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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12 thoughts on “The Best Ever Sting? What Did 2012 Bring?

  1. Having read @CultureDoctor’s review then watched ER, I’m satisfied that those who tweeted got it right. #Sting2012 Can we do better?

  2. Good read. You point to a key problem in Jamaica: We generally have low standards as a society… This “it can gwaan mentality” and ” a suh we dweet” justification are limiting us, anti-progress in every way. We need to raise the bar in every sphere of Jamaican life: public and private.

    • Tyrone, you make an excellent point! We must stop settling for mediocrity and really begin to set and maintain standards. The face of the business is changing right in front of our eyes and if we don’t get with it, we will be left behind.

  3. It is not about accepting mediocrity but on the contrary…it set its own standard and own aesthetics and these cannot be predicted or replicated from year to year…what you see is what you get…because our ppl are artist creators without a blueprint outside of being consistently creative…even to their own surprise. If it were about a type of universal standard then Dancehall would not exist and indeed in some ppl’s minds it does not because as far as they are concerned Dancehall is unfinished and yet to achieve any standard…the fact that Sting has lasted for 28 year is the Standard that it has set and continues to be the poor ppl’s Jazz and Blues…without the need for imitation of anything else…did the toilets work? was the sound quality satisfactory? Was the parking better for exit and entry, were the facilitators professional? Did you feel entertained or feel like you got your money’s worth, was the audience seemingly pleased at this grand climax of this unique Jamaican genre…? These are the questions that need answers for me about the Standard set by this programme and signal Jamaican event. If the agenda was overloaded and artist tried too hard to maximize their set…then that speaks to our own unique mentality – some might say indiscipline in seeking to be too ambitious to get the most out of the least…as are those who seek to ask for a different standards without confronting the fact that as a society we have yet to invest adequately in this genre and ordinary ppl therefore continuously try to do their own thing in the meantime – for 28 years without the full enabling capacity to do it differently…

    • Thanks for your comment, and such an insightful one. You raise some complex issues around class and culture as related to the standards set by both promoters and patrons of events such as Sting. I find it difficult to believe that you think that even with the ethos of the unpredictable, the creative as it unfolds, there can be no basic standards of getting a running order to move and function for the greater success of the show. I am quite aware of some of the difficulties of working with artists, but the artists were not the bug in the wheel this year. I saw no signs of conflicts about payment, treatment or the like… The onus is on promoters to execute a show in the best possible way to please loyal patrons.

  4. This is a phenomena that affects not only Dancehall shows but many other Creative endeavors and Genres in Jamaica. The artists that make it at Sting hype or not cannot be mediocre they will get bottled, for all the contribution of Supreme promotions they really are not ….

    • I think you get it. Let me know if I am wrong. Like you, I am not saying that the artists are mediocre, I am saying that the organisation of such a show with such a history cannot give itself room for mediocre anymore.

  5. Well some would argue that it was good bcaz it was incident free. Also, the moment key creators, adherents and performers of Sting start to be mindful of foreigners’ views, that mite b the moment it loses its authenticity.

    • Thanks for your comment Robyn. While I agree with your first sentence, I think we remain naive about the false reality of your second sentence. Its not about changing content, its about making standards locally that reflect international, world class trends. We have to mature, not in being mindful of what foreigners think, but how they can keep coming to enjoy what we create.

  6. Pingback: Sting Set to…..Rock? It Better! | Dance hall

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