2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Stone Love Stands Tall at 40!

Big tings a gwaan and its the fact that Stone Love stands tall! As the mighty, big, bad, Stone Love Movement known for invocations of immortality celebrates its fortieth year in Jamaica’s fiftieth year of independence, it would be remiss of me not to honour them in the celebration of the life and times of a formidable sound system. I do this through reflections based on interviews, observation and participation as I psychologically and physically prepare to attend the anniversary dance scheduled for December 29, 2012 at the Red Stripe Complex. I share with you an excerpt from my latest book DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto.

“Stone Love spans the development of some critical aspects of dancehall: the centrality of downtown venues; the re-emergence of street venues in uptown Kingston; the movement of the DJ from dance halls to recording studios, television shows and music videos, and thus the international arena; and the shift from street dances to “big dances” with corporate sponsorship and commercial success surpassed only by that of large stage shows such as Reggae Sumfest. Stone Love began as a small-scale sound system playing at parties and had to ground itself within the downtown space in order to attract a large following, although Winston Powell always had ambitions for making it big. Jones Town was where they made their breakthrough from being branded as centred on American R&B to being known as a community-centred sound system. Improved technology, the skill of a new selector, and the groundings at Joyce’s Hot Spot and Cherry’s Bar, near and within Jones Town respectively, were important factors in this breakthrough. Jones Town is demographically illustrative of an inner-city community, a space in which the trappings of a metropolitan musical sense had to be shed for the sound system to gain local and later wider international appeal.

Once Powell’s sound system had acquired a following, new opportunities materialized at playout venues with increased demand for the sound. As their popularity grew, however, so did police intervention, because dance events spilled onto the street, inviting attention and complaints. Moving through venues from Jones Town to Cross Roads, New Kingston and Halfway Tree, Stone Love climbed to “champion sound” status when it settled into a longstanding Thursday night playout at House of Leo in the Halfway Tree area in the mid-1980s. With a weekly local calendar, Stone Love was in demand. With more staff, kilowattage of sound, boxes, a playing style that was different from other sound systems, and links uptown and downtown, Stone Love changed the face of dancehall, simply by capitalizing on the ghetto and technology as vehicles to propel its capacity beyond that of other systems by the early 1990s. Eventually its sound capacity called one and all to join its dancehall calendar and be baptized into the fullness of its love. This baptismal resonance is confirmed by the late dancer Bogle, for whom church and school were replaced by dancehall: “He had to go every day to mark present” (Reyes 1993, 71).

It was in 1988 that Stone Love earned a commitment to play in Canada, on the first of its many forays outside Jamaica. Since then Stone Love has advanced the image and popularity of dancehall internationally, moving it outside the local realm to an international and trans- national one. As Louis Chude-Sokei (1997) suggests, dancehall has negotiated a trans-Atlantic Diasporic space in which the celebration of the local has surpassed, if only superficially, the appeal of an Afri- can past and present reified in the culture-centred music of Rastafari and Rastafari-influenced reggae artists. The movement of Stone Love’s equipment, audio and (eventually video) recordings, fans, specials and dub plates, and personnel from uptown to downtown, then out of town and internationally, has solidified its high levels of appeal.

Stone Love’s space in the dancehall is also a political one, in the sense that they operate within and across certain borders that have to be carefully negotiated because they can mean life or death for a sound system. In the early 1990s Stone Love took the decision not to play tunes that incited gang feuds or “matie fights” (fights between women over men) or promoted gun talk. In addition, Stone Love has helped to maintain the standards set by the Sound System Association of Jamaica for democratizing the business. This has resulted in appearances at venues stipulated by the Association to break the monopoly of some systems over particular venues, in some instances within volatile areas.

One of the crucial lessons Winston Powell learned early within the sound system business was about the need to keep one’s past firmly in the conscious present. This necessitates the capacity to accept invitations to play for and to promoters and fans who were there at Stone Love’s inception. They cannot be left behind, because they were crucial to the establishment of the sound system from the start. Stone Love therefore acquired and established a new oldies sound system to navigate old and new spaces at the same time. This has a bearing on the partisan political trends in the business as well, since running different units under the name Stone Love has allowed the sound system to play at different venues in one night, sometimes for warring factions.
Stone Love’s basic development reveals the depth and breadth of dancehall space, in addition to the ways in which dancehall perpetuators continuously negotiate and navigate a variety of spaces, policed and contested, old and new, local and transnational. Theirs is a significant achievement, which helps to solidify the sound system’s honorary title, “The Immortal Stone Love.” This “immortality” is inextricably linked to dancehall’s identity and its rubric of multiple spatialities.”

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The Best Ever Sting? What Did 2012 Bring?

On the heels of all the successful events in 2012, with Shabba’s Sumfest appearance as my massive moment, the big end of year buzz resided with Sting in the face of a declining dancehall calendar of events for December. This year the anticipation levels were locked in because on a platter was given the release of highly anticipated Busy Signal from a six month sentence served in a Federal United States prison. On that same platter was the hottest DJ of the year Konshens who fortuitously had a date cancellation. Then there was the devil-devouring lot, long awaiting the chance to pour holy water on Uncle Demon (aka Tommy Lee), while Macka Diamond and Spice heated it up over who was blacker!!? In other words, Sting, long known for and successfully retaining its place as the last bastion of the Jamaican dancehall clash performance mode, and dubbed the greatest one night show in Jamaica, had it good for the 2012 edition. Add to this the Supreme Promotions alliance with don of Downsound Records Josef Bogdanovich signalling new levels of cooperation, needed capital and media ops for ‘slapping cash’ into the hands of desired acts.

The line-up was enormous. I wanted to hear Busy Signal, Konshens, Mavado (who did not appear), Macka Diamond and Spice who didn’t clash afterall, and Ninja Man in particular. I expected Kiprich to deliver in his usual style and I was anticipating what the wrestling-labelled tag team clash would bring. But what did 2012 really bring? Some seem to be following the hype when hot air has in fact turned cold.

I arrived at the venue around 1:30am in somewhat of a panic because patrons were encouraged to arrive for the 12:30am appearance by Busy Signal. Well, recognising that Specialist was the act in performance, my heart settled and I decided to walk the venue from back to front, and side to side to check out the mood, fashion, those familiar faces and of course the security in place. By the time I settled into the crowd it was time for Etana who delivered in usual appealing style with tunes such as Roots, Wrong Address and Wifey.

The 2012 edition of Sting was divided into six categories, and if I must say so myself, a fine compendium of choices for a one night show. These were 12 Disciples of Dancehall, Best of Reggae, Independent Ladies, the Fantastic Four (Nature, Droop Lion, Iba Mahr and Chronixx), Three the Hard Way and Next Generation.

After Etana, the next time my focus reached the stage was for the announcement of Chronixx who is now seen as the next big act out of Jamaica: consummate performer, bright, lyrically adept, genre flexible, settled and has his goal squarely in front of him. I was then impressed by Nature, an act I was seeing for the first time who used the stage admirably with his conscious Rastafari-inspired contribution. Then, soon enough Romain Virgo did not disappoint. I’ve been paying attention to him, seeing him mature, watching his management choice and waiting for his next releases.

Around 3:36am when Busy Signal was being introduced by the studio recording Michael Anthony Cuffe so ably delivered, I got in gear for the performance I had anticipated. I quickly left the VIP area and settled into the crowd again because some performances have to be experienced in the midst of the most energised crowd constellation, what Kamau Brathwaite refers to as ‘congregational kinesis’.

So much was right about Busy’s performance. His oratory on prison life interspersed between timeless selections such as ‘Nah Go a Jail Again’ was masterful. It was Busy’s year at Sting 2012: hijacked from a flight on his way from Britain, incarcerated and having suffered many a nutrition and other woes behind bars, Busy’s maturity and professionalism was evident. We were treated to new releases, a fine tribute to Buju with Dean Frazer on saxophone, plus the gospel medley with a children choir dressed in full white. Busy Signal signalled his heroic status in dancehall and his delivery went a long way for securing more street love among two important blocks – the christians and the Buju fans who are impatiently anticipating his release. When his set was completed, in fitting style, Busy was presented with the Game Changer Award by Joe Bogdanovich.

Konshens my other favourite touched the stage at 4:37am dressed in what was trendy athletic / casual gear, with delivery typical of his successful year as he performed crowd favourites such a ‘Gyal Sidung’ featuring Darrio who is getting his much needed break alongside Konshens.

It wasn’t until daylight that the anticipated Uncle Demon, Tommy Lee Sparta hit the stage to deliver what seemed to be a well rehearsed set backed by Ruff Kutt Band. Though one perceived by many to be in need of holy water there were no attempts to perform any exorcisms either by Ninja Man, Bounti Killa (absent from Sting 2012) or I Octane. Of course his red and black outfit signalled confidence and hard core competence based on the year-long success he enjoyed.

In true Sting fashion, orchestrated or not, the popular Popcaan of Gaza camp fame had his set interrupted by Black Ryno’s appearance on stage which he announced with some obviously troubling Gaza loyalty invocations. Word on the street is that they are no longer members of Kartel’s Portmore Empire, but curiously street credibility relies on paying homage to such musical edifices. Ryno walked on stage during Popcaan’s set which triggered pushing and the movement of much security personnel to the stage. No one was either visibly or reported hurt but Popcaan was quickly asked to depart, the last of him being seen with a mob moving out of the venue. The task was then left to I Wayne and Lutan Fyah to pour lyrical water on the various factions and fiery atmosphere left by the skirmish.

I decided to leave at this point, daylight, in fact way past dawn, approximately 6:45am, for a number of reasons. On my way home, approximately 7:10am I was hearing reports of Sizzla’s performance and the fact that he did not disappoint. My decision to leave had less to do with security and safety than with my disappointment in the fact that as one of the greatest one night shows in Jamaica, and in its 29th staging over 28 consistent years, the organisers of Sting have still given themselves wiggle room for mediocrity.

So much was problematic because performances alone have never a stage show made. A great line-up was essentially sacrificed by less than perfect stage management, security inadequately deployed especially after the announcement that the show had moved into the clash segment, and a running order which was not managed, therefore not delivering a consistently created crescendo effect. No excuse can explain why great acts didn’t touch the stage by 6:45am. One good thing which stood out for me in terms of the organisation and character of the show was the short band changes.

When I tried to express my feelings about Sting 2012 I was greeted with the following responses:

“But Sting’s aesthetic is not intended to get it completely right anyway…ghetto people something is always evolving – unpredictable and thus not for those expecting the Jazz and Blues type of catharsis…” JS

“But that is STING. For dancehall it was pristine.” NS

In other words, “that’s just Sting”. There is a culture that’s unique and that also means one should accept mediocre standards in a context where we are building / maintaining a reputation as world musical superpower. But in such a context, is there room for mediocrity? If controversy is the aim, then certainly one can strive to be at the top of even that game. The fact that there is a link between events held in Jamaica and the ‘heads to beds’ number outcomes for the Ministry of Tourism and ultimately the country’s foreign exchange piggy bank is also another point for consideration. Whether we know it or not, major music events drive visitor arrivals up and we must remain cognisant of viewing this one night show as a catalyst for greater cultural and economic development in a holistic sense. Realistically, how many patrons really walked away thinking that they left the show on a high, having got their money’s worth? I certainly didn’t.

Finally, my question having missed the tag team clash is — why would Tony Matterhorn have agreed to team up with tired Merciless in the first place, and to go gladiator style with veteran Ninja Man and adept Kiprich at that?? Hah sah.

You can see other reviews of Sting thus far here: Sting ends on a high or the one I disagree with the most Sting 2012: The. best in years or even the more accurate Busy made Sting his homecoming party

I’m now going to revel in some Busy Signal and sooth my pained heart. Watch with me… Night Shift it is…

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