A Rough Guide to the Irie Jamboree

Who to watch for at the Queens reggae blowout, and why

Between the old and the new is contemporary roots, made from both—the spiritual content of classic roots cloaked in the bold brashness of dancehall. Case in point: Queen Ifrica, a highly anticipated act on the roots segment, which also features Guyanese artist Natural Black, singer Etana (a kind of Jamaican Jill Scott), and Tarrus Riley, the stellar singer-songwriter whose operatic vocals and enchantingly writerly lyrics make his new album Contagious one of the best reggae releases in years.

Ifrica is a woman in a male-dominated industry, yes, but, more notably, she hit it big without presenting herself as one of the two extreme personas that reggae typically reserves for women: desexualized empress or oversexed diva. In fact, the Rasta artist, whose sophomore album Montego Bay came out this month, plays with both and limits herself to neither, singing in calculatingly un-sexy tones about what her man has going on "below the waist," then hailing Jah as a "lioness on the rise." Every Irie Jamboree has a show-stealer, and this year—among the dozens of artists, big-name and small-, on the bill—I put my money on a lioness. All hail the Queen.

Queen Ifrica, reigning
Queen Ifrica, reigning

The Irie Jamboree takes place September 6 at York College in Queens

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