jamaican music.

“I think that [moving to Canada] was the worst thing that I ever did, because I just went so far and couldn’t go no further there,” he says.

“I was trying my best to keep up as much as I could, but I lost touch with what was happening here in Jamaica.”

In Canada, Sibbles won a Juno award, recorded an album for A&M and cut several good albums for Pete Weston’s Micron label. These include one of his best albums, Strictly Roots, a heavy drum and bass workout backed by the Roots Radics.

In recent years Sibbles has been working on new material at his studio in Kingston. He’s also producing for popular artists, up and coming lyricists, and composing new songs. In the near future, he plans to release more original material.

Despite his ambivalence about certain aspects of his career, Sibbles has always felt that music is his raison d’etre.

“After a while one day I sat down and said ‘my God this was my destiny,’ ya’know this music thing and what ever power it was, was showing it to me all the time from when I was a kid . . . it took me all my lifetime to realize that, yeah mon. I realize I was made for this,” he says.

• The Caribbean Festival takes place July 14-15 in downtown Maple Ridge.

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• For a chance to be on stage with the California Beach Boys enter our contest by July 11.

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