By Jason Storbakken
Photos by Vonetta Taylor

The International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA) recently celebrated its 25th anniversary at The World Famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. The event was broadcast worldwide and included live video feeds to Jamaica, Ghana, Tokyo, and London. IRAWMA honors are awarded to reggae and dancehall artists, world beat musicians, producers, and industry pioneers who have significantly impacted the world through music.

The event started in the early evening as luminaries and dignitaries graced the red carpet. “Most promising entertainer of the year” Gyptian and newcomer Tami Chynn were among the first to arrive. They were followed by many others including the fire man a.k.a. Capleton, America’s Next Top Model Camille McDonald, reggae queen Marcia Griffiths, Jamaica’s consul general Dr. Basil K. Bryan, and the youngest veteran Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley.

Half Pint, wearing his signature black shades and black ball cap, opened the program by singing his classic anthem, “Greetings (from Jah).” He was followed by Ephraim Martin, president of Martin’s Inter-Culture Ltd. and founder of IRAWMA, who said that it was Peter Tosh who encouraged him in the early ‘80s to start an awards show honoring reggae musicians. “Music is a medium and catalyst for social and cultural change and through unity we have strength,” Martin said. “Live from the Apollo in New York City, it’s the 25th International Reggae and World Music Awards!”

Top honoree of the evening was Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley who took home all six awards for which he was nominated, most notably “Artist of the Year” and “Best Album.” Upon receiving his first award he took the stage and, in Apollo tradition, rubbed the tree trunk on stage for luck. Marley said, “Thanks and praise to His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. Also thanks to my crew, Tuff Gong, and the whole empire. Rasta!” He later performed “Welcome to Jamrock” and, to the surprise of the audience, was joined by legendary hip-hop artist Nas on “Road to Zion.”

Dub poet Mutabaruka, who recited his poem “The Monkey,” was awarded “Best Poet” and Hassidic reggae sensation Matisyahu was awarded “Best New Artist.” After a few more awards were distributed “The Original JEWmaican,” a.k.a. BennyBwoy, tore up the stage with his song “God Mi Luv.”

America’s Next Top Model Camille McDonald, an outlandish personality in her own right, delivered the ragga prophet Capleton the award for “Most Outstanding Stage Personality.” Capleton said, “Bless up and give thanks for reggae music. Reggae is a music of salvation, reparation, repatriation, equal rights and justice. More fire.” And the crowd responded in unison by chanting, “More fire!”

With the dignity afforded solely to statesman, Consular General of Jamaica, Dr. Basil K. Bryan, delivered the award for “Concert of the Year” to Donisha Marley, Bob’s granddaughter, for Africa Unite, Bob Marley’s 60th birthday celebration in Ethiopia.

Marcia Griffiths, former I-Three and original singer of “Electric Boogie Song” (which created a worldwide dance craze, the Electric Slide), won the award for “Best Female Vocalist” and then performed her “Electric Boogie Song” while audience members joined her on stage to do the Electric Slide.

Reggae pioneer Glen Adams received an award of honor for his many years in the reggae industry. Adams made his first record, “Wonderthirst,” in 1960 for Studio One. He went on to become a Heptone and, in 1969, joined Lee Perry as an Upsetter. In 1970 the Upsetters joined Bob Marley and the Wailers and recorded such songs as “Duppy Conqueror,” “Soul Rebel,” and “Mr. Brown,” which was written by Adams.

The silver anniversary of IRAWMA was a dynamic event that culminated with the entertainers and award recipients taking the stage together to sing Bob Marley’s song “One Love.” It was a night honoring the legends (and rebels) of a music and culture that refuses to conform to mainstream mediocrity. As evidenced by IRAWMA, reggae music (i.e. ska, rocksteady, dancehall, et al) promises to continue to uplift, influence, and challenge the world through music.

For a full list of IRAWMA winners visit: http://www.festivaloflife.com/sub108.htm.