From left: Leandro Verjan, Stampede and Ras Nini.

AN avowed 'clubber' and dancehall music diehard, Leandro Verjan remembers a time when Jamaican artistes travelled frequently to Colombia and performed for like-minded fans.

Dancehall/reggae still has a presence in the South American country but not as much as 10 years ago when top acts appeared in hip clubs and on major festivals.

The 34 year-old Verjan, a sound system operator known as Mista Lion, wants to bring back those glory days.

Working with Jamaican artiste promoter Boswell "Stampede" Lammie and Ras Nini, a veteran of the Panama reggae scene, Verjan is hoping to lure Jamaican artistes to Colombia this year.

"We want to bring back top artistes from Jamaica and, with the support of Stampede from Kingston, this year we gonna start it! Colombian people are waiting for that," he declared.

Last year, Colombian fans' hopes of a post-COVID bonanza were dashed with the cancellation of Jamming Fest in the city of Ibaque.

That event had Damian Marley and Sean Paul as headliners.

Previously, the show was held in Bogota and featured acts such as Capleton, Sizzla, and Ky-Mani Marley. At its peak, Verjan says Jamming Fest drew dancehall/reggae fans from Ecuador, Panama, and Mexico. With the assistance of Stampede and Ras Nini, he hopes to get things rolling again, albeit on a smaller scale.

"We are looking at bringing artistes like Yellowman and Cutty Ranks. We want to start slowly and, hopefully, things get big," said Verjan, who visited Jamaica in January for Rebel Salute and also attended Weddy Weddy, the popular weekly dance.

During a recent visit to Panama and Colombia, Stampede discovered that fans there are into old-school dancehall acts like Degree, Flourgon, and Shabba Ranks. They also tune in to Charly Blacks, Mr Lexx, Mavado, and Popcaan.

Through his links in Jamaica, Stampede want to make Latin America a fertile stomping ground for dancehall/reggae, similar to Europe and Japan in the 1980s and 1990s.

"When it come on to South America especially, a deh suh wi want dominate, because Europe done run it course with dancehall, an' Japan absorb it now til dem have dem own artiste, suh dat's why yuh don't find Jamaicans a guh Japan like back inna di day," said Stampede. "Di Spanish market is still a new market for us but is di biggest market, 'cause if yuh look inna New York, is di Spanish people dominate di clubs, suh if we can get Jamaican artiste to combine wid di Spanish artiste dem, it will be big."

Once limited to domestic artistes, Latin America is one of the music industry's largest markets. Big names including Metallica, Iron Maiden, and U2 have performed there; Shaggy, Sean Paul, Charly Blacks and T.O.K. also command lots of respect in the region.

Verjan and his Mr Broker International sound system have played throughout Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Russia, The Philippines, and China. He said nothing would be more special, however, than reviving dancehall/reggae in his country.

"The independent promoters, like me, are fighting to keep the scene alive and make it stronger, and also a big audience is waiting for big festivals and top artistes too. So, in my opinion, this is the time for rebuilding the movement and make it even more stronger than before," he said.

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer writer

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