Mavado: Soul, Satisfaction, and ‘Something’ Missing…?

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I went specifically to hear the man with that soulful voice, one who I consider to be naturally gifted. I wanted to see a mature Mavado performing with command, consistency, and connecting with his audience through hit after hit after hit. Afterall, he’s not short of hits! But alas, that Mavado was not present, even when one takes account of the obvious distinction between an artist’s recorded music as shown here versus his / her live performances.

Now let’s set the record straight. No, I’m not a Gaza fan, just in case you think my evaluation has anything to do with greater support for a Gaza artist. I have been really ‘listening’ to Mavado for some time, and while I was observing the Gully / Gaza feud for academic purposes up to 2010 (see my presentation on feuds, fandom and factions here), I have been observing ‘something’ else in Mavado and around the Jamaican music business for some time.

Ever since traveling to Montego Bay for Dancehall Night at Sumfest 2007, I haven’t really seen Mavado in a commanding performance. Perhaps the hype over the then new artist took hold of the near 30,000 who turned out. But that performance for me was remarkable. I had been listening to his tracks such as ‘Real McKoy’, ‘Weh Dem a Do’, ‘Dying’ and of course ‘Gully side’, all recordings on his Gangsta For Life album, and which I reference in my book Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto in commenting on dancehall’s relationship to the street.

I am a Mavado fan and when I heard he was a headline act on the Arthur Guinness anniversary show, I was elated. No, exuberant, excited, anticipating…. I could make an assessment of the now ‘mature’ Mavado who has wowed me since 2007. You see, Mavado, in spite of his early career feud with Vybz Kartel – battles over which DJ is the best lyricist, clash artist, summer song sensation, or girls man – what appeals to me about Mavado is his SOUL.

The one thing about Jamaican music which is not to be missed is the soul of the people which gets translated into sound, be it ska, reggae, rocksteady, or dancehall. The soul of Jamaica resides in the transmissions through sound we have given the world as the largest exporter of music per capita. And, like Uroy, Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan, Big Youth, Charlie Chaplin, Admiral Bailey, Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton or Sizzla, Mavado has successfully transmitted that soul through his music. It is the vocal quality, the everyday experiences that have made him a Jamaican man, growing up in the Cassava Piece innercity community, his socialization in the church at a tender age, and reign as the Gully Gad. All these have contributed to the making of a soul inextricably tied to the Soul of the Jamaican nation.

But this SOUL does not determine whether you can hold an audience spellbound drinking your every move and word, much like Buju Banton did for me at Sunsplash 2006 or as Junior Gong did at Jamaica Jazzfest 2012. The business of music has different strands, skill sets, training needs and systems of assessment and success criteria. Mavado has not really got that with the weight of his voice, the love he gets from audiences at home and abroad, there is still ‘something’ missing.

I want to call this missing element, this something larger than any Mavado performance or recording – management, or more pointedly the business of management. Management has several components which includes identifying needs of the artist in a holistic sense, whether in the realm of training (for overall fitness, vocal range / conditioning), identifying strengths and weaknesses, and plotting / planning / charting the artist’s career taking account of the life cycle, its stages and the requirements at each stage. Then there is the matter of the training / experience of the manager him/herself bearing in mind that many of the managers in the Jamaican context have learned on the job, by trial and error with the relatively small population of ‘extreme talents’. This, among other things, has led industry insiders such as veteran keyboardist / musical director Nigel Staff to argue that a Jamaican music industry does not exist.

Mavado’s journey with management has been an interesting but not unusual one. He started his own label in 2011 (Mansion Records) and later announced he had signed a deal with the DJ Khaled-led We The Best Music Group. I consider Mavado an artist in training but it seems for the past 5 years something of the understanding of the difference between live performance and recorded music went missing. I expect that this is something a management team would be most concerned about addressing, and while I am focused here on Mavado, it applies to other Jamaican performers.

I am suggesting that the audience at any stage show is left unfulfilled when an artist cannot deliver his tunes, especially newly interpreted and extemporaneously orchestrated, to affirm the SOUL of the music, the Jamaican people and our place in the musical globe. Too many artists believe ‘touching’ a tune, ‘pulling it up’ and moving to another tune affirms their quality as an artist. Such a practice, given the constraints of time in many a stage performance, is irritating unless it is a dancehall clash where the tempo is heightened, and sign of an unrehearsed, weak performer at best.

We must get it together managers! We must get it together performers. It is the soul of our music that we must keep at the forefront of our minds, the soul of the Jamaican people, indeed the soul of the reggae/dancehall transnation.

Selah.

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